Costa (very) Rica

Our time in Costa Rica was very brief (5 days), but in that time we saw such a rich diversity of life and fun stuff to do that we’re sure we’d like to go back and investigate further.

We shuttled in to San José all the way from San Juan del Sur. A long journey, we started about 11am and arrived maybe 8pm, via Tica bus – but it was comfortable and had plenty of stops. Scenery suggesting more infrastructure and a better economy – good roads, a lot of road/bridge construction, houses set back from the road with entrance gateways, car ports, hedges. Odd thing to notice, but grass… there was a lot of good, lush grass everywhere. Tellytubby hills, closely cropped verges. As we climbed our way towards San José the scenery turned to sun setting behind mountains.

Stayed at a small downtown hotel (Casa69) which was cute and comfortable. I’m sure San José had lots of interesting things to see, and was refreshingly cool after San Juan, but we were bound for the Pacuare River at 7.30am the next morning so we had a KFC (expensive) and went to bed!

Exploradores Tours picked us up promptly with about 15 others, and off we travelled through the city and out up mountains and through cloud forest to get to the river. Stunning jungle covered mountain scenery, with waterfalls falling down either side of the road into specially constructed gutters. Our guide, Roberto, gave us some info on Costa Rica along the way – over 280 volcanoes, never had an army, cloud forest is in cloud 95% of the time and you distinguish it by plants with gigantic leaves (and so on). Roberto also briefed us on river rafting, the commands and the safety procedures. Bit apprehensive – “if you find yourself under the boat, just use your hands in one direction to find the edge, don’t feel around randomly” – but very exciting.

We left all of our luggage (apart from sun cream and water) at their centre near the river and drove to the water’s edge. Life jackets and helmets on, about 7 people in each of 4 boats.. and off we go!

Easy rapids at first, slipped off my perch almost immediately – INTO the boat luckily – but that was enough to learn how to stay in place for the remainder. Every 5mins or so you come to another rapid. They have names like “Ai ai ai” or “Double Drop” or “The Cemetery”… and were just the right mix of easy to hard (up to level 4) for beginners. Some just bob you up and down but you can still sit and look up, some are long and VERY bouncy and you have to keep paddling to stay upright, others we had to duck into the boat to ride out in safety. We must have passed hundreds in the 4 hours we were rafting. On a few occasions we were allowed to get into the river to drift along in the fast-moving current, tipping our boat upside down on purpose for fun. Your raft mates have to haul you back into the boat by your life jacket.

So, the activity is great fun. Would prefer to kayak next time I think, bit more scary.

BUT – the scenery is absolutely stunning, its like a film set. It was serene, dream-like, floating along between rapids. Navigating between huge boulders and canyon sides that climb as steep rock face to mountain-top jungle. Waterfalls cascade down either side into the river (some you take a shower under), old rickety bridges cross here and there, a pulley & cage system is still in use. The indigenous people still live here as they ever have, fishing the river and taking from nature (heart of palm, sour palms etc). We, unfortunately, didn’t see much wildlife (no monkeys or sloths or cougars) – but plenty of birds and butterflies.

After the raft we had a great lunch and were shuttled on to Puerto Viejo with our luggage, saving a trip back to San José and transport costs. Fell asleep immediately in the shuttle. Ha ha ha.

Puerto Viejo was hot, humid and raining. Oh, and muy caro! Costa Rica literally means “rich coast” and it fully lives up to its name. Lots of tourists here.

We stayed at a more expensive hotel on the first night because the hostel we wanted wasn’t available. Night of luxury we thought. WRONG! The cabin was tiny, dark and smelled really strongly of ammonia. Its outrageous the price they get away with. Too tired to argue, we dealt. Felt very sorry for the couple in the adjoining room – suspect it was their honeymoon, and not only did they have to stay at Coco Loco Lodge, but said it had rained every day for the past 5 days.

It rained all the next day.

But we didn’t care. We moved to a lovely big room in a hostel (Pura Vida) with a great communal area of tables and hammocks, with loads of humming birds darting in front you, amazing bright turquoise spotted frogs on the lawn and pretty birds fluttering by.

“I hope there are hammocks on our boat from Panama to Colombia”

“Imagine hanky panky in a hammock”

“‘Hammocky Panicky’. No.. wait.. that’s not right.”


$45, compared to $74 a night at Coco Loco. Loco prices, but not as loco as Loco.

Scared ourselves by doing the budget. Depression mode ON.

Coping mechanisms include:

1. Food planning: Pringles for breakfast (fruit in supermarket also very expensive), and dinner at Sodas. A soda is a sort of cheap cafe style restaurant, they do pinto gallo (tipico breakfast with rice and beans), burgers, Carribean chicken and rice, some pasta dishes etc for a decent price (£3-5 a meal).

2. Beer planning: Beer at the supermarket was $2 a bottle, and, not wanting to discover what bar prices were (Puerto Viejo is certainly not lacking bars and night-life. We think!), we preferred a couple of cans in the room if we fancied a beer in the evening.

3. Writing out a list of things we’re thankful for over here to lift our spirits:

  1. Fresh Washing. When you wear everything a few times, when they get damp and smell terrible but you can’t dry them because its so humid, the smell of fresh, clean and dry washing is magical.
  2. Internet in your Room. Lying on your bed researching rather than getting up early to connect before everyone else is up.
  3. Non-Floor Rucksack Space. Its really annoying dipping in and out all the time, or packing, when its on the ground. A spare bed is Heaven.
  4. Hot water. A lot of hostels, even hotels, don’t have hot water. Not first thing in the morning thanks.
  5. No smell. Or clean smell. Just not ammonia, or sewers.
  6. Circadian Rhythm. Never waking up to an alarm. My natural rising time is 7.30am. Jim’s is… different. On the rare occasion we’re getting up early for transport, I wake up just before the alarm via some sort of ESP. Emily Sensory Perception.
  7. Advertising Artifice. Not being forced to waste mind space on it – for work, or entertainment (because we don’t understand the ads even if we see them!).

There, that’s better.

We hired bikes on our last day and cycled the 12km or so up the coast, stopping at the beaches along the way. Cocles is first, a busy sand bar with swimming and surfing waves. Then there’s Chiquita, bit too much coral/rock for swimming. We stopped to swim and read at Punta Uva.

Only perhaps 10 people on the stretch of beach we chose, couldn’t see other beaches or people.. lovely. A howler monkey family came past the trees lining the beach.

“What wildlife can you see?”

“I can see a white ape!!!”

“I can see a rude cow.”

Saw a toucan and more monkeys on our way to the next beach, Playa Grande. There were strong waves, great for surfing but not swimming so we sat under the trees on logs and ate our empanada picnic watching the crabs and the 2 surfers. No one else around.

The road to the final beach (Manzanillo) became a bit hilly on our clunky bikes so I(!) decided we’d give it a miss.

What a perfect way to spend a sunny day.

We’d love to come back for a 2 week holiday, do some kayaking, cloud forest and jungle tours, learn to surf and party (that will be a quick lesson!) at the beaches with the benefit of holiday funds.