• Emmy Ciabattoni

A Pedacito of a Day in the Life: Living in Costa Rica

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

Costa Rica seems to be a hot spot these days; more and more people are “moving”—or staying for “extended periods of time”—here. Why not? When you can stay for up to 90 days without any kind of visa, it’s hard not to give it a shot. Whether you’re a digital nomad or just looking for a mental health break, maybe you’d like the inside scoop on what a day in the life looks like.


In the last four months, I’ve stayed in two neighboring towns—Malpais and Santa Teresa. Both are great for different reasons. Malpais is a smaller town full of jungle, wildlife, and locals, while Santa Teresa is a bustling hot spot full of trendy restaurants, some shopping, and nightlife. Because the towns are quite different, I’ll show you a day in the life for each.


A Day In The Life In Malpais, Costa Rica


While staying at Pachamama, which translates literally to Mother Earth, we wake up at 6:30 am to catch our bus (well, pickup truck) to the surf. If you miss the ride, it’s a 25-minute walk to the beach. Doable and scenic, but not ideal when you have a 2-hour surf session ahead of you.

I roll out of bed, brush my teeth and hair, put sunscreen on my face, slip on a wet bathing suit, wax my surfboard, and stumble down to our gathering area—half asleep. We load our boards into the truck and jump in the back. Off to the beach!

Riding in the pickup truck to surf in Malpais, Costa Rica
Riding in the pickup truck to surf in Malpais, Costa Rica
 Catching waves near Malpais, Costa Rica
Catching waves near Malpais, Costa Rica

Our surf group is in the water by 7 am every day during the dry season; there are waves, upon waves, upon waves during the dry season. Endless waves. Me, my boyfriend Jake, and our other Pachamama friends catch waves left and right for at least a couple of hours.


By 9 am, we’re all starving. We pack our boards in the surf rack and wander up to the beach club, just in front of the break, dripping wet. It’s pinto for me again, por favor! Because we’re located outside of the bustling town, this is our only option for breakfast.


Although we could cook, the grocery stores are a 30-minute walk, at least, in the blistering heat. Making the trek with arms full of groceries is another ordeal. Therefore, we load up on what we believe is the most delicious and affordable food in the entire area—complete with a view—in the hopes that it will hold us over until dinner.

Finally, it’s time to head back to Pachamama and start working remotely. I’ve been working on and off for my current employer for months, but there’s not much going on; since COVID, everything’s been weird.


Thankfully I saved some money, quite a bit, and could afford to come over here and spend some time searching for a remote job. Although I haven’t secured a full-time role yet, I’ve held quite a bit of freelance gigs. It’s cool; it’s like I’ve become my own boss.


I apply for a few jobs, take some online courses, and start work on my freelance gigs. I get distracted by the wildlife running around outside, whether it’s large lizards (Garrobos) fighting over territory or large rodents (Agoutis) nibbling on plants.

 The lookout at Pachamama Tropical Surf & Garden Lodge in Malpais, Costa Rica
The lookout at Pachamama Tropical Surf & Garden Lodge in Malpais, Costa Rica

I might as well take a little mental break so I head up to the lookout to do some yoga; I only last about ten minutes because of the blistering sun and the cardio workout I just completed climbing these stairs.

The stairs to the lookout at Pachamama in Malpais, Costa Rica
The stairs to the lookout at Pachamama in Malpais, Costa Rica

Once my workday is finished, I’m relieved, mainly because I’m ravenous. I’ve already been thinking about dinner for the last two hours and am about to eat two dinners at the restaurant across the street.


Because we can’t walk the beaches at night (it’s not safe in Malpais) and we don’t have transportation, Caracolas is our only option for dinner. We go every single night, and I’ve never once been mad about it. The food at Caracolas is the freshest, the view one of the best, and the prices the most affordable.


I was always incredibly excited for dinner time. My go-to dinner is the fish tacos—they make handmade corn tortillas unique to the Nicoya peninsula and a staple in a Blue Zone diet. They’re not like Mexican tortillas—rather they’re thicker, meatier. The fish is caught in the fishing village just down the road. And finally, they come with a house-made hot sauce. It’s all to die for.

 Handmade corn tortillas unique to the Nicoya Peninsula. source
Handmade corn tortillas unique to the Nicoya Peninsula

Because we need all the calories we can get, we end the day with a Trit. A Costa Rican must-try ice cream. Yes, I’m usually a clean eater, but this treat tops my “worth the splurge” list. We lie in bed at about 7:30 pm, eating ice cream and watching Game of Thrones until we fall asleep.

The irresistible Costa Rican dessert—Trits
The irresistible Costa Rican dessert—Trits

The thing I love about Malpais is that we really did experience pura vida—the country’s motto, which means simple, pure life. When it came to eating, we only had (2) options for breakfast and dinner. When it came to sleeping, we had a semi-hard, plastic-wrapped queen mattress. When it came to activities, it boiled down to watching nature and yoga. And we were happy.


A Day In The Life In Santa Teresa, Costa Rica


At the Plaza Royal Apartments, I still wake up at 6:30 AM. We’re just a few steps away from the water, so I walk the beach looking for the best surf spots. I know where to go by watching the wave and how it breaks; if it looks glassy and like it’s rolling at an angle, that’s going to be a good spot. There are almost too many options to choose from.

Scouting waves in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
Scouting waves in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

I’ve heard that the waves get stronger and steeper the farther north you go, so I walk awhile, farther from our apartment, towards the south end of the beach. I’m more of a “have fun” surfer than a “get caught in the washing machine in exchange for a barrel” kind of surfer. If it’s a good day, I’ll surf for about two hours. If it’s not good, I’ll surf for about an hour. Basically, I surf until all I can think about is breakfast.


There are quite a few breakfast options near our place. Bali Beach Deli is right below us and seems to be a crowd favorite, with their açaí bowls, fancy toasts, and sandwiches. There’s also Vermu, about a ten-minute walk down the way: definitely clean, definitely delicious, but the portions are smaller and more expensive. Instead, I decide to walk twenty minutes through the blistering heat to Ani’s Bowls & Salads.

 Ani’s Bowls & Salads in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
Ani’s Bowls & Salads in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

I get the açaí bowl with peanut butter; it might not sound like a lot, but they give the most heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter. And it’s creamy, like American peanut butter. The best I’ve found in the area. We’ve been here for about four months, so the cravings have been real and only now satisfied.


Now, it’s time for work. I head back to our heavenly air-conditioned apartment and throw on my pajamas. I settle down on the couch, debating whether or not I can survive the day without a nap. As mentioned, I start the usual applying for jobs and keeping up-to-date with my freelance gigs—until I’m hungry, again.

Our favorite lunch spot, Almacen, in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
Our favorite lunch spot, Almacen, in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

I walk about 6 minutes to Almacen; our new favorite lunch spot. They have the best (and only) deli sandwiches made from premium Costa Rican ingredients. I always get whole-grain ciabatta, pesto, olive tapenade, grilled eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, hard cheese, and arugula. The flavors blow my mind every time. We’ve tried to recreate her sandwiches many times without luck.


My boyfriend and I bring our sandwiches back to the couch and continue working. We work all day until about 5 pm. Once we’re done, it’s time to celebrate; and there are a variety of creative ways to celebrate Santa Teresa-style.

Hanging out by the tidepools in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
Hanging out by the tidepools in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

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