Costa Rica III

Part 3 of our adventures starts and ends back at the beach. We start on the Pacific coast, with a night of wild camping. We found some safer stretches of coast in this part of our journey and could enjoy something for FREE in Costa Rica! After all that complaining we did about prices in the last stretch, it was a nice change of pace.

A couple of highlights along the Pacific Coast: Manuel Antonio National Park, a beautiful preserved area with hiking trails. This was the one National Park we decided to splurge on entering. Due to the hot weather and needing to leave Mitzi behind, we got up early and were there right for the 7am opening. The temperatures then were still cool and we had the place to ourselves! The sights were great and we were out just after 9am, as the temperatures were just starting to creep up and the crowds were really rolling in. The park wouldn’t have been half as nice two hours later (nor would it have been possible to go without the pup).

Uvita and Marino Ballena National Park – technically there is an entry fee here, but we stayed in a spot that has a private entrance and enjoyed walking along the beach here. It is known for the “Whale Tail” land formation. You can walk out to the end during low tide and enjoy the great view. We went as the tide was coming in and got to splash around in the waves that were coming from both sides.

Osa Peninsula – There was a lot of great wild camping spots on the Peninsula and plenty of wildlife sightings – some turtles in the water of Golfo Dulce and Scarlet Macaws dropping shells on us from Playa Matapalo. We didn’t go into the National Park here – again, no dogs and the high price tag – but we don’t feel like we missed out on much and enjoyed all the lovely free (and safe) beach camping.

Backtracking up the coast a bit, we stopped in Dominical for a couple nights. We were technically “wild camping” but it didn’t feel so wild, since they were in a parking lot next to a bar where we could pick up WiFi, had a short walk to an brewery, and close to a surf shop where we rented some boards. This was most definitely Rachels last time on a surf board – 4th time was still not the charm. Ben had fun practicing, but we were both ready to head back in the mountains!

Up near Chirripo National Park, we found a hostel with camping that let us park the Landy there. It is the low season now, so we were the only guests and got to chat a bit with the hostel owner. We poked around the villages, found a short trail past some waterfalls, and bought cheese and chocolate at a couple local shops. We also went up to a private nature reserve to go hiking our second morning there. Unfortunately it was also not dog friendly, but the trail was very short and temperatures are cool, so Mitzi didn’t mind letting us go for a walk without her.

Our next stop was for 10 days at a small Animal Shelter in the town Pueblo Nuevo. Rachel has been wanting to do some volunteer work while we travel, and this opportunity seemed perfect. The day to day work involved lots of dog walks (fun) and dog poop (gross) but the best part were cuddling with the sweetest bonded pair, Clarita and Kasper. If we weren’t limited to one dog on the upcoming sailing trip, we may have taken off with these two.

From the shelter, we got back on the road with a nice 4×4 road full of views on our way up to 3000m. Just outside of the National Park Los Quetzales is the beautiful mountain village San Gerardo de Dota. We went on two beautiful hikes and paddled around in a cute little lake.

Next up, back to San Jose to pick up more car parts! But first to the Central Valley to see the sights and visit a Swiss bakery. Our first Zopf since October! Due to recent rains, their campsite was flooded so we headed to the city that night instead of staying in the beautiful area. On the way we visited a few beautiful spots: Sarchi, famous for their elaborately decorated Ox Carts, Cartago with a beautiful church and ruins in the center of the city, and the ruins of Iglesia Ujarrás. We spent the next three nights at the same hostel as our last visit, had some more delicious food in the cool neighborhood there, and visited the National Museum. Out of San Jose, we spent one night up in the mountains by Volcan Irazu hoping to see some Quetzals – but still no luck. And from there a long drive down to the Caribbean coast and the town of Puerto Viejo. From here we are getting travel documents ready for Mitzi, and as soon as that’s all in order it will be off to Panama!

 

Costa Rica II

We left the beautiful Nicoya Peninsula excited to see what the highlands of Costa Rica have to offer. The country has a lot of beautiful and exciting National Parks – that are both expensive and totally forbidden for dogs. Monteverde, which would have been the next stop, has $30 entrance fees per person plus a hotel room to leave the pup at while there, made this quickly drop from possible stops. Instead we drove a windy mountain road nearby, enjoyed the beautiful views, and continued on to Lake Arenal.

Costa Rica is known as the Switzerland of Central America, but our first night at Lake Arenal was literally a little piece of Switzerland! The farm and hotel/restaurant Los Heroes was built by a Swiss couple that relocated to this part of the world many decades ago. They built up their property in authentic Swiss fashion and have been welcoming overlanders to stay for free on their property. There is a small train that runs uphill to a beautiful view of the lake and volcano – or, if you’re looking for a hike like we were, there is a farm road to the top as well. Best of all, they have a restaurant with delicious and authentic Swiss dishes we haven’t had in ages! Rösti and Züri Geschnetzles really hit the spot.

Next stop was just south of Lake Arenal, in La Fortuna. We wanted to position ourselves somewhere with a bar to watch the Switzerland vs. Costa Rica World Cup match, and with all the tourism around La Fortuna we figured there would be plenty to do. But oh, those crazy entry fees caught us by surprise again. Waterfalls all seem to be privately owned, and in order to have the privilege to see one they charge pretty crazy fees. The Fortuna waterfall is fairly iconic for Costa Rica (at least it made the cover of our Lonely Planet book), so we walked up from our camp to the entrance ready to just get in the tourist vibe and pay the $15. Then on the 30 minute uphill walk, we discussed previous waterfalls on the trip… from the recent ones in Honduras National Parks to the gorgeous Thousand Foot Falls in Belize. And oh it kind of looked like the photos we saw of this La Fortuna one… Hmm, is it really worth it? So we turned around, enjoyed the walk, and about 5 minutes after returning to camp a torrential downpour started. And lasted quite a while. Phew, good choice to skip the falls! We finally chose one tourist event in the La Fortuna area: a Chocolate Tour. It was enjoyable to see the cocoa trees in their small farm, the tour wasn’t too special. The chocolate factories in Switzerland and Seattle give better information (and much better samples!) than this place for muuuuch less money.

Those torrential rains we barely avoided are just a part of rainy season in Costa Rica. The Pacific side tends to be dryer, the Caribbean coast rainier, and the highlands are a mixed bag. Our first day up there at Lake Arenal, we had lovely weather and great views of the Volcano and surrounding landscape. But by now the rain had settled in and showed no signs of letting up. Our hopes of doing some hiking in the dog-friendly parks nearby were washed away. Too console ourselves, we enjoyed local hot springs! There are a number of places to enjoy the thermal waters in the area, from a free place to jump in the river to fancy spas with $80 entrance fees. We found a nice spot with lots of Costa Rican families that welcomes campers.

The next morning, we packed our stuff and got ready to go – only the Landy seemed to be having other plans. The car suddenly turned itself off, as if we had turned the key to Off, only nobody had done a thing. Long story short, we needed to move up a mechanic appointment we had made with the guys at Nomad America. Instead of taking a 3 day scenic route to their shop, we headed there straight away. Nomad America isn’t actually a mechanic shop, but it rents out 4WD vehicles (including Defenders) with rooftop tents for folks wanting to get a short taste of our crazy lifestyle. Their mechanic is familiar with the Landy and agreed to work on the car in his spare time. The guys here were super helpful and friendly, even though we weren’t regular customers, and let us spend the night on their property.

The shop was not far from San Jose, so we decided we would stop in for a night to see the capitol. The one night turned into three (Which would eventually turn into a second visit). Our guide books all said San Jose has little to offer, but we felt they were way off! The neighborhood we stayed in was fun, walkable, and full of great places for food and drinks. The historic old town was close by and full of beautiful buildings and interesting shops. We also got to meet a pair of Overlanders we had seen online many times – slowcarfasthouse.com They are fellow dog owners that share great information for those of us behind them on the road. As we pulled into the hostel we would camp at, they were being interviewed by a local TV station about their trip. We were caught for a couple seconds in one of the shots, nothing special but Mitzi let it go to her head 😉
Unfortunately they don’t let us embed the video, but you can see it here: http://www.repretel.com/actualidad/la-pareja-que-cumple-suenios—casa-rodante-120065

Our full and fun 3 days in San Jose ended our first adventure in the Costa Rican highlands. We took a fun offroad path back to the coast and the second Pacific adventure began!

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Costa Rica I

Costa Rica is an interesting place. It is a huge tourist destination and unlike the rest of Central America, it is full of people that speak English and steep entrance fees to see anything. After our tense drive through Nicaragua and the nervous weeks leading up to that, we were mostly excited to have made it safely to the Switzerland of Central America.
Our first two nights in Costa Rica were spent at a nice jungle camp run by Swiss immigrants. This would be the first of many Swiss expats or Swiss run establishments we would run into in Costa Rica. According to Wikipedia there are just 550 Swiss expats here, but it seemed like they all owned a camp, bakery, restaurant or something else for us to visit.

Two nights of jungle bugs and heat we’re enough for us and we headed to the beach. One of the best features of Costa Rica are its beaches – clean, beautiful, and fully public. Our first night we found a beautiful white sand beach on the Nicoya Peninsula and parked for the night – for free. Before we arrived, we pictured that every night would be like this.
A note about safety though – violent crime here is very low, but petty crime sure isn’t. In the first week we heard from two separate overlanders that had their cars broken into. Popular beach destination like Tamarindo or Jaco are not safe to camp at night, or even leave your car unattended. We’ve already had some stuff taken from the car when we parked on an unattended but “safe-looking” street back in Oaxaca and didn’t want to lose more.

We chose therefore to stay in proper campgrounds for the rest of our time on the peninsula. Better to pay a bit for a safe night then to pay a lot to replace stolen goods or smashed windows!
Nicoya Peninsula had some lovely camps, our favorite of which was Elimar in Mal País. We stayed put here for a full week and really could have stayed longer. Every night we had a beautiful sunset, and during the days we took a couple surf lessons (more below on that( and watched World Cup games. We caught the Switzerland vs Serbia match at a sports bar in the nearby town and it was full of Swiss tourists. We haven’t seen this many Swiss people in one place in over half a year!

Surfing in Costa Rica really seems like something you just have to do. There are so many famous surf beaches and we passed by so many surf schools on our drive down the peninsula that Rachel had it in her head we HAD to try it. After finally talking Ben into it, we booked a lesson in Playa Santa Teresa. The instructor was great and it turns out Ben is a natural. All those hours on the Stand Up Paddle really paid off! Rachel was… Well, it’s the effort that matters. We took a second lesson two days later (giving our sore muscles a break) and then took boards out on our own two days after that (again, sore sore muscles!) Three days of this really wore us out. Who knew falling off a board (in Rachel’s case) could be so exhausting?!  If we had it in us for more surf days, we definitely would have stayed in this lovely corner of Costa Rica even longer.
We finished up the Nicoya Peninsula by driving through the town of Montezuma, visiting a microbrewery, and spending the night in a quiet village at Playa Gigante. From there we were ready for some mountains and said goodbye for now to the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica.