So, when we decided to go to Costa Rica, my beach-jungle dream expectations were very low. They should not have been though because dense jungles with beautiful beaches is exactly what I finally had found!
Now, to be honest, if you are landing in San Jose, then you will not see the immediate beauty, (much like flying into Oahu and I certainly would not want you feeling disappointed expecting more as I had.) San Jose has a lot of torn down and ghetto areas, so do not plan to stay there, and in both places you have to travel out to find paradise, but there is a lot more untamed beauty in Costa Rica that you can see just driving around.
Costa Rica has some of the most friendly people, lovely food, and an array of different adventures you can't find many other places. I consider this one of my very favorite places to travel and have the fondest memories of watching kids play soccer in the open fields, watching a nationally-televised soccer game at a local bar and cheering along side the locals, and walking to the beach while watching howler monkeys swing overhead.
Currently, many airlines fly straight into Costa Rica which is a huge bonus for price and travel time. It use to be very difficult to get there and the cost prohibited many people from visiting. Not only are flights now cheaper, but the cost of staying in Costa Rica, simply put, is a fraction of the cost you will spend in some of the other well-known beach towns. It is not extremely touristy yet, so the food and hotel mark up does not even come close to Hawaii pricing. The locals are, as I said, very friendly and you can feel right at home among them pretty quickly.
As for things to do, well that list is endless! We started in San Jose and moved pretty quickly out of that area with a private guide. We arranged to hike to a waterfall, spent a day white water rafting, and zip lined over the jungle canopy for our adventure. To relax, we stayed on a ranch one night, hung out at the hot springs at Arenel another day, (Highly recommend this. Probably one of the most beautiful resorts with hot springs I have even been too and a place we should have spent a few more days at) and then we went to Manuel Antonio Beach. Manuel Antonio Beach is stunning! With dense greenery, beautiful waters, and a fun airplane bar right in town, we spent some lazy time there at the end of our trip. The plane is an old drug smugglers plane that went down that they made into a bar and they serve great food and drinks there.
One of the best things about Costa Rica is that they have a multitude of wildlife all over the place. No need to go to a zoo on your vacation, we were stopped in the road by cattle, ox, and sheep but we also had to stop for occasional monkey crossings and to watch the crocodiles below the bridges. At night in our hotels, we fell asleep to monkeys howling and the local birds chirping to wake us up.