When I first learned about Costa Rica as a travel destination, I was told it was the Switzerland of Latin America. I thought it meant expensive, what it actually meant was green. I have spent 8 days crossing the country from the capital San Jose to the Volcano Arenal region, then to Playa Tamarindo, by the Pacific Ocean and back to San Jose, where we had our flight home and I couldn t stop wondering how the grass is so green everywhere. On the side of the road, in people s backyards, on the hotel lawns. That and the specific rain forest vegetation, the colorful flowers, the high palm trees, the abundance of tropical fruits, everything points out to Costa Rica as one of the most desirable holiday choices. And there are of course those who started up as tourists and decided to move in and get a job here, but I won t mention more about them, to avoid spreading the wrong ideeas and depopulate the big corporations. As the Costa Ricans say, Pura Vida ! But what does it mean ? Well, it means hello, goodbye, I m doing great, basically it means anything you like, as long as it involves good vibes.
So, we started our adventure on a Thursday morning in Madrid, where we boarded our 10 hours and 45 minutes flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. Yes, it s a long way from Europe, but if you live in the United States it can be about 5 hours. We arrived in San Jose in the afternoon and had one night stay at a hotel downtown. The city is quite small, with a population of aprox. 300 000 people. The fact is that the whole country has less than 5 million citizens. There are a few tall buildings in San Jose, mostly banks and apart from those, there is a Cathedral – Basilica of St. Joseph, some few fresh parks, one Jade Museum, a Precolumbian Gold Museum and very few tourists. At the Jade Museum, the entrance fee is 5$ for locals and 15$ for foreigners. There has to be a logic in that, but it felt bad to us and, since we had little time to spare anyway, we decided to pass the opportunity, although I personally love gems.
Not so early in the morning, we left San Jose and drove almost 3 hours to the city of La Fortuna, close to the Arenal Volcano. One of the most inspiring accommodations during this trip was at the Arenal Manoa Resort and Hot Springs, set on a few acres of green land, which included gardens, a swimming pool, hot springs, a restaurant and even a pond with caimans. We had booked a double room there but it turned out to be a small house with a porch, two rocking chairs and a small private garden. We even had a tree in the bathroom. Nothing compares to having your coffee on the porch, with a view over the volcano, on a clear sunny day.
Early in the morning, we were picked up by our lovely local guide Seiris and went to visit together the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, where we got in touch with the rain forest flora and fauna and also proved brave enough to cross all the 21 hanging bridges there. Spending a few hours deep in the heart of the rain forest, was an unbelievably refreshing experience, as we followed the trail of the jungle hanging bridges there. As tempting as it may look, it s important not to touch anything, such as leaves or animals, as many attractions of the wilderness hold hidden and often deadly dangers. Afterwards, we went for a swim in the La Fortuna Waterfall, a 70 meters drop of water at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano. Following lunch, the rain started quite heavily, with the rainy season at its peak during the month of October in Costa Rica. However, this has not prevented us from taking a hike in the afternoon to see and feel the lava on the Arenal Volcano closely.We even had a moment of grace when the clouds dispersed and we could see the top of the crater.
The next day, we set the course for our beach destination, Playa Tamarindo, on the West Coast of the country. It is a lovely place by the Pacific Ocean, where people enjoy the sun, the beach, go for a swim, surf or… zip line. We did a little bit of everything, except for the surfing part, since we had no previous experience and no actual time to do some real learning.
On our second day in Tamarindo, we booked a sunset sail with the Merlin del Rey catamaran. We boarded the boat in the afternoon and spent about 4 hours sailing, with a longer stop for swimming and snorkeling. Had a lovely traditional lunch on board, danced, took lots of pictures and let our tan set in. Upon our return at the beach, we had the most amazing view of the Pacific sunset, with mixtures of red, orange and purple.
Following this ocean experience, the next day we headed for the Diamante Eco-Adventure Park, near the Matapalo Beach. There, you can visit a local Animal Sanctuary, get in touch with the tropical butterflies, visit a Botanical Garden and do some ocean view zip line. There are 5 zip lines you can try, but what the park is famous for is the Superman, which qualifies as extreme zip lining. What happens is that you zip from the top of the mountain to the ocean on a longer than a mile zip line, with a speed of more than 80 km/h, in the position of …. Superman. At the animal refuge there, you can see some of the most poisonous frogs and snakes that live in Costa Rica, birds, monkeys, felines and even big crocodiles, from a hanging bridge above, with a safety belt.
In the Tamarindo area there are of course many activities you can try other than sunbathing or the more popular surfing, that include hiking, rafting, water tubing, horse riding and some turtle watching. On the last day in Tamarindo we indulged in a morning horse riding to the beach, with the sweet Corona and Blanchito, our guests for the day. We rode through the forest for a while, stopped at a local beach tavern then headed for the blue ocean front. In the evening, we went to the beach again in search or turtle nests and we actually witnessed a sea turtle laying eggs. On our way there, we also witnessed a rattle snake crossing the road, but that is indeed another story. Pura Vida !