Costa Rica: Spring Break the MikeNHikes Way

My oldest brother Jay and I had been planning a Spring trip for months. Our aim was to find an exciting place to celebrate my last Spring Break and his 30th birthday. We wanted to include our other brother, Brandon, but he informed us that he could only get a weekend off. That is when genius struck. We would spend a weekend in Fort Lauderdale with him before we headed further south to Costa Rica.

Fort Lauderdale

Jay and I flew out of DTW at 7:30 am and were greeted by the beautiful Florida sun, the musty smell of America’s basement, and our sorely missed brother (who rented a brand new Cadillac to pick us up). After a little reckless driving we checked into our corner room at the Marriott. This place was awesome! It overlooked the beach and the pool. Once we got settled Brandon called our attention. With grandeur he announced that he secretly bought tickets to Costa Rica and would be flying with us out there! We celebrated with what turned out to be $28 margaritas that were as big as my head.

Given our adventurous nature, we all wanted to explore. We walked down the beach on the hunt for something to do. For unknown reasons we could rent everything under the sun except surf boards. Naturally, that is what our hearts were set on. After a bit of searching we asked a local who worked at the bike rental shop where to find some boards. He informed us that there was no place close but that he personally had 3 boards he could rent us! We accepted with no hesitation. He soon presented 3 very small boards without any leashes. This was a bit bizarre but we took them anyway.

As we braved the 20 mph winds on our way to the shoreline I began to wish I had a leash for my first attempt at surfing. It turned out that the lifeguards felt the same way. Before we got even waist deep we were promptly kicked out of the ocean. It was a bummer, but I guess we were too gnarly for Fort Lauderdale Beach. Thank god we were headed to CR!

Costa Rica

Day 1

We flew into Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) and prepared for a 3 hour drive down the coast to our hotel in Manuel Antonio. Eager for lunch we made a pit stop somewhere along our route at an outdoor bar along a dust road. This place was small and sweaty but their tacos were unreal! They came topped with mango salsa and 3 types of hot sauce. They paired great with an ice cold Imperial, the beer of choice in CR.

Further down the road, we made a stop at an overlook in Jacó to catch the beginning of the sunset. The view did not disappoint.

Manuel Antonio

Given my college budget, our place was a tight squeeze. In fact, it resembled a hallway with bunk beds and was tucked away in the basement. It soon became known as “the dungeon”. In order to fit Brandon in, we bought a small air mattress that narrowly fit on the floor tucked away by the window A/C unit from the 1990’s. We made it work just like always.

Day 2

We all wanted a nice relaxing day to recuperate, but of course, that didn’t last long. We soon rented surf boards (for 40% the price we paid in Florida) and proceeded to ‘get pitted’. Turns out I am pretty bad at surfing but I was able to get up a few times and my brother’s, who had gone before, didn’t fair much better. It was a blast but the waves beat us up pretty quickly (notice Jay’s foot sticking out of the white water on the right.)

That night I experienced that most amazing sunset of my life. Check this out.


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Day 3

It was fitting that we saw a group of monkey at our hotel the day we planned to visit Manuel Antonio National Park (affectionately know as Monkey Park). They were jumping around near the restaurant and provided some great entertainment as we ate our breakfast.
One of the very first things we saw in the park was a sloth about 100 feet above the trail. He happily viewed us from his perch. This place is a haven for all sorts of wildlife. We were greeted by lizards as well as Howler, Capuchin, and Squirrel monkeys. In fact one of the lizards we encountered sudden moved, as we walked passed it and just about sent me and Jay running. We could have sworn it was a T-rex, but I suppose we were mistaken.

After hiking around the park with our new monkey friends, we were excited to find that the beaches were just as breathtaking. They are all tucked away in protected bays that allows the water to settle, making them the perfect place for a refreshing dip!


Day 4

After a few nights in very close quarters we decided to pack our bags and head a bit further South to the surf town of Dominical. Here the waves were much more favorable for riding, since they rolled on for ages. In Manuel Antonio they would break in the shallows and were only about 3 feet tall. Now we were facing 6-8 foot monsters.
After we checked into our Airbnb, which was at an awesome Yoga studio, we hit the beach and my brother Jay rented a board. I followed him into the water to get some footage but he kept going deeper and deeper until I could no longer see him. He had paddled out past the massive wave break! I felt a little uneasy and decided to drop off the camera to get a view of him. The problem was, I couldn’t see past the wall of water that he was behind.
Brandon and I searched for a few minutes and caught the occasional glimpse of Jay trying to maneuver his way around the swell. He later explained that when he went to hit his first wave, he got caught up in the pounding surf. He was being dragged by his board and fought to get air. At one point he kicked off the ground to get a precious breath before being mercilessly throw back into the deep. He admitted that he began to panic just as the ocean spit him out. He took a well-earned break which that allowed us to give it a shot. We decided to stay a bit more inland where the waves were more manageable. In fact, that is where all the surf lessons were taking place. After a handful of painful wipe-outs we decided to trade in the surf board from some beers. It was nice to chill for a change.
That night we learned that the sunsets in Dominical rivaled the beauty we found further north.

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Day 5

Nauyaca Falls are a 15 minute drive inland from Dominical. Then it’s another 10 minutes down a steep dirt road that appears to be one-way. That is until you see on-coming traffic! I was glad to be navigating in the passenger seat while Jay narrowly shimmied past other cars. Once we parked we hiked mostly uphill for over an hour until we reach the falls. They are separated into two sections and we opted to check out the taller one first.
Having been roasted by the mid-day sun, we couldn’t wait to check out the smaller falls that we heard came equipped with a swimming hole. We saw some locals climbing and jumping and paid close attention to the line they took to get to the higher ledges. Jay climbed up first and we soon realized that the locals made what was a tricky climb, look easy. In order to get up, you have to ascend moss covered rocks while being pounded by the waterfall. We took our time and made it to the ledge, it was well worth it! You can see that I have my game face on as I prepare to be the first one of us to jump.

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Day 6

On our last day one of the locals we met gave us the tip on a nearby waterfall. It cost only $2 to get in and it seemed to be the local “chill spot”. People were sliding down the waterfall like a slide and others were jumping from high ledges that surrounded the pool below.

After a couple hours hanging by the water, we reluctantly packed our car and headed toward the airport. However, rather than arriving early for our flight we decided to check out downtown San Jose, the country’s capital and largest city. From research I knew to avoid certain areas but we wound up finding ourselves driving right through some rough parts of town (thanks to Waze). Once we got outside the city, we could see the city lights that were spread all across the valley. We stopped to check it out before heading to the airport. Our flight was at 2:30 am, so we kept the car an extra couple hours to get a little sleep. After a few red-eye flights we arrived back in Detroit around 2:30 pm.

All-in-all Costa Rica is an adventurer’s dream come true. There is constant excitement to be had and breath taking sites at every turn. I look forward to visiting again one day.

Want to know more about any thing specific? Let me know, I am more than happy to help!

-Michael J. Flora

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