Picture it, Costa Rica, 2022. An intrepid librarian steps off the airplane in San José, Costa Rica, a small backpack strapped to her back and a tote bag slung over her arm. That intrepid librarian was me, Roz Broch, Assistant Director and Head of Reference here at the Topsfield Town Library. Today I’d like to share some tales of my adventure, along with photos, helpful tips, and resources that might help you in your future travels.
Costa Rica is a gorgeous country with twelve microclimates and hundreds of thousands of wildlife species. It is a country that takes months to fully explore…and I had less than ten days. Understandably, I was a tad overwhelmed with the planning, preparation, and logistics. I was going to be traveling with a friend and between the two of us, we had a tough time deciding what we wanted to see. Eventually we decided to choose two locations, San José and Uvita, as “base camps” and explore the surrounding areas. I knew we had the makings of quite the adventure.
As a wannabe globetrotter, I want to deeply understand where I’m going; I also want to have a proper adventure. When traveling, I like to be prepared, knowing what to pack, how to act, and what I absolutely need to know. For this trip, I read blogs and articles, followed Costa Rican travel accounts on Instagram and YouTube, and looked at country maps. I also tapped into a more local resource – the library!
One of the smartest things I did (and I highly recommend doing this) was checking out the Topsfield Library’s travel books and online resources. I’ve included a list of books on Costa Rica at the end of this post. These books not only provided timely information on travel logistics and interesting places, but also sample itineraries and recommendations for tour companies.
Another resource that came in handy was Global Road Warrior, an extensive country-by-country guide that covers over 170 countries. I used it to learn about the history and culture of Costa Rica as well as its geography, government, and other important information. I was also able to research visa requirements and immunization recommendations. It was a central piece of my trip preparations. Global Road Warrior goes into greater detail than the travel books and I think I impressed the tour guides with my knowledge. A librarian who likes facts and information?! Wow, hard to believe.
Did you know? Costa Rica has two basic seasons, dry/summer season (December to April) and wet/winter season (May to November). My friend and I were traveling in August, right in the middle of the wet season. I’m very grateful that I packed a rain coat and umbrella because it rained every afternoon!
Between Global Road Warrior, Trip Advisor, and the travel books, I was able to plan out a basic itinerary and select three day tours – a day trip around the Central Valley, a waterfall tour (which was cancelled due to our tour guide having a fever), and a whale watching tour in Marino Ballena National Park, one of the few protected ocean habitats in the world. While in San José, we visited the Jade Museum and the Museum of Pre-Colombian Gold. Both museums are EPIC – so many artifacts, art installations, and historical and cultural information. Highly recommend. Be prepared to see and learn a lot.
The day trip around the Central Valley left from San José and included a tour of a cafetal (coffee farm), the La Paz waterfall, the San Sebastian waterfall (with hummingbirds!), spotting sloths in roadside trees, watching dozens of iguanas napping in the sun, a drive around the Arenal volcano, zip lining through the canopy, and relaxing at hot springs. It was a long, but wonderful, day. I’ve never really been much of a tour person, but with so much to see and less than 10 days in country, the tour was 100% worth it.
Did you know? The sun sets around 6pm every day of the year in Costa Rica. Due to its proximity to the equator, the days and nights are approximately 12 hours each (plus or minus 30 minutes). It was very strange to have darkness at 6pm in the middle of summer!
I hired a car to drive us from San José to Uvita, a small town on the Pacific Coast and home to the Marino Ballena National Park. The drive through the mountains was marvelous and we stopped in Jacó to see the crocodiles in the Tarcoles River. My friend is OBSESSED with alligators and crocodiles. It’s quite a popular stop between San Jose and the Manuel Antonio National Park, a well-known park on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast.
Did you know? Ballena is the Spanish word for whale.
From my research, I learned that August is a peak month for whale watching on the Pacific Coast. Humpback whales breed and raise their young in the warm and protected waters along the coastline. My friend and I went on a whale watching tour in Uvita and saw three whales with calves and a pod of dolphins. The tour company came highly recommended in the travel guides as being ecologically conscientious, responsible, and respectful of the whales’ needs. Protecting the planet is a priority in Costa Rica and that’s one of the many things I love about it.
ROZ TIP: I highly recommend either filming the whales or just sitting back to enjoy the experience. I spent too much time trying to photograph these incredible creatures instead of just taking it all in. The experience was profound, but I wish I hadn’t been so concerned with getting a perfect shot (which was nearly impossible). You only get a few moments when the whales breach the surface. Treasure them.
The remainder of our time in Uvita was spent swimming and exploring the beaches and surrounding areas, observing how the tides and rain seem to redesign the shoreline each day. They are powerful enough to uproot palm trees! We also attended the Sunday market, featuring local farms and artisans. We had wonderful conversations with the artists and producers about their work and living in Costa Rica. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in Uvita on a Sunday!
ROZ TIP: We were warned daily about falling coconuts, so if you are ever on a beach or walking through the jungle, don’t hang out under palm trees. The falling fruits can literally kill you if they fall on your head. Also, don’t carry valuables with you or leave bags unattended/unsecured. Bags and purses are often taken from beaches while their owners are in the water or taking a walk. Travel light, keep an eye on your stuff, and don’t bring anything you don’t mind losing. Traveling is a lesson in impermanence.
A very unique feature of the stunning beaches in Uvita is that they form a whale’s tail silhouette at low tide. It’s possible to walk out into the ocean. The actual tail can only be seen from above, but on my last morning in Uvita, I walked down to the beach at low tide and walked out to the tail. It was a wonderful conclusion to a life-changing trip.
Thank you for letting me share my experiences! Don’t forget to check out Global Road Warrior and our travel guides for your next adventure!