Costa Rica

We visited the lush tropical Central American country of Costa Rica in December 2006. Our itinerary included visiting 3 areas known for their scenic and wildlife heritage. The international airport in the capital city of San Jose is smack dab in the middle of the country and a good jumping off point for all kinds of excursions to scenic hotspots. The country bills itself as a nature lovers paradise and it doesn't disappoint!

Costa Rica Map

Upon arriving, we rented a car and drove a couple hours northwest to the small town of La Fortuna. This town sits at the foot of the Arenal Volcano which has been spewing lava for 40 years. First on our agenda was a soak in the Tabacon Hot Springs which is essentially an entire river of jacuzzi water in pools and waterfalls. There are pathways to explore hidden corners of the garden setting in a lush forest filled with flowers. We were there at night which added an aire of mystery to the steamy environs.

The next morning we had hoped to hike in the Arenal National Park but it was a stormy day. So we checked out Fortuna town before starting our drive towards our next destination. In route we saw a troup of howler monkeys playing in the trees. This one is using his 5th hand, his tail, while hanging upside down. The weather cleared and we had nice vistas the rest of the day.

We followed the 20 mile long Lake Arenal westward through a few small towns, forests, and farms. At the other end of the lake we caught a series of roads that steadily climbed way up to an elevation of 4500 feet to a area of preserved high mountain cloud forests called Monteverde.

At the end of over 4 hours of driving we arrived at the Mirador Lodge where we'd stay the next 2 nights. It has a high vantage point of the Arenal Volcano. We had hoped to see the lava flowing but we unfortuately had cloudy conditions for our stay up in the apply named "cloud forest"

The following day was time for an adrenalin fix. We signed up for a "zip line" canapy tour. Zip lines are cable routes high off the ground connecting platforms up in the trees. You wear a climbing harness and attach to the cable with a small pully and caribiner clip. As you move down the cable the pully makes a zippy sound, thus the name. It was threatening rain at the start so the group was wearing rain suits. But the weather ended up being very nice during our tour. Here Sharon is clipped in and starting on one of the cables.

See her disappear into the jungle to the next platform! Zip line tours are pretty common in Costa Rica. We visited one called Selvatura Park which has a good reputation. The cables cover 2 miles from 18 interconnected platforms/cables. You get an awesome view from within as well as above the canopy. It even gets up to 235 feet high at one point!

Selvatura is an eco park and has other stuff too. There is a hiking route that crosses many suspension bridges in and above the forest for great views.

The nearly constant clouds create high humidity which give plants an extra edge in producing a super thick cover of mosses, vines, and a tangle of intertwined communities of green.

Also at the park is an immense indoor butterfly farm. Here is a view from the midpoint of the dome. It encompasses the perfect environment that butterflies thrive in with the plants, fruits and flowers they they like to eat and reproduce in. 20 native species live in here.

You can see all the stages of butterfly from catepillar, cacoon, to the pretty winged end result. The guide was very knowledgeable on everything butterfly and made for a great tour.

The next day we drove back to the central valley which took a few hours. We visited the town of Sarchi which is a center for woodworking and crafts people. The national symbol of the country is the oxcart. They have many variety of designs and colors. Here is a giant one in the main square in the city.

We stayed overnight near downtown San Jose and then took a flight in a 19 seat dual prop air plane down to the southwest corner of the country on beautiful Drake Bay. The bay is named for Sir Francis Drake who was the first European captain along this coast in 1579. The only way to the bay is by plane, boat or a brutal 4WD road so it is a quiet place to spend a beach holiday.

We stayed at a place called Drake Bay Wilderness Resort. Its a very nice place where you stay in cabins along the shore and you can let the waves lull you to sleep each night. They feed you well for all meals and have a nice little bar too. A walking trail links to the other resorts and inns along the bay. Here is the view from our deck of a slice of tropical paradise.

Right after we got there we saw a couple wild scarlett macaws come through chowing on the fruit trees at the resort. They were gorgeous and frisky.

The resort is also right on a jungle river and you can take kayaks up river. There were lots of birds and even monkeys up there.

The next day we took an organized trip 20 miles down the coast via boat to the wild heart of Corcovado National Park. They say it is the most biologically diverse area in the region. Upon leaving the boat we could see that was true as we began a safari which would show us many animals in a beautiful jungle.

Way up in a tree, the guide spotted a sloth and set up his scope for a close look. We could take photos through the scope which helped get up close to the animal a hundred+ feet up

There are 4 species of monkeys in the region and we managed to spot them all. This includes white face, spider, squirrel, and howler monkeys. Since they live way up in the tree tops, its hard to get a good photo but here is a nice shot of a howler and her cute little baby.

Well it is a jungle down here and we saw some scary looking spiders! This one is about 4 inches long. But amazingly, there were no mosquitos to be seen at the resort or during our trek in the park. I did get bit by a monster fly but considering the lush area, we were struck that you really didn't need bug spray.

We walked along a river filled with crocodiles!

Here is a mammoth of the forest that reaches over 200 feet high!

On the boat trip back, we checked out a pretty water fall pouring right on the beach. This coastline is the longest undeveloped area in Central America.

The safari didn't end there! After dinner, we took a night tour with "The Bug Lady". She is an insect expert who, along with her husband, has an amazing knack for finding really cool creatures out in the forest at night. Along with each find, she wove interesting stories to round out the experience. We saw trap door spiders, sleeping hummingbirds, a walking stick, frogs...

...and some snakes too! You never know what you'll see out there at night!

On our last full day at the resort we took a tour out to Caņo Island which sits 12 miles offsore. We first hiked up to the top of the island where we saw some wildlife and some indian relics. Here is a mysterious sphere, one of many discovered in Central America which have baffled archeologists. Some spheres are 8 feet in diameter and almost perfectally round. Ooweeoo!

We ate lunch on the beach and took a snorkel here too.

They also took us out in the boat to a snorkel spot too. There was a fair number of fish here to swim with. And while all of us were out in the water swimming. The guide spotted a devil ray from the boat, and we all missed it :-(

Back at the resort we relaxed the last night and enjoyed the tropical flowers in the lush grounds. It was fun to talk to the other guests during dinner and over a beer. People coming to a place like this are very well traveled and have interesting stories to tell.

On the boat trip back to the air strip we catch our last glimpse of this little pocket of paradise of a resort.

Here is the Drake Bay mega airport terminal . Complete with corrugated roof and cinder block benches. It's all part of the adventure, and this was a grand one....

We have a little movie with some highlites of the trip. Click HERE to download(or right mouse click and "Save As"). 14MB
Costa Rica Fun Facts:
Population: 4 Million
Size: About the same as West Virginia
About 23% of land mass protected in national parks, preserves and wildlife refuges
Biodiversity: 845 Bird Species, 200 Mammals, 12000 plant species, 168 amphibians, 214 reptiles
Farming: Banana, Coffee, cattle
Highest Point: Cerro Chirripo at 12,300ft
Military was abolished in 1948.
Main religion: Catholic

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