Do What Makes You Happy (Move to Costa Rica)

January 24, 2023 Allie Kisch

Life is too short to do things that don’t fulfill you! After a near-death experience, Sophia decided to leave the US and move to Costa Rica. Here’s a peak into her life in Playa Grande.

My name is Sophia Uhlig and I am a 22 year old Brazilian-American from Colorado. I absolutely love to travel. I have traveled all around the US (21 states), to Mexico, and through Europe to Iceland, Sweden, Greece and Italy. Before my 3 month stay at ONDA, the longest trip I had ever done was 3 weeks. As I’m approaching the end of the 3 months I had originally planned to spend here, I’ve decided to extend my trip to stay in Playa Grande even longer. This place is truly amazing! 

I knew I wanted to move to Costa Rica after a 3-week vacation here with my dad. We flew into Liberia airport and spent the first half of our trip in La Fortuna ziplining, going on wildlife tours, canyoning, and enjoying the termalitas (hot springs). The second half of our trip was spent in Tamarindo, where I took surf lessons, enjoyed nightly sunsets on the beach, and danced the night away with people from all around the world. During my stay, I really felt at home. When I came back to the US, I decided I would return to Costa Rica as soon as possible.

In January, 2022, my senior year of college, I was diagnosed with meningitis and a staph infection in my brain. I was extremely sick. After two surgeries, a drug-induced coma, and an experimental treatment, I was still alive. Alive, however, I had lost vision in my left eye, some cognitive function, a significant portion of muscle, and therefore my ability to walk. Memory, hand-eye coordination, and learning were all very difficult for me. It was a long road, but after three months of determination and therapy, I had completely healed and was ready to return to school to graduate.

Even a young, athletic, 22-year-old is not guaranteed to live forever. This experience forever changed my perspective on life. With only a finite amount of time, why would I waste any of it doing something that wasn’t making me happy and healthy? Everything became so clear to me, and although it was the hardest thing I have ever been through, it was also such a blessing. 

When I finished school in August, I had no plans for a job. I saw all my friends graduate in the spring before me and go directly into Corporate America, and they were miserable. I knew I didn’t want to go that route. I talked to lots of my friends about doing something crazy and leaving the country for a while, but all of them had some sort of excuse to why they couldn’t (or wouldn’t). That was, until I talked with Sophia Grant.

I met Sophia my sophomore year of college, but the pandemini 🙂 sent us in different directions. It wasn’t until the summer after graduation, when we were the only two people we knew left in Boulder, that we started talking again. She invited me to a happy hour one evening that I really enjoyed, and we decided to make it a recurring thing. The second time we met up, we got to talking about how we were over the US and its “work-work” balance. I slyly suggested that we move to Costa Rica, and immediately she said yes! It just clicked, and for the first time in years I felt like I could breathe. This was actually happening!!

Over the next couple months, we coordinated flights and planned our trip. We chose to return to the Tamarindo area where I had visited before, to see if it was possible to live here for a few months. I had so much fun there on vacation – but that was vacation, and I wanted the experience to be as if I actually moved here – stay in one place for 3 months and create a new life and routine there. 

On November 1st, we left Colorado behind, and flew out of Denver to start this next chapter of our lives.  

Being recent graduates with no jobs, we bought the cheapest flights possible. This meant we had a long layover in Fort Lauderdale, FL (we took advantage of some quick beach time) and flew into San Jose, Costa Rica at 2 in the morning. We slept overnight in the airport, and a shuttle arrived in the morning to drive us the remaining 5 hours to Tamarindo. From Tamarindo, we took a taxi to Playa Grande. We were welcomed to ONDA with open arms and fresh coconuts. After such a trying 24 hours of travel, I felt tired but relieved. Immediately I got the sense that these people would take good care of us. Little did I know: the people I met that first day would become my best friends – my family.

We spent our first month here in Playa Grande getting the lay of the land – finding the best restaurants to eat at, the best happy hour in town, the best spot to watch the sunset, the best place to rent a surfboard, the best place to go see a waterfall, the best places to eat breakfast… It took about a month to truly get comfortable here and to nail down a routine. 

A day in my life in Playa Grande…

In a day, I typically wake up around 7am, have a fruit bowl and a cup of coffee for breakfast. If I want to treat myself, I go to Pots and Bowls down the street because they have really good breakfast – acai bowls, smoothies, scrambles, shakshuka you name it! After, I come back to ONDA and hangout, maybe go for a swim in the pool, talk with guests, or get some work done on the computer. 

For lunch here in Grande, I have a couple recommendations!

  1. The plate of the day at ONDA; It switches up everyday, from veggie curry, to chicken casado, pasta al fresco, or my favorite: empanaditas! 
  2. Cafe Tin because they have delicious almond croissants and a very flavorful prosciutto, goat cheese and passion fruit sandwich. 
  3. Casa Inti, the Peruvian restaurant in town. It’s only open for a couple hours in the afternoon, but if you can catch it, the ceviche is worth it. 

After lunch, I get a surfboard from ONDA and go out and surf for 1-2 hours. Before I came here, I had done some surf lessons in Hawaii, California and Tamarindo. But the surf teachers here with ONDA are the best! Not only are they hilarious, but they really isolate exactly what it is you need to work on to improve at surfing. I have only been surfing consistently for the past 2 months, and already I have moved from a foam board to a longboard, and now I am on a shortboard. I am able to read the ocean better, paddle stronger, pop-up faster, and keep my balance on the board. 

After surfing, I might stop at Taco Star for a quick snack. Then I return to ONDA, rinse off in the outdoor shower, rest a bit, change, and come back out to the Beer Garden for happy hour.

Below are some more of my favorite happy hours and dinners in the area: 

  1. Rip Jack Inn. They have one of my favorite happy hours, with half off all cocktails. 
  2. Monday nights at ONDA. Two sushi chefs, originally from LA but living here, come and prepare sushi rolls, sashimi and nigiri. The El Pescador roll is to die for– scallops, crab and avocado wrapped in seaweed and rice, topped with salmon. (Chefs: Austin & Fernando)
  3. El Beach Club has a really good build your own burger.
  4. There’s also a debate about which place has the best pizza in town. You can try out El Huerto and Kikes (check which nights of the week they have pizza available) and decide for yourself!

Then, if its the weekend, ONDA has DJs come play on Fridays, or Pinto Quemado often has weekend DJ nights. Otherwise, I like to get a group of people together to go out in Tamarindo! Each club has different music, which I like because you can switch it up throughout the night.

My favorite spots for a night out in Tamarindo are… 

  1. Chiquitas. A little more expensive but the drinks are super tasty, the ambience and lighting are classy but fun, the music is always different and they are also open for dinner.
  2. Pacifico. Best bar for local vibes. They are cheaper and tend to attract a younger crowd here, but you will see ticos and ticas of all ages on Thursday nights for Reggae Night. Saturdays they have a promotional company called Wild Nights that does theme parties, like black light night, white party, etc. and drink specials. 
  3. Rumors. This is a personal favorite because they play strictly house and techno music. The place is filled with mainly tourists but that’s part of the fun. The DJs are always good, and its right on the corner between the Alley and Sharky’s, so people tend to stand outside and finish their drink while still listening to the music, before going in or moving on to the next spot.

My second month here was focused more on making friends and deeper connections with the people that live and work here. Once I got familiar with everyone, making friends was easy. Being in a small town is honestly really nice because you see the same people so often, and you get close with them fast. It gives you this sense of belonging that I truly haven’t experienced in the States or other bigger cities.

When I am in the States, I spend so much of my free time on a screen, watching TV or movies, scrolling social media on my phone or other random stuff on the computer. But when I am here, I spend my free time going to chat with my friends at work, surfing, relaxing by the pool reading, playing soccer, or tanning on the beach. I really don’t spend any time on a screen and I love to be outside, so it’s perfect for me! It’s also easy to make friends with all the people traveling through here. I often find that travelers are very open-minded and eager to make friends. Even though travelers only tend to stay here for short periods of time, if you extend an invite to them to do something together like go to breakfast, go surfing, or maybe the beer pong nights at Las Olas Brewery down the street, they feel more comfortable and likely will invite you along to do something with them the next day!

My third (and what was supposed to be final) month in Playa Grande has been all about finding my next steps after ONDA. Luckily I was able to find a place to stay in Costa Rica with one of the friends that I made here, and I will be staying in Playa Grande for at least 2 more months! After that I plan to meet up with Sophia to live in New York for awhile, followed by a trip to Portugal in the summer. I hope to keep traveling the world and would love to visit Brazil, Spain or Bali next! 

If you would like to see more about my life in Costa Rica and follow me on my travels after, add me on Instagram!

Join ONDA’s growing travel community on Facebook to connect with other travelers and talk travel tips/tricks/insights.

Follow ONDA on Instagram and TikTok.