America’s favorite “exotic” destination – Costa Rica

This past week, I was able to spend a week in Costa Rica. In college, I spent a month in Costa Rica as part of a study abroad trip. Ten of us traveled around the entire country with two Costa Rican teachers from the business school. Throughout the month, I was able to see so many different parts of the country and I am grateful for that. This trip really sparked my desire to travel and it is a big reason why I have been on the road for the last 11 months. Costa Rica is now well-known for a being a big tourist destination, especially for Americans, but since I had spent time here before I figured I could find a way to beat the crowds. There is also a reason why Costa Rica is so popular. It is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, has beautiful beaches, national parks where you can see animals who’ve only seen on TV and most of the population speaks English.

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For the week, I stayed in Playa Bejuco at a place owned by a company called Outsite. Outsite provides co-working and co-living spaces for remote workers around the world. This was very appealing to me since I was going during the week and had to work. Another remote, Jess, found the location and it ended up being better than either of us could have asked for. There were four other remotes (not from our group) there during the week which not only made it easier to work (since other people were doing the same) but it was also a good group to get drinks/dinner with later in the day. The group consisted of Jess and I, Brandon, a property scout that works for Outsite, Karen and Amanda who run a web design company based in NYC and Kate, a brand consultant from London.  It was a really fun group and we bonded over the week we shared together in Bejuco.

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The crew for the week

Playa Bejuco itself is basically a dirt road that leads to the beach with a small hotel and a couple other condo communities, similar to the one we stayed in. On the main road there are a few restaurants but other than that you are far away from any tourist. The beach was only a two minute walk from our spot and it was never crowded so it felt like a private beach. The beach stretched for miles on either side as palm trees provided the back drop to the beautiful ocean. The waves were perfect little barrels and the beach was very wide even at high tide. Throughout the day you would see and hear flocks of scarlet macaws (think classic red parrot) fly around through the palm trees. Everyone is familiar with these birds from pictures or TV but to see them close up in the wild was truly amazing. Our condo community had a pool, surfboards and bikes to use with full kitchens in every unit. It really had everything you needed and made it easy for us to cook meals at home since it was a hike to get to most restaurants. Playa Bejuco is only thirty minutes south of Jacó, a popular touristy surf town. During the weekend we were able to go there to do some tours and grab dinner but during the week we mostly stayed down in Bejuco as it was much more relaxing and secluded.

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I wanted to use this week to really relax and reflect on the year before I headed into my final month in Mexico. Each morning I woke up, jumped in the ocean and walked down the beach as I collected my thoughts. It was so peaceful watching the sun rise and walking down the beach without anyone else in sight. After a quick swim, I’d head the workspace, drink a cup of coffee and get to work. Having the flexibility of choosing what to do throughout the day made this week of working really seem like a vacation. I could take breaks and walk to the beach real quick or sit by the pool and read my kindle if I wanted to. I also felt like I got some really good work done since I had the freedom to choose when I sat down and knocked out the work. It’s really these types of remote work environments that should have employers comfortable with remote employees. I was at peace the entire day, completed all the work I needed to do and was in a very calm and happy state of mind the entire week. This year has taught me that even though while traveling, work is always present there isn’t much separation of the typical “work-life” balance. It is all just living and as work intertwines throughout the day, it doesn’t seem like a burden or something you have to escape from. Work simply becomes something you do throughout the day and you never feel “trapped” ,instead free to structure the day as you please. You really don’t mind checking email at 6am and again at 9pm if you are able to enjoy the rest of the day on your terms. This lack of “pressure” to be “on-call” or stationary in a building from 9-5 is really what makes the remote working life so unique but also so productive as you begin to simply live your life from waking up to going to bed instead of your pre 9am and post 5pm life.

So Playa Bejuco wasn’t all work, in fact it was truly a vacation. We arrived mid-day on Friday so the whole weekend was ours. On Saturday we took a private boat cruise out to Isla Tortuga for some snorkeling and relaxing at the beach. Our guide was a Dutch man who had lived in the area for over twenty years as he just enjoyed the lifestyle more and he was accompanied by his local girl friend. Its just another example of someone picking up their old life and moving it to somewhere where they are happier and have a lifestyle that fits them better. The other two passengers on the boat were a mother and son from Quebec with French as their first language. They both spoke great English as well and I always like seeing high school kids from other countries as they seem to grow up so differently than those of us from the US. The kid was 17 or 18 and had been to several countries, had held several jobs and really knew exactly what he wanted to study in college. I’m not exactly sure why that is but international kids seem a lot more prepared for college than I was. Anyway, they were great companions for the trip. So we hopped in a boat and took a 45 minute boat ride out to sea to where the island was. Right before the island was this tall rock that stood out from the water which is where we went snorkeling. This was the best snorkeling I’ve ever seen as there were thousands of fish in the water and in a variety of colors. We got flippers and snorkel and were free to do as we pleased. I had never seen so many fish before so I was so excited to just swim around this little island chasing all the fish. When we needed a break, the captain would throw us a beer or give a slice of fresh pineapple.

After snorkeling, we headed to the island but not before before stopped by a local fisherman to buy one of his oysters. Since oysters are one of my favorite foods, I had to buy a couple and Jess said she never had a raw oyster so I figured now was the best time to try. These oysters were huge and he quickly shucked it, chopped up some onion, squirted some lime juice and doused some hot sauce on top. He handed it over and I was happier than could be! We got to the island where we were greeted with a fresh fish lunch and had a couple hours to relax. A guy came up to us with a fresh coconut and some rum and we were good to go! We lounged in some beach chairs in swam in the little lagoon around this island. When it was time to go we did some tubing from the back of the boat before he headed back to the mainland. I had never tubed in the open ocean and it was great to do one of my favorite lake activities out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We just dodged a storm as we cruised to land because it started pouring right as we got in.

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Trying the local oysters

Once the rain stopped, we decided to walk around the little town of Jacó. I, of course, found a craft beer spot and stopped for a drink. We got in around 4pm so no one was there and this place had around 30 beers on tap so I decided to camp out for a while. We sat at the bar and started talking with the bartender, who was very prideful of the beers they had as it is uncommon for a place to have more than just a few on tap. I told him how I loved trying beer from all over the world  and he decided to give us a flight of almost every beer they had. Jess and I decided to do a blind taste test where we would taste the beer and rank (1-5) without the other person seeing it. It was a good way to wind down after our boat day and spend some time with the locals. We didn’t agree on every beer and it was funny to see where we differed. After we had plenty to drink and eat, our bartender called his buddy to drive us home since cab rides are hard to come by and uber is even harder. It was cool getting to know the bartender and him being nice enough to find us a ride back and for a really good price, too. We ended up going back to that bar 3 other times since we liked it so much.

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Our Rum Coconuts

On Sunday, we opted for an ATV tour. We rode ATVs up a tall mountain and down a steep slope to a beautiful waterfall. The views on the tour were awesome as we were able to look down over the entire coast out into the ocean. The waterfall wasn’t especially huge but it was cool to get to it and to climb up to the top. On the way back, we stopped at this little shack that had the best smoothies and as we stopped for a drink we saw a couple toucans. I had never seen a toucan before and the size and beautiful bright green color of their beak was a sight to behold.

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The next morning we really wanted to go to the national park which was about an hour south of Playa Bejuco. To get there we had to take the public bus that showed up “around 9am”. There wasn’t really a bus stop on the end of our little dirt road so we just had to sit there and flag down any bus down that we saw. Luckily, after some stressful moments we hopped on and headed south. We got off, picked up a taxi and headed to the national park.  Today, we were joined by our friend Kate from London which was a real treat since our English and their English are so different that there are always laughs shared. We hired a local guide who had been touring the park for decades and meandered through it. It isn’t a spectacularly large park but there are so many animals within it. Since it is a rainforest, these animals aren’t really in plain sight. The guides use a special binocular type thing to spot and show you the different species. If you walked in without a guide, there was no way you could see anything because even with him pointing and you looking through the binocular, as soon as you took your eye away from the lense it was incredibly hard to find the animal in plain sight. We saw frogs, lizards, birds, bats, sloths, monkeys, raccoons and some others as we weaved our way through the park. The unique part about the park is that it is right on the beach which are private for park visitors. It is such a stunning beach that many movies have been filled there including Tom Hanks’ Castaway. The unique part about the beach is that there are monkeys everywhere, literally everywhere! They come up with curiosity and launch at the first chance to steal some food from someone not paying attention. I had to have seen over 100 monkeys and tens of raccoons too as they join the food stealing party. It was fun seeing the monkeys and especially cool to get so close to them! After the park, we went to find food before our bus back. Kate found a really cool local fish spot off the main drag and we headed there for lunch. I had an amazing lunch with fresh fish, plantains and vegetables. It was a great local experience and filled my belly before I passed out on the ride back.

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Our last night was spent going out to dinner with the owners of the condo community we were staying in. He and his wife were such amazing and gracious hosts and were so grateful to have us stay there and spread the world. They are just good people, like many of the Costa Ricans we met during our stay. I really, really enjoyed my little vacation to Costa Rica and was able to do all new things even though I had spent a lot of time in the country during college. It was relaxing, productive for work, adventurous and I met some friends that I will hopefully see again. Even when you go to a “touristy” destination, you can still get a local experience, which is the most fun part about traveling. Costa Rica truly is a beautiful and amazing country and there are still some unbeaten paths so get there while you still can!

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