Our 10-Day Costa Rica and Panama Itinerary

10 Days in Costa Rica and Panama

The post-vacation blues always get me, but they really get me when I come back to 20-degree weather and 400 e-mails. Our backpacking trip to Costa Rica and Panama was a last-minute scramble that turned out to be not only one of our most planned trips, but successful trips. I define success as: no tears, no fights, no boredom. I think we did well.

If you’re looking at exploring la Pura Vida or its neighboring country (or if you’re not interested at all but just want to see how my trip went), read on to see what to do, where to stay, and most importantly, where to eat! Vamos!

Our Itinerary: Overview
Day 1 – Fly into San Jose
Day 2 – Monteverde/Santa Elena
Day 3 – Monteverde/Santa Elena
Day 4 – Manuel Antonio
Day 5 – Manuel Antonio
Day 6 – Manuel Antonio –> San Jose
Day 7 – San Jose –> Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Day 8 – Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Day 9 – Bocas Del Toro, Panama –> San Jose
Day 10 – Fly home

Note: This is not necessarily the itinerary I recommend, simply what we did. We loved all the stops we had, but would recommend more time in Panama. 

SAN JOSE

Admittedly, we didn’t spend much time in San Jose. We had read there wasn’t much to stay in town for, and our limited hours seemed to confirm that. However, this is likely where you’ll be flying into/passing through, so we did end up staying a few nights there, accommodation below. If you end up having a couple hours to spare, I recommend browsing the San Jose Mercado Central and getting your souvenirs for the trip.

Accommodation:
Capital Hostel de CiudadPictured above! Very cute hostel a little out of the way of town, but offered gated parking, a good breakfast, and a super friendly staff.
Stray Cat Hostel – Stray Cat was very hospitable, and we enjoyed our stay here, though we didn’t LOVE the area.

MONTEVERDE

Because of our limited time, we had to decide between exploring Monteverde, a smaller rainforest-centered tourist town, and La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano, the other big tourist spot in Costa Rica based around the active volcano. Ultimately, Monteverde won (mostly because of bungee jumping).

We drove from San Jose to Monteverde along the coast in our little rental car, cringing the entirety of our drive on unpaved roads, but loving every view. I’ll give tips below, but do be warned – we don’t recommend getting a sedan. Play it safe and get something with 4-wheel drive so you can cringe a little less.

The town of Monteverde is charming, entirely walkable, and totally geared toward tourists. There’s activities for everyone– suspension bridges through the rainforest, zip-lining, whitewater rafting, hiking, hot springs, ATV excursions, and of course, bungee jumping.

Our first day in Monteverde, we visited the Selvatura Park, and spent about an hour and a half walking through the trails in Monteverde’s famous cloud forests. The eight bridges, plants, and wildlife kept us entertained and every spot was a good photo op. At $30-$35 a ticket, prices were a little steep, but we’re glad we saw the town’s claim to fame.

Our second day in Monteverde was the day we were most excited and most anxious about– bungee jumping. As terrifying as it sounded, this was absolutely a bucket-list thing for me and the girls. Monteverde eXtremo Park holds the title of Central America’s highest bungee jumping spot, so we didn’t have to do much thinking. We reserved our spot for $75 and made our way up the hills to eventually jump off a cable car suspended over 600 feet in the air.

Now, I can probably talk about this experience for hours. I won’t, because I know you probably don’t care how it felt, but I do recommend doing it. It is horrifying and life-changing and by far the coolest and scariest thing I’ve ever done, and everyone deserves that bragging right.

After jumping and trying to rid ourselves of the shakes we had for about an hour afterward, we drank a beer and watched others make the leap. Highly highly recommend.

Food:
Surprisingly, this trip is the first time I had ever used TripAdvisor to extensively search out restaurants. I came prepared, and boy was it worth it. Here’s where to eat in Monteverde:

Taco Taco – Easily one our of our favorite meals. Grab a local (or craft) beer and get some chips, salsa, and tacos. The fish tacos come highly recommended!
El Restaurante Sabor Tico – For those wanting to try out the local dishes, like casados (a Costa Rican dish typically comprised of rice, beans, protein, veggies, and a fried plantain), we loved Sabor Tico. For such a simple plate, the food was outstanding.
– The Open Kitchen We stopped here for lunch and got some pretty decent Mediterranean food.
– Tree House Restaurante and Cafe – The food was okay (I’m sure it’d be better if we had a higher budget lol), but the atmosphere is definitely what makes the restaurant. Built around a giant tree, filled with lights and live music, we would still recommend.

Accommodation:
Camino Verde Hostel and B&B
One of our favorite hostels of the trip, Camino Verde had the friendliest staff, a delicious breakfast, and a super clean space. A travel tip in general is to look for places that have B&Bs/cabins/regular rooms on the side. Usually, the place is just a bit nicer than a dorm-only hostel.
Cabinas Vista Al Golfo
These people helped us book all of our excursions, and our room was fine. Would recommend either, and they’re right next to each other in Santa Elena. 

JACO

We spent approximately 47 minutes in Jaco on our way from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio. I’m only adding this in here because our burritos at Taco Joint were life-changing, and if you’re relatively close to the area, you must go. That is all.

MANUEL ANTONIO

Manuel Antonio was our next stop on the trip, and we were excited to get out of windy and misty Monteverde and into some sun. While we did get some downpours in Manuel Antonio, it wasn’t until after we got fried at some of the town’s beaches.

Playa Espadilla

Playa Espadilla was a quick drive through town from our hostel, and it was one of the town’s larger beaches. This beach has restaurants and shops nearby, as well as a gorgeous jungle-lined coast and rocks jutting out of the ocean.

Playa Biesanz was another quick drive, but this time a 10-minute hike away from the main street, so bring appropriate shoes. The beach itself is a small cove, and it’s perfect if you’re looking for something quieter. We spent $15 on a few lawn chairs (worth it when you don’t have towels lol) and laid out and relaxed until the weather turned.

The main attraction, Manuel Antonio National Park, had to be saved for the last day in town as it’s closed on Mondays (take note, people). We got there early, as in opening time/7am early, and spent around $16 for entry. Visitors have the option of booking a guide to show you around the park, and plenty of people will ask you if you want one when you arrive to the area. We opted to go without a guide, and we were perfectly fine wandering and straining our eyes for sloth sightings by ourselves 🙂 The park itself has a lot of wildlife and plants to observe, but we really focused our energy on the beach.

And rightfully so. The beach had the perfect amount of waves, soft sand, and animals darting around at all times. This was great when it was monkeys that minded their own business, but not great when you wake up to a raccoon rustling through your backpack. TIP: eat before you go to the park and don’t bring in any food… learn from us!

Manuel Antonio National Park

Food:
Manuel Antonio Falafel Bar
My favorite spot in Manuel Antonio was the cheapest and quickest one – falafel! The ingredients were super fresh and you won’t leave hungry.
Emilio’s Cafe
Come here for breakfast or lunch to enjoy Manuel Antonio’s gorgeous views, along with some great food.
El Patio de Cafe Milagro
We came here for craft beers and good food, and that’s what we got. We weren’t able to, but everyone recommended sitting out on the patio for the best experience.
El Avion – 
A standout restaurant in Manuel Antonio thats known for the giant plane inside the restaurant, El Avion was a good place for us to grab appetizers and drinks.

Emilio’s Cafe

Accommodation:
Hostel Plinio
We stayed here to have a quieter hostel experience and really enjoyed it. A quick note, however, there is no A/C and the place, being in the tropical location that it is, is constantly… damp. Our clothes never quite smelled right/fully dried, but sometimes that’s just the beauty of the tropics : )
Selina Hostel
If you’re looking for a place that’s got a little more going on, we’ve heard good things about Selina (a hostel chain in Latin America) and this particular hostel was in a fun area.

Hostel Plinio
Hostel Plinio

BOCAS DEL TORO

We always try to see more than one country in an international trip, even if it’s a little out of the way. For us, Bocas Del Toro was a way to not only add Panama to our list, but to see the Caribbean side of Central America, as our last beach town was on the Pacific side. While we’re glad we squeezed in Bocas Del Toro, I recommend dedicating more than 2 days– first because it was somewhat of a nightmare to get there (more on this process later), and second because we really, really enjoyed it and wish we had more time.

Our Panama plans were simple– beach, lounge, relax, eat, etc. That’s really all we did. Because of this, I don’t have excursion or food recommendations. I do, however, have accommodation recommendations:

Stay at Palmar Beach Lodge. Ha! That’s it. My only recommendation. On our tenth hour of travel from San Jose, second water taxi, and third mode of transportation, we set our expectations high on this place (aka this hostel better be worth the hell it was to get here).

It was worth it. This eco-lodge was a one-stop shop– there was a full-service restaurant with amazing food, happy hours, morning yoga, group activities, beach volleyball, and the list goes on. Guests don’t have to wear shoes (and because every path was made of sand, we didn’t), purchases go on a room tab, and everything was just simple.

The eco-friendly side of me loved the informational signs on how solar panels work, and while the showers could be quite nippy, it was RAINWATER and that’s the coolest thing ever.

The property has many “levels” of accommodation– we did a hostel, which was a cabin-style dorms, but they also offer glamping tents (wow!) and some more luxury-style cabins. Again, I can’t stress enough trying to find a place that offers levels of accommodation. And, did I mention a sloth crawled over us during our Thanksgiving dinner? I shall say no more.

Notes: The Palmar Beach Lodge is located outside of Bocas Del Toro’s main island (Isla Colon), on Isla Basimento. Try and catch one of Palmar’s free taxi times, but otherwise, any of the water taxis in town will take you to the Red Frog Beach dock for $8.

Overall, the trip surpassed expectations and the post-vacation blues are still at an all-time high. Have you visited Costa Rica or Panama? Have I convinced you that it’s worth your time and hard-earned dollars? Let me know in the comments below, and if you have any questions on our trip I’d be happy to answer them!

Thanks for reading this long one, if you made it this far!

1 Day in Burlington, Vermont

Burlington, Vermont was just the city I wanted it to be. It was small — about the same size population as my hometown. It was charming — I’ll let the pictures do the talking. And everyone was as eco-friendly and tree-hugging as I’d heard. Burlington was the first stop on our Northeast Road Trip Extravaganza, (blog post coming shortly), so there was a lot of pressure to start the trip on a high note, and despite the cold and rainy weather, it really did. Here’s what we squeezed in our (less than) 24 hours in Burlington, Vermont.

Note: If you’re just here for the cold, hard facts, scroll down to the bottom for the overview and additional recommendations. 

We started our trip from Boston, driving in what appeared to be the Northeast’s first snow storm of the season. Making the best of the 4+ cars we saw in ditches, we blasted some Christmas music and got on our JOLLY WAY.

First Stop: Ben & Jerry’s Factory.

This was on my list of must-do’s — the $4 tour price tag and the simple prospect of ice cream had me sold. While the tour itself was only okay, the story of the ~birth of Ben & Jerry’s was interesting and inspiring. These were just two hippie guys trying to make chunky ice cream, and now here they are in every Target freezer in America! On a more serious note, Ben & Jerry’s had a nice little political plugs and sustainability comments in the tour that didn’t go unnoticed (in a good way). Very on-brand Vermont.

These tours run every half-hour at the factory in Waterbury, Vermont.

Second Stop: Freshen up and head to dinner.

After unpacking and freshening up from a long day of travel, we headed to Burlington’s main area near Church St. After a few recommendations, we chose American Flatbread for dinner, and I highly recommend. The restaurant has a great beer list from Zero Gravity Brewery (get the Forty Thieves Double IPA if you like hoppy beers), an eclectic menu, and a cozy atmosphere complete with wood-fire grill. I got the veggie special flatbread and loved every bite.

After Dinner, Grab Drinks

Not everyone loves hoppy beers (ugh) so we ended the night at Citizen Cider. Whether you’re a cider person or not, this place is definitely worth visiting. I spent $7 for a flight of five samples that included fun cider flavors, like ginger and basil — my two favorite. If you simply cannot give up an ounce of your masculinity, Vermont Pub & Brewery is convenient and close to many restaurants in Burlington. Now get some rest!

In the Morning…

Remind yourself you’re in beautiful Vermont upon waking, and then promptly grab breakfast. We opted for something simple and got bagels and coffee at Feldman’s Bagels. This is a great option for those who want something quicker, want to keep costs low (why is brunch so expensive?), or just like eating really good bagels. We like eating really good bagels.

Time to Explore

We spent our first few daylight hours roaming around Church Street– to me, this is quintessential Burlington. There are shops and cafes lining the street, a VERY photogenic church at the end, and tree lights lit during the daytime. This was my favorite part of Vermont, even in our rainy weather.

Conversely, if you happen to visit during the summertime, there are a ton of activities to do on and around Lake Champlain. This is probably (definitely) the most photogenic part of Burlington, and while we’re sad we missed it, it’s just another reason for us to go back.

To Conclude

Vermont was one of the few New England states I had yet to see, and it was not a disappointment. If you ever find yourself in the area — make the trip. It’s well worth it. Sparknotes below : – )

The Overview

Where to fly into:
Close, but limited – Burlington International Airport | Cheap, but far – Boston Logan International Airport (a little over 3 hours) | Somewhere in between –  Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (about 2 hours)
Where to stay:
Airbnb (Option 1, Option 2, Option 3) | Hilton Burlington Lake Champlain | Hotel Vermont| Courtyard Burlington Harbor | Hilton Garden Inn Burlington Downtown
Where to eat:
– Breakfast: Feldman’s Bagels | The Skinny Pancake | Butch & Babe’s 
– Lunch/Dinner: American Flatbread Company | Farmhouse Tap & Grill (local recommended) | Revolution Kitchen (veg) | Duino Duende (eclectic)
What to Do:
Walk down Church Street | Visit Lake Champlain | Eat maple syrup, a maple creemee, and Vermont cheddar

Huge thanks to Sam & Taylor for hosting us and showing us the best parts of your city! Check out more of my travel posts here, and thanks for reading!

Why You Should Go to Europe in the Winter

I should preface this post by saying that nothing makes me more unhappy than the cold– going to northern Europe in January sounded almost worse than being in Chicago. That being said, when you’re notified (thanks, Scott’s Cheap Flights!) with a $340 round-trip flight to Paris, you make your sacrifices. Duty called, and my first trip to Europe was booked.

Since we’re in one of the best times to be booking January–March flights, I wanted to share why it was one of my best decisions.

1. Off-Season Prices

Every country/state has a “peak season,” aka prime time, and an off-season. In busy peak season (summer for Europe), hotels, Airbnbs, flights, and even activities and excursions can and do charge more when there’s more demand. Because Europe is just about desolate in the winter, we were able to snag ridiculously cheap flights and stay in discounted hostels. Western Europe is hardly considered a budget destination, so it’s a good opportunity to see it without paying summer prices.

2. Higher Availability

More availability means more options, which means more flexibility. We never had trouble finding accommodation, a spot on the train, or even hopping in on a tour last-minute. As we learned the hard way, sh** happens, and we were lucky on more than one occasion to be able to slide in somewhere that we hadn’t booked ahead. However, this doesn’t mean it’s cheap just because it’s available. Ask me about my time hitchhiking to Colmar, France because we didn’t book far enough ahead 🙂

3. Less Tourists

One of the worst things about tourist attractions is how crowded it can get. Even if you’re visiting Europe for the 3rd time, chances are, you’ll end up in popular spots checking out the main attraction of the city. While there will likely always be a line to see the Eiffel Tower, every queue was very bearable in the winter.

Paris, France

4. It’s not THAT bad

I was expecting Iceland to be a constant blizzard and days walking around in Paris to leave me with frozen feet and fingers. You guys – it was super tolerable (besides Amsterdam in the wind and rain. We were there when this video was taken, haha.) Iceland Air even advertises that winters in Reykjavik are milder than New York and Chicago’s! Speaking of Iceland, 5 hours of golden hour a day was incredibly cool to see– another plus of visiting in the winter.

Þingvellir, Iceland

5. Shallow, but…

Your hair and makeup looks great all day! Is this the most important thing? Maybe! Who knows?

Have you ever visited Europe in the winter? Would you want to? Should I stop asking questions? See ya!

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