My second week in Costa Rica was spent traveling with Sophie, a young British woman who had never been out of the country till now, and was plowing through Central America in 6 weeks with a final destination of Mexico City. We met in Jacó attending the same surf camp and discovered at dinner one evening that we were traveling alone. We left it open as to whether we really would meet up in a few days time to head north to Monteverde for the cloud forest and La Fortuna for Volcan Arenal. In the end, it worked out and she was my travel companion for a week.
With the beach and the country’s natural beauty within a two hour distance, I spent very little time in the capital city of San Jose. Perhaps I’ve had my fill of South American cities but San Jose didn’t seem remarkable compared to the European feel of Buenos Aires or the sheer grandeur of the snow-capped Andes as a backdrop to the caldera in which Bolivia’s La Paz sits in. The only really nice thing about San Jose is the incredible variety of international cuisine: Thai, Indian, Japanese, Italian, French, Argentinian, Cuban. One remarkable thing I did in the San Jose vicinity was to visit Volcan Poas. Check out the sulfur fumes emitting from right side of the crater.
Traveling with Sophie was loads of fun and our personalities complemented each other. We stayed in hostels the entire week since our minds were looking ahead to when we would finally separate. Hostels allowed us to meet tons of people. In the end, Sophie found someone to go north with while I was not as lucky but ventured off on my own towards the Carribean side of the country.
While we were together, we visited Volcan Arenal in La Fortuna (the main reason why tourists visit). Because we were there during rainy season, the volcano was often shrouded in cloud. On clear days, you are able to see its perfectly spherical cone. And at nights, you could see red lava spouting out of its top. Here’s the best view I had of the volcano in the three days/two nights we were there. In spite of the lack of visibility, we hiked at the base of the volcano and saw sloths, howler monkeys, and all types of birds along the way. We visited a beautiful nearby waterfall and swam at its base and we went one evening to Baldi Hot Springs, one of the many local thermal hot springs in the area and found swim up bars and hammocks and tons of people just having a great time.
Days later, we crossed Lake Arenal to get to Santa Elena, the base from which people visit neighboring Monteverde & Santa Elena Cloud Forests. Sophie and I took a morning tour of the cloud forest which was incredibly lush and peaceful. We saw more howler monkeys but the elusive quetzal was nowhere to be seen.
Monteverde Cloud Forest is particularly special because it straddles the Continental Divide, allowing for several types of climates to co-exist lending itself to an incredible amount of biodiversity in a relatively concentrated amount of space. Beautiful!
I took a tour of a coffee farm, Café Monteverde, a cooperative of farmers and their families who are committed to an environmentally sustainable method of farming (coffee and otherwise) without the use of chemicals or pesticides and whose coffee is sold to the international Fair Trade market. I passed up on going to the Quaker Cheese Factory for fear that I would break down eat the cheese (still on accupuncturist’s orders: no dairy…among other things).One new thing I experienced while in Santa Elena was a zipline canopy tour. It was tons of fun but I wouldn’t recommend it if you have a fear of heights.
Before Sophie and I said our goodbyes, we managed to dance salsa with local Ticos at a local bar/club and we left our mark of our shared Costa Rica experience at a local restaurant. Tourists are encouraged to draw on an 8.5×11 sheet of paper with their names, their date of visit, and where they are from (I even saw one sign drawn by a woman from the Philippines! Imagine that!). We couldn’t pass up the opportunity…and since there was no longer space on the walls, we decided that the surfer chicas deserved a place on the ceiling. Ya dig it??