After traveling for a while in so many easy english-speaking countries it was once more time for an adventure with new cultures and a foreign language. That’s why I went to Costa Rica in central america. Although it turned out to be a very easy travel country afterall.
The main reasons I came to Costa Rica were the volcanoes, the jungle and of course the wildlife. But before I could get to all of that I had to start my journey in the capital city of San José which offers none of the before mentioned. It is loud, full, dirty and all in all just an annoying big city. It doesn’t even has much to offer in terms of sightseeing. There is one small street which is a shopping zone and a couple of small museum. The only up-side of so many people is that you will find quite a few interesting ones to photograph. That’s how I mostly spent my two days there and believe me two days is way to much in this city. Especially as you ‘ll end up there a couple of more times anyways since most of the buses go through here.
But then it was finally time for nature and volcanoes. I went to La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. By the way traveling in Costa Rica is very easy, the busses run mostly on time, are safe, cheap and only take a bit longer than the expensive tourist shuttles. Well ok in one case it took more than six times as long but more on that later. La Fortuna is a pretty small town that basically only works as a support for the Arenal Volcano. And to really see this volcano I embarked on a 10 hour hike which didn’t even got me to the top of it. There is the main Arenal volcano and a smaller one just next to it. While Arenal is still active the small one now holds a big lake.
My hike brought me up the one side of the volcano and down on the inside for a short swim in the lake and then up the other rim and down into the flat one last time. From time to time this was less of a hike and more of climb up muddy forest hills. At the end of the day I was completely dirty but the views were incredible and adventures like this is why I travel. Oh and let's not forget that at the end of the day you can take a swim in some natural hot springs and wash all that mud away.
From La Fortuna I took a boat-ride across lake Arenal to my next highlight: The Monteverde/Santa Elena Cloud Forest.This rainforest high up in the mountains is mostly famous for the many species of birds that live there but even on its own it’s really impressive to see. I chose to just go to the smaller and less crowded forest in Santa Elena for some hiking. I didn’t see a single bird but the forest is really breathtaking. Gigantic trees covered in moos and low hanging clouds supplying constant light rain, an incredible experience. Just make sure you wear a raincoat even when the sun is shining because the rain never stops. If you have some more time to kill in the town of Santa Elena and aren’t tired of hiking up mountains yet take the short but steep hike up the Tres Amigos. I can’t say much about the view as the top was completely covered in clouds but I’m sure it can be nice. The reason to go up there is the very surreal experience of the souvenir shop on the top. This is a mountain where almost no tourists go up but still in a small house on top a sitting two men drinking tea and selling handmade bracelets.
So that about concludes my mountain adventures as I went to the pacific coast next. First stop here was Montezuma which is on the southern tip of a small peninsula, the fastest way to reach it is by the public ferries and some buses. The town itself is a very small relaxed coastal town which is basically just a big beach bar. I was planning to stay here longer but as it was completely booked the following days I decided to move on to Santa Teresa which is supposed to be just an hour away.
Well one hour turned out to be about 5 hours by public transport. The problem is that there is no direct connection between the two towns and changing the buses in the between doesn’t work as flawlessly as thought. I had to wait at a bus station for about 3 hour for my connection. Although both buses only took about 20 minutes each. That’s just traveling for you. Santa Teresa is a bit larger than Montezuma and once again offers mostly beach and bars. It were a fun couple of days and some really great sunsets here.
From here I moved further south along the coast. First stop was Jaco, a touristic hotel town. I reached it by speed boat from Montezuma. While it is the fastest and most fun option you have to be aware that you will get really soaking wet while doing so. But it’s hot anyways so it doesn’t matter, I just had to make sure my camera was packed away safely.
But that was enough beach for me and I moved on to Quepos and the Manuel Antonio National Park for some nature. Ok there also is a great beach but the highlight is the jungle reaching all the way down to the beaches. It’s full of animals and offers a great walk. I saw many different birds, sloths, white-faced monkeys and squirrel monkeys. While the sloth are what I came here for the monkeys are way more fun to photograph as they offer more action and most importantly aren’t as high up in the trees. Oh yea and don’t bother getting a guide here unless you are really interested in learning everything about the animals. If you just want to see animals just look out where a large group of people are gathered that usually means there is something interesting to see.
That was the farthest south I went on this side of the country, for the next stop I crossed over to the Caribbean coast to Cahuita. This coast is way more fun than the pacific. Most of the inhabitants are from the Caribbean islands and make for a very relaxed atmosphere to all of it. But Cahuita also has a small National Park to offer where you can go for a nice walk and spot some great wildlife. Well mostly monkeys.
While Cahuita is the town where you can do more, Puerto Viejo is the bigger party town. No National Park, just beaches and bars and even more laid back. But I only stayed here one night because it was mostly just my gateway into Panama. I spent a couple of days in Bocas del Toro about which I wrote earlier. Upon returning from Panama I went all the way up the coast for one last adventure.
I stayed overnight in Cahuita again and then took a bus from there to Moin where the boats to Tortuguero leave. I might have been a bit more stress in the morning but Moin really isn’t a nice town. The boat-ride to Tortuguero is an absolute highlight by itself. Although it was raining there were still so many cool animals out and the driver spotted them very well and stopped. A perfect way to turn a long trip onto many great photo opportunities.
In Tortuguero I woke up really early the next morning to catch a sunrise canoe river safari. Truly the best way to experience the park as it is mostly centred around the river. The canoe is also better than the many motorboats as it is silent and therefore can get closer to the animals as well as enter smaller streams. You will see all kinds of birds, monkeys, lizards and even caimans. This experience makes you totally forget waking up that early. There also is a short hike inland you can take if you have the time. It is fun and you’ll see some wildlife but it just doesn’t compare at all to the amazing canoe ride. Just make sure you do all of the activities on one day as the entrance fee of 15$ is a bit expensive but valid for the whole day not matter how many times you enter.
Unfortunately my flight got closer everyday so I had to make my way back to San José. To get there takes a boat ride, a rather long one if your boat has a faulty engine and breaks down all the time, and 3-4 buses.The boat takes you to La Pavona where a lot of tourist-buses and one crappy public bus are waiting. The public bus takes you to Cariari where you’ll have to wait about an hour for the connection to San José. As I wasn’t staying in San José directly but in Alajuela I had once again walk across town and board a last bus taking you out there. Well public buses might take a while to get you there but they are really cheap.
Before leaving Costa Rica I had time for one last volcano. Just outside the city and reachable by public bus is Volcan Poas. A beautiful large crater surrounded by the clouds, a great sight. Although a bit full as you can expect when it is that easy to reach. Even all of the ways inside the park are paved and the crater lookout is only 600m from the carpark. But it doesn’t matter it is beautiful nevertheless and the accessibility make it perfect for a day trip from San José.
So this concludes my time in beautiful Costa Rica. It’s a great country and I had a lot of fun here and although it is a small country it has a lot to offer. I never had any problems traveling there and can really recommend it as the perfect entrance into Central America. It is basically for Central America what Thailand is for South East Asia. That isn’t a bad thing at all it has it advantages being that easy to travel. Now I have to spend a day at the airport of Mexico City before reaching my last destination of the epic journey: Cuba!