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!