Costa Rica for the Exchange Student, Not the One-Week Tourist

Personally, I am a big fan of being prepared. However, before I left for Costa Rica, I had a hard time finding information about the country that applied to my situation. Every resource I found was either coming from someone who visited for a week or retired ex-pats now living in the country. I had no guide for places that were easy and convenient to visit over the weekends. That being said, I made it one of my goals to compile a list of short itineraries for places that are worth traveling to over a weekend.

I will be basing my rankings on the following criteria: accessibility (getting there and finding accommodations) and the ratio of travel time to the worthiness of the location.

1. Monteverde

Monteverde was hands-down my favorite place to visit while in Costa Rica and here’s the reason: it’s one of the top tourist locations in the country – but it doesn’t feel like it when you’re there. The never-ending green and cooler temperatures were the two main factors that brought me joy.

It was also very easy to get to, not too long for a bus ride, and at a good price using Transmonteverde, tickets are available for purchase in advance online, and you can also choose your seats (ideal for those who struggle with motion sickness). The buses leave from Terminal 7-10 in San José.

We stayed at Hammock House hostel, technically in the town of Santa Elena, and booked the family room for four of us with a private bathroom and our own fridge, and a delicious breakfast included. The owner was also very helpful when it came to booking tours (ziplining and canyoning). We paid $11 per night.

I recommend Santa Elena Cloud Forest over Monteverde – we spent four hours there and only saw seven other people (yes, I counted), and the views were just as incredible! However, it does lack the iconic hanging bridges that are found in Monteverde.

2. Jacó

It’s likely that many locals in Costa Rica will tell you that Jacó is ugly or suggest a better vacation spot. Which, sure, it is not the most beautiful remote beach with white sand and crystal-clear water. However, coming from Green Bay, Wisconsin, I thought the beach was quite beautiful.

To add, it’s the closest beach to the central valley, about a two-hour drive without traffic. Also, it has the best infrastructure for all the beach towns I’ve visited. I personally enjoyed the extensive options for ice cream and pastries.

Playa Hermosa, a 15-minute drive from Jacó, hosts a surfing competition every Saturday around 4:00 and is so fun to watch! But be careful with the waves if you do visit this beach, they are pretty strong.

3. Nicoya Peninsula (Santa Teresa/Montezuma)

Now, the peninsula is not exactly easily accessible. But that is part of the reason I love it. I traveled there twice, once to visit Montezuma, and once to visit Santa Teresa. To get there, it’s required to take three buses and a ferry. You can buy one ticket that will get you access to all of these things through Transportes Cóbano, which leaves from Terminal 7-10 in San José. You can purchase your tickets ahead of time at the website La Terminal Costa Rica to ensure that you will have a spot on the bus.

Montezuma beach.

This ferry ride is so beautiful, especially if you choose the 2:00 departure time, you will be on the ferry during sunset, and the sights are breathtaking. The switching between buses can be a bit confusing, so just make sure you are listening to the announcements from the bus driver, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!

The beaches in Montezuma are pretty deserted and is the perfect location for a chill weekend. Santa Teresa is a bit more built up, with more tourists and plenty of surfers.

Santa Teresa beach.

4. Stay home!

I think so many people get the travel bug and overlook the place we live! At this point, I have spent three of the weekends here in Heredia, and I still feel that I am missing out on knowing my way around! Take the time to get to know your home! It feels great to reach the point where you feel at home.

In San José, it can be fun to walk around the center of town, looking into the different shops and passing by the parks. The other weekend I stumbled upon a giant artisan market, just one block south

Madison Olson is a student at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse (WI, V). She is an ISA Featured Blogger and studying with ISA in Heredia, Costa Rica.






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