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  • Writer's pictureNadji

Pura Vida! (MAPD Episode 10 Review)

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

Loosely translated to "Pure Life" or "Simple Life", Pura Vida is the staple and official catchphrase of Costa Rica! Having spent around 7 days there for MAPD Episode 10, I can categorically confirm it's validity. Jaw dropping scenery, mouthwatering food, spellbinding biodiversity, and any other sensory overload related adjectives you care to add are all appropriate for the beauty of this place. The official review starts now.



 

Take Off!


We opted for two one way flights instead of roundtrip for this trip as pricing worked out better. We departed from Dulles on Avianca Airlines (270$) and returned on Copa (325$), paying a total of just under over 600$. Roundtrips for our time table were well into the 800s so we saw this as a great deal, shoutout to Google flights for the find.


and now a word from our sponsors...


Speaking of a great deal, I turned my carry on into a personal item and saved a handful of money with my Take Off suitcase! Take-Off luggage features removable wheels that allow your bag to fit into the personal item slot at checkout, meaning you won't have to pay extra fees and can effectively double your carrying capacity! The luggage is crafted with fantastic quality material and comes in a variety of dope colors. Use code mapdlife at checkout or simply takeoffluggage.com/mapdlife.




Without further ado...

 

Day 1 - La Paz Waterfall and Poas Volcano


There are hundreds of gorgeous waterfalls in Costa Rica and choosing which ones to visit was no easy task. La Paz made the cut for it's proximity to San Jose - just a 1.5 hour drive (a beautifully scenic one at that), and for its extra curriculars. There are animal enclosures and a delicious buffet all neatly organized by paths and signs.


La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park is the full name and the entry fee is 50$. Address is as follows: 6R3Q+Q9P, Alajuela Province, Sarapiqui, Costa Rica.


Things to Note:

  • The animal exhibit is not very large or impressive, small enclosures and won't take too long to complete - the waterfall is the star of the show

    • With the exception of Kerry, the 14 year old Yellow Throated Toucan who you can take a picture with

  • You can buy a ticket on site, but the lines are always long. If you book ahead of time via tripadvisor you can get advanced tickets and head straight to check in (left of the main line)

  • The park is open 8 am to 5 pm, the earlier you go the better before crowds form and weekdays are better than weekends typically

  • Free parking on property

The segment is from roughly 2:15 to 3:55 in the vlog, but here are some shots we captured as well as as dope reel I created for IG.





Poas Volcano


La Paz is also just 38 minutes from Poas Volcano - so tackling both of them in one day is very doable. Poas is breathtaking in its full glory, with smoke billowing from it's surface at pretty much all times. We were unlucky on the day with smog blocking our view, but a quick youtube or google search will show you the beauty of the place. The 3:55 mark starts the segment on the vlog where you will see some dope footage of what we hoped to witness for ourselves, but here is a small glimpse of what we saw - or didn't see. Lol



Here is a shot of it in it's full glory. I couldn't leave you hanging. I DID NOT TAKE this photo. I'd definitely recommend going for yourself and I wish you better luck than we had. Maybe check the weather before hand and try to strike when things are clear, my loss can be your win.



Poas Volcano National Park is the official name and the address is as follows:

5QX6+6JW Parque Nacional Volcán Poas, Provincia de Alajuela, Valverde Vega, Costa Rica

 

Day 2 - Jaco Beach and ATV Jungle Excursion

Slightly longer trip on day 2 - a two hour drive to Jaco, the coastal beach town and gem of Costa Rica. Jaco is a gorgeous little town, complete with a shopping strip and tourist ridden bars and eateries. It was in contention for lodging but we opted for San Jose ultimately. There are no beaches in San Jose so taking the trek to Jaco was mandatory for us and we made the most of the day by also booking an ATV Excursion.


The vlog has the more cinematic footage of course but here is some raw b-roll we took.


Excuse the wind noise, just wanted to share some raw footage of Jaco beach to spare you the time of scrolling back through the vlog. But you should definitely check out the vlog.

The beach is free to enter but you will be charged to rent the lounge chair and umbrellas.


Adventure Tours Costa Rica


We booked our ATV ride through the Viator app with a company called Adventure Tours Costa Rica. It was 95$ per person for a 3 Hour ride including a visit to a dope hidden forest waterfall. Absolutely worth the money. My only gripe was the condition of our ATVs - my brakes were grinding (literally and loudly) and my cousin's tires were thread thin causing him to hydroplane at some points. Nothing a few upgrades can't fix and definitely not a deal breaker to book with them again. I'll give them an 8.5/10 rating. There are other ATV companies on the app (and on the strip if you prefer to book in person) but this is the one we went with.


 

Day 3 - Parque Francisco Alvarado

Less than an hour away from San Jose in Zarcero lies Parque Francisco Alvarado. The park is Zarcero's star attraction and topiary garden, bolsting astonishing works of art carved into greenery. Although its namesake was a famous writer, it was actually created by gardener and artist Evangelisto Blanco in the 1960s. Blanco began shaping the shrubs and hedges into abstract figures and forms and before long crowds gathered from far and near to catch a glimpse.


We had a ball just strolling around and shooting the breeze, and the adjoining Church of San Rafael is nice historic relic to view as well. Both are completely free, although if you visit the latter on a Sunday you may have to wait for proceeding to finish.


 

Day 4 - Arenal Volcano and Tabacon Hot Springs

Like this bucket hat? Head over to merch to cop yours now!


Arenal is worth every second of the 3 hour drive San Jose. Partly because of the views along the way and mostly because of the final destination. Arenal is still active, so the billowing smoke makes a dramatic backdrop for a photo opt but more importantly a worthwhile visit and a serene place to think and recollect. Directly across from the main lookout spot (pictured above) is the stunning Lake Arenal, and the park on a whole has multiple paths to view points of both. We opted for the 2 mile loop but there are 4 and 6 mile loops as well. It's a great place to both nature watch and hike and we found a sensational steakhouse on the way back to top off the day. You'll see Arenal (and the food) in all it's glory on the vlog.


Tabacon Hot Springs



Hot Springs and hiking are an undefeated combo and in keeping with our budget friendly theme we opted for the "free" springs over the resort offerings. The quotes were a sly dig at the 10$ parking fee. There are several resorts and hotels that offer hot springs (without having to stay at the hotel) but many are pricey and extremely crowded. In some cases, if you don't book in advance you can expect a wait and or crowd so we went the free and natural route.


Tabacon is also the name of the nearby resort, and the springs are just down the road. Follow the street until you see a pathway going downhill. This can be a bit confusing because there is an actual Tabacon Hot Springs attached to the resort, but the springs I'm referring to our in the woods just across the street. There no official address but this is the most approximate;


21007, Provincia de Alajuela, La Fortuna, 21007, Costa Rica


Asking around once you're in the area should get to you on your way.


It's a decent day trip from San Jose all in all, as the surrounding area is quite swanky and quaint. The strip has many small artisan shops and boutiques and local farmer selling their goods. We bought fruit to eat on the way home after leaving Tabacon.


*Ice Cube voice* it was a good day.

 

Day 5 - National Museum of Costa Rica and downtown San Jose



We used day 5 to not only recoup from day 4's long trip, but also to do our due diligence in San Jose. The National Museum of Costa Rica highlights the country's political and scientific triumphs as well as the biodiversity of the region on a whole. There is a delightful butterfly garden as soon as you walk in and a breathtaking courtyard with panoramic views of downtown.


Inside there's tons of historic relics as well as old jail cells that used to be used for prisoners of war. You can spend between 2 and 3 hours hour on average and admission is 5$.


Downtown San Jose is not unlike any other major city, with street performers serenading 9 to 5ers scampering to and from work. It is loud and boisterous, think Havana meets Cartagena. Great way to kill a day but not the meat and potatoes of your stay.

 

Day 6 - Limon



As 3/4 of our traveling party is Jamaican, we found it particularly interesting that there is a thriving Jamaican community on the east cost of Costa Rica, specifically in the Limon province. There is an aptly named Jamaica town, as well as Puerto Viejo - where thousands of Jamaicans arrived in the early 1900s to help build the railroad - and while we didn't make it to the latter, the former definitely gave me Jamaica vibes.


We didn't run into as many Jamaicans as we would have hoped, but the influence is evident; from the Reggae music playing on the beach to the double parked cars and the cookout atmosphere. The Jamaica Town bar ironically only serves Jamaican food on certain days so we had to walk a few blocks to Lizzie 1862, a swanky beach side eatery with Jamaican style dishes and decal. The food wasn't spectacular nor was is authentically Jamaican, but it varied enough from standard Costa Rican fare to be appreciated.


We spent most of our time on the beach where there was some sort of gathering happening with a DJ and speaker set up, volleyball games, and a large crowd gathering. Definitely a joyous vibe and a fitting end to our stay.


Now to see it all come together!


 

before you go...two things I failed to mention in the episode


Transportation

This clip never made the cut for Episode 10 but valuable info nonetheless


Our car rental experience was a mixed bag in Costa Rica due to lack of transparency on the part of Expedia. After reserving online and paying over 700$ for around 8 days, imagine our shock when we arrived to pick up the vehicle and were told our 700$ only covers 1/3 of the total cost. Expedia withheld the dealership's (in this case Avis) fee and mandatory insurance and essentially charged us for just their part in the transaction. Our 700$ apparently also covered Expedia's insurance which is really a reimbursement should any damages/repairs occur. Avis then told us that the remaining balance on our reservation was 650$ not including their MANDATORY insurance was another 500$ (for full coverage). Our 700$ meant very little to them and only covered a "reservation deposit."


Confused? So where we. The Avis representative explained it like this;

Expedia - at least when it pertains to car rentals from Juan Santamaría airport - is notorious for listing what appears to be the final price but is in fact only their cut from the transaction. They make no mention of any additional fees but do mention full coverage insurance. The undisclosed caveat to that full coverage is that should any damage occur to the vehicle, you are responsible for paying in full at which point Expedia will then reimburse you. An unattractive offer in every sense of the word, not to mention their failure to disclose this information.

We were not the only frustrated customers that day with another group expressing an identical story to ours and the agent even doubled down by saying this kind of misunderstanding happens all the time. Needless to say we cancelled and bailed immediately.


The silver lining came on our cab ride back to our hotel when we vented to our cab driver who sprung into action and called a buddy who runs a rental car service. "Buddy" then contacted us and quoted us roughly 650$ (fully insured) for the 8 days, as well as a 350$ security deposit to be refunded assuming we return the car in one piece. We did indeed return the car in one piece and receive our refund, bringing our grand total to 650$ ONLY. Much more reasonable and more importantly transparent. He provided a written contract and even brought the car right to our hotel with a full tank of diesel (yes diesel).


Buddy's WhatsApp profile does say Adventura Renta Car which I'm assuming is a smaller locally owned company or his own personal brand. My google search provided very little traces of a business entity (by little I mean none), which may explain why he requested cash. Sounds sketchy I know, but the car was in perfect condition and the communication and business was sound. Absolutely no issues. We got a 2008 Hyundai Tucson that ran like a dream. You can reach buddy at 506-7232-2778 on WhatsApp. Yes he has granted me permission to share his info and no I don't know his real name lol.


Home Sweet Home


Another thing I failed to mention in the vlog (which I hope you checked out before reading this..no seriously it's epic) was our lodging arrangement. Sorry! We stayed at the Barcelo Hotel in San Jose and took day trips from there to our respective excursions. It is a detour from our usual backpacking Hostel tour way of moving but we decided to change it up for episode 10. Barcelo is a beautiful property, complete with a pool and two on site restaurants - not including the dinning room where breakfast is served every morning. There is a small fitness center and media room as well where you can surf the web locally if/when the wifi on your mobile patches out. Regular #mapd viewers will know that we barely spend any time in our lodging, so I slacked on photos and videos but here's what I do have (mainly of the pool and the Japanese restaurant on site).


We booked via booking.com where you can see plenty more pictures.






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