Born to be Wild
”Get your motor runnin', Head out on the highway, Lookin' for adventure, And whatever comes our way. “
I can't say I knew what born to be wild really meant… until I visited Costa Rica 10 years ago. However, 2016 really changed the way I saw travel. That year I took a road trip from California to Costa Rica twice, camping along the way at some of the best surf breaks and waterfalls. I discovered what they call overlanding and from then on, it has been my favorite way to travel. Overlanding is a fairly new concept which merges camping and off-roading into one off-grid adventure. I love being able to drive to a place and make wherever is most beautiful or solitary my home for the night, or a few. Those moments sparked my admiration for vanlife. It became an obsession-I dreamt about finding the perfect van, converting it and to be honest it almost seemed slightly more exciting to convert it than to dream about travelling with it. Finally in December of 2018 after searching all over the US, Panama and Costa Rica, my husband and I found the perfect van thanks to a little help from our friends and family. We ended up with a 2014 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, an empty shell to transform into our dream-mobile. It took us 2.5 months to convert it and we went with an all wooden rustic yet boho chic interior. It's actually what people complement most when stepping inside- the sweet smell of wood- i guess it gives people a homey vibe. This tiny home is 2m wide by 3m long and honestly more than enough space to travel comfortably for weeks on end. We didn't realize what a phenomenon vanlife is around the world, which is what persuaded us to rent the van out to like minded travellers.
Since the conversion, we have travelled to Northern Nicaragua for a week, have explored places in Guanacaste we had never been before, spent a few nights in the cold tropical highlands of Rivas/Chirripó area, and explored the Caribbean coast where we were able to enjoy sunny days and crystal clear waters even during the Pacific rainy season. It would be hard to fit the ten best places to visit in Costa Rica because so many places are amazing and thriving with beauty. However, if i had to squeeze in the best due to time restraints they would be as follows: Rincon de La Vieja and Arenal Volcanos, Playa Negra and surrounding beaches for surfing in the North, San Juanillo and Conchal again in the North for those who don’t surf, the Caribbean-of course, Osa Peninsula and Pavones in the Southern Pacific, and lastly San Gerardo de Dota for a different kind of highland Costa Rican experience (especially for birders). I will go into detail about what makes these places so special, for me at least.
Arenal Volcano is pretty iconic for travellers to Costa Rica- it is on everyone's list because of its breathtaking views of the active andesitic stratovolcano from the volcanic hot springs surrounding the park. There is not much more convincing than that! However, Rincon De La Vieja another active andesitic complex volcano and the national park surrounding it doesn’t always make the cut on a first time travellers list of places to see in Costa Rica. I'm not sure why this is because we found it spectacular. The highlights during our trip were actually all the waterfalls, a whole 8 of them in just two days. What we loved most about being able to explore the waterfalls (one actually being a hot spring) was the fact that the hikes are super close to where you park the car, except one which was a very easy hike but took about 15minutes. I'm all about a good hike but sometimes, as a photographer, it is nice to not have to carry the heavy gear so far. We weren't able to hike the volcano due to all national parks being closed for a period of time mid year, but I have heard amazing things.
While visiting Rincon, Coastal towns of the Guanacaste Province aren't too far off the beaten path. We always love visiting Guanacaste so once we are up north we try to find time to visit those beautiful white sand beaches. For surfing, I love Playa Negra because it is a beautiful reef point break (for intermediate surfers) and usually it's clear enough to see fish and the reef underneath, which is a pretty unforgettable experience.The town is cute and quaint, Not much going on but great coffee and food at Corazon Surf Cafe, which also serves as a great place to park the van. Not too far to the north and the south of Negra are some other beach breaks which are great for beginners. If you’re not into surfing you can check out Playa Conchal (shell beach) just north of Tamarindo or San Juanillo (fishing village) just to the north of Nosara. They are both stunning beaches although very different. Conchal is a strip of beach where blue waters meet white sands and shells, while San Juanillo is known for a piece of land that stretches out into the sea forming a cute little bay for the villagers to keep their boats. Also San Juanillo has some really delicious looking restaurants. I have only eaten at one healthy organic spot and I loved it.
Ohhhh one of my all time favorites, the Carribean-such a special place which boasts of having one of the top 20 world's most beautiful beaches, Punta Uva. Almost feels like you're in a totally different country. The locals even speak Patwa and the streets smell of coconut, spices and marijuana, just kidding on the last one. Although the herb does seem to be decriminalized there and a part of the Caribbean beach culture. I love Puerto Viejo mostly for the variety of carribean food... Rice and beans cooked in coconut milk, Pati (spicy empanadas), and the weekend specialty of Ron Don (fish and lobster soup cooked in coconut milk). A huge perk to having the Carribean side of Costa Rica is that it is usually sunny and waters are crystal clear and perfect for snorkeling during the time of year when it rains in the Pacific and the ocean gets gnarly.
Switching gears to the Southern Region of Costa Rica, my two favorite places are Pavones on the south side of the Golfo Dulce aka Sweet Gulf and anywhere in Osa Peninsula. My go to is just north from Puerto Jimenez towards Karate (entrance to the Corcovado National Park). Although both these areas are known for the amazing surf, it is not just a paradise for surfers. In both areas you are surrounded by lush jungles, looming mountains, and loud scarlet macaws. Both have some really amazing river walks and some waterfalls. Pavones is more convenient as there are some restaurants and grocery stores, while in the Osa after the town of Puerto Jimenez places are few and far between to find food or drink -which also leads to its majesty. It's solitary. You are literally in the middle of the jungle. Everyone runs their homes/hotels off solar. Houses are hidden from sight. It is the ‘most biodiverse place on the planet’ and it's magical in that way.
And lastly, a part of Costa Rica I never knew existed my first 7 years here, San Gerardo De Dota. We found it refreshing to feel the climate differences and the need for a little sweater at night and who doesn't love a jacuzzi when it's chilly outside? Known primarily for birders, this area still has something special about it and maybe part of that is that it is one of those less visited places. This area as part of the Talamanca mountain range is known for one special bird in particular… one that gains international interest- the quetzal. It’s such a big deal, the national park even brags its name, Parque Nacional de los Quetzales and it is practically guaranteed you will see this magnificent bird. It's a special place for us, probably because it's so different from anywhere else in Costa Rica with its own ecosystem of pine trees and hills, and it's colder climate. Actually, we only discovered it by pure accident. We were on our way to surf the Cari
bbean 2 years ago and the rain storm took out mountain passes and bridges along the way. We literally explored all options and roads to get us there to no avail, which is what landed us in Cartago where we checked the map and found Cerro de la Muerte and Parque Nacional de los Quetzales. On a side note-this was the second best detour we had ever had together. The first was when we were heading down to Greece from Switzerland by car because of some flight issues and our first night in Italy decided we would rather go through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, and Albania to get to the North of Greece (instead of Italy's ferry to Greece)- that was another epic overland trip we can get into another time.
All in all, you really cannot go wrong in such a small, biodiverse, and beautiful country. It really is a paradise. So whether you are looking for adventure or relaxation, beaches or mountains, hot or cold, pacific or Caribbean, Costa Rica has it all. And the best part of traveling in a tiny home on wheels is that you are free to experience endless destinations; chasing waves and sunsets along lush coastlines without the hassle o
f check ins and checkouts, packing and unpacking. Roam to be Wild Campervan allows you to explore the natural wonders of Costa Rica to say the least - Epic adventures await.