Kyle Jamison and James Chapman were college students in need of a fun, inexpensive summer escape. An adventure in Costa Rica sounded perfect to them. Now first-year medical students, they recount their week in Costa Rica and share insider tips for taking an adventure on a budget.

Photo by Kyle Jamison. Kyle with one of the children he worked with

This sounds like a spur-of-the-moment summer trip. Why Costa Rica?

Kyle: It’s a hobby of mine to plan vacations to different parts of the world. Fortunately, we were able to make this one happen. I had heard a lot of great things about Costa Rica from several people.

How did you get there without spending a lot of money?

James: We decided to buy standby tickets. Our flight was scheduled from Salt Lake City to New York, but we found out that we weren’t going to get out of Salt Lake for a few days because so many people were in the standby line. We met an older couple and explained our dilemma to them. They let us drive with them in their car all night down to Las Vegas so that we could catch a flight from there to New York early the next morning. In New York we took a flight to Orlando. We caught the last flight to San José and took a bus to get to our destination in Costa Rica.

Would you recommend the standby option?

James: I’d recommend doing a lot of research online and purchasing plane tickets in advance.

How were you able to keep daily costs down?

James: Because we ate the local food, stayed in hostels, and tried not to spend much money, we spent only about $25 a day.

You probably traveled very light.

Kyle: We were minimalists because we knew we’d be carrying everything on our back. All you need are some board shorts and a microfiber shirt, or just something that will dry fast, as it does like to rain in the rainforest. Because we packed pretty light, we were open to spontaneity and could spend additional time when we met cool people or found a rad spot.

Was it all play?

Photo by Kyle Jamison. Some of the many monkeys

James: No, we did one week of volunteer service and one week of vacation. We helped build a kitchen for a community center in a poorer neighborhood. We would start early each day before it got hot or rained, and we would be done early so we could go out and experience the culture during the evening. During our break we were able to play with the kids. This was a great way to make friends as well.

What was your favorite part about Costa Rican culture?

Kyle: I’m definitely a food guy. I’m big on trying new things—and the cosados (lunch plates) and the plethora of fruit did not disappoint.

What was the most bizarre thing you ate?

James: They gave us a green orange. We thought it wasn’t ripe, but they said it was so we ate it. It was really delicious. They also had some other exotic fruits that weren’t too tasty. I’d never seen them before, but I tried them!

Any interactions with wildlife?

Kyle: The monkeys were the most interesting animals to interact with. I think I got a little too close to one group; what looked like the alpha male charged at me and then bared his teeth and hissed. We also found a sloth, which was pretty cool. They just hang out.

James: It was cool to see the rainforest. There were iguanas everywhere. We also saw toucans. It was really neat to see a side of nature we don’t have in the United States.

Photo by Kyle Jamison. A waterfall in the Area


What are some “musts” that you would recommend?

Kyle: My favorite part was the people we met. Staying in hostels is a great way to meet other travelers. Just being friendly and talking to people you see every day expands your realm of adventures, as you can learn about where others are going and go with them. I recommend finding a good beach like Nosara, going for a hike in the rainforest, and seeing all the monkeys and other wildlife. Check out Mt. Arenal—the picturesque volcano in the middle of the country.

Would you do it again?

James: I would do it again for sure. There are some things that happened that we didn’t plan on. We had some unexpected bumps on the way—such as losing our credit cards and having to go back and find them. But they make for great story.

—Alexa Justesen