Published: January 31st 2009January 31st 2009
This is my first effort at blogging and I'll apologize for any inadvertent mistakes. It's really not so much a blog as a trip report, so, with that, I begin.
We flew from Houston to San Jose, picked up a car from Budget, and drove to Casa Rio Blanco Eco-Lodge near Guapiles. This makes for a nice break from the San Jose-Puerto Viejo trip....about 2 hours from San Jose. Interesting factoid, we managed to get out of San Jose by driving through Heredia without going back into the City from the airport and it was fairly easy. No one seemed to be able to give us instructions, but we set the rented GPS (OK I'm a sissy) on Heredia until we got to where we could set it on Guapiles and avoided mucho mucho traffic.
Casa Rio Blanco....lovely. 4 cabinas and little restaurant/bar (guests only...family style dining), set on beautiful grounds right over the Rio Blanco. The sound of nature is ever-present, with each cabin's little porch open to the river sound. Most restful and a great place to spend a couple of days....or way more. Dutch hosts were incredibly welcoming and we felt like we were the only
people there...OK we were the only people there until late the second evening.
Arranged through Casa Rio Blanco, a 4 hour walk through La Reserva near Saraquipue and it was a great intro (or re-intro) to Costa Rican nature. The weather could have been a bit better (rained), but the guide was excellent, we saw a lot of birds, some monkeys, couple of peccaries and lots of trees and flowers. This tour was the only thing other than lodging and transport that we had arranged from the States and was a tad bit expensive ($80 US for the two with a private guide for almost 4 hours) compared to what we saw elsewhere in CR, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. The guide was excellent, no rushing, he quickly figured out what we wanted to see and found as much as he could and seemed to have a vast depth of knowledge about both flora and fauna. I also think (ok maybe I hope) that some of the cost went to support the research being done on tropical lands and wildlife being done there.
After two nites at Casa Rio Blanco we drove on to Puerto
Viejo de Talamanca and then on to Punta Uva (about 2 more hours). The drive is down out of the mountains about half way and then through huge pineapple and banana fields into Limon. I'd have to say that Limon is a bit of a hole, big container port that used to be a huge banana shipment point before most of the port was moved 20 kilometers north to Moin. You can see how it might have once been a pretty place, but now it's just kinda ragged and worn. You can observe "cruise-shippers" (looked mostly German to me) milling about and trying to get the most out of their limited hours ashore. I really didn't see anything in Limon that made me want to stop and explore.
From Limon south the road follows...off and on....the coast and gets progressively worse until the pavement effectively ends at Puerto Viejo. While the road deteriorates, the vibe changes too and you come more into the Caribbean Coast with less central american/latin and more caribbean feel. The population is more black, quite a few rastas, loads of backpackers and it just seems to move more slowly. Obviously the language is still primarily
spanish but you hear a lot of french and italian along with english and a smattering of russian and polish thrown in. You pass adjacent to a national park at Cahuita (more later on Cahuita) and really get more and more into rainforest. We didn't see a lot of traffic, though we did see some road construction, with minor delays, some of which was recovery from the floods of this past fall.
Puerto Viejo is kind of the hub of the southern Caribbean coast. Lots of restaurants, some shopping, and an array of lodging from hostel types to cabinas (usually little individual cabins or houses) to full size villa rentals. PV is big time surfer town with famed (or so they? say) break at Salsa Brava just south of town. Lots of people carrying surfboards on foot and on bicycles (looked kind of difficult to me but I have very little sense of balance).
South from PV are a set of kind of hamlets (usually a "soda", maybe a restaurant, and a couple of lodging options) that go on for maybe a 30 minute or so drive until the road ends at Manzanillo. We saw a lot of
people that navigated this on bicycles, but I'll just plead old and fat and Texan (we cannot live without our autos....even if I did get by without a "big ole truck"). The road is slow, seriously potholed, sometimes dusty (on the occasional non-rain day) but I thought it added to the ambience and slow pace of the area. You can often hear howler monkeys going off (I suppose that's "howling"), see toucans and other birds, and beautiful rainforest flora when you just slow down even if you do occasionally get a "dental adjustment" when you don't notice the upcoming road chasm. I liked it.
We rented a house just south of Punta Uva (the last community before Manzanillo), on the uphill side about 200 meters past the Suerre Hotel, called Villa Toucan. I could almost feel a tiny bit guilty about paying around $85/night (for a weeks rental) when there are so many other cheaper lodging options, but it was beautiful, 2 bedroom 2 bath, totally private (you share a large property with the owners who live about 100 meters away on the next hill over), with full kitchen, huge deck overlooking the jungle and ocean, No AC or
TV for a week (oh my GOD!!!!!), but there's an IPOD compatible CD player for background music and it was plenty comfie with breezes and fans. The bathrooms open up (open as in no outside wall) to the jungle and it was most bodacious taking a shower (or other activities) and being directly IN nature. My wife watched birds and frogs from the "throne" more than once. The owners are very helpful if you needs something, but not at all intrusive or bothersome if you don't seek them out. There's high-speed wireless available at their house, but the signal doesn't travel to the rental, so you have to walk over to check email and stuff, but you can sit outside and you're welcome to access their internet any time if they're there or not. The only kinks in the week there was they were working on the road in (it's probably 3 km) repairing damage from the floods and stabilizing the roadway, so you have a little (not much) roadgrader noise and I had to practice my backing up skills a couple of times. We also had a minor issue with hot water a couple of times, but they were
most quick to fix when we brought it to their attention. We saw mucho birds, hundreds of poison dart frogs, a sloth in the tree behind the bathroom, quite a few monkeys (heard more than saw....most definitely heard), and lotsa butterflies. It did rain....and rain.....and rain, but we had no bug problems. The bedrooms have screened windows and the only time bugs were out at all was in the evenings and they came to the lights. We just left bedroom doors and windows closed when we turned bedroom lights on. They also got cintronella torches you can light on the deck if bugs bother you...we used them a couple of nights but it was as much ambience as it was bugs. I'd recommend this location to anyone, in fact we're planning to go back in the fall.
We only ate in a couple of times (sandwiches and take-out pizza from Jungle Love), but having fresh (and free) coffee to start the day on your private deck and your own beer from the fridge to end your day sure makes for a relaxing vacation, as do the hammocks under the little "rainwatching" shelter to the side of the house. You
can also roam the grounds and watch birds and check out the frogs and stuff.
I did get a little stuck (OK....mud up to the door frame stuck) when I stupidly tried to drive up all the way to the house (there's a parking area maybe 50 meters from the house and downhill) to unload baggage and the owner was quick to help me get unstuck and didn't really laugh at me a lot. They (owners) also argued with the rental car company (on the phone...in spanish) when the rental got stuck (that's blockeado...today's spanish lesson) in 4 wheel drive (I'm sure there wasn't mud gumming up the works....ok maybe A LOT) until Budget agreed to deliver a replacement vehicle at no extra charge the next day.
A side note, I was completely happy with Budget Rent A Car for this trip. You read all the horror stories about extra charges and deceptive practices, so I get there and took all kinds of photos of the car when we picked it up, checked and double checked my contract, and was generally paranoid. Not only did they not charge for delivering a replacement car even if they coulda complained
about all the mud coating the bottom of the car and maybe gumming up the underside of the car, we got back to the rental place about 2.5 hours after the "end of the rental day" they didn't charge me extra. I got no complaints...only compliments about Budget. They also didn't argue at all about accepting my credit card insurance, though they did charge for a mandatory limitted liability policy that seemed to be the same for all the companies. I checked a couple of other companies and they wanted almost $20-$35/day more for insurance that was "mandatory".
OK side note over. We really didn't do anything organized....I rarely organize anything and am far too old to change. We found plenty to do, and with our own car did it at our own pace. Walked the beaches from PV south, absolutely beautiful. Seems like every little road off the main road came to a different beautiful spot, almost deserted, and palm trees and jungle right down to the beach. I'm a diver and the water was way too "brown" for diving and with the rainy/cool weather we didn't get in the water very much, but the natural beauty of
the area way more than made up for it. Went to the botanical gardens in PV (rainy but very pretty.....a little muddy), walked the Punta Mona trail at Manzanillo (very very very muddy....I still have "fall marks" on my knees and legs) and it was a high point of the trip. every muddy hill leads to another picture perfect beach that might have 2 people on it. The water looked like it might be good snorkeling or diving if it wasn't raining. Saw a lot of animals and birds on that trip. Toured Iguana Verde grounds.....bodacious layout, lots of animals, frogs, birds and a zillion iguanas (zillion is more than a trillion but less than a brazillion). Went up to Aviarios Caribe (the sloth rescue and preserve) and was a bit disappointed. Beautiful grounds and I'm sure they do great work. They had several sloths in rehab and some babies, but I kinda felt like if you weren't in a large group (as in bus or cruise shippers) you kind of got overlooked. We had to actually look for the trails and didn't want to tag along with a group in german so we were on our own. The sloths
were interesting and we got to see the baby sloths outside of the big group. Spent a day kinda putzing around, eating, drinking and shopping in PV. There might have been some bargains, but the eating and drinking took precedent and I had to drive home "one-eyed". Nice little place to visit though, no high pressure sales, no timeshares, and no "let me guide you" bothers.
We ate, we ate, we ate. Never had a bad meal, so I'm gonna just try and remember where we ate. Vida Sana (breakfast of choice), Arrecife (didn't always have everything that was on the menu) but we ate there 3 times and had very good food each time. Maxi's in Manzanillo (3 times...including a candlelit lobster dinner when the power went out), excellent pargo frito entero (fried whole red snapper) and lobster and nice location across from beach in Manzanillo. Pecora Negra...didn't impress me but any place that doesn't have beer scares me. A little to fancy for my taste and the beer thing didn't help, food was OK but for the price we found other better options. Bread and Chocolate (what can I say....french toast TO DIE FOR), Jungle Love (great
takeout pizza), a lebanese place in Manzanillo next to the Arte Cafe...primo breakfast and fruit plate, and several other places in PV proper. Like I said, we never had a bad meal. We both love seafood and there was plenty. Also lots of good baked goods and bread, good pasta and great coffee and beer.
Joe's Mantra....good beer, coffee and seafood....evidence of a higher being.
All good things come to an end and we had two days to get back to San Jose to fly out. We had talked about going to Tortuguero or Panama but we got lazy and had seen a bit of Cahuita on the way in, so we just went up there for two nites. We tried for Cabinas Alby....beautiful grounds and backs right up to the national park, but they were full, so we cruised a bit and came upon Cabinas Malu, about 2 km out of Cahuita. Nice grounds, comfortable little cabinas (we actually thought we might have used the AC on the day the sun came out, but never turned it on), nice pool, great location across the street from the beach. We liked them a lot but there's tons of
options in Cahuita as well. Ate at Cococaribe in Cahuita twice....I love fresh pasta and seafood and the cheese ravioli with ham and cream sauce was outrageous. Had the last nite's dinner at some upstairs place with shrimp in coconut sauce....I'm still a growing boy....and growing.....and growing.....and growing. We took the day to walk the trail in the preserve and it was excellent (even if raining). Saw bunch of monkeys, some frogs, lotsa birds, and a bazillion blue land crabs. I'm not a hiker, but we walked like 3 miles and I was ready to go farther. Beautiful place.
We had a full day to get back to San Jose, so we took the mountain road from Siquerres (nobody says I have to be able to spell) down through Turrialba. It's to be taken slow but it had beautiful views and absolutely no traffic, but it dumps you into getting all the way across San Jose to the airport area and THEY DRIVE NUTS. GPS kept me directed, but the little motorcycles going every direction...all the time....just say I breathed much easier when I saw the Budget sign.
Spent last nite at Orquideas Inn in Alejuela. A little
out of the way, but it's very quiet, nice and clean, great grounds, pool and jacuzzi, and restaurants and only a $12 taxi to airport. We had early flight out and cab showed up at 5 am sharp, drove right up to our building and go us to airport without hassle at all. Also had a very good quiet dinner for last nite.
Whew......did I write all that? Would I go again....uh huh. Maybe look at better weather time and maybe opportunity for diving, but we fell in love with Costa Caribe. We've been to Pacific, Arenal and Monteverde and they were very nice, but I'd most definitely choose PV area somewhere when we go back. It's just too pretty, too laid back, too inexpensive (to me at least), and too nice not to go back.
I guess I have to say this once
There are more photos below