What's it like to travel to Costa Rica right now? Blissfully quiet in some parts

NOSARA, Costa Rica – After climbing for hours through pocked and muddy coastal hills in a tropical downpour, we skidded our four-wheel-drive Suzuki Jimny to a stop just before the road dipped into a deep, rain-swollen stream.

We were stuck, kicking ourselves for using backroads when a Costa Rican man on a motorcycle pulled alongside. He waved for us to follow him into the water. We looked at each other, took a breath and plunged ahead.

“Just keep going,” my travel partner said, before we finally emerged on the other side, tires wet and muddy, hearts pounding, waving thanks to our friend.

By late afternoon we were descending into the lush, palm-studded Playa Guiones in Nosara, a surfing hamlet on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, where American accents dotted the beach as the clouds broke for one of the Pacific coast’s famous pink and amber sunsets.

International travel planning difficult with shifting COVID-19 protocols

But it wasn’t the notoriously rough backroads that worried us most when – finally fully vaccinated – we pondered our first foray back to international travel after a pandemic year of shutdowns.

We spent hours scouring the web to understand often-shifting entry requirements for various countries, debating our safety and that of others in countries we visited, as well as the logistics and uncertainty of navigating COVID-19 testing or insurance requirements.

Costa Rica seemed like a place where we could safely spend most of our time outdoors at beaches, cloud forests, national parks and open-air restaurants. Opened to Americans in November, it seemed to have health care infrastructure to meet return-testing requirements.

Halfway into our trip, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised its travel warning for Costa Rica, citing a “very high level” of infections, a circumstance shared by more than three-quarters of other nations. Costa Rica has had more than 275,000 COVID-19 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has had more than 32 million cases.

Costa Rica travel requirements

By then we’d arrived with little hassle. No tests are needed to enter. But 48 hours before our flight, we had to fill out Costa Rica’s online Health Pass and purchase or prove COVID-19 travel insurance coverage of up to $2,000 for hotel quarantining and $50,000 in medical expenses. While you can get documents to prove coverage from an existing insurer, we purchased it through links to registered agencies on the same website, at a cost of $11 a day.

The website gives a QR code we showed before boarding our United Airlines flight and to customs officials after landing in Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste.

What's it like to travel to Costa Rica right now? Blissfully quiet in some parts

Currently, national parks may operate at 100% capacity, bars and casinos can operate at 50% capacity, and beaches are open from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m., according to the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica.

That didn’t impact our activities around Nosara, which draws surfers, expats, yoga buffs and families who dotted the small town’s cafes and restaurants, filled the Gilded Iguana hotel, took yoga classes and enjoyed the golden-sand stretch of Pacific beach framed by bluffs.

Signs requiring masks were posted at many businesses, with most people complying. We spent days renting surfboards and eating outdoors at restaurants such as La Luna, located on nearby Playa Pelada, which retains its fishing village charm.

We stayed at the Living Hotel, where single-story rooms are set in a lush jungle where we could hear a howler monkey, and devoured breakfasts of local coffee with homemade coconut milk and plates of eggs, avocado, mango and rice and beans called gallo pinto in open-air Destiny Cafe.

Things began picking up after the county opened to all U.S. states in November, said manager Alejandro Gomez. Even after the shoulder season that began in April, digital nomads and friends of expat Americans had kept it slightly fuller during the still quiet time.

“If you look at some other areas, they are not working as we are here,” he said. “It’s not crowded, but it’s enough.”

That’s not true across Costa Rica, where the number of tourists visiting in the first three months of 2021 was down 76% from 2020, according to the Costa Rica tourism board. Just 135,308 came from the U.S. at that time, compared to 405,000 in 2019.

Traveling in Costa Rica

What's it like to travel to Costa Rica right now? Blissfully quiet in some parts

We traveled next to the remote but increasingly popular beach town of Santa Teresa, where a dusty coastal road jammed with surfers on ATVs is lined with shops and restaurants. We stayed in a guest house up a dirt road so steep two Americans in rental cars slid off into a ditch during a rainy night, leading to a night-long effort by locals to pull them out.

Younger crowds meant less mask-wearing in some spots. That wasn’t an issue in the quieter Montezuma, a rugged and unspoiled coastal enclave with cafes and remote beach lodging a short drive away, where we hiked to a hidden tidal pool fed by a hillside waterfall.

After taking a car ferry from Playa Naranjo to the mainland, we drove up winding roads into the Cordillera de Tilarán mountains, past cows and ranches, into the famed cloud forests of Monteverde , where tropical winds condense in the cool air to create one of the most biodiverse areas on Earth. Founded by pacifist Quakers in the 1950s, it has turned into an ecotourism hot spot for its waterfalls, wildlife and bird-watching, and hiking.

While benches in the towns of Monteverde and Santa Elena no longer had police tape on them, and the famed Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve was reopened, crowds were slim, and some restaurants, hostels and hotels remained largely empty.

Yeisson Campos, who has run the Arco Iris Lodge for decades, said the pandemic has been economically devastating for many, and it’s been slow to pick up.

But it felt blissfully quiet. One night, we sipped a local Imperial beer on the porch of a home at Arco Iris after a cloud forest hike, listening to monkeys and birds in the mountaintops.

What's it like to travel to Costa Rica right now? Blissfully quiet in some parts

Our last stop was a stay in La Fortuna, the gateway to the Arenal Volcano National Park. We found refuge from the touristy town at the Nayara Gardens, whose complex of pools, luxury cabins and restaurants are tucked in lush gardens. Our balcony included a whirlpool spa with private jungle and volcano views. In the evening, we took in the outdoor natural EcoTermales hot springs, a lush and romantic oasis that required reservations, masks when not in the pools and limited visitors.

Getting home: COVID-19 tests and final memories made

Nervous about getting our COVID test results back in time for our return to the U.S. – all air passengers ages 2 and older flying into the U.S. must present a negative coronavirus test taken no more than three days before their flight or proof they recovered from the virus within the past three months – we booked rapid tests at the airport the day before our early morning departure, just in case.

We paid $65 each for rapid antigen tests at Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia with Laboratorios Echandi, which promised results within an hour. Outside the airport, we walked to a big white tent, registered and got our noses swabbed. If you’re positive, you have to quarantine at a local hotel, and most U.S. airlines require a 14-day quarantine.

We got the green light via email. We spent a blissful last night at El Mangroove, a Marriott hotel on the Gulf of Papagayo, just a 20-minute drive to the airport. We dined on mahi-mahi and swam in the dark-tiled pool, watching the sunset on a wedding on the beach and boat bobbing in the bay.

The next morning, we showed our results to airline check-in agents and were back in the U.S. safe and sound within hours – more aware than ever that the still-shifting path of COVID-19 abroad would make foreign travel complex for some time to come.

News Related

OTHER NEWS

Covid 19 coronavirus: Mercy flights home to NZ from Sydney sell out in minutes

Five mercy flights to bring home stranded Kiwis from Sydney sold out in a matter of minutes of being made available this morning, Air New Zealand says. Customer general manager ... Read more »

Teen collides with a seagull while on amusement park ride in Wildwood

A young girl was hit in the face by a flying seagull as she rode the ‘Sling-Shot’ ride at Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, New Jersey. Read more »

Will the mask mandate for flights be extended? Southwest Airlines CEO says airlines not pushing for it

Airplanes and airports are among the few remaining places where face masks are required, but they might not be after Sept. 13if the rule isn’t extended. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary ... Read more »

Disability rights activist says United Airlines damaged her $30,000 wheelchair

A disability rights activist is asking United Airlines to cover the cost of replacing her power wheelchair after discovering damage to her chair when she landed in Los Angeles. On ... Read more »

Australia holidays: Tasmania's best things to see and do

PRINT HEAD: The truth about TasmaniaPRINT BLURB: Australia’s island state is distinctively different from NZ and full of riches whatever your preferences, writes Pamela Wade “Tasmania. Isn’t it quite cold ... Read more »

GO NZ: Cycling Hokitika's West Coast Wilderness trail, plus wet weather activities

Thomas Bywater mines for tourist treasure on the West Coast My only prior experience of Hokitika was through reading The Luminaries. Well, a couple of hundred pages of it, anyway. ... Read more »

These animals rebounded from US 'endangered list' after teetering on brink of extinction

Discover five species that, with help of 1973’s Endangered Species Act, overcame overhunting, habitat destruction and even poisoning. Read more »

Hotel review: Stay of Queenstown, self-catering apartments for winter holidays

Stephanie Holmes spends a night at Stay of Queenstown Location: Frankton Rd, but less than a 15-minute walk into town Style: Chic self-contained apartments with impeccable taste in decor, and ... Read more »

Best airlines to fly with in 2021: Air New Zealand slips in industry awards

2020 year saw overseas travel decimated by the Pandemic and once great airlines shrink to shades of their former selves. However, one aviation awards body is convinced that air travel ... Read more »

Singapore travel bubble: Could Australia open New Zealand to foreign tourists?

OPINION: In spite of the current state of the Transtasman bubble, Australia has said it is determined to open its borders to Singapore by the end of the year. But ... Read more »

What to do in Whakatāne: Night kiwi tours and Moutohorā Whale Island

Julia Gabel is captivated by the landscape and seascape of Whakatāne There’s a roar of white noise as the wild east coast ocean clashes with the calm, strong current of ... Read more »

Celebrate Dole Whip Day with this Disney recipe for a homemade frozen pineapple treat

There are a few iconic snacks every Disney Parks lover recognizes: Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Bars, Mickey-shaped pretzels and Dole Whip. The latter now has its own dedicated day, National ... Read more »

GO NZ: A luxury cruise in Fiordland's Doubtful, Dusky and Breaksea Sounds

Six nights cruising in Fiordland takes passengers to another world, writes Stephanie Holmes Magic moments come thick and fast on the waters of Fiordland’s Doubtful (Patea), Breaksea (Te Pūaitaha) and ... Read more »

Jewel in the crown: Cruise with Fiordland Discovery

Traveling on 23m catamaran the Fiordland Jewel through Fiordland National Park takes passengers to some of the most remote parts of New Zealand – Doubtful, Dusky and Breaksea Sounds. Video ... Read more »

South Australia shuts its borders with NSW and Victoria as coronavirus outbreak continues

South Australia has reduced the size of its border bubbles with NSW and Victoria after both states recorded flare-ups of coronavirus. The new community cases revealed over the weekend included ... Read more »

More than half the crew on-board BBC California ship diagnosed with Covid-19

Eight crew on-board a cargo ship docked in Perth have tested positive for Covid-19, sparking fears for the other six people on the vessel. Health officials and police were at ... Read more »

Russian airports closed by Siberian bushfires in Yakutsk

Heavy smoke from raging wildfires covered the Russian city of Yakutsk and 50 other Siberian towns and settlements Sunday, temporarily halting operations at the city’s airport. Russia has been plagued ... Read more »

Amtrak's new train fleet promises all the bells, whistles. Here's what riders can expect.

DETROIT — Amtrak is betting big on a return of ridership. The nation’s passenger railroad wants to replace its nearly half-century-old fleet with state-of-the-art trains that can operate on electricity ... Read more »

France protests Covid Health Pass, vaccines

Over 100,000 people protested across France on Saturday against the government’s latest measures to push people to get vaccinated and curb rising infections by the delta variant of the coronavirus. ... Read more »

Taking a cruise from Florida will have to wait. Appeals court blocks order lifting CDC COVID rules on ships.

Cruising restrictions will stay in place. A federal appeals court panel sided with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its legal battle with Florida over COVID-19 guidelines for ... Read more »

10 reasons why you should stay at a family resort, even if you don't have kids

Booking your next vacation at a family-friendly resort might just be the best thing you can do to help insure you get the most out of your time away. This ... Read more »

Dreaming of Tahiti: Holidays on the horizon in French Polynesia and the Society Islands

As borders are currently opening and shutting like a swing-door dunny, where and when Kiwis can travel remains pretty up in the air. But the online world is still opening ... Read more »

American Airlines recalls 3k flight attendants, prepares to hire more as business picks up

FORT WORTH, Texas — American Airlines is canceling extended leaves for about 3,300 flight attendants and telling them to come back to work in time for the holiday season. And ... Read more »

This cruise sold fares starting at $73k. It sold out in less than 3 hours.

A cruise with fares starting at $73,499 sold out in less than three hours Wednesday. Regent Seven Seas Cruises put tickets for the 2024 World Cruise up for sale around ... Read more »

Airlines quizzed on delays, labor shortages by senator

WASHINGTON — A key senator is asking six U.S. airlines to explain the high rates of delayed and canceled flights this summer, and she’s asking whether there are labor shortages ... Read more »

That cabin in the woods has just gone upscale: Southeast New York retreats to check out

Remember when going to a cabin in the woods meant a rustic retreat, complete with creaky camp beds and S’mores around a campfire? Well, the s’mores are still there — ... Read more »

[Photo News] Zinnias bloom on Jeju Island

Zinnia blossoms are capturing the hearts of visitors at the historic site in Aewol-eup on Jeju Island where 13th-century Korean resistance fighters struggled as hard as they could against Mongolian ... Read more »

Melbourne restrictions ease again overnight as Sydney remains in lockdown

Melburnians woke up to more freedoms this morning as their counterparts in Sydney remain under tough lockdown restrictions due to surging Covid-19 cases. The Victorian government eased coronavirus restrictions overnight ... Read more »

'The volumes are beyond anything we have ever seen': Delta hold times won't improve until fall

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the airline has hired at least half of the couple thousand reservation agents it pledged to add and is hiring more every week. Most airlines ... Read more »

TSA agent accused of taking inappropriate photos of young females

A Transportation Security Administration agent at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was been accused by the Airport Police Department of taking dozens of photos of young females during flight screenings. The ... Read more »

Universal's Halloween Horror Nights makes a comeback

Universal Orlando announced on Thursday that Jack the Clown will return as the demented face of the popular Halloween event to commemorate its 30th year. Read more »

Western Australia slams border shut to Victoria again after Covid-19 outbreak grows

Western Australia is slamming its border shut to Victoria again after an outbreak of Covid-19 in the eastern state. Victoria’s coronavirus numbers have climbed to 24, prompting the West Australian ... Read more »

Nevada health officials ask people to mask up in Las Vegas casinos, other indoor spaces

<br/><p>Nevada health officials are asking more people to mask up in indoor spaces – including Las Vegas casinos.</p><p>The Southern Nevada Health District is recommending both unvaccinated and vaccinated people wear ... Read more »

Photos: Celebrate National Ice Cream Day in this renovated ice cream truck

To celebrate National Ice Cream Day on Sunday, online travel agency Booking.com is offering two separate guests an overnight stay in a decked-out ice cream truck, parked in New York ... Read more »

Canada cuts its ban on cruises short, plans to welcome back cruise ships Nov. 1

Canada has cut short its ban on cruises. Canada’s Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, announced Thursday that the country’s cruise ship ban will end Nov. 1 as the outlook of ... Read more »

'It's a nightmare come true': Halloween Horror Nights return to Universal theme parks

ORLANDO, Fla. — After a pandemic-related absence last year, Halloween Horror Nights are coming back to Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood with haunted mazes based on “Texas Chainsaw ... Read more »

Blue Origin: Dutch teen to join Jeff Bezos as youngest person in space

The winner of an auction for Blue Origin’s first seat into space is an 18 year old from the Netherlands. Most astronauts need a minimum of a doctorate degree in ... Read more »

10 places we wouldn't have without the New Deal: Central Park Zoo, San Antonio River Walk

Nearly 90 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt announced the New Deal, launching an unprecedented decade-long building spree that created parks, public art, monuments and much more. “We’re surrounded by the ... Read more »

These are the 20 most in-demand US cities, per Next Vacay

So you're fully vaccinated and looking to get back out there. Well, so is everyone else, and many of them may be eyeing the same destinations as you. Travel-booking platform ... Read more »

10 places we wouldn't have without the New Deal

Nearly 90 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt announced the New Deal, launching an unprecedented decade-long building spree that created parks, public art, monuments and much more. The Living New Deal, ... Read more »