Costa Rica Road Trip

Thursday, February 20, 2014
Costa Rica

010-19.432 N
084-49.485 W
Marine forecast for this location

Ahoy from the crew of the BlueJacRouteket!

We've been in Costa Rica for 2+ weeks now and time has just been flying. One of the things that we really wanted to do while in Costa Rica was to explore the interior and in order to do that we needed to put the boat into a safe, secure location, so we pulled into Marina Papagayo and rented a car. One of the first things that we discovered was that car rentals are very expensive here. It was $700 to rent a small 4x4 for a week, but after driving on the roads here, I suspect that was a fair price. Why did we get a 4x4? Well, somewhere or another we read that only 17% of Costa Rica's roads are paved and while we didn't need the 4WD aspect of the vehicle, we needed the clearance to get over rocks.

After looking at where we wanted to go, we decided to make the trip a week long. We didn't want to squeeze too much in and feel like we were always in a rush. As it was, the trip was going to be almost 500 miles, so there was plenty to see and do in a short period of time.

Lanscape headed to MonteverdeWe stated out at Marina Papagayo, which is at the left hand side of the map and headed towards Santa Elana/Monteverde, which is the green marker on the lower right hand side. The roads were fine until it makes that upward turn towards the green marker. Then you're on dirt roads for about 2 1/2 hours. Dirt would be fine, but these roads are basically rocks with a dirt binder and we're not talking gravel either. We're talking softball to basketball sized rocks with constant pot holes thrown in. You literally can't take your eyes off the road for more than a few seconds otherwise you'll find one of these objects. I kept telling Sue to think of this as an industrial sized "Magic Fingers". The countryside itself in very nice, with beautiful hills which got greener and greener as we worked eastward. Thankfully we arrived before all of our fillings were rattled out of our teeth.

2-toed slothMonteverde is a wonderful town nestled in beautiful cloud forests at almost a mile in altitude. It's a popular destination, but the lack of a paved road system thankfully keeps many people away. People go here to explore the cloud forests, coffee plantations and to look at the incredible array of bids and animals. The first thing that we did was to head out on a guided night tour in the jungle. Unfortunately we got grouped with a bunch of US east coast black women, who ranged from mid-aged to 81, who were more appropriately dress for dinner (who wears open toed sandals for an event like this?) and who never shut up. Despite our gaggle of talkers, we did get to see some neat stuff, including a 2-toed sloth, tarantulas, green pit vipers and much more.

Blue-crowned motmotThe next day we started off with a 6 AM private bird watching tour with a guide who spoke great English and was very well versed. What was funny was that for the 1st hour and a half we stood in a yard in front of a hotel and watched as dozens and dozens of species of birds visited a large fruit bearing tree. This vantage point made it easy to spot the birds. Later when we headed into the jungle was could hear the birds, but it was much more difficult to see them. And yes, we did see several species of Toucans.

1 KM ziplineAfter bird watching we headed to the Salvatura park to explore the cloud forest via zip-line and hanging bridges. I had never zip-lined before and decided to give it a shot while Sue explored other exhibits. The course consists of 16 stations separated by almost 11,000' of cable and the final run is a 1 KM (3,280') span which is hundreds of feet over the jungle floor. Believe me, that gets your heat pumping! I know that it's a bit hard to see in the image to the right, but you can see the zip line cable with 2 people suspended in the middle of it.

Hanging bridgeOne of the other things that's really cool to do there is to walk the suspended bridges. These are 8 bridges ranging from 150' to 510' long which are suspended by cables at heights of up to 180'. At some points the bridges go right through the tree top canopy and at others you're well above it. It gives you an amazing view of the cloud forest and its inhabitants. Sue, who has traditionally been very afraid of this kind of bridge, did great!

Vilot Sabrewing hummingbirdOne of the other really fun things to see at Salvatura was their hummingbird garden, which was constantly abuzz with hummingbirds darting from feeder to feeder. I saw many species that I've never seen before. It was just lovely! We can also recommend visiting the Bat Jungle, where you can see lots of species of bats feeding. We didn't make it to the Frog Pond, where they many species of frogs (including poison dart frogs), but I would have loved to have gone there. We wish that we would have spent 3 nights in this area.

From Monteverde we headed N across the continental divide towards Lake Arenal and the Arenal Volcano region. We decided to stay in Nuevo Arenal at the Lucky Bug B&B and use that as our base to explore the area. While the Lucky Bug was a wonderful place to stay, it was a long commute to most of the the things that we wanted to see and if we were to do it again, we would probably stay 1 night there and then move to the Arenal Observatory Lodge for another night.

Arenal VolcanoOne of the major things to do in the Arenal area is to hike the trails around the Arenal volcano. The Arenal volcano sprung back to live in 1968 when it erupted killing 87 people and burying the countryside in ash and lava. It has continued to have smaller eruptions since then. We hiked one of the shorter trails, which gave us nice views of the volcano and the surrounding forests, but in reality we had much better views of the volcanos in El Salvador.

Montezuma OropendolaAnother major activity is bird watching and the lodge was packed with birders. I can easily see why as we were amazed at the number of birds that we saw while sitting on the observation deck. I can highly recommend this if you're into birding!

La Fortuna Catarata waterfallOne of the other major attractions in the area is the La Fortuna Catarata waterfall. Once you find it, it's a trek down 432 (or so I've been told) narrow steps to get to the waterfall. Getting down was no issue, but we saw quite a few people who had trouble making it back up. But it's a beautiful waterfall when you get there and there are nice calm pools to swim in just down stream.

Hot riverThe town of La Fortuna is located in the shadow of the Arenal volcano. Their major claim to fame seems to be that there are plenty of hot springs in the area and the hotels/spas are taking advantage of this by creating wonderful pools filled with steaming water. However, they charge a premium for this. A day pass to many of these places runs $60 and way up from there. Or if you're a savvy traveller, you can simply park on the side of the road and join all of the locals soaking their cares away in a hot river.

From the Arenal region we headed N to the Cano Negro Nature Preserve, which is located about 20 KM from the Nicaraguan border and once again is down an unpaved road. This is definitely a place that you go to observe nature, as there's not much else in the area. We stayed at the Natural Lodge Cano Negro, which was OK, but nothing special.

Kaimans at Cano NegroWe had pre-arranged a private tour with a guide named Marlon, who despite not speaking English, did a great job of showing us the wildlife. We didn't need an alarm clock to get up us for our 6 AM tour as we had a troop of howler monkeys staying in the trees just outside of the room and they start howling at first light. You also need to watch where you step and look up to make sure that there's no one above you... Anyhow, we were enthralled with all of the birds and wildlife that we saw. What was very impressive were the number of Kaimans that we saw. They look like alligators and feed on fish and are just everywhere in the lagoons.

Climate between volcanos Tenorio and MiravallesFrom Cano Negro we headed back to the marina and once again had to cross the continental divide. It's amazing the difference between the Atlantic side and the Pacific side. While we were on the Atlantic side we had regular clouds and showers, but when you cross to the Pacific side (especially where the marina is located), it's dry could free. We drive between the volcanos Tenorio and Miravalles and you could just feel the micro climate that these volcanos generated. It was also noting that the roads went from winding S curves on the Atlantic side to nice straight roads on the Pacific side.

We put on almost 500 miles and I can see why they charge so much for rental cars as they take a beating from the roads. It was good to get back to the boat and find that everything was fine. I can strongly recommend using Marina Papagayo as a location for leaving your boat and touring.

Photos from the trip are located here and I've separate out the bird photos which are located here.

-- Geoff & Sue

For the traveller:

Log ID: 2230

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Photos/Video: Photo Album Road trip to NW Costa Rica Photo Album Birds of Costa Rica 

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