We cross the border from Panama to Costa Rica on the east side and make our first stop at the Caribbean coast. The small village Puerto Viejo is packed with tourists and the prices are very impressive.
We drive to Punta Uvas which is a little bit quieter and find a nice spot in the garden of a hotel direct on the beach. The surrounding surely is very nice however unfortunately it rains cats and dogs. After two days we are wet enough and fed up with this and continue 30 kilometers up North to Cahuita. We park in the garden of hostel Maria and surprisingly it stops raining. We take our bikes and make a tour to the National Park of Cahuita.. The hike thru the park which is direct on the beach is not very exciting. Apart from a lazy sloth up in a tree and a few birds we see nothing special. The heat and the humidity of 90% really suffer. In addition it gets dark at 5pm which makes the day very short.
After a few days we get an irresistible desire for lower temperatures and drive to Orosi in the mountains on 1000m. We find a nice place at the Swiss couple Franziska and Freddie. Both live here since 9 years. She runs a bakery with “real bread” and he arranges motorcycle tours in Costa Rica. From there we go up to 3000m to the National park Quetzales. Here we hope to see the mystic Quetzal which was honored as gods bird from the Mayas and the Aztecs. With his tail feather of 1 meter he is seen as the most beautiful bird on earth and only found in the cloud forests of Central America. After a comfortable night with 7 degrees outside temperature we start at 6am together with a guide and are really lucky and obviously have a guide who understands his business. We see more than 10 of these very rare species and partly in best sunlight.
On the way to the Pacific Coast we make a stop in a „reptile park”. Unfortunately it`s nothing more than a zoo in a bad state with a few snakes and crocodiles but with a high entrance fee. Best we like the little colored frogs which we have seen nowhere so far. The bright color is also a warning because they are very poisonous. They produce a neurotoxic substance which the Indians in South America also used to contaminate their arrowheads. So we are lucky that the little frog sits secured behind glass.
We come to the Pacific Coast and the 7 degrees night temperature is only a nice dream from yesterday. A lot of constructions are going on along the coast and it`s not easy to find a place to stay overnight. Also we learn from locals that free camping is dangerous as a lot of thefts are around. Finally we find a place in front of the entrance from a Swiss Hostel. The next day we continue our journey to the Manuel Antonio National Park one of the major tourist attractions in Costa Rica. We are lucky and can park our car in a large hotel area with a gorgeous view over the bay. Monkeys and Sloths are in the trees around us and the Iguanas almost run over our feet. Also we can use the pool and other infrastructures of the hotel.
Our special thanks goes to Allan Templeton the owner of the hotel who made this happen. Thanks Allan for the wonderful time.
Special Note: Benjamin from Silicon Valley, it was nice meeting you and in case you read this we are still waiting for your contact details and also want to share a nice picture with you.
The next morning we visit the park and in addition to the horrendous entrance fee we decide to take a guide who carries a super telescope of 800-2400mm. And this was really worth it. It was unbelievable what he discovered with this equipment. Otherwise we had seen nothing apart from half gentle monkeys and raccoons who empty your bag back in case you don`t pay attention to it.
We go back to the mountains to Santa Elena the adventure spot for young people and young-at-heart like us. The next day we do a sky walk which sounds great but is nothing more than a 2 hours hike thru the forest over some hanging bridges made out of steel where you see nothing apart from a few plants. Therefore it costs only $30 per person. To not get rusty we continue with a canopy tour which guarantees 100% adrenaline. And that really was it. The tour is more than 2 hours and goes over maniac steel rope constructions. The longest rope is 1 mile and you hang horizontal face down and rush over the valley. Awesome! And finally the Tarzan swing, a 40m jump down and then you swing on the rope back and forth like Tarzan. The right thing to do for older people. The rest of the group was 30 years younger than us. In the afternoon we visit the Frog Pond with more species than in the reptile park. We really like the frogs and toads. The Aga Toad is the largest with 20cm and can spit poison over 30cm out of her ear gland. .
From Santa Elena we drive a few kilometers up to the entrance of the National Park Monteverde and make a nice hike for $40 where we see nothing apart from landscape. The best of it is the divide between the Caribbean and the Pacific. On one side it´s warm and only 3 meters further on the left it`s 5 degrees colder, windy and rainy. A fascinating experience.
Over unpaved roads we move on to the Arenal lake the mecca for wind and kite surfer. The lake is seen as the best spot worldwide with wind speeds of 120k/h. We have a very nice place direct on the lake but unfortunately we don`t surf nor we have the passion to go swimming while it´s raining cats and dogs. The rain season should be over beginning of December but it looks like that El Nino destroys every prediction. So all is not very well and we go around the lake to a hotel where a Swiss guy established a piece of Switzerland in Costa Rica. Everything looks like in Switzerland and even a cog railway leads on top of the mountain.
From the hotel you normally have a wonderful view to the Volcano Arenal until 2011 one of the most active volcanos worldwide. But you may have guessed already, unfortunately we see nothing apart from mist and rain. The best alternative at this kind of weather is a bath in a hot spring which are all over at the base of the volcano and we spent a nice day there. We decide to make a detour to the volcano Poas hoping that we get better weather. The Poas also is one of the main attractions in Costa Rica with 260.000 visitors per year. On our way we make a short stop at the “iguana bridge”. For whatever reason dozens of wonderful colored iguanas sit in the trees and can be perfectly viewed from the bridge. It rains all day and at 3pm we are at the Poas but it´s zero view and not worth a visit. We park for the night in front of a souvenir shop and buy some of the volcano strawberries and boil it down for marmalade. The next morning the sun is shining and we look forward to a good view of the crater. But on top all is misty and foggy. We make a hike to the lagoon but the same view there. But just before we decide to leave the fog goes away and we can see the crater for 10 minutes. Fortune favors at the brave! On the cost side $20 each plus $3 for parking.
On our way to the coast we make a quick stop in Sarchi the center for handcraft and well known for their oxcarts painted in vivid colors. Then we stay at the ferry terminal in Puntarenas overnight and take the ferry to Nicoya the next morning. Our destination is Samara where we find a campground under palm trees direct on the beach. A few beach bars with good food and happy hour drinks are just next door and also our hammocks find enough space. A good location for a few days of relaxing.
After a week of beach holiday we go back to the mountains close to the volcano Miravelles. Here we had some GPS coordinates from a nice campground with a private hot spring next to it. But the data was 2 years old and the campground no longer in use. All infrastructure was destroyed however the hot spring pool was still there and we spent a few days there. All of a sudden Karin gets high fever which is not good in this climate. We go to the hospital and it turns out to be Dengue. Now we are close to the border to Nicaragua at a Swiss hostel and must wait until Karin is healthy again.
Our resume for Costa Rica is mixed. Surely it´s a Nature and wild-life paradise but to see this or get even close to it takes a financial effort which is questionable. Will say the price-rigging is unbelievable and at some point impertinent. I have mentioned the entry fees at various points in the text. Somehow I have a lack of understanding when I pay $30 for a hike in the forest which leads over a few hanging bridges. Animals in the parks are hard to see and to see something at all needs a guide which costs $40 in addition. This gives you at least the guarantee that you see something thru a mega telescope. Without a guide you usually see nothing apart from monkeys and a few sloths. Of course the high prices continue with eating and drinking. We have seen a lot in our life and can say that there is nothing in Costa Rica which you can see in other parts of the world for free or at half of the price. It may be interesting to watch how long the country can continue the price-rigging without a return on investment for the traveler. For long term travelers with a limited budget Costa Rica is definitely not recommended.
We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
As soon as Karin has recovered from Dengue we will continue our journey in Nicaragua. But this is then part of the next blog. Hasta Luego.