A little while ago, we made a phone call to a young lady named Laura Henley, and broke the news that she had won our competition prize of a 16-day trip to Costa Rica.
We caught up with her recently to find out how the trip went, and get a few juicy details about life in Central America.
Costa Rica is famously diverse; offering some of the most varied flora and fauna in the world, in breathtaking settings. On top of this, the country is also an adventure travelers paradise, with rushing rivers and towering volcanoes aplenty.
But don’t take our word for it, read our interview with Laura, about her journey along one of our most popular tours of the region, the Costa Rica Adventure.
Interview with Prize Winner, Laura Henley
Do you like to win stuff? Of course you do! Look out for more competitions — some big, some bigger — right here, and you could find yourself the star of the STA Travel Blog in the coming months! But first, let’s see what Laura had to say about her first trip to the wondrous country, of Costa Rica…
How did you hear about the competition?
I was checking the airfares on the STA Travel website, when I came across the competition. I’d been researching trips to Costa Rica, so I figured it was worth a shot — I’m so pleased I did!
At the time, I was weighing up the pros and cons of doing a tour versus independent travel.
Had you ever won anything before?
Only when I was a little kid, but nothing ever this big before. It just goes to show, it really can happen. I’ll be looking out for more competitions from STA Travel from now on!
How did you feel when you won?
I’d actually forgotten about entering this one, so it was a total shock. When STA Travel first got in touch, I have to admit I was a little dubious. I just couldn’t believe I’d actually won, but then I rang you back and confirmed and was delighted at the news.
I was so pleased with the way it all came together — my boyfriend had already visited Costa Rica, where he helped at a volunteer project, and so we were looking to visit together to explore more of the country… then we won the trip! Talk about fate, it just seemed so perfect.
Who did you choose to take with you?
It could only have been one person: my boyfriend. He’d been before, and loved the country, so we were already planning on visiting together.
Did you have any preconceptions about Costa Rica?
I soon realized that Costa Rica was totally different from the picture I had in my head. For a start, there were less snakes and spiders in the jungle than I was expecting!
The cities also turned out to be a lot safer than I had thought, or heard from others.
I was totally unprepared for how much wildlife there was there to see, just going about your everyday life — like monkeys in the bus stop; iguanas by the pool; or sloth’s in the restaurant!
We were eating at a restaurant one day, when we spotted a sloth climbing along a wire that had been strung up to stop them from using electric wires — much safer!
Do you have any amazing memories from the trip?
The highlight was definitely La Fortuna and the arenal volcano; there was so much active stuff to do. There’s also plenty of adventure activities, like white water rafting and mountain biking.
The others on the tour did the adrenaline stuff, we opted for a hike to a crater lake, which was a 2 hour vertical hike. The views were absolutely incredible; across the untouched crater lake to the volcano. That day was the hottest day of the entire trip, but definitely worth the exhaustion.
La Fortuna’s volcanoes had an overwhelming presence looming over the town — and the beaches were nice, especially Manuel Antonia beach, which was a great way to chill out at the end. I had wanted to try surfing at Puerto Viejo, but we ran out of time.
What was the best/worst food/drink you had there?
We loved the local soda bars — little family-run establishments that served massive portions. Typical meals included rice, beans and cheese — although to be honest, towards the end of the trip, I got a bit bored of rice and beans!
Did you pick up any special souvenirs?
Some paintings by local artists and indigenous tribe – one of a monkey too – which I bought at the end of the trip to save me carrying them around.
Did you meet some memorable people on the trip?
A very cool tour-guide — he was from Nicaragua, but now lived in La Fortuna. Our group were all of a similar age, and we are now swapping photos – it’s really made me want to improve my wildlife photography skills.
Do you have any insider tips to others planning a trip to Costa Rica?
Don’t go via Miami — we had to run to catch our flights as security took so long.
Get off the beaten track — explore as much as you can. It’s much cheaper to eat at local places as you get to eat with people you wouldn’t usually meet, and it also makes things a lot easier if you have your accommodation sorted in advance.
Do you feel this trip has given you the traveling bug?
Definitely! I want to go back already – I’m already missing it. I’ve been recommending it to everyone – not least because it’s such a great way of life.
Any plans for more travels in the next year?
I’m really keen to see more of Europe, so I’ll be planning some quick trips onto the continent, and Japan is high on my wishlist.
Has the trip changed your opinion towards Costa Rica?
Yes. I worried about travelling there before, because of the roads, transport etc. but it turned out to be absolutely fine.
What were the most emotional parts of the trip?
Coming home! The worst bit was Sarapiqui — it involved one and a half hours on a tractor. The ride involved bumpy remote tracks, and I felt queasy the whole way.
How would you sum up your trip to Costa Rica?
Tiring in a good way; it offered non-stop things to do; and the overriding feeling was ‘green’!