Travel along the Caribbean Coast in Costa Rica
I want to share my experience in Costa Rica, a Central American country with wild and virgin nature. This is not a country for all-inclusive travelers as Costa Rica is quite expensive. Under the influence of the USA government, the Ticos (diminutive of Costa Ricans) enjoy a privileged relationship with the giant of North America which means that American tourism is growing and prices too.
But Costa Rica has so many wonders that it's worth spending money. The trip also involved a very important sentimental factor. We knew where to go. First of all we contact through internet with hotels and airlines to organize the trip on our own. I found a Costa Rican agency on the internet. And after finding several favorable opinions on different travel pages, I got in touch with them.
After several emails with various proposals for itineraries, recommendations, advice, and some change of route, we managed to close an incredible journey, at a very reasonable price.
Day 1 - San Jose
The worst thing about transoceanic trips are the long and sometimes boring hours inside a plane. As much as the airlines try hard, in putting films, the hours of travel become eternal. The flight was punctual and arrived at the scheduled time at the Juan Santamaria International airport in Alajuela.
After passing the immigration controls and filling out the health forms, we were able to collect the suitcases that arrived surprisingly fast. The San Jose airport is not excessively large, but even so, it is full of souvenir shops and bars. After changing a few colons at the airport exchange office, we headed for the exit.
In 45 minutes we were in downtown San Jose. It gets dark early, as at 6 in the afternoon the sun sets. We leave things at the hotel and we hardly have time to take a walk around the center that is full of people at that time. San Jose reminded me in some moments to Lima. It had a particular, characteristic, different smell, and I tried several times to try to find out what scent was what brought me the light air that blew. The queues waiting for the bus and at the ATMs are long.
We walk through the main streets and the pedestrian streets and we are surprised by the number of shoe stores there. The smell of Chinese plastic reaches the street. We see the national theater and we had dinner in a place next to the National Museum. We had a chicken skewer with sauce. The meal seemed a delight.
Day 2 - Tortuguero
We got up very early at 5:45 to head to Tortuguero. As always, someone shows up late to pick up the bus and this delays the departure from San Jose. The truth is that from my point of view having rented a car would have turned my vacation into an ordeal of hours at the wheel. Soon we are immersed in the Braulio Carrillo National Park where the thickness of the vegetation is less than the asphalt.
We crossed the Sucio River, the name is not because it is really dirty, but because it has natural sediments that give it a golden color. We stop in Guapiles for breakfast with the famous Gallo Pinto which is a rice with beans, accompanied by egg, fruit, and coffee. It is too strong for a body accustomed to cereals with milk.
After about four hours we arrived at Siquirres and we began a final journey along a stony road of an hour and a half to the pier of Cano Blanco. The road is supported by miles of a plantation of bananas of two companies Chiquita and Del Monte. Both have a private aerodrome and the same cultivation and collection system.
The bunches are wrapped in a blue bag to protect the bananas from pesticides and sunrays. The most surprising thing is the way to collect the clusters. It is carried out by men running, supported by a cable. They pull the order of a dozen clusters for several miles until they reach the factory where they are washed and treated by the quality for their distribution, perfectly labeled.
We make a stop at the Del Monte factory where we see the task in situ. There, a man who sold coconuts was accompanied by a beetle as big as my hand. At the arrival of the pier, it was raining. We got on the boat and in an hour and a half navigating the canal we finally arrived at Tortuguero. The landscape from the first moment was spectacular. The vegetation is tall and green to the very edge of the river.
We arrived at the lodge, a small wooden hut with a mosquito net to encourage ventilation and prevent the entry of insects. It has a fan running at turtle speed, two beds, and a very small bathroom. Above all, we miss the air conditioning. They offer us a welcome cocktail that comes in handy.
That same afternoon we visited the town of Tortuguero. There is a lot of heat and humidity. They explain where and how the turtles lay their eggs. Now is not time but there are still remnants of the last time like the shell of an egg.
Given that at six o'clock in the evening it is night, Costa Rica has an early dinner. The meals at the lodge are quite poor and with little variety. The only good thing is the vegetables and the pineapple is excellent. The chicken repeats itself.
Day 3 - Cahuita
We got up early to make the first excursion. The howler monkeys are our alarm clock. The sounds all night are spectacular. I have to sleep with earplugs. It had rained all night till about seven o'clock. We begin to cross the channels and soon we see the first early bird and some spider monkeys. We see the carablanca or more vivacious capuchins, herons, a crocodile and a pair of toucans. We are surrounded by sounds everywhere.
Two hours later we return to the lodge for breakfast and an hour later we start a trip by land. They are trails full of mud so that in the lodge they leave us some boots of water. We observe a diverse flora. I love the heliconias.
Although in principle he was not hired, in the afternoon they let us freely repeat the trip through the channels, this time in another direction. We see innumerable sloth bears, a toucan and capuchin monkeys, but at a distance that already allowed acceptable photos. It would have been a shame to miss this tour. It is much better than in the morning.
We said goodbye to Tortuguero with an awesome deluge. The boat that moved us crossed the canals between a water trail that from time to time sneaked in and soaked us. Arrived at the pier, they take us on a bus to Siquirres where they separate us according to destinations. Only three couples go to Cahuita, the rest go to Arenal.
After a meal, as I say battle, we started the trip to Cahuita. From Siquirres it is about three hours and we only go in a Van with Vinicio our driver and his little dog Papita, a very affectionate chihuahua. We crossed the town of Limon. I am struck by the racial mixture. We see a cemetery with the tiled tombs (as they are throughout the country) and a delimited area.
The rain was waiting for us in the southern Caribbean and the first impression of Puerto Viejo is not very good. Its streets are full of potholes and the rain spoils a sad and lonely landscape. The first beaches we see are very dangerous for the swim and its sands are dark. We already knew in advance that this was not going to be a sun and beach trip.
It is also true that we have waited a lot to be able to visit this country in the dry season. Our fear was not being able to carry out the planned snorkel for the next day. The hotel has wooden cabins, very spacious, with a bed, without air conditioning but with fan and mosquito nets in the windows. The best thing is the bathroom with a large shower and decorated by a French ceramist. It lacks television and air conditioning.
That night we had the intention of approaching Puerto Viejo but the flood was such that we decided to have dinner at the hotel. We have pasta with vegetables, ossobuco, beer, and coke. They have a very good kitchen. After dinner, we shared a drink with a family with whom we talked until the bar closed. They are fantastic travelers and talk with them about their trips to the Fjords, and cruise through Greece and Patagonia. These are destinations that on the other hand we have pending.
Day 4 - Puerto Viejo
We got up early. The rain had finally stopped after a night spent in the water. The breakfast is very good. We have fruit plate with mango, pineapple, melon, banana, and watermelon. We also have coffee and scrambled eggs, toast, butter, and jam. Our guide picked us up at the scheduled time to get closer to the Cahuita National Park.
They are very punctual, serious, kind and professional in Costa Rica. In this case, I add to this their generosity as they invited us (free) to make an afternoon excursion to Manzanillo. It is a protected reserve further south, almost bordering Panama. It is located about 25 kilometers from Cahuita and 12 from Puerto Viejo. Of course, we agreed.
Already in the pier of the Cahuita town, we saw that the sea was still a bit turbulent. It was hot and the sun was beginning to appear. We got into the boat with a veteran captain and a Nicaraguan in love with the sea, who would be our guide in and out of the water.
Incredibly the snorkeling was excellent and we could see many fish and corals. It is one of the best underwater experiences. After a couple of hours, the captain dropped us off at the park's beach to have a snack and continue our visit by land. There we met a couple of newlyweds on honeymoon who we convinced to launch themselves to snorkel.
They were a bit afraid but we convinced them and as we found out at night. I remember my first time and also had my doubts, and now I love it. I don't even want to think what diving would be like! We continue the visit by a path next to the beach and we could see several animals like lazy bears, monkeys, a snake.
But what I liked most was seeing for the first time the Basilisk. It is that animal that we normally see in documentaries running on water at an impossible speed. It was resting on some branches and so camouflaged that only an expert guide is able to see it.
The heat was too much and the backs had turned red and it was quite cloudy. At one in the afternoon, we headed to Manzanillo. Puerto Viejo now showed its true charm and above all left a trace of being a very authentic place. Manzanillo, unlike Cahuita, is a much more complicated route since it is a trail of ups and downs and full of mud.
It is much more beautiful since there are natural viewpoints and deserted beaches along the route. We ended up with mud until our ears. The rain was threatening again. So we decided to finish the tour after about three hours. The complete tour of Manzanillo is twelve kilometers one way and another so much back so it would take a whole day.
Within five minutes of reaching our room, it began to pour. After a restorative shower, we decided to take the public bus that passes both north to the Limon, and south to Manzanillo/Sixaola (border with Panama). In Puerto Viejo, we met the couple and they were really happy with the Snorkel. They had hired a local taxi for the whole day.
So we had a drink in one of the premises on the main street. There were several who offered us all kinds of smokable substances. Puerto Viejo has an Afro-Caribbean environment and there is a lot of Jamaican presence and of course a lot of Rastafari. We decided to have dinner together. Here the typical restaurants are called Sodas. We decided on a fantastic snapper (fish), a beer and a good mango juice. The return to the hotel by taxi was memorable.
We could not choose a worse taxi. One of the wheels was larger than normal and made an unbearable noise when rubbing against the sheet. The windshield was, rather than fogged, filthy and it did not stop raining. The street had so many potholes that it had to go from left to right of the road trying to avoid them.
First, we left our companions at their hotel. We said goodbye as they left for Arenal the next day. We continued to the Shawanda which was about four kilometers away but suddenly the car was wrecked in a huge puddle. We got off and finally got the car out of that hole. At last, we arrived at our hotel. It was still raining.
Day 5 - Arenal
Our last day in Puerto Viejo dawned with no change, as it was raining. We went to the town early to do some shopping. I loved its atmosphere despite the rain. The only thing we bought was a pareo since the rest of things seem more of the same. It was raining so much that we had to take refuge in a small place to have a mango juice.
We became brave and decided to go to one of the best beaches in the Punta Uva area. We took the bus back to Manzanillo and left us at the entrance to the beach. It really was an excellent beach, with a large beach. There were hardly a few local families. There were no tourists anywhere.
It was drizzling but we took the swimsuit out of the backpack. Around one o'clock we went to eat at a place next to the beach. We have macarela (fish) with fried green plantain, a beer, coca cola and for dessert we paid tribute with two excellent mojitos. We love to try local products, simple food and without great stories.
We take advantage of the afternoon. The trip from Puerto Viejo to Arenal was the longest. We arrived at four thirty in the afternoon. So we arrived at the hotel when it was getting dark. The hotel is excellent. Not at all the photos seen on the Internet do it justice. It is attached to wood with 4 rooms on the ground floor surrounded by gardens.
The room is very large with two beds and in front is a glass that allows us to always have the volcano in sight. There is a large bathroom and large shower tray. We also have television, finally, since we love watching football on local television.
The volcano on our arrival was somewhat obscured by clouds. We know that you have to be very lucky to see the volcano in all its splendor. The first thing we did was to call the agency that managed our itinerary in Costa Rica. We had been scheduled to leave for Monteverde the next day at eight in the morning.
In our contract, we had the morning free to visit the area. The person who answered me resolved the issue in an agile and efficient way. They would pick us up at 2:30 pm. We cross Lake Arenal by boat and continue on the road. The view of the volcano from the lake is magnificent and it would have been a shame to miss it.
After the tour, we went to the pool to have a welcome cocktail and at night we bathed in the other pool of hot water. This water comes directly from the volcano and after a long trip, it left us very relaxed. Inside the pool, we agreed with the man responsible for the construction of the complex who told us some of the curiosities.
He told us how committed their owners are to the environment of their livestock and natural products that they produce. We did not have another to congratulate him on the excellent work done. The atmosphere was very calm. We had planned to go to the hot springs but it was Sunday and when we saw how many people and cars there were, we decided not to go.
We are used in our area to go to places of thermal waters so we did not give importance. The rain reappeared and we decided to have dinner at the hotel. As I said, it has an excellent kitchen. We take Caribbean-style Corvina (fish) in a banana leaf, with ginger and cumin. I loved it. The sleep was a pleasure.
Day 6 - Monteverde
We got up early. At about six we already wanted to know if it would be possible to see the volcano. I pulled the curtain and oh, surprise! There was the huge volcano at the foot of our bed. We take several photographs where you could see the fumarole. A few clouds passed from time to time through the peak of the volcano but, at least, at this time of the morning, it could be seen perfectly.
Very few people have had the luck to see it like this! We had to take advantage of the morning so we had a quick breakfast. From the reception, they called a taxi to take us to the La Fortuna waterfall very close to the hotel and the town of the same name La Fortuna de San Carlos.
We agreed with the friendly taxi driver to stop for an hour and a half at the waterfall and an hour to visit the town. Access to the waterfall is quite easy. It takes about twenty minutes to go down a few well-conditioned steps. On the way, there are a couple of viewpoints but the best is when you get down.
An emerald colored lagoon is formed surrounded by large volcanic black stones. The water follows its course through a river where it is very advisable to take a refreshing dip surrounded by exuberant vegetation. The climb is something else if you are not very fit. But you have benches to rest.
The taxi driver was waiting for us at the agreed time so he took us to La Fortuna. A small town very orderly, careful and living around its garden square and guarded by a large church. We went around the neighborhood and Sonia took the opportunity to buy a mango in a fruit store. It was exquisite although somewhat hot. The truth is that the sun hit hard.
We returned to the hotel since at twelve o'clock we had to leave the room. We took a shower and collected our things. We left everything at reception and went to eat at a restaurant/Soda that is on the driveway to the hotel. Finally, we took the famous Ceviche (marinated fish) with avocado, which was delicious. It is nice with a wine and garlic sauce. We also have chicken with palm hearts sauce and vegetables, soft drinks and coffee.
Then they picked us up and, as I have already mentioned, we crossed the lake in a small boat to the pier. Here a van picked us up and moved us along a dirt road to Monteverde where we arrived at around five in the afternoon. The hotel is a series of wooden constructions along a hill with several rooms spread over two floors.
The room they give us is very large, with two beds and a large bathroom. They have a fan although here the temperature goes down a lot at night and we hardly use it. We miss television. It is strange but at this point in the trip, we realize that in all the hotels we have free Wifi or computers with free internet but there is not always television in the rooms.
That night we take a walk around the area and had dinner very close to the hotel in a pizzeria. It has a wood oven and products from its own garden. In the upper floor, we had a ceviche and a beer. In the restaurant, we have a pan of mushrooms and cheese and pizza with drinks.
The room is located on the highest part of the estate so on the way we enjoy the beautiful view that offers a sky full of stars.
Day 7 - Quepos
We went for a walk through the rainforest. We did not need the rain jacket. First, we visited the area where the hummingbirds are. It is very difficult to photograph these birds! We started the walk that lasted more than two hours on a perfectly conditioned path with little difficulty. The best thing was to cross its suspension bridges and see vegetation from that height. The animals we just saw are only coatis and some insects.
In this place and I would say that the whole country has a great offer for activities such as canopy or zip line. On our walk, we heard the rubbing of the cables and the de-stressing cries of people above our heads. At the end of the walk, we visited a colorful and flowered butterfly garden. The guide informed us of the reproduction process while a lot of butterflies of different sizes and colors fluttered around us.
After the visit, we stayed in the town. It is a small town, only two streets, dedicated exclusively to the commercial and service activity. We ate a mixed ceviche and a rice with seafood. With the rice I was wrong. I think there were better dishes.
We are in the coffee zone, so we went for a coffee, the typical blast coffee. The waiter brings a sort of socks hanging on a wooden structure to the table, pours coffee and pours boiling water. The coffee falls into a cup of aluminum or alpaca that keeps it warm until we drink it. By the way, the coffee at the supermarket is much cheaper than in the souvenir shops.
Just as in Arenal one night seemed little to me. In Monteverde, unless you are a canopy lover, one night is enough. I stayed in Arenal pending the trek to Cerro Chato. The trip from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio was the worst of all. The first part of the trip is through a dirt track full of curves and continuous ups and downs.
Then we enter paved road parallel to the Pacific coast. I think we all arrived somewhat dizzy. Along the way, we found colorful macaws. We passed by the Tarcoles river bridge, famous because crocodiles inhabit it, but we did not see any because the driver could not stop. I already have them very seen, so I did not give importance.
The boutique hotel has spectacular views and the treatment is very friendly from the moment of our arrival. They have a bar inside a natural grotto and both the pool and all its rooms face the sea. We were lucky and were given a superior room with sofa, hot tub, and bathrobe. The room is spacious, has air conditioning, flat TV and refrigerator. The bathroom is excellent.
The worst thing about this hotel are the rates in terms of food and drinks, although I think it is widespread in the hotels of this area of the Pacific. The area itself lives around its national park which on the other hand is the only thing that is worth it. Quepos, the nearest town, is a source of crime and it is very risky to visit it.
On the other hand, Manuel Antonio is little less than the street next to the public beach. It is a succession of shops and bars surrounded by people and at least it gave me the feeling of a crazy atmosphere. But at least during the day, we can walk there.
From the moment we arrive on the Pacific coast, we observe how the typical tourist explosion has arrived here. Large buildings and complexes cover the coast and the environment is not respected at all, as in the rest of the country. The food in this area is not based on local produce. There is hardly any possibility of eating fish and that the sea is very present.
We barely had time to enjoy the pool. The hotel provides free transportation to Quepos and Manuel Antonio at a certain time. So we take advantage of the fact that at 5 o'clock in the afternoon it is the last departure and we decided to go down to Manuel Antonio to have a drink and dine at some restaurant on the road.
That night we ordered Pargo fish but it was not very good. We had planned to go to the Marilyn, the best known that is in front of the beach, but it was closed.
Day 8 - Manuel Antonio
We made the first visit to the park. It is very important to do it with a guide since they are true experts in the observation of animals. All of them carry their telescope, although in general, it is easy to see animals. Suffice it to say that to cover the first two hundred meters it took us about an hour. The stops were continuous to observe white-faced monkeys, sloths, toucans, two fawns.
Finally, we saw the marmosets and several frogs quite camouflaged among large leaves. I see its bright color and its small size. They are difficult to see and more to photograph. Finally and after two hours of walking along the main path of the park, we reached the beach. The calm and warm waters are ideal for bathing. At last, I was going to try the waters of the Pacific.
At this point, there are innumerable monkeys and raccoons that approach the shore always ready to hunt anything that is left within reach. Believe me that these little animals are very clever and it is easy to see them running with a bag owned by some clueless tourist.
Before having our first swim we decided to walk the path of Punta Catedral to go up to the viewpoints. The rest of the trails were closed. After this one hour walk, we returned to the beach and soaked ourselves until we reached the most absolute relaxation. The water was perfect.
The sun hits hard and in spite of the high protection of our sunscreen, we finish something colored. At about two in the afternoon the sun is covered by vegetation. We change to the other beach, which is the continuation of the public beach that is outside the park. Here the bath is impossible because of the strong waves. It is a nice beach to take pictures but nothing advisable for bathing due to strong currents.
We stayed here until the closing time and at four we left the park knowing that the next day we would return. Here, in the Pacific area, the rain seems to continue to respect us and the next day it is even hotter.
We took a walk and had dinner in front of the hotel in an excellent Argentine restaurant. We have a carpaccio of fish, a delicious seafood casserole, fish in sauce, and desserts.
Day 9 - San Jose
We got up early and at nine o'clock we went down to Manuel Antonio in the hotel car. We buy some food and drink in a supermarket since we will be all day in the park and there is nothing there except the sources of drinking water. Our last day was excellent. We enjoyed and rested on the beach while from time to time we received the unexpected visit of a raccoon or some monkey.
After taking a dip in the hotel pool they picked us up to move us back to San Jose. We arrived at the hotel at around five in the afternoon. They give us a very shabby room with a bed and a tiny bathroom. The sink was at the foot of the bed. The truth is that with this hotel I was wrong.
We traveled throughout the center of the city. There was a hustle and bustle as it was Palm Sunday. The streets surrounding the cathedral were adorned with floral carpets and people were dressed in period costumes for the procession. The truth is that when we move through the secondary streets we get the feeling that anything can happen.
At 4 o'clock in the afternoon, they picked us up to take us to the airport. The flight again was punctual. I love this country with a certain contrast between the Pacific and everything else. Here it is difficult to see a car other than Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Nissan or Toyota. Here the dirt roads stand undaunted and people flee the asphalt and mass tourism.
Now I understand why the Ticos greet each other with that of Pura Vida because that is Costa Rica. Wherever we looked there is life and there are many people who take care of it. They are very aware that their future and that of their children is theirs.