I promised everyone some short posts with lots of pictures and a few tips about where to go. Let’s start with our first trip to Central America – Costa Rica!
This is a great country, even if you’re on a budget (which we were). We’re talking about genuinely nice people, beautiful scenery and lots of fun stuff to do. Winter is a perfect time to visit, which is when we were there. It’s warm, but sometimes the night would get chilly. Bring a medium jacket for those occasions, along with a sturdy rain poncho. We never got eaten by bugs, which was really nice.
Even if you don’t speak Spanish, at least master the phrase “pura vida!” It means “pure life,” and is the Costa Rican equivalent of “g’day.” I thought it might be something that those in the tourist industry say to tourists, kind of like tour guides in Arizona saying “howdy, parnder” to Germans. But no … I heard them use it on each other, and even on us when we were far from the touristy bits.
A quick breakdown:
San Jose area – We stayed at a place called Hotel Aranjuez the first night. They have community bathrooms, but it’s still a nice place. And the breakfast … awesome! We also spent a few nights at a bed and breakfast called Villa Escazu. It’s one of the most beautiful houses I’ve ever seen, and the food is fantastic. Very personal service, too. If you want to get out of the city a bit, visit La Paz Waterfall Gardens and the butterfly farm, or Volcan Irazu.
La Fortuna – This is a small town that is just a lot of fun. We arrived in town just in time to watch Deportivo Saprissa play La Liga Alajuense. Saprissa, aka El Monstruo, crushed ’em 4-1! The town was in delirium over it; Saprissa is pretty much the most popular club in the country, though La Liga is big in Alajuela, which is near San Jose. The airport is also in Alajuela, so DO NOT WEAR YOUR SAPRISSA shirt there unless you want a burly female security guard to violate you. Anyway, back to La Fortuna: It’s very close to Volcan Arenal, an active volcano that regularly poops out VW Beetle-sized glowing red cinders, which tumble audibly down its sides. Arrange for one of the local tours that does a twilight rainforest hike (listen for the howler monkeys!) followed by a soak in the natural hot springs resort. Seriously, you’ll love it. Eat anywhere – it’s all locally grown and fresh. Gallo Pinto, a rice and beans mixture, is a staple just about everywhere. We stayed at a budget place called Las Colinas that was super-friendly if spartan.
Monteverde – This is a somewhat hippyish enclave in the mountain. Stay here a few days for best result. You’ve got coffee plantations, the cloud forest and the Original Canopy Tour to enjoy here. That last one is more than a mile of zip-lining and repelling, and it’s a thrill. There are wild coatis everywhere, along with purple hummingbirds the size of sparrows. By the way, this country has some of the best coffee anywhere – naturally sweet without the acidic bitterness of most brews. We stayed at La Colina, which also included an amazing breakfast. It was a chilly night, and it was a bit drafty. But still a great place run by an uber-efficient but ebullient German woman. If you like yoga, Monteverde has is everywhere. By the way, to get from La Fortuna to Monteverde, you have to take a car ride to Lake Arenal. You ride across the lake on a boat, where you get in to a van on the far side. From there, it’s a kidney-pounding ride up a road that it most unpaved, and has enough craters to be a miniature moon. Oy vey, not for the easily carsick is this.
Quepos/Manuel San Antonio – Quepos is a somewhat run-down port city. We only spent a night there before moving up the road to Manuel San Antonio. If you have some extra clams, throw down for a few night at La Mansion. About $125 a night in the off-season there will get you a room you couldn’t touch for $500 a night in the U.S. And its cooled little Bat Cave bar is amazing. MSA has a nice beach with great seafood, and lots of hiking trails and a nature preserve. Monkeys and iguanas are everywhere! MSA also has the coolest bar and grill on the planet, and it’s called El Avion. It’s an authentic former CIA cargo plane turned into a lively nightspot with the best sangria on the planet along with a killer view.
There you have it!