Costa Rica has been on our must-see list for a long time. We were planning to visit during our Many Moons trip in 2011, but ran out of time, so when we were planning this trip, we made it a priority. It would be our last planned international destination of the Still Mooninâ€™ trip.
We had a 12-hour long travel day from Uruguay via Bogota, Colombia. We did luck into exit row seats for both flights which helped make it more tolerable. By the time we arrived, we were pooped, especially with the 3-hour time change, and had a bit of culture shock to see so many Americans in the airport! Since we arrived late in the afternoon, we decided to stay in a town near the airport. The town had a great English bookstore, so we loaded up to ensure plenty of reading material for our upcoming beach time. English book exchanges have been limited versus traveling in South America 8 years ago. Iâ€™m guessing it is due to e-books, so no one travels with paper anymore. We wrapped up the day with dinner at a Tex-Mex place with amazing guac and strong margaritas.
There are three transportation options in Costa Rica that we looked atâ€¦ rental car, local buses or shuttle buses (aka Gringo buses). By the time we started organizing, rental car prices were outrageous, so a no- go although the flexibility sounded nice. The local buses were cheap but very time consuming as there are few direct buses, and we would need to make many connections to get from place to place. So, option 3 it was, the Gringo buses. They are basically 12 passenger vans that travel between tourist destinations and deliver you hotel to hotel. They are not cheap but very convenient. Our first shuttle bus was squishy, but all the travelers were friendly. It was fun to swap travel stories, plus talk a little politics for good measure. Throughout our travels, Brexit and the USA presidential election are the hot topics.
Our first destination was La Fortuna which is the adventure base for the Arenal Volcano. At first glance, the town is super touristy with travel agents and souvenir shops everywhere. But the town has a beautiful plaza that was always busy with locals. It ended up being a nice mix.
On our first day, we visited Arenal National Park. There are no local buses from town, so we had to take a taxi. We had a great driver, and he gave us his card to call for the return trip. It was a cloudy day, so the park ranger warned us that the chances of seeing the volcano were slim, but we were looking forward to a nice hike.
The hike was a loop through a rainforest with huge trees and a few delicate flowers along the way.Â We learned about buttress roots which make sense once you look at how they support the tree!Â
We stayed between two big groups for most of the hike, so we got lucky and saw a few animals including coati which are part of the racoon family. We saw a group of 11, but they were quite shy so no pictures. They quickly crossed the trail but did parallel it for a bit, so we could see them in the distance.
Great Curassow are big birds that reminded me of turkeys. The males are black, and the females are brown. They were busy pecking the ground and walked quickly. We also saw a few perched in the trees later in our hike.
We hiked up to a great viewpoint and could see the lower two-thirds of the mountain with its perfect cone shape. The 1992 lava flow was easy to spot as it was the only black in the sea of green. From here we could also see the top of the canopy, so it was easier to spot 2 Yellow-Throated Toucans. Their calls are so loud, and they like the treetops, so it makes them a little easier to find.
Back at the entrance while waiting for our taxi, we spotted 4 Keel-Billed Toucans with colorful bills. They were all in one big tree which made it fun to take their pictures. Their call sounds more like a frog than a bird! It was also cool to see them fly, as they look off balance with their long bill.
It was a great day and a nice change from the 3 travel days in a row!
On our second day, we opted for some relaxation time. With the nearby volcano, the area is well known for its natural thermal baths. We decided to check out Eco Thermales hot spring. It was a bit pricy, but since we picked the morning time slot (9-4), we pretty much had it to ourselves. The pools were set in a tropical forest, and it felt like a little oasis. There were 7 in total ranging in temperature from 80-105. Around the pools were lounge chairs to relax and a bar nearby. We started with the cold pool and worked our way up to the hottest. The 80-degree pool felt chilly, but the next one felt like bath water! I could stay in it for a long time. After our first round, we got passion fruit smoothies and cooled off in the lounge chairs.
We continued our circuit of going in each pool and then cooling off in the lounges for most of the day. It was very relaxing and a nice way to spend the day. We did see a little wildlife in our oasisâ€¦ a huge iguana was eating flowers in a tree above the pools. Eventually he descended the tree to eat the fallen flowers poolside, allowing us to get a good picture. He was very long and bright green with a cool fin on his back. He could move quickly!
After two fun days in La Fortuna, we had yet to see the full volcano. As we were waiting for our shuttle bus on the third day, I saw the very top peek out. So at least we technically saw the whole thing, but not all at once. But luck was with us that day and by the time we arrived at the lake to catch our taxi boat, the volcano was out in full glory. It was beautiful, and I loved the perfect symmetry.
La Fortuna was a great place to kick off our adventures in Costa Rica.Â The town gave us a small insight into Tico culture plus we got to see an awesome rainforest and animals.Â The healing thermal waters restored our travel weary bodies to continue our journey through Costa Rica.