Our sixteen day trip to Costa Rica began two days late due to excessive snow in both Victoria and Toronto!
Eva & I flew into San Jose via Toronto where we met with Denise, collected the rental car and stayed the night in a hotel.
Our first day was spent travelling from San Jose northwest to Monteverde with a slight detour to the coast just north of Jaco to see crocodiles at "Crocodile Bridge."
We rented a GPS with the car but it became apparent on the first day as we were trying to leave San Jose, not to rely on it! After a few 'detours' and 'u-turns ', we eventually made it out of San Jose.
Our trip to see the crocodiles was fantastic and definitely worth the minor detour. Under the bridge live numerous large crocodiles, some of which were up to 20ft long! There's a few small shops, eateries and plenty of parking...
Monteverde was originally our second destination, we were to visit Manuel Antonio National Park on the west coast first but cancelled due to our two day delay. After around four hours of driving, we arrived at Monteverde and it's beautiful cloud forests, at an elevation of 4662 ft (1440m) it has a climate not dissimilar to the Pacific Northwest and is the central point of Costa Rica's continental divide. The cloud forests are home to an amazing ecosystem of flora and fauna and we were keen to see as much of it as we could!
We spent the next day hiking and exploring Santa Elena cloud forest, the pic above shows the view of Arenal Volcano from the forest. I noticed how the trees are covered in other plant life, and we later learned from the locals that they were epiphytes. Epiphytes are plants that live on other larger host plants for nutrients but are not parasitic.
We stayed at the Mar Inn which I would highly recommend, it was clean, well situated and served a superb local breakfast. The remainder of the day was spent exploring the town and enjoying some of the local beers.
The next day we visited El Tigre Waterfalls They are only accessible with a guide, and we hit lucky with Raul. There are four beautiful waterfalls, hanging bridges and a rugged trail. We were initially hesitant about hiring a guide but it proved invaluable as Raul's knowledge and obvious passion for flora and fauna were evident. After a refreshing shower under one of the falls and picnic lunch, the final leg of the hike was on horseback! The whole trip took around four delightful hours.
That evening we booked a guided night hike in the wildlife refuge
in the hope of spotting some of the nocturnal life, it was a short but delightful two hours. We saw a tarantula, baby viper, wolf spider, fireflies, scorpion and a cool insect called headlight bob! I had the best Tacos I have ever tasted in Monteverde at Tacotaco, I can recommend the tempura battered avocado ones if you are ever there!
Next stop was Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park, which was supposed to be a three-hour drive northwest of Monteverde via Liberia but took us a little longer! The GPS took us through the ghettos of Liberia and along an unpaved road instead of the main paved road we should have taken! It added an extra exciting hour to our journey, but we got there eventually, thanks to our four-wheel drive. We stayed at the Rincon de la Vieja Lodge, in a small rustic 'mud hut' which was clean and contained everything we needed.
The park contains Rincon de la Vieja volcano, the largest in Guanacaste province and nine eruptive vents, a lagoon, waterfalls, hiking, and hot springs. We took a short ten-minute hike with a hanging bridge to Oropendula Waterfall, a beautiful 82 ft (25m) waterfall with a deep pool which was magical for swimming.
The next day we visited the national park for a beautiful paved hike where we saw boiling mud pots, boiling sulfur springs, and a beautiful view of the volcano. In the afternoon we relaxed in the Rio Negro hot springs and mud baths, which I can highly recommend.
We stumbled on a beautiful resort hotel Guachipelin
which offered massages in the jungle, so we grabbed a bite to eat and booked our massages. The whole experience was teriffic, saunas, mud scrub, and hot tub followed by a wonderful massage in the middle of the jungle! We had nachos for dinner which were the best nachos ever; tortilla chips substituted for patacones
which are deep fried, squashed plantains, delicious!
We were sad to leave Ricon but excited to hit the road east for the next leg of our adventures...Rio Celeste! Our original plan was to base ourselves in Arenal, but our accommodation was not as expected so we backtracked to a beautiful little town called Bijagua, which was closer to Rio Celeste. After a couple of hours trying to find last minute accommodation, we stumbled upon Heliconias Rainforest Lodge, a real gem in the jungle. In the grounds was an hour-long hike with three hanging bridges, an excellent way to end our long day traveling.
Rio Celeste is breathtaking! The hike is around 7km in and back and takes two to three hours, depending on how many stops you make to take pictures! The river is such a beautiful blue colour due to the blending of two minerals. The ph change in the mixing increases the particle size, some of which reaches the river bed and looks like white sediment, whereas the majority of it remains suspended along the river. These particles scatter sunlight similar to when raindrops form a rainbow and cause the beautiful blue colour. Local legend says the blue is a result of "God washing his paint brushes after he painted the sky."
We were very fortunate to see three yellow-eared toucanets; a local guide informed us they are very rare. After the hike, we were told by one of the locals of a place up river where we could cool off with a swim, and that we did!
We were looking for somewhere for lunch and stumbled upon The Hummingbird Cafe in the Finca Verde Lodge
, it is off the beaten track and set in a wildlife refuge and is a beautiful place. As we were eating lunch, we spotted a sloth in the tree next to the restaurant! We were all delighted as we had been sloth searching since our arrival!
In order to spot more flora and fauna, we decided to hire another guide to show us around the refuge, and what a wealth of knowledge he was. He pointed out plants and animals we might never have seen with our untrained eyes. Bats, monkeys, poison dart frogs, iguanas, a porcupine, butterflies, and termites (that we ate because they were high in antioxidants!) This place is well worth a visit.
Next stop was Tortuguero, around a four-hour drive east to the coast just south of the Nicaragua border. Tortuguero is only accessible by riverboat or light aircraft; we opted for 90 minutes on a riverboat! Our research advised us to bypass the private boats and choose the taxi boat as it was only $3 each, thankfully we didn't heed that advice! We paid $10 per person for a private boat. There had been no rain so we were led, by foot, ten minutes upstream to where the river was deep enough for the boat to float. Halfway on our journey up the river, we caught up to the taxi boat, grounded on the riverbed! Apparently, on occasion, passengers are required to get out of the boat for it to refloat! Best $10 we had ever spent!!
We arrived safely in Tortuguero where we took a short boat ride to our hotel, which was on a neighboring peninsula in the middle of the jungle, where we were the only guests for the first night, total seclusion. Tortuguero is home to the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle organization in the world. Females return there to the same beach to nest every year and hatchlings can be observed emerging from their nests at night during summer months. I'm returning to witness that someday.
We hired another guide (Jungle Jon!) who took us out on his canoe into small inlets in the jungle. We preferred it to a motorized boat as it was peaceful and quiet, therefore aiding the observation of more wildlife. We saw iguanas, a turtle, a frogfish and a 'snake bird' (Anhinga). After spending the day in Tortuguero we took a water taxi back to the hotel at 9 pm which was brilliant! We were ripping along a river in the black dark in the middle of the jungle! Awesome!
The riverboat ride back to the car was an early departure which we were grateful for as it offered more opportunity to view wildlife. We saw monkeys and were very fortunate to spot three Caimans!
Three hours drive south, on the coast just north of Panama, we arrived at Puerto Vieja, a popular tourist destination due to surfing and the biggest most powerful wave in Costa Rica. The small town was crowded on our arrival due to a surfing competition. We checked into our hotel and relaxed on the beach for the remainder of the day.
Unfortunately, it rained the next day, so we took a short trip 8 miles (13km) south to Manzanillo, another popular tourist destination, famous for its beautiful beaches. The remainder of the day was spent playing cards, which got old because Eva kept winning!
The last day was spent driving back to San Jose and relaxing by the pool before our flight back to Canada the next day.
I've been to Cota Rica twice and will return soon rather than later. The people are some of the nicest I have met in the world, and their beautiful country is bursting with culture, wildlife, and adventure in a unique environment. Pura Vida!