You guys…I might not be a full-time traveler for much longer.
Yes. You heard me right.
Turns out, “budget traveling” just might not be for me…and budget traveling is how I would have to go to sustain a life of full-time travel.
I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica with a plan to “budget travel.” I wouldn’t spend money on fancy tours or private shuttle rides – what a waste! I was going to travel like a backpacker. I was going to stay in hostels, eat cheap street food, and make my way from place to place on public buses to save major colones.
But you see, I get sucked in easily. I love the promise of adventure. I love the thrill of a bright day ahead of me promising new friends, gorgeous views, and delicious food. And that’s exactly what Marbella Tours promised me.
I was chatting with the woman at the front desk at The Hemingway Inn in San Jose, practicing my terrible Spanish while she laughed along. I asked her what the best way was to get to Poás Volcano from San Jose, having read earlier that there was a bus that goes up every morning. After learning that the bus does NOT go up on Saturdays, I was at a loss.
That’s when she told me about Marbella Tours. The tour company would pick me up the next morning at 6:00 a.m., drive everyone out to Doka Estate for a coffee tasting and coffee plantation tour, then drive us to Poás Volcano to view the crater and explore the park a bit, then take us to La Paz Waterfall Gardens.
She promised that even though the price was steep ($126 USD), we would receive two full meals, snacks throughout the day, and full entry into the three attractions, plus transportation.
“Many young people do this tour,” she told me. “You’ll make friends.”
Okay, fine. I was sold.
For $126 USD, I was sold.
Marbella picked me up the next morning, as promised, and I have to admit…I wasn’t in the best mood. If you know me, you know that I don’t like mornings. I’m not particularly friendly in the mornings, and if I haven’t had coffee yet…well, just forget it.
Thankfully, our first stop of the tour was Doka Estate. The staff set out eight different coffee roasts for us to try (everything from a blonde to a breakfast blend, to a French roast, and more), and had prepared a full breakfast buffet for us. It was typical Costa Rica breakfast food (gallo pinto, cheese, scrambled eggs, fried plantains, corn tortillas, pineapple), and it was nothing short of delicious. I paired it with at least four different coffee roasts, before joining the rest of the group for the coffee tour…in a much better mood than I’d been in before!
I have to admit, the coffee tour was far more fascinating than I thought it would be! I’m ashamed to say that even as someone who drinks coffee – excessively – on a daily basis, I never spent much time thinking about where my coffee comes from, or how it becomes coffee, for that matter.
Our tour guides walked us through the process of harvesting coffee seeds, shelling them, drying them, and roasting them. I learned the answers to questions I didn’t even know I had – like how does decaf coffee become decaffeinated, and what’s takes a coffee bean from a blonde roast to deep, French roast?
(P.S. Costa Rican’s ship a portion of their coffee beans to a company in Germany that extracts the caffeine from coffee beans and turns around and sells it to companies like Coca Cola before shipping the decaffeinated beans back to Costa Rica).
(P.P.S. All coffee beans are the same, but what takes a light roast to a dark roast is how long it’s roasted for. The difference between a blonde and a French roast is only a matter of three minutes in the roaster, so the flavor of the bean changes very quickly.)
After filling up on coffee, we jumped back on the bus to head to Poás Volcano National Park. Once there, we had free reign to explore the park until our bus departure time. We all took in the view of the Laguna Caliente crater, and those of us who were feeling more adventurous also made the trek to Laguna Botos, an inactive cold-water crater lake at the top of the park.
As we make our way down the mountain, we stopped in at a typical Costa Rican frutas stand to sample fresh strawberries, Costa Rican wine and rum, and homemade cheese.
From there, we went to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. I was so impressed with this place! A portion of this facility is dedicated to the preservation of wildlife and education about the Costa Rican rainforest ecosystems. You walk through exhibits showcasing birds, butterflies, monkeys, frogs, jungle cats, and so much more. I think my favorite part of this was the butterfly room. I felt like a freaking goddess when the butterflies started landing all over me as soon as I walked in.
In the middle of this tour, we were treated to yet ANOTHER all-you-eat buffet, complete with just about every food you could possibly imagine. Then, we wrapped up our visit with a 45-minute hike down the La Paz Waterfalls.
As steep as the price was, I have to say, I was so impressed with Marbella Tours. Our tour guides were extremely knowledgeable, and conducted the tour in both English and Spanish, which I found to be really helpful for practicing my limited Spanish. I loved the door-to-door service, the delicious and copious amounts of food provided, and I truly loved learning about where the beverage that keeps me going every day comes from.
If you’re able to spring for it, I would highly recommend checking out Marbella Tours when you visit San Jose…especially for solo travelers. I met so many wonderful people and had a fantastic time exploring with them. If you’re interested in other regions, Marbella also offers tours to Irazú Volcano, Jacó, Arenal and more.
Are you a budget traveler, or do you prefer to indulge on vacation? Let me know in the comments below!