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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Costa Rica Trip & Traveling as a Vegan + Monthly Newsletter Launch

Before I get into the Costa Rica goodness, I just want to share some exciting news with you... I am going to be sending out a once-a-month newsletter starting in mid-March. It will include my latest blog posts, healthy eating and holistic living tips, my favorite non-toxic, eco-friendly, & cruelty-free products, restaurant reviews, my thoughts on current events in the nutrition world, info on my holistic health coaching program, and so much more! I've been going through holistic health coach training at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and will be launching my practice shortly. I am so excited! You can sign up for my monthly newsletter on the home page of my blog. You'll find it on the right side. :-)

In February, I took a one-week vacation to Costa Rica with my dad and my best friend, Alyssa. I had never been out of the United States before and was itching to go somewhere new and experience a different culture. I felt stuck in the Texas bubble. The reason we chose Costa Rica is because people always rave about it and have nothing but great things to report. Lots of people end up moving there because they love it so much (I see this on House Hunters International all the time!). 

We really had the time of our lives! The thing I loved most about Costa Rica is that life is so simple there. The people are super friendly and happy, enthusiastic about their country and they take their time. They're content without material things. I would be, too, if I lived in a place with such extraordinary foliage, biodiversity, beaches, weather, wildlife, kind people, and food. I just wish we could've stayed longer. I feel like if you travel out of the country, you might as well stay awhile. 

Since we were only there for a week and it was our first time, we wanted to get a taste of everything this beautiful country has to offer. We started off in the La Fortuna area near the (inactive) Arenal volcano, then made our way to Monteverde (translation: green mountain) and ended our trip in Tamarindo (very touristy) right by the ocean. By the way, Anywhere Costa Rica helped me plan my trip. It went seamlessly thanks to them! I did a lot of research on my own but they booked the hotels for me, transportation, all of the logistics. I highly recommend them!

Now, I'll take you through our trip with some pictures, including how I fared as a vegan...

Going from top left to bottom: Hotel Arenal Manoa. Incredibly beautiful hotel. You're surrounded by gorgeous foliage. Our view was the Arenal volcano, Costa Rica's youngest volcano, which last erupted in 2010. The pool was awesome as well with breathtaking views! The day after we arrived, we hiked through the rain forest on suspension bridges (that's us on the bridge in the bottom middle picture) and to a stunning waterfall. That hike up was tough though.

The food at the hotel was really good! Alyssa and I are both vegans so we were in this international food adventure together. After doing some research, I knew it wasn't going to be too difficult to accommodate our vegan needs because traditional Costa Rican fare is quite suitable for vegans and vegetarians, too. The traditional cuisine consists of rice, beans, plantains, and lots of fresh fruit. The top picture is dinner from a beautiful resort called Tabacon Hot Springs where we spent the evening after our long day of hiking. The food was delicious! The bottom left picture is breakfast at the hotel. We had that same meal for breakfast at all 3 hotels we went to. Gallo Pinto was everywhere!

Our second stop was Monteverde. This was our favorite destination. It wasn't too crowded or touristy, which we appreciated even more after our final stop. Hotel Belmar was incredible! It was like being in a tree house. The service was unparalleled, too. I was so impressed with this hotel because of their sustainability & eco-friendly efforts. They also had a juice/smoothie bar! We were in heaven!

The next day we walked along more hanging bridges through the cloud forest and then we went zip lining over the treetops! Man, it was fun! I couldn't believe I was that high up going as fast as I was. It was scary at first but I got the hang of it. I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

The hotel food was really good at Hotel Belmar, too. The top left picture is a grilled vegetable medley. We had (and enjoyed) lots of vegetable medley meals. We also became quite the plantain connoisseurs because they were offered everywhere, but we liked the ones at the Arenal Manoa hotel better. I never had plantains before this trip, can you believe it?? I fell deeply in love with them! Morphos was recommended by a local but it wasn't our favorite. It was a cute restaurant though. The decor was lovely. Then, we trekked to the city center in Santa Elena and had a drink at the Tree House Restaurante & Cafe. Yes, it's a restaurant in a tree! It's also a hotel. I loved it! I had a pina colada - that was my drink of choice throughout the trip. It's always been my favorite drink. I rarely drink alcohol so sometimes I'd just get it virgin. I loved that they used coconut cream in Costa Rica. Very impressed!

I e-mailed the hotel beforehand just to let them know Alyssa and I were both vegan just to ensure we'd have options. So, once we got there, the lady working at the juice bar asked if we were the vegans who e-mailed her and I said yes. She showed us the form where she typed in "VEGAN" next to our name. Ha!

More food in Monteverde! The top left picture is the Hotel Belmar breakfast. Look familiar? It's what we had in Arenal, too. Now, the bottom left picture is a meal from our favorite restaurant from the trip called Sabor Tico. It was recommended by a local. Oh my gosh. Everything was so delicious! But again, rice, beans, plantains, and salad. No complaints here. :-D Alyssa said these were the best plantains of the trip!

Our last stop on our trip was Tamarindo. It was very touristy and crowded. Locals were trying to sell tourists bits and bobs constantly. Our hotel room view and the resort grounds were spectacular. However, it was a much different experience than the previous two hotels being that it was a resort and the service was much more impersonal. I decided I don't like resorts! But the view from our room made up for it (the top left picture was our room view). The bottom left picture is the resort restaurant & bar. The lounge area on the resort grounds was fabulous as well, as you can see my best friend soaking up the sun in the bottom middle picture. :-D

We went on the Marlin Del Ray Catamaran Tour, which was one of my favorite activities we did. We just hung out on the boat, swam in the water, enjoyed the beautiful views, and watched the sunset. The next day, we met up with one of my dad's friends who lives in Playa Flamingo and he took us to a more remote beach called Playa Avellanas, which is seen in the 3 pictures on the right half of the collage. Beautiful blue water, clean sand and much quieter. There was only 1 restaurant near Playa Avellanas.

We got tired of the rice, beans and plantains for breakfast so we were thrilled to discover a juice bar within walking distance from our hotel called Mandarina, so we just had delicious fruit smoothies and acai bowls from then on. Yum! Sure, I was without my usual green smoothies all week, which I very much missed, but at least I had access to fresh fruit smoothies. 

We had 2 great dinners in Tamarindo. The bottom left picture is from The Flying Bull restaurant. I had a rice dish with artichokes, a cabbage slaw and (more) plantains. On our last night we went to a restaurant called Pizzeria La Baula. It was our other favorite restaurant of the trip. We had the most delicious vegan pizza loaded with veggies. I don't have a picture of it, probably because we were so hungry and devoured it quickly, but the inside of the restaurant is seen in the top left picture. This place got packed!

I'll finish this post with some wildlife pictures because what would a Costa Rica vacation be without birds, monkeys, iguanas, and all other sorts of animals? We were dead set on seeing monkeys and were pretty bummed when we didn't see any in Arenal or Monteverde, but on our way to Tamarindo, our drive stopped at a hostel where he heard there was a monkey sighting. It was right by the hostel eating a banana (top row of pictures)! Classic! We could go home happy at that point. 

Then, on our way to Liberia airport to head home, our driver spotted more monkeys and pulled over to let us get a closer look. These monkeys were carrying baby monkeys around their stomachs. Cutest thing ever! So, we didn't see any monkeys on our long guided tours and hikes but ended up seeing several in random moments. The Universe was on our side. Definitely a highlight of our trip!

On our way to our first stop in La Fortuna Arenal, we saw these strange looking animals called Coati all over the road. Our driver told us it's because people feed them. Unfortunately, that means that most of them are sick with anemia due to the junk food consumption... *major side eye*... We also saw 2 iguanas in Tamarindo. One was right by our hotel room and this big iguana seen in the bottom picture crept up out of nowhere while we were sunbathing on the lounge chairs. It wanted to sunbathe, too. So cool!

So, hopefully as you can tell, Costa Rica is a must-see destination. I cannot recommend it enough, though we'd skip Tamarindo next time. My dad could see himself living in Costa Rica easily. He majored in spanish in college so that skill came in very handy. All of the locals' eyes lit up when he started speaking spanish with them. It inspired me to want to learn a new language to show my respect for and interest in other cultures. I was pretty good at spanish in high school and retained some basic words and phrases but I certainly couldn't have a fluent conversation like my dad can.

I can't wait to go back, especially knowing that they accommodate vegans so well. It was a breeze, though I know it won't be like that everywhere. It'll be MUCH more challenging in Europe.

Have you been to Costa Rica or anywhere in Central America? What are some of your favorite places you've been outside of the U.S.? As I said in a previous post, I am already planning my next trip to Europe. Hopefully it happens this year... *fingers crossed*

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson


  1. Looks like you had an amazing trip! I'm so jealous, I've never been to Central or South America! However I have been to many parts of Europe and lived in Europe my whole life, so if you do end up going let me know! :)

    1. Europe has been on my heart for so long! I'm definitely going to go soon, whether this year or next. I will let you know. :-) Which European countries & cities would you recommend for a first timer? I was thinking England, France and Italy to start.

    2. For a first timer I definitely like your choices of England, Italy, and France! Although England especially can be quite expensive (I live in London - I should know! :( ). I've been to Rome a few times and absolutely loved it, it's such an amazing city. Also among my favourites are Amsterdam, Berlin, and the whole of Cyprus! If you want to see lots of places you should check out the interrail pass ( which covers most countries in Europe! :)


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