Soaking wet in Central America's Switzerland

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
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Trip End Aug 01, 2007


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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Friday, July 6, 2007

He Said:

Central America has had more than its share of devastating political turbulence. Costa Rica is the bright exception to the revolutions and poverty that has plagued most of the "Banana Republics". The longstanding democratic tradition, high level of exports, and burgeoning tourism industry have given Costa Rica's population a level of affluence envied by its neighbors. In fact, Costa Rica's prosperity, liberal land ownership laws, and abundance of high-quality services has made the nation an extremely popular place for American retirees to purchase property and settle in order to stretch their fixed incomes.
From the time our plane landed in the capital of San Jose I have been surprised at the high quality roads, clean streets, modern buildings, and surprisingly high prices which tend to be a few of the hallmarks of developed nations.

After a quick overnight in San Jose and meeting up with Julie (a New Jersey teaching colleague of mine and past traveling companion) we rented a small 4x4 and headed north into the rain forests of the highlands. Our first stop was the town of La Fortuna at the base of Volcan Arenal. Arenal is the most active volcano in Central America and visitors are regularly treated to plumes of steam and smoke as well as the occasional spewing of lava and red-hot boulders. Unfortunately for us, the top half of the mountain was completely socked-in with mist during our entire visit. A nice consolation was staying in a resort with a geothermic heated pool with a swim-up bar. Not a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon!

Yesterday morning we headed across the highlands through verdant hills dotted with coffee plantations. In a drive through the hills of Costa Rica you'll see at least a million different shades of green! After a few bumpy hours on an unpaved road we rolled into the tourist boomtowns of Santa Elena and Monteverde. This area is the home to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which is one of the most concentrated areas of biodiversity on Earth. A guided night walk through part of the reserve introduced us to a few of the small mammals, big spiders, and variety of poisonous bugs the forest hosts (as well as gave Katie a few serious freak-outs).

This morning we headed back into the reserve to see the dense greenery in the daylight hours. A heavy downpour dampened things a bit and limited the birdlife we were able to see, but we were able to catch an extended look at a family of howler monkeys just as we were heading out of the park. So we are beach bound now, hoping to dry off a bit and maybe catch a few waves on Costa Rica's Pacific breaks.


She Said:

Well, here we are on our last hurrah. I can't believe a whole year has almost passed since we set out on this trip last July. After spending two weeks in the States visiting relatives and friends, assisting with Todd's sister's wedding, and helping Todd's brother and sister-in-law move, we are ready for a vacation! Poor us!

After two relatively quick and painless flights, we landed in the very modern capital city of San Jose, Costa Rica. And by modern I mean Land Rover dealerships, electronic street signs with traffic updates, every American chain fast food restaurant you can think of, and a noticeable lack of roving livestock and trash on the side of the road. It quickly became apparent that Costa Rica is firmly entrenched on the beaten path. After meeting up with Julie and deciding on our itinerary, we headed north to see Arenal Volcano in the town of La Fortuna. While we were still in Portland, I went to get my eyes checked, and the eye doctor turned out to have a wealth of knowledge about Costa Rica, and recommended several hotels. He vividly described one near the base of the Arenal Volcano as "the most amazing view" he had ever seen, with "a huge volcano with active lava flows right outside the window, and the occasional toucan flying by." We ended up taking his advice, and it was an amazing view, we did see toucans, but unfortunately no lava as the clouds remained rooted to the peak during our stay.

The next day we took a beautiful drive through the mountains to the town of St. Elena near the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Besides clouds and rain, the forest has lots of icky insects, poisonous snakes, and small mammals. One evening, we took guided a "night walk" though the forest to see the things that only come out at night. I wasn't nervous until we were under the rain forest canopy with lots of tree branches overhead, leaves on the ground, and total darkness except for a few flashlights. All of a sudden, everything looked like a snake hanging from a tree, things were brushing against my feet, and I was totally freaked that something was going to fall out of a tree onto my head. The guide kept finding spider holes and jamming sticks in them so we could get a good view of the mega tarantula or wolf spider hanging out inside. I was so relieved when the two-hour tour was over! My one piece of advice is to wear long pants and closed toed shoes while in the rainforest at dark!

Tomorrow we are off to the beach town of Playa Tamarindo to get away from the rain and spiders!
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