Costa Rica – Resort or Backpack?

July 19, 2016 5 min read 0 Comments

Costa Rica – Resort or Backpack? | A Map to Anywhere

For this Costa Rica travel blog, I wanted to focus on the two main travel options for the country; resort style or backpack?

costa rica resort or backpack

First Impressions

Costa Rica was one of the first countries I travelled to outside the US, and I still think it’s one of the best first trips you can take.

For the record, it’s also great for experienced travelers. As I update this in 2018, I’d love to go back and spend more time there.

True, it’s also the first place I overheard an angry American tourist say, “I can’t believe there’s not a Starbucks here.”

For real. Some lady said that.

The cultural experiences of Costa Rica will not be limited to just those of a distinctly Costa Rican nature. They will include experiences with other American tourists and retirees. You will likely notice upon boarding your flight that a number of Texans are on their way to vacation with you.

Once you arrive, you will find American retirement communities (but don’t worry, I hear it’s not as extreme as Panama, which has become the new Florida). It’s also very different from Guatemala and Belize.

In my opinion, there are only two ways to do Costa Rica, the resort route and the backpacker route. Each has it’s advantages and you need to choose based on what type of experience you are looking for.

Or, you can choose to experience a bit of both.

Costa rica resort blog

The Resort Route

The first time I was in Costa Rica, I stayed at a resort.

It was a great price and was a completely beautiful place. We got fresh fruit in the room every morning, monkeys played outside on the grass, climbing into the trees and howling at night.

There were three restaurants in the resort and a shuttle to the nearest beach. They made it hard to want to leave.

This type of trip is awesome and so necessary sometimes for us overworked and under-vacationed Americans. It was a beautiful way to enjoy the exotic birds, fruits and howler monkeys while re-charging.

We took a few tours during the day, one to a banana plantation, one zip-lining, and one sail fishing. All were awesome, all were expensive.

It was good.

costa rica

People Watching

We also saw unhappy families, moms mad at the kids, dads on their phones the whole time, couples disconnected and the lady who was shocked there wasn’t a Starbucks…

And I’ll be honest with you, THAT’s VALUABLE TOO. It’s important to sometimes step back and see your culture in another perspective.

That’s the really interesting thing to me about luxury travel, sometimes you see what type of person and traveler you don’t want to be when you are around those who are around those who have a lot but seem to have little.

Who Should do the Resort Route

If you need a break from the world, in a beautiful place, where there is very little to worry about but still a hint of the exotic, the resort route in Costa Rica is great. It will revive you. You will feel energized by your beautiful surroundings. You will have the option to eat at the amazing resort restaurants all around you.

Some of the best food I’ve had in my life is still the amazing resort food in Costa Rica. It’s expensive, but wow.

You will get to enjoy some of the most beautiful jungles and beaches you could imagine. You can do it in comfort, with a friendly guide who works on tips.

Costa Rica is a great place to recharge.

You can buy the whole vacation package and not worry about anything else.

There is no shame in taking care of yourself and relaxing in a beautiful place.


The Backpacker Route


The second route, is for those who are ready for overland busses, hostel dorms, mosquitos and some cheap, lively fun.

There are lots of backpackers in Costa Rica. If it’s your first hostel trip and you’re looking to improve your Spanish, this would be an awesome place to start.

Since it’s well-touristed, you won’t have a hard time figuring things out. There will be lots of other backpackers in your hostel and they will be from all over the world. They will be happy to let you know what they liked and didn’t like, where to go and what to do on a day-today basis.

You’ll probably have some awesome nights out and some really fun beach days too.

That’s the thing about Costa Rica, it’s a small country, so it’s easy to travel but there’s also a lot of diversity in the landscape and the activities. The jungle is, of course, amazing. So are the beaches and so is the hill country.

Not only that, but there’s also a ton of options for yoga, meditation and surfing.

If you want to spend a month backpacking it, you’ll have plenty to do.

And you’ll go home with friends from all over the world.

Who Should Consider the Backpacker Route

If you are up for a bit of adventure, some dirty public bathrooms, and new friends from around the world, this option is great.

True, you will be missing out on the creature comforts you would have available at a resort but I think the payout is worth it.

Don’t go the backpacker route if you are exhausted and really need a recharge. Go the backpacker route if you need a shake up from the routine, some adventure and some really fun nights out.

Be prepared for some mosquitos and hot sweaty days and some really amazing times.

But what if you could have both?

If you have a little more time, say 10 days to a week, consider doing both!

Travel is exhausting. We all need to relax from the pace of normal life. So give yourself a few days in a resort to unwind and start your trip off on the right foot!

I suggest if you are going to do this, you stay three to five nights in a resort. You need about three nights anywhere to rest and recharge.

Enjoy great service, great food, and a beautiful setting that has all the comforts of home.

Then, once you’ve got your bearings about you, hit the road backpacker style.

Stay in a hostel, take a bus trip, sleep in a bungalow on the beach with a crowd of new, international friends. Experience Costa Rica a little more close-up.

Eat at local sodas and get a feel for what Costa Rica really is!


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