Published: February 29th 2012February 12th 2012
Our Rental Car
A brand new Toyota Corolla, 6 speed manual, we loved driving through the lush beautiful countryside of Costa Rica.
After investigating the places we wanted to see, and examining the layout of the country, we decided to deviate from our normal traveling methods and rent a car. Our Ticabus ticket would give us a ride from Granada all the way to San Jose, Cost Rica's capital but that was 3 hours past the turn off towards the Costa Rican Gold Coast. We didn't really want to have to backtrack that far if we could avoid it because our rental car was at Liberia, in northern Costa Rica and near the Gold Coast we planned on visiting.
We talked to the bus driver when we got near the Costa Rican border to find out if we could get off the bus before San Jose. This was a common occurrence we were told. We were dropped off at the intersection of two highways in the city of Liberia, Costa Rica. A cab happened to be sitting there and we hopped in. He took us to the Alamo car rental by the airport where our rental car was waiting for us. We were out of there and on the road by 7:30 in the evening, complete with maps and directions to Playa
Entrance to Hotel in Playa Tamarindo
Our hotel was located just across the street from the beautiful public beach.
The Gold Coast of Costa Rica is so named because of the sun. On a map it appeared to be one beach after another. Playa Tamarindo was about an hour away and the one we chose to stop at first. After a fun, curvy drive we entered a "hopping" town with a very active night life, people strolling everywhere, bars full and the restaurants busy. We stopped the car, walked up to a hotel and got a very nice room right across from one of the prettiest beaches we've seen. We settled in and then headed out to find supper and then enjoyed a moonlit walk along the beach.
The next morning we headed back to the beach just across the street for our morning stroll. The sand was very fine and looked like sand art from the ripple of the waves. The waves were gentle but rolled in good enough for beginners to take surf lessons, and many people were doing just that. The beach went on forever and there were many people around. The soft breeze deceived us into thinking that the sun was not too strong....but we were wrong. Yep, we got sunkissed in
Public Beach at Playa Tamrindo
Located just across from our hotel was a gorgeous beach that went on for miles.
very little time!
Around noon we showered and checked out of the hotel. We grabbed lunch at Ollie's Restaurant, then headed down the road to explore the area and check out several other beaches. What a beautiful country! The gently rolling hills were filled with cattle and many, many horses. We drove through a little town called Huacas. There must have been some kind of gathering happening (it was a Sunday) because there were HUNDREDS of people on horseback, in fact they were on Pasofino horses. The horses were dancing to the music in the air and their riders carried drinks in hand. The crowds blocked and slowed the traffic. The riders were drinking and socializing everywhere, even as they pranced down the highway through town.
After getting through town we checked out several beaches all branching out from Huacas. Playa Grande was a beach where the sand was fine, the hotel quaint, but it was too isolated for our taste that day. We got close to and took good pictures of the iguanas laying around, and were especially fortunate to get pictures with a howler monkey (Harold) holding Maurice's hand! What a thrill! Harold was an outcast
What a Beautiful Beach!
Great sand, shallow calm water, Tamarindo Beach was a happening place where people surfed, walked, jogged and rode unicycles.
of the local howler monkey troupe and often hung around the hotel. We then drove along the winding coast, visited a few more beaches, and decided to drive south to another seaside resort town called Samara.
We found another quaint, little hotel and restaurant. Next morning, we laid in the sun for awhile then hit the road for Monteverde. From the beach, we drove through beautiful slightly rolling ranching country, then into more mountainous terrain and finally started the steep 22 kilometer ascent to the top of the mountain and the town of Monteverde. Being restricted to 1st and 2nd gear, it took us over an hour of climbing over a curvy, dirt switchback road to reach the top. We were amused by the numerous "reduce speed to 25 kph" school zone signs as we were never able to get over 30 kph anywhere on the climb up to 5000 feet above sea level.
This tourist town is situated high in the cloud forest at the top of the mountains of interior Cost Rica. We arrived shortly before dark. The wind was howling and the temperature was significantly colder than at the beach area. We were grabbing our
One of many restaurants at Tamarindo Beach
On the menu they had an order called Half Assed Tacos or as the sign said, Nachos as big as your ass! Maurice loved the free Wifi.
jackets, and over the next few days realized we hadn't brought enough cold weather clothes. Our first stop was the tourist office where we booked a canopy tour as well as a train tour going through the cloud forest for the next day.
We walked next door and got a room at a local hotel. The wind was howling! It was blowing hard through the louvered windows, lifting the curtains and even coming in through the slatted floor boards. We dressed in several layers and headed for a restaurant. Here we were sheltered from the howling wind. At the end of supper we met Judy and Doug, people from Canmore, Alberta. We shared our plans for the next day and they thought that they might join us. Through dust and wind we walked back the 3 blocks to our hotel. We found it difficult to sleep, the wind howling, the building rocking and the tin on the roof banging continuously. What a night! "Does the wind always blow like this?" we asked. The locals told us that these gale force winds were the norm for December, January, and February! Then the wind quiets down for the rest of the
Harold, the local howler monkey
I think he liked me, we held hands till it seemed as though he wanted to bite. What a grip he had! He had been ousted from the monkey troop and showed up at this hotel daily to entertain the hotel clients.
year, and the temperature remains moderate because of the altitude. It is the moist warm Carribean air flowing up the mountain and meeting the cooler Pacific air during those winter months that create these high winds at the top of the Continental divide.
After a good breakfast with lots of hot coffee, we went off to experience our first tour of the cloud forest. That tour included the cloud forest sky-walk with 5 suspension bridges that went over the jungle and gave us a bird's eye view of the animal and plant life. A tram took us to the top of the mountain through the clouds, mist and rain. We went on 15 zip lines, the longest being a half mile long. What a blast! It was quite cool and we were glad to be dressed in warmish clothes, not everyone in our group was. We learned a lot about the local flora and fauna and even saw more howler monkeys resting in the trees. We were warned to be sure to NOT stand under the monkeys as their aim was accurate and they often relieved themselves on humans.
Doug and Judy met us for this tour. They
Part of the Gold Coast... Beaches and lots of sun with a great breeze to keep cool.
told us they had moved from their first hotel, experiencing the same wind and noise as we had. They were hoping for a quieter night, however, they reported the next day that their second hotel rocked in the wind and the tin banged all night as well.
Following the canopy tour, we continued onto another forest tour by train, again through the cloud forest. We went on another informative hike with a knowledgeable guide, however due to the clouds, we weren't able to see Arenal Volcano, which we were told was very beautiful.
After another noisy and windy night we headed out in our rented Toyota Corolla, down, around and away from Monteverde around Lake Arenal to La Fortuna situated near Arenal Volcano. Again, the scenery was spectacular! Lemurs crossed the road in groups. We knew enough NOT to open our windows for a photo. At one point we saw a coach bus that had slid off the road as a truck was passing him. The truck was kind enough to back up and pull the bus out of the shallow ditch.
After grabbing lunch, we hiked once again, this time to Cataratas Fortuna, an amazing waterfall.
In Huacas, they were having a gathering of some kind, there were hundreds of these dancing horses with their riders enjoying the festivities.
It was 15 minutes going down to the falls and 45 minutes almost straight up for the return hike. A short drive back into La Fortuna and we spotted a much needed ATM and guess who was standing on the corner, Doug and Judy! What an unexpected surprise! We teamed up with them again and went in search of a hotel for the night.
We checked into Luigui's Hotel. We knew it was Luigui's Hotel because that was what was tiled into the floor of the large outdoor pool. The hotel owner even housed his prize Pasofino horse next door, and offered us a ride if we wanted. After a cool off swim we spent a lovely evening shopping and exploring the Centro. Dinner in the hotel was an experience because of the waitress, a fast talking relative of the owner, who insisted that we would love what she brought for us. Dinner was great!
Next morning, we again enjoyed the pool, the sun and the company of Doug and Judy. We parted ways, grabbed an early lunch and headed for San Jose. It was a very picturesque 3 hour drive through mountains, valleys, and agricultural areas.
Throughout the country, these types of fences were dominant. Live trees for fence posts!
Arriving in San Jose, we returned the car to Alamo and the agent there recommended a local family run hotel that was quite near and very conveniently located. We checked into the Hotel Pitahaya and a long walk followed, down Paseo Colon and back. This is the main street in the heart of San Jose, a city of nearly 3 million people.
When we returned, Leo, the hotel manager informed us that the PanAmerican Highway was blocked by indigenous people in Panama. They were protesting against the government which was planning on negotiating with mining companies regarding mining developments on indigenous lands. We were told that we needed to check with Ticabus regarding our travel plans to Panama, which we did. Ticabus informed us that the border was indeed closed and no one was crossing at all. Ticabus informed us that these protests had happened a few times before, and the highway was always reopened after a few days, so we re-booked to leave San Jose for Panama on Saturday instead of Friday as we had originally planned. We had originally hoped to spend at least 4 days in Panama, visiting the rainforest and the famous Panama Canal.
Sand art on the beach
Because of the shallow water and gentle waves, the sand is patterned like this, with different hues of colour.
So the following day, we took a city tour to learn more about San Jose. San Jose is a very young city with the oldest buildings being about 125 years old. The Spanish conquistadors abandoned San Jose and Costa Rica because they did not find any gold or precious metals back in the 16th and 17th century. Water is Cost Rica's only natural resource the guide kept informing us. Sugar cane and coffee were introduced and coffee has now become one of their major agricultural exports. Because it is such a small country, and in order to maintain some market advantage, the government passed legislation allowing only the best variety of coffee beans, Arabica, to be grown.
When our 55ish year old guide was in high school, San Jose was a city of only about 700,000 people. The area has grown steadily in population since. Today, 2.5 of Costa Rica's 5 million people live in the greater San Jose area and tourism has become a main source of income. We were taken through the city from east to west over the course of the 5 hour tour. What used to be coffee fields are now covered with western type
Hotel in Samara
Having the car allowed us to drive along the coast, visit various beaches and stay at different places along the way. Samara Beach with hotel was great.
buildings and communities full of expats.
After checking in with Ticabus and finding out that the border was not reopening likely until at least Monday, we decided to take a local bus out to Playa Jaco. Jaco is a famous expat community with a gorgeous beach. We strolled along the waters edge and laid on the beach watching the locals playing both in the water and soccer in the sand. After spending a wonderful afternoon at the beach, it was back on the bus for the 1 hour trip back to San Jose.
Sunday morning, the 5th of Febuary, we were surprised to find that the city shut down its main street so that families could play. There were free activities of all kinds, everything from a zip line to slides, face painting, bands playing, clowns and much much more. This happens during the months of December, January and half of Febuary, the time the children are out of school for holidays. School holidays happen at this time of year so that the children can participate in coffee bean picking.
Monday morning, still nobody going into or out of Panama! We saw on the news that there
Linda and I made plans for where to go next while enjoying great coffee and pastries.
was some violence when the locals were being removed from the blockade and at least one person was killed. Now what to do? We had airline tickets booked for Wednesday to fly from Panama City back to Mexico City. It was an 18 hour bus ride, and it did not look like we could get to Panama in time to make our flight. We found the local Copa Airline office where they told us that for only another $26, we could fly directly fom San Jose to Panama on Wednesday morning and connect with our original flight back to DF! Wow, problem solved! And it was made even better when Ticabus refunded us $36 for our unused bus tickets to Panama City!
We then decided to rent a car again for Tuesday and drive through scenic Costa Rica to Poas Volcano and area, then drop the car off near the airport and spend the night in Alajuela, where the international airport is located.
So it was up early and back to the friendly Alamo office.
Getting out of San Jose was interesting as they rarely have streets marked but we managed it with no detours. We stopped
Hay Bales.... In Costa Rica
Beautiful rolling ranch country. Of course they need to make bales for the cows and horses we saw in Costa Rica.
just outside of San Jose at a local eatery for breakfast of pinto gallo (beans and rice), eggs, tortillas and coffee. Then we went into Volcan Poas National Park to find the aerial tram to take us to the top of the volcano and see the amazing views offered from the tram. On the way we saw a butterfly avery, tree frogs that are small but very toxic and learned all about orchids. At the gates of Mount Poas we were turned away due to clouds covering the peak. The friendly gate attendant said that there was no point in paying to get in, we wouldn't be able to see anything anyway. So, we headed down the mountain and went on a coffee tour.
We learned that coffee is picked in the months of December, January and February (thus kids are out of school to help the family earn money, about $2 for each 25 pound basket). Only Arabica coffee is grown here due to pest, disease and to maintain only the very best quality of coffee. Coffee plants are interspersed with banana and other fruit bearing plants to encourage pollination. The trees, which grow to a height of
Mother and her baby in the cloud forest near Monteverde. The mother must protect her baby from predators. One predator being rogue male howler monkeys.
10 to 12 feet high, grow best in volcanic soils and at specific altitudes. Many of the plantations are on steep mountain sides and all the work planting, pruning and picking is done manually. Coffee beans are encased inside a brownish/red fruit and must have the husk squeezed off before it is washed and dried for 5 days (naturally) or 2 days in the sun and one day in the drying machine. After the beans are dried they must sit for several months to cure. The good beans are shipped for market while the second class beans are used by the host country. The coffee bean grows to 3 times the original size when roasted. Then it is shelled and ground so that it can become the yummy liquid that we love.
We were back on the road to Alajuela and our hotel called Casa Anitgua (it had a unique Persian atmosphere, complete with Persian cuisine, carpets and hooka pipes for use). After the scramble of the 5 way intersection with few signals, we made our car drop off and were taken to our hotel near the airport.
Our 3:40AM wake up call did not come but we
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
After much hiking through the cloud forest, it was thrilling to Zip right over the top of it all ... 15 times. Whawho!
were up anyway. Our final pack up, breakfast of fruits, cereal and coffee and off to the airport in a cab that decided that we were gringos and despite arriving 15 minutes late, he should charge us double the going rate.
We attempted to check in only to find that there was a $28 exit tax each. That got covered. Onto security where once again a young lady figured she should go through Linda's bag and confiscate items that she had been traveling with for years! Yes, coffee would help....not much. Our 1 hour flight to Panama was smooth and efficient. We got through the de-boarding, found free WiFi and settled in for a few hours before the final leg of our trip to Mexico City. We arrived home to our apartment at 4:30PM to be greeted by our maid who was waiting to do our laundry before she headed for home. What a treat for us!
We went out for Linda's favorite, tacos pastor and Jamaica (a local drink), visited with Terri, our apartment mate, and our day ended.
Our 4 week Central American Tour was over. Even though we didn't get to see Panama, we
Monteverde Zip Lines
3 practice lines, then we went up the tram to the top, and zipped down 12 lines, each close to a half mile in length. First time for doubles for us.
learned a lot and saw many beautiful and interesting sights. We will have to do Panama another time. What amazing experiences we had!
There are more photos below