Location: Playa Ocotal, Costa Rica
Give me 30 seconds:
- If you are going to purchase a deal through Groupon, DO YOUR RESEARCH. READ THE FINE PRINT. Kind of self explanatory.
- Tamarindo Beach is excellent for surfing, water sports and nightlife.
- Do a day trip to Nicaragua and book it through a tour, don't attempt it on your own. Unless you're ballsy.
- Zipline through the Monteverde Cloud Forest. You will not regret the experience.
- Eat everything at Papagayo Seafood.
I don't know about you, but my email box is constantly inundated with newsletters with all types of travel, hotel and flight deals from all different types of companies. Usually I quickly delete everything as to not get temped, but soon my curiosity got the better of me.
The one company that I continually see deals from that intrigued me, is none other than Groupon. Groupon is a daily deal site with everything from clothing to beauty to local business deals, and they are usually heavily discounted. I think one time I bought a Starbucks gift card for $5 valued at $10 and another time, two AMC movie tickets for $18, valued at $30, so I was really feeling this saving money thing. I never unsubscribed from their email list, but as time went on, they added travel deals to their offerings. Tell me more I thought. If you take a look, they have an extensive offering of unbelievably great looking deals in their repertoire. Take this for example. My roundtrip flight from New York City to Tokyo Japan was around $1500USD but I would see 10 day trips with hotel and flight included to the same destination for $1100USD?! How is this possible? And not simply Japan, there are listed trips and adventures all around the world. From the secluded beaches in Bali to luxury glamping during a Safari in Tanzania to a RV trip through the painted desert in Utah, you name it, I am sure it is listed in there at some ridiculous price that makes you look twice to be sure you aren't seeing things. They say if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Based on my experience in Costa Rica, I beg to differ. For those of you who do not know me, I am a pretty street smart individual. I am skeptical about all things "deal" related and usually stay away. But after carefully reading the fine print on the Costa Rica deal, my then boyfriend JP and I decided to give it a shot. The fine print includes information such as double occupancy rules, non inclusive taxes, specific travel dates, specific airports, hotel information, cancellations and possible resort fees. It is all pretty self explanatory and simple enough; if you agree, then purchase, if you don't, then skip. Do research on the hotel and if it does not meet up to your standards, again, the choice is simple and skip.
Our trip was inclusive of a roundtrip flight from New York to Libera, Costa Rica and then a 6 nights at Ocotal Beach Resort in Playa Ocotal. After doing plenty of research before booking, we knew that Playa Ocotal was not as popular as staying near Tamarindo Beach or Manuel Antonio, but we didn't mind exploring. This was our first trip to Costa Rica and it certainly wouldn't be our last. As for a Groupon travel deal, probably not our last either. I mean, who doesn't like saving money on a good deal? Just make sure to do your research and carefully read the fine print! (Note: The only things included in this particular Groupon deal was the roundtrip flight and double occupancy at the Ocotal Beach Resort. None of the activities were included unless stated.)
Ocotal Beach, Costa Rica
Playa Ocotal is a wonderfully peaceful and quiet place and not a main attraction for tourists. Most of our activities including swimming, relaxing and snorkeling with a backdrop of scenic hills and cliffs hem and the Catalina Islands just offshore. The nearest beach town is Playas del Coco where there are plenty of restaurants, surf shops and nightclubs. Papagayo Seafood was one of our favorite restaurants with various preparation choices for the daily fresh catch. It was in Playas del Coco that we found Unique Tours that we used to book our day trips, activities and hire our private driver. Through Unique Tours we booked a day trip to Nicaragua, the Arenal Volcano, the Monteverde Cloud Forest, zip lining and a private beach tour; all with excellent professionalism and ease. If you can, request Jose as a guide and Ernesto as a driver, they were absolutely excellent! I wouldn't say Ocotal Beach Resort was luxurious in any way, but we had an ocean facing terrace, breakfast every morning on an open air patio, and a nearby local beach. It was certainly no frills but the spectacular views were worth it.
Day trip to Nicaragua
Give me 30 seconds if you book a tour to Nicaragua:
- You need to bring your passport – not a copy. Your actual passport.
- Bring a print out copy of your flight itinerary out of Costa Rica to present when you’re re-entering Costa Rica.
- The tour costs $150USD per person.
- Its a long day so bring snacks. You are only provided water, breakfast and lunch.
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.
- Bring your phone or camera and a day bag. I'd highly advise leaving any fancy purses at home.
- You can use dollars everywhere but they will give you your change back in cordobas (currency in Nicaragua).
Booked with Unique Tours, our day trip to Nicaragua was an absolute adventure! We were picked up bright and early at 5:30am from our hotel with maybe 8 other people as part of the group. During the three hour drive with Jose as our guide, we learned interesting facts about Nicaragua and were educated about the history and the people. When we arrived at the border of Nicaragua, everyone in the group had to hand in our passports and change vehicles in order to cross the border. Because you are on a professional tour, the guide seamlessly handles the country entry process while the group is allowed to do a little duty free shopping until entry is granted. The border feels really dangerous as there are guards with machine guns and peddlers harassing tourists. After entering the country (there is a country entry fee), we were able to explore a small town, Santa Catarina. Its all mostly souvenir stores there, but its lovely to see all the hand crafted items.
The next stop was Masaya Volcano. Seeing that its an active volcano and is famous for being the only one in the western hemisphere where you can actually drive up to the center, it was an exciting once in a lifetime experience. Fortunately for us, it was a sunny day and were able to actually see the crater. We spent about 45 minutes walking around, exploring and taking photos in our hard hats and listening to some pretty interesting history of the volcano.
Interesting Fact: The Mayans who used to inhabit this volcanic area, would sacrifice beautiful women at the cross whenever the volcano erupted or even rumbled.
Next, we stopped at Masaya market, one of the most famous souvenir marketplaces in Central America. Stocked with stall after stall of handmade crafts, hand rolled cigars, clothing, exotic skin handbags and shoes to various jewelry and trinkets, this market has something for everyone. I could have stayed here for at least a few hours but JP was ready to leave about 15 min after arriving. Ugh, men and their impatience with shopping!
With our bellies full of lunch, we climbed into a boat and went off into Lake Nicaragua for some stunning views. This was probably one of my favorite parts of the entire tour. If you have ever thought about wanting to own your own private island and build a house on it, this is the exact place to do it! We saw so many private residences on our ride and even saw an island with a newly built house on asking only $200,000USD! Coming from Manhattan where one bed one bath goes for over 1.5 million, this is a steal! Jose pointed out some owners homes with pet monkeys hanging around outside and better yet, there is even Monkey Island, where a few monkeys live without human invasion. Yet :)
After the boat ride, we stopped in Granada which is one of the most important cities in Nicaragua due to its rich colonial heritage, apparent through its architecture and city design. You will see colonial buildings and churches everywhere and automatically see why so many people love this little city. In fact, many of the foreigners who move to Nicaragua choose Granada as their new home. We walked through town towards the main yellow church and visited a cigar factory and some fruit stands on the way. They let us climb up a bell tower for an incredible view of Granada which was a beautiful ending to our long and adventurous day. I'd say $150USD well spent. Well minus my shopping fund of course :)
I highly suggest booking a tour if you plan to visit Nicaragua as you will get the most out of your day and not have to worry about the paperwork at the border.
Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica
High above the rainforest treetops, a layer of fluffy clouds sits where visitors can walk across a floating walkway or zip line through and truly feel immersed within the forested environment. JP and I picked the zip line option and went flying through the treetops, soaring over and through clouds, alongside the exotic birds and swinging monkeys. Someplace up in the mountains, there is a little area, a monkey zoo if you will, in which you can play and interact with various types of monkeys. The zip lining experience was a thrilling one
Private Beach Tours, Costa Rica
Again, through Unique Tours, we hired Ernesto as our driver for the day to drive us around to the top beaches so that we could get a taste for the different ambiance and settings on each. We ended up spending about 1.5-2 hours at each beach including Tamarindo, Cahuita and Manuel Antonio.
Tamarindo, once a small quiet fishing town has now developed into a bustling tourist town. For every budget, one can enjoy the unspoiled beaches and incredible water sport activities in this laid back beach town. Surfing is available here to all levels. I took a paddle board out and just enjoyed the calm waves and worked on my tan. Tamarindo is the place to come if you want a ton of restaurant options, shops and nightclubs and the town is bustling with people looking to have a great time. Just north is the Parque Nacional Marino, which offers visitors an opportunity to see the leatherback turtle come ashore to lay eggs. I didn't actually get to see this, but if you're visiting at the right time, be sure to check it out!
Cahuita/ Playa Negra, is a vibrant little village with about 4,000 inhabitants, in the setting of Costa Rica's Creole culture, south of Limon on the Caribbean Coast. Cahuita is a wonderful place to come if you want some peace and quiet away from the tourist noise. Local fruit stands sell refreshing fruit salad and roasted peanuts. For food in Cahuita has an Afro- Caribbean influence which consists of dishes such as jerk, seasoned meats and curried goat or chicken. Nearby, Playa Negra is clearly named after its black-sand and offers a pleasant quiet atmosphere and great swimming. We also heard there is a sloth sanctuary nearby, but we didn't have a chance to visit.
Manuel Antonio, has sparkling white sandy beaches, shimmering blue water and a fresh ocean breeze that can melt away any stress you might have. A luxury oasis awaits you here in Manuel Antonio as you can enjoy swimming, hiking the Manuel Antonio National Park, surfing or simply relaxing and watching a vibrant sunset. And if you know me at all, you know I sat here and watched the most stunning sunset. Here in this area you will spot different types of monkeys, even on the beach so keep an eye out for your personal items as they have been known to go through your items looking for a snack!
As as another trip ends with a sunset, planning for another has already begun. I hope you have an incredible time in Costa Rica as I did and give Groupon trips a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised. Let me know your experiences with Groupon trips if you have had any!
As always, go JETSETAWAY!