How to Crash a Costa Rican Destination Wedding

8 minutes read
How to Crash a Costa Rican Destination Wedding


By Ellen Kortesoja

Now it’s just a blur of turquoise ocean and hot, coconut-smelling skin.

You take the pictures to remind yourself. You can talk about the topography of the country for a round or two.

You sound cool.

But nothing replaces that feeling of waking up to a rooster crowing in the hotel courtyard, and seeing your college best friends with their legs dangling in the pool drinking out of glasses with paper umbrellas at nine in the morning.

‘The Americans take Playa Carillo’ would be the best description. On one side of the scale, there’s me… My five-plus years of Spanish study under my belt, and my determination to show locals that I respect their culture and want to make an effort. And then there’s Jan from Ohio, who hangs her head out the window of our Costa Rican-style Uber (a.k.a. a friend of the hotel worker who wants to make an extra buck), and yells to passersby “HOLAAAA SEN-YOR!”

Love that girl.

I laugh and am simultaneously mortified. But then I’m struck with the realty… THIS IS VACATION – at a four star hotel. Everyone knows what we’re doing here – touristing. So I settle into that mindset.

Let’s backtrack. We are in Playa Carillo for my best friend’s wedding to her Costa Rican fiancé. Playa Carillo is closest to a larger town of Samara. It is on the dry, arid side of Costa Rica on the Pacific Coast.

I didn’t do my landscape research beyond scoping out the hotels and destinations. I, of course, pictured a lush rainforest with low hanging fruits and monkeys chattering.

Not really the case.

The west coast of Costa Rica is fairly plain. There’s rolling, dusty farm land to see, but the beaches remain a perfect paradise lined by palm trees.

A couple useful notes for Costa Rican travel, which is well documented all over the internet. 1) You should rent a car. 2) You should never, EVER rent a car. 3) You should get a GPS in the car you’re never renting.

There are no clear signs or mile markers of any sort unless you’re headed to a city or semi-tourist destination. So get the international phone plan, or get the GPS from the car rental place, and make life easier.

Costa Ricans have a variety of place-specific rules about insurance on car rentals. Pretty much, you’re likely to get charged through the nose for insurance, even if you wave a piece of paper around showing your credit card company covers it.

However, I actually had a pleasant experience. The best advice seems to be: go with a larger company (Alamo, Budget, Economy), rather than a local outpost where they could make up the rules as they go along. One thing any place WILL also try to do is charge an absorbent amount for the security deposit – so don’t be too alarmed.

Travel tip two: go with the hotel with breakfast included. Breakfast ‘tipico’ – eggs, plantains, white cheese, rice, fresh fruit, hot coffee… With ‘Salsa Lizano’ on the side. Nothing can go wrong after a breakfast tipico.

So we did the wedding thing. She looked beautiful. We cried. They did the vows in English and Spanish, which was most of our undoing.

The reception is a perfect amplified memory.

And dare I mention carnival? Why is it that all other foreign cultures know how to drink and party so much better than Americans?

Carnival happens at midnight of a wedding reception. There are gigantic inflatable toys and noise makers. And there’s a SECOND MEAL – In our case, fried rice.

Unfortunately, even with the extra sustenance at carnival time, there’s also lines of shooters.

Next day, nursing heavy hangovers and clutching coconuts with straws, we say teary goodbyes.

Most wedding guests staying extra days went back south toward San Jose and the rainforests. In the interest of time, I had scouted a trip going the opposite direction – northbound to the other beach cities on our way back up to Liberia – the smaller, (closer in proximity) international airport.

We first drove toward Tamarindo. If you don’t want to see a single local Costa Rican person, go there. Having never been to places in Florida, I can’t be sure, but I’m guessing this is what it would look like. Sunburned families in flip flops, surfer bums, etc.

But I cannot deny the amazing food options there. Resort living comes with resort dining, I suppose. After eating possibly the best seafood pasta of my life, we watched fire dancers from the beach while they entertained middle-aged couples with pina coladas.

For the final day in paradise, we opted for Playa Hermosa – which lives true to its name, beautiful beach. With $100 left to spend in 24 hours, we bartered our way into a snorkeling trip followed by beach massages.

Holy sunburn, and sheer perfection.

This beach I would highly recommend as a place to escape to for a week. Quaint and tucked away. There’s a number of beaches dubbed as “Playa Hermosa” in Costa Rica –this one is in Guanacaste region.

Costa Ricans have an easy way about them. Pura Vida could be something gimmicky to say while throwing up the Hawaiian surfer hand sign. But Costa Ricans truly live by it. It’s ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, it’s ‘the easy life’, or ‘be blessed, be thankful’.

It throws life into perspective – Cruising the dirt roads under palm trees and passing fresh fruit vendors – watching the beach peek out through the tree line as we wind back and forth on precarious roads.

Life is far away and very near at the same time – the lapping shore offering something unconditional. Maybe you’re doing it all wrong, it tells me. Pura Vida.

Ellen is a construction project manager in Washington D.C. Hailing from Ann Arbor, MI, she is getting slowly naturalized to the more temperate winters and blossoming food scene of D.C. She has traveled to parts of Europe, Central America, Peru, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, Singapore and Bali. You can usually find her bumming around volleyball courts or ingesting NPR podcasts. Follow her on Twitter or IG: @ellenjaneen

Ellen Kortesoja

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