Kelly and I took a trip to Costa Rica February 5th to the 13th of 2005. 

Did you know that Christopher Columbus was the person who gave Costa Rica its name. He dubbed it the “Rich Coast” after getting gold and booty from the natives and he thought this stuff was all over the place. Little did he know.

The trip created our first passport stamps. Yay! We flew from Denver, CO to San Jose, Costa Rica via Houston, TX on Continental. Airfare was Cheap at only $331 each. Note that when you leave Costa Rica you have to pay a $26 per person exit tax. I’m not sure what exit tax is about. Getting through immigration and customs took about 1.5 hours.

Since we got in late on Saturday we stayed at a Hampton Inn near the airport. It was expensive but familiar to us as it is very American like and we didn’t know what to expect in San Jose. Leaving the airport, we are spotted by the Taxi coordinator right away at the airport and he asks us where we are going. Within a minute he had us on a free shuttle heading to the hotel. One of the many friendly people we encountered.

The next morning I walked to the rental car agency(Thrifty) to pick up our 4x4 Jeep Liberty. The folks there spoke English. Sorry Sir, we do not have any Liberty’s but I’ll upgrade you to a Jeep Wrangler for no extra charge. Sweet! Sorry Sir, the Wrangler is broken, but I’ll set you up with a Diesel 4x4 Toyota Hylux. Ummm, what’s that? Turns out it is a 4x4 small truck with 4 full doors and a small pickup bed. It had great ground clearance and a manual transmission, but the one we got was not Diesel. The downside was that we could not hide anything from out of site, like in a trunk. The Hylux had lots of dings on it and Thrifty folks noted all of them. In the future, I’d probably take pictures of the vehicle with a digital camera to protect myself just in case.

I pick up Kelly at the Hotel and we are on our way west on the Inter-Americana(The main road in Costa Rica) around 10am. We head north at San Ramon on our way to La Fortuna. We first notice “La Guardia” have people pulled over for tickets every few kilometers. So we don’t go much faster than the 100 or 80 KPH(62 or 48 mph) speed limits. Yet, people pass us like we are standing still. Lots of tricked out(low wheels, spoilers, stickers…etc) cars driven by the youth and the busses must be driven by ex-Nascar drivers. I swear they were drafting each other for the slingshot pass on the many blind mountain curves. It was NUTS!

In San Ramon we stop for water bottles at a new mall that was half vacant with a super market(MegaSuper) in it. No English spoken here, but Visa accepted and very loud music playing.

The road out of San Ramon quickly gets narrow and curvy with lots of steep descents and climbs. Right away I’m thinking motorcycles!!! We are traveling in an area of mostly farming. It is so green and lush. All the bridges are single lane and the side with the sign “Ceda” is supposed to yield. I learned this after getting a dirty look from crossing the bridge when the other person had the right of way. Oops! Other notable signs are “Despacio” for slow, “Derrumbes” for landslide and “Peligro” for warning. The stop signs look the same and say “Alta” on them. Once in awhile you see a heart painted on the road with an ellipse below it. This is to remind you that you should wear your seat belt if you love yourself. We thought it was some sort of crosswalk symbol until we asked someone. At times we climbed into the clouds, but most of the time you could see way off into the distance at other mountain areas. We would occasionally come across a small town with a one room “Escuela” and a few homes. The straightest road section was no more that 1/8th of a mile and the road was in great shape. When we got to La Fortuna it was around 1pm.

We found our hotel, San Bosco, quite easily as signs pointed us right to the front door from just outside of town. This was comforting. Our room was very basic and small, but for $40/night it was a bargain. The owner Greg was from the US and even spent some time when he was young living in Estes Park, CO near us. He runs a top notch operation. We spend the rest of the day walking around town, shopping, setting up tomorrow’s tours and getting dinner. Below is a picture of the Hotel San Bosco.

La Fortuna is a Farming and Eco Tourism town that happens to be near the active Arenal Volcano.  On a clear night you can see the red hot lava flowing down the side of the cone. We didn’t have such luck as clouds covered the top of Arenal most of the time during our stay.

The next day we get picked up at 7:30am for a river float down the Rio Penas Blancas and the hope of seeing some of Costa Rica’s wonderful wildlife. I’m sure the tour bus driver, Carlos, just retired from Formula 1 auto racing given the pace we were going. This is going to be a cozy tour with just one other couple and our guide, Walter, in the rubber raft. Here is a picture of Kelly and I at the put in point and another shot of the river as we floated down.

This next picture is of a poison dart frog. These frogs excrete a poison from their skin that natives would put on their arrow heads for hunting. Walter went ashore and found this one and put it on his paddle for our enjoyment.

We saw lots of birds, some monkeys, big iguanas, a river otter, young humanoids playing and a crocodile while on the rest of our float. We also had the pleasure of stopping at an active farm reachable only by the river. It is operated by a 92 year old man, Don Pedro, and his younger 91 year old brother with some help from their daughters. Don Pedro bought this land, 100’s of hectares, 70 years ago for 500 Colones(just over $1 using today’s exchange rate). He has been offered millions for it today, but has no plans to sell his paradise. They fed us homemade cheese, coffee and a sweet corn meal item, all of which were awesome!. Here is a picture of his paradise for the last 70 years.

We stopped our float at this walking bridge crossing the river. A local farmer put this bridge in to get workers from town over to his fields. You can see the old bridge on the right was in need of replacement.

After the La Fortuna grand prix back to San Bosco we had some time to rest before our ATV adventure that afternoon.

The ATV’s were Honda Fourtrax 250’s with push button gear shifting. They were real easy to ride. Our guide was a quiet and patient young man. We were able to ride through the streets with the ATV’s as no one seamed to care. We first rode to the waterfall pictured below.

Then we ended up on an old road that was in use 25 years ago, but has since been replaced. The views are nice as you can see.

When we hit this bridge that is no longer in use it was time to turn around and head back.

Both Kelly and I had a good time on the ATV’s. We also watched a Toucan in a tree when we were riding around the farms.

The next day we drove from La Fortuna to the town of MonteVerde. It is about 25KM(15 miles) as the Crow flies but 130KM(80 miles) as the truck drives. We had to drive around Lake Arenal to the north side of the lake then back south again. While still on the East side of the Lake we saw many Coati(pictures below) near the road.

The north side of Lake Arenal  has a reputation as being one of the best windsurfing area’s in the world. And we saw some folks doing just that. We also saw a Sloth in a tree thanks to the people stopped taking pictures. My pictures didn’t turn out well of that Sloth, but below are some good Sloth pictures.

The road was paved until we got to Tilaran, but the pavement had HUGE potholes in it and that has given this stretch of road the reputation as an axel destroyer. You could be driving along at 50kph(31mph) and all of a sudden have to slow to 10kph(6mph) to save your vehicle from physical doom. At one point on this road we stopped to look at a map for directions and were approached by a lady letting us know which way to go. She asked for money as well. It seams she sits in a chair next to the road waiting for tourists to stop and look at a map in that intersection. We gave her some change. We find out this is a common thing in Costa Rica as we had it happen to us 3 times that day. Some folks even made nice maps to hand out to you. I’m betting these are the same people who remove the road signs so you feel lost all the timeJ

Previously I had taken a picture of directions posted on a map board at a vista stop. It was the classic, go 5 blocks past the stop sign, veer left at the café, and when you see signs for the waterfall go right. Of course the sign for the waterfall has been removed, the café no longer exists and 5 blocks could be counted differently depending on your block definition. Oh the joys of navigation. I quite liked it being an optimist and enjoying this type of stuff when dirt biking. Kelly felt we were always getting more lost. How do you know this is the right way? I just do? Why don’t we stop and ask those people for directions? Me thinking “What, and admit failure, where is the adventure in that” Me saying “I’m sure this is the right way to go”.

The road from Tilaran to MonteVerde has the reputation as being very bumpy and steep. Lets just say the reputation is well deserved. It took us over 2 hours to drive 45KM(27 miles) in 4wd. Here is a picture taken during a kidney and bladder break.

We get checked into the Trapp Family Lodge in MonteVerde around 2pm and rest a bit before going into town for some exploring and dinner. Here is a picture of the view we had from our room.

The next day we drive up to the MonteVerde Biological Reserve in the Cloud Forest for some hiking. Here are some pictures from that.

After the first 200 yards of Cloud Forest it all starts to look the same. We eventually saw some big black monkey’s up high in the trees and some hummingbirds but not much else in the form of animals. Lots of houseplants everywhere as Kelly likes to say.

That afternoon we walk around town and check email before going for another short walk at a nearby hotel called Fonda Vela. While on this walk we were pretty close to a tree that just decided to fall over. It was a large tree that looked healthy, but sounded like a bunch of firecrackers going off as branches broke during the fall. It would eventually lay up against another tree and not make it all the way to the ground. Another couple where closer than us and they were pretty shaken up. You always see fallen trees but to see it happen was quite bizarre. At least no one was hurt.

This area has so many Dual Purpose motorcycles as they are the perfect method for getting around. The Yamaha DT in all sizes seamed to be the bike of choice, but we saw many other makes and models as well.

In the MonteVerde area we saw several Toucans and I think I saw a Quetzel, but no one knowledgeable was around to confirm the rare Quetzel siting and so I’m not so sure it was really a Quetzel.

The next day we were to drive to the pacific coast town of Quepos near the well know Manuel Antonio National Park. So that morning we went to Stella’s Bakery for some coffee and pastries before hitting the road. While seated I hear my lastname called out and turn to look. At first I didn’t recognize the person, but soon realize it is Dimitri, Sanita and their 4 year old son Sal from Minnesota. We have a great time talking about our trips and catching up. What a treat it was to see them in such a far away place. Here is a picture of us minus Sal who has more important 4 year old things to do. They were spending a month in Costa Rica exploring and visiting family.

The drive down from MonteVerde to the Inter-Americana was a bit rough but no where near as bad as the previous drive to MonteVerde from Tilaran. We are relieved. We did have a dog guide us for nearly half a kilometer since we could not out drive him due to the road conditions. The dog seamed to be having fun running in front of us and looking back to see if we were still following. The dog probably wanted money for showing us the direction to go. I would have paid him if he had given us a map.

After a wrong turn heading out of Esparza we get recovered and start the drive down the pacific coast. The road is in good shape. We still encounter many one lane bridges and big busses going over makeshift bridges while the other bridge is being repaired/replaced. Many of these bridges are old and falling apart. I wonder how many busses drop into the rivers each year due to the bad bridges. The coast has many “Fincas”, which are farms, of African Palm trees. These are used to produce palm oil for exportation. I expected to see banana farms, but we didn’t see any. Hey, I thought Costa Rica was a banana republic?

Quepos is a hopping town. There is lots of activity from bars, cars driving by with loudspeakers, tourists, and general noise from things being so close together. It is also very humid and HOT, so we rest a bit in the hotel room and crank up the remote controlled AC. Later we venture out and walk around the town to check it out. I had a dinner with enough jumbo shrimp to feed the Costa Rican Military for a decade. Note – Costa Rica has no military. We also sign up for a tour of the nearby Manual Antonio National Park, which is only 7KM(4 miles) south of us. That night, we slept with earplugs in because of the noise.

We got picked up at our hotel, the Best Western Kamuk, at 7:15am. Our guide for the day will be Michael, the Tico jokester, with a good sense of humor. While picking up some other tourists at their hotels we see up close some white faced monkeys playing near our “tourismo” van. Monkey’s are so much fun to watch.

You have to cross a little river at low tide and a much bigger river at high tide to get into and out of the park. Some locals run little boats back and forth for those who don’t want to get wet and are willing to spend some colones. We see lizards, poisonous trees, funky vines, monkeys, sloths, central American agouti, basilisks, bats, a snake, crabs, coati, spiders, a crocodile, and beautiful beaches inside the park. Here are some pictures from inside the Manuel Antonio National Park.

At the end of the tour, the bus takes you back to your hotel, but we decided to stay and explore the town and shops of Manual Antonio since it was such a nice area. Plus, we wanted to go back into the park later in the day for some more exploring.

After lunch I decided to play in the surf, the water was warm and the waves were about 2-3 feet. I was just bobbing up and down with the waves having a blast, then I came in to watch our stuff so Kelly could go play. When she was done, I was about to go out again and she mentions I might want to leave my glasses with her so I don’t loose them. “Nah, I’m just taking it easy”. Well about three minutes and 30 seconds later I get creamed by a big wave and loose my glasses. I’m sure some myopic shark is seeing much better now. Kelly sees the big wave and has the binoculars out and ready to see the stupid husband trick(something she is pretty used to by now and handles well). She has plenty of time to practice her “I told you so” face before I get close enough to see it.

So now I’m stuck with my prescription sunglasses for the rest of the trip and a Wife who was right AGAIN. I don’t know which is worseJ

We head back into the park before they close(4pm) and do some more exploring. What a cool place.

After all that walking, it is time for happy hour drinks and dinner at one of the many restaurants. We both liked the “Latin Lover” drink and I loved the tuna steak dinner($6) I had. At one of the shops I try to ask “How much is it” by saying “Cuanto queso” but what that means is “How much cheese”, I should have said “Cuanto cuesta”. No wonder the shop owner was confused, they didn’t have any cheese.

We ride the local bus(100 colones or about 22 cents) back to Quepos for the evening.

The next day is a travel day back to San Jose, so we retrace our route back up the coast before we head east to San Jose. At the biggest bridge, over the Rio Grande de Tarcoles, we saw in Costa Rica you can see Crocodiles down below. Check out the pictures.

We follow the busses on the main road, (hwy-3) to San Jose which turns out to be a very twisty road with lots of elevation changes and houses right next to the edge of the road. The busses and cars are passing in blind corners and seam to have a protocol worked out with the horns. One beep is a warning, two beeps is a thank you, three beeps appeared to be a prayer of some sort or at least it should be. We arrive in San Jose around 2pm and return the rental car. Check back into the same Hampton Inn we were in before and go for a walk, do some shopping, and get dinner.

The people of Costa Rica were all very friendly to us and accepted us into their country with open arms. Our only regret is that we didn’t learn enough Spanish to better communicate as the burden was always on them to speak English. Kelly and I are planning to take a Spanish class to remedy this for our next trip. Until then “Adios” and may life be “Pura Vida” for you.