This was my first time in Costa Rica, and I really liked it. It's visibly better funded than Guatemala (the Central American country I have the most experience with), and it took me a little while to get used to potable water coming from the taps. San Jose didn't strike my fancy, though I didn't really set out to explore it much, but the countryside is fantastically lush and beautiful.
The day we drove to Dominical, taking the mountain route, we wound up on a crazy little detour off the highway that started out paved but quickly turned into an incredibly steep and twisty dirt road that left us all wondering if we'd taken a wrong turn. A quick consultation with another driver confirmed we were in the right place, and I think we spent about 30 minutes of the most difficult driving I've ever done. I was glad to have both a manual transmission and four wheel drive.
The rest of the drive was winding and gorgeous, to an elevation of over 11,000' before dropping down to sea level at a rate that made the changes in the air noticeable moment to moment.
Dominical wasn't much to write home about as a town, but I liked the house we rented, and it was walking distance to the beach, down an unpaved street. The beach was grey sand and had a pretty foamy break that was popular with surfers (which is why we chose it -- my brother's big into surfing recently), and although it wasn't my favorite ocean swimming conditions, the water was bathtub warm and wonderful to be in.
Other highlights include the next door restaurant that had super delicious batidos (smoothies), the intense and restorative massages (two of them!), and the beauty of Manuel Antonio park. I also got a surprising amount of my Spanish back, to the point that I transacted a pretty complicated exchange at the airport in Spanish on my return -- to my great satisfaction! And I think I might have drunk my weight in fresh coconut water, drunk right from the coconut. Oh! And I finally got to try a cashew fruit! It was horrible.
This is the first big vacation that my family and I have taken since we were all together in Guatemala for Christmas in 2003, and it was such a pleasure to be traveling together, so of course that, in concert with the novel and tropical setting, my companions were the biggest overall highlight. I hope we manage to do something like this again before another 11 years have passed!
And now, I'm enjoying the fullness of the pleasure of being home, even if it does require several layers of wool. It also includes a purring cat for my lap. Is there any sweeter satisfaction to travel than the first night in your own bed, no matter how good the vacation was?