Our Costa Rica adventure Part 5 – exploring north part of Guanacaste

After having luck and observing Arenal, we continued our way along the coast of lake Arenal. Somewhere around Nuevo Arenal we have stopped and picked up a local guy who was hitchhiking to get back to Liberia. Having a local with us, we could use some local road shortcuts which were unknown to both our GPS and our map:D

Already few kilometers before reaching Cañas, one can observe that you are entering a different climate zone. Even the animals in surrounding are completely different. That is what I loved the most about Costa Rica – such a diversity of microclimates, flora and fauna on such a small surface.

We wanted to make a stop in Cañas, since there is a Puma rescue center nearby. In Cañas itself we visited a small church that had beautifully decorated walls with mosaics. Additionally an interesting peculiarity for us coming from Austria was to see that the organ was donated from a guy from St Ulrich.

Puma rescue center has a big diversity of animals, including toucans, jaguars, ocelots and many other wild cat species. Most animals were saved from maltreatment by their private owners (many people catch various parrots and toucans and keep them as pets). They are doing an amazing job there by taking care of all the animals and spreading the message that wild animals should be kept wild and not taken home. On each cage there is a card on which the story of the animal inside is written (where the animal was found, in which condition and the reason they can not be put back into wild).

After a short coffee break in Cañas we continued our way to reach Playas del Coco, place in which we booked our accommodation for 2 nights – Hotel M&M Beach house. The hotel was situated directly on the beach which was its only advantage. Apart from that, rooms were very simple, humid, with some funky smell and not worth the price. But if you are with kids its location is indeed a great advantage. You exit your room and find yourself directly on the beach, which is equipped with showers. We loved the beach there, since at sunrise and sunset we were the only ones there. If you are looking for the place with live music where you enjoy a romantic dance during sunset you should pay a visit to the restaurant Claudio y Gloria. For Costa Rica standards, prices are high considering the portion size, but the food was excellent.

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After our sunrise swim in ocean and a big breakfast we were ready for Rincon de la Vieja adventure. Before arriving on the site of national park itself, we were not sure which hiking route should we choose. Upon arrival, we found out that we can not climb the summit of vulcan, due to its high activity. That reduced our hiking options drastically. In the end we opted for Las Pailas hiking route. It is an easy hiking route around the base of vulcan. You pass through the jungle (time your hike to end in jungle during the heat hours), dry hills and geysers. We did not take a guide since this was not our first national park in Costa Rica and we were already experienced in spotting all the wildlife in jungle. Since we have not visited Yellowstone or any other similar place before, for us all this mud pools with volcanic activity were a big hit, especially for our kids.

In order to reach Rincon de la Vieja there are 2 ways. But for one of them you definitely need a 4X4 car, an excellent driver (thank you hubby:*) and a will for an adventure. So if you want an easy way to enter the national park, you ll have to pay 700 C per adult person for crossing over the private property (Hacienda Lodge Guachipelin). On the other hand, if you decide to go like us, the wild way, it will take you much longer. For most of the time you ll drive on no asphalt at all, and for some time on vulcan ash, but you will never forget it, and the views are magnificent!:D

Since the hike was much shorter than we expected (we did it in less than 2 hours) we decided to go for a lunch in Liberia, town with lots of charm. This time we opted for Argentinian restaurant Toro negro and had amazing lunch there. They even made some superdeliciosus potato meal for our kids who were not in a mood for steak:D We will definitely come there again on our next visit to Liberia. For our afternoon we decided to head to the beach Iguanita. It is a secluded beach, there is no shower or any facilities nearby, but that was exactly what we were looking for. You can not reach this beach if you do not have a 4X4 car. Exploring Costa Rica without a proper car is no fun at all:P We loved this beach and we stayed here till the sunset. Except from us, there were only parrots on the beach.

We went back to Playas del Coco to get a good night sleep and get ready for the next day to keep exploring southern regions of Guanacaste. 😀

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Our Costa Rica adventure Part 4 – reaching La Fortuna

In order to reach La Fortuna from Manuel Antonio you would need to spend a whole day in the car. You might think that I am talking nonsense and you might probably wonder how can crossing 222 km take all day. You will understand that only once you arrive in Costa Rica and start driving yourself;)

We have left Manuel Antonio around 12, after we have visited the national park. Since we were very hungry we made our first stop very close to Manuel Antonio – we stopped in Soda Parrita situated on the road passing through Parrita. It was a great place, decorated as a rock pub with excellent sea food and fresh juices.

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With full stomaches we were ready to continue our roundtrip. Our next stop was – Tarcoles. Frankly speaking we did not intend to make a stop here, but after seeing crowds of people staring at the Tarcoles river we decide to stop and check it out. It was a great decision! From the bridge you can see dozens of crocodiles, waiting with open mouths for food to come inside;) Luckily we made a break here and ate a small dinner on the site.

Why did I say luckily? Well, we went on Sunday – the day many Ticos are also on the road heading back to the capital, since most of the job market of Costa Rica is situated there. Then you find yourself on the Costa Rica highway driving 5 km/hr. We were so happy we decided to find accommodation 30 km before La Fortuna, because due to road conditions we could not reach La Fortuna before midnight. We have booked cabaña for our family for 23 euros on a family owned ranch San Jorge in San Lorenzo. We had a big king size bed in the room. Additionally there was a baby bed. We had a living room and bathroom just for ourselves. Place is run by a lovely retired couple, Hugo and Ana, with who with had lovely long chats. They even showed us around their “finca”. We enjoyed to bathe in their swimming pool which is filled by the local stream, an eco swimming pool. Another big plus of staying at their ranch is that we saw more birds at their place than at any national park.  Ana served us great breakfast which was included in the price. We ate the best fresh papayas in our lives there. We can not wait to return there and visit Ana and Hugo again:)

It was hard to leave San Lorenzo, but after plentiful breakfast and tour of finca we headed our way to La Fortuna.

Why did we want to reach La Fortuna?

We wanted to have a good view of a well-known once very active vulcan Arenal. Ana and Hugo warned us that it could happen that due to fog we will not be able to see it. And indeed we had a great view of it for only 5 minutes. Also a funny fact Hugo and Ana were thought in school that Arenal is a regular mountain and actually witnessed its first eruption from when it is known as vulcan. Since we did not plan to sleep in La Fortuna or to climb Arenal we just continued further passing Lago de Arenal and continued our journey to the region of Guanacuaste.

 

Our Costa Rica itinerary – Part 3 – Manuel Antonio

After saying goodbye to Sierpe and all the nice people we met there on the docks we headed towards Manuel Antonio. It was a very interesting 2,5 hour drive passing by numerous kilometers of palm plantations. We have made a small pause close to Uvita, to have a view of the famous whale tail shape beach at the National Park Marino Ballena. Since Natalia was asking about meeting many monkeys, we decided not to make more stops and reach Manuel Antonio as fast as possible.

Why did we choose to go to Manuel Antonio?

It is the place where you can find the smallest National park of Costa Rica which is known for its diversity of tropical plants and wildlife, white sand beaches and coral reef. Main reason why we chose it was because it is famous for the vast number of monkeys you can encounter there and Natalia loves monkeys. Apart from monkeys (especially squirrel monkeys and Capuchin monkey which will definitely approach you if you appear there with a banana;) you can easily spot both species of sloths in the trees and numerous raccoons on the beach. It is a very known place (mentioned in every guide book about Costa Rica) – so in case you are looking for a secluded place for yourself this might not be the best place to look for it. In order not to get wrong impression – it is not overcrowded (at least not in April when we visited) but it is not the most romantic place to be, it is very hard to find a beach without other people.

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How to reach the national park and where to park?

Most importantly do not try to go there on monday as the NP is closed on Mondays. Another important tip – ignore numerous people waving at you on Espadilla beach (1 km before the entrance of the national park) and telling you to park there and that you will not find parking at the entrance of the National Park. You certainly will;)

We have parked in front of the hotel Manuel Antonio which has a closed guarded parking. You have to pay the parking 3000 colones (you even get the receipt), but if you eat at the restaurant next to the parking lot you get the money back. So we had a nice breakfast, which we anyway intended to have before the hike, and got our parking money back (breakfast costs the same as parking fee). We can highly recommend you to have a good breakfast there as you can not buy any food inside NP, nor can you take anything apart from fruits inside or a simple sandwich. Lady working in the restaurant was very nice she even gave our kids small oatmeal packages for the hike;)

Some of the people waving at you back on Espadilla beach early in the morning might be dressed as guides with lenses equipment etc.  – cause they are trying to convince you to stop there and not to continue to the national park itself. The truth is even if you do not enter National Park itself you will see numerous animals.

Actually on the day of our arrival we spent a whole afternoon on Espadilla beach and Natalia felt like in paradise since there were hundreds of Capuchin monkeys around. You can also taste some of the best granizado de coco there, I still remember how good it was. Guess Natalia would love to go back there for monkeys, and I ll like to get there for the best granizado de coco I had in my life.

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Do I need a guide inside the NP and what can and should I take inside?

Apart from fruits (or 1 sandwich) and water, you can also take insect repellent, sunscreen, camera,  and a towel inside the national park.

Whether you want to hire a guide or not, depends on your own preferences and what are you up to. In case you have strong interest in flora and fauna, and want to know a lot of details about the wild plants and the animals of the region definitely get a guide. In case you are like us, travelling with two toddlers – you really do not need a guide. All the trails are well-marked and in case you look where the guides are pointing you ll spot most of the animals, apart from sleeping bats, tiny frogs and crabs.

We took an unofficial guide, cause we knew in that way we could bargain the price. He accepted to be our private guide for 2,5 hours for 18 000 colones (around 25 euros) from which he also had to pay the entrance ticket. We could bargain more, but we felt there was no need. It was worth that money, and it was perfect for our little family. We learned to spot some nice citrus fruits which protected us from mosquito bites, about medicinal herbs indigenous people use and we spotted lots of animals. I am glad we took the tour cause I am not as good as my better half in spotting animals, especially sloths which can be well disguised since they do not move at all. Thanks to the guide we spotted a sloth mom and baby:)

The only family friendly beach (without huge waves) is the Manuel Antonio beach. It is really a perfect beach resembling the Caribbean beaches due to the reef and the white sand, and finally our kids could join in and swim with us:)

Take care of numerous raccoons and monkeys on the beach, which know very well how to open your backpack in search for food. Do not leave your stuff unattended unless you want to chase monkeys and raccoons for your precious stuff;)

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How did our 24 hours in Manuel Antonio look like and was it sufficient for us?

We arrived at 12 and spend the whole afternoon on the Espadilla beach. The waves are relatively small so it is very easy for grown-ups to swim there. There are numerous restaurants by the beach and we had an amazing lunch in Las Gemelas. The only reason we went there was cause nobody tried to dragged us in inside, which is usually a great sign;)There is a big supermarket Super Joseth in the town where we could get our supplies for the road, get some dinner and  buy some nice souvenirs for great price. After having a nice chat with our hosts and a great sleep we woke up ready to explore the National Park. It is a very easy hiking trail – Natalia walked most of it without the problem. After the guided hike and a nice swim at Manuel Antonio beach our Manuel Antonio stay was close to the end. Due to the popularity of the place – I think 24 hours were more than enough for us to stay there, although Natalia might disagree;)

Our Costa Rica itinerary – Part 2 – river Sierpe and Bahia Drake adventure

After enjoying the sunrise with the view of Cerro Chirripo from the balcony of our Air B&B apartment in San Isidro del General, we have decided to continue our journey to our next destination – Bahia Drake.

Why did we choose Bahia Drake to be a part of our two week Costa Rica adventure?

Bahia Drake is a magical hidden gem situated in the lowland rainforest on Osa peninsula. It is bordering with one of the most biodiverse national parks in the world – Corcovado. Another attractive aspect is that you can easily hike/walk to various pristine beaches and if you have bigger kids even go with a boat to take a snorkel around island of Cano. It is not a touristy place as it is not easily reacheable – which makes it an extremely attractive destination for our family.

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How did we arrive there?

We have decided to stay there only one night, and therefore could not take a risk of getting there by car. If you wonder why – Bahia Drake is situated in the rainforest – and in April, when we visited, the rain season starts. That means that on some days river levels can increase a lot making it impossible to cross them by the car. (And yes in Costa Rica – roads are adventure of their own and you ll probably have to cross rivers many times, cause bridges are very scarce:).

Another way to reach Bahia Drake is by taking a boat from Sierpe. From San Isidro del General there are two ways to reach Sierpe, one is reaching the coast and going further  from Dominical and the other one, which we chose is going via Buenos Aires. I am so glad we have chosen the other way, and had the opportunity to pass through numerous pineapple fields. Be very careful not to blindly trust GPS and have also a traditional map with you on the road. For some reason GPS wanted to direct us to completely different place from Sierpe, but luckily we studied the map well before our journey and knew something was wrong and when we should turn.

Once in Sierpe, we have parked our car on the parking lot of Oleaje Sereno Restaurant (paid for it around 5 euros for 24 hours). We had a great family brunch there. One of the best Gallo Pinto (traditional Costa Rica meal composed of rice, beans and served with egg) I remember was from this place. Additionally just on the docks you can have a nice chat with Juan who is selling cooled coconuts (pipa fria), and is coming there with his adorable dog Loca. Tip – choose the smaller coconuts – then the coconut water is much sweeter;)

From the dock in front of the restaurants there are boats going only twice a day (at 11:35  and 15:30) so take care to arrive in time. There is the captain Alex who you should ask which boat to take to arrive on the closest beach to your accommodation. Do not be scared by the guidebooks which tell you this journey is very risky,etc. It is adventurous and maybe not for everyone’s taste but it is one of the most beautiful and scenic journey’s of our lives which we ll definitely never forget. Sierpe river is surrounded by mangrove forest and you can observe crocodiles lying and resting on its banks. If you have a baby or younger toddler I would definitely recommend you have him in the baby carrier tightly close to you:) The second part of the journey (last 30 minutes= – when the river joins the ocean is truly an adventure, waves can be very high ( up to 3 m) and you ll jump a lot inside a boat, it is like in an adventure park. We never felt really scared ,since the captains are very experienced in this wave surfing with boats and we knew what to expect from our trip:) After one and a half hour of the boat journey captain dropped us of on the empty beach. Since you ll have to walk in the ocean – take just a backpack luggage with yourself. Where we were dropped of (only thanks to the fact that we had small kids with us:P) – was an extremely beautiful pristine beach where a girl from the hostel where we were accommodated waited for us. After a 15 min walk through the jungle we reached our hostel.

What did we like the most in Bahia Drake?

There is definitely not a single thing we did not like. We absolutely loved this place and the only thing we regretted was that we booked only one night there.  After getting to the hostel, we left our backpack and immediately headed towards the beach closest to the hostel. We were the only ones there, just us and the fallen coconuts.  One of the things we enjoyed a lot apart from the beach, was gazing at the night sky – sky full of stars, so many shining stars which you can observe only in the remote places like this – far from “civilization”. In the morning we saw lots of scarlet macaw parrots coming to eat almonds on the beach. We have seen so many beautiful colorful birds just on the way from hostel to the beach along with beautiful flowers and various plants – something you can only experience when you are located in the rainforest.  Ocean is very warm here, and we went for the morning swim at 5 am and enjoyed it. Also in Bahia Drake you do not mind the rain. In the afternoon of our arrival there was a strong rainfall for one hour – appropriate for the rainforest region and it did not stop us from going to beach. Since  both of our kids required being carried for longer hikes we did not feel confident doing a 14 km Corcovado hike, and that was the main reason we chose to stay only one night, what a mistake. Next time we ll be definitely coming here for longer and continue to explore this amazing region.

In the morning after our sunrise swim in the ocean and a breakfast we were little bit sad to board a boat back to Sierpe and continue our journey to the north.

Two week Costa Rica itinerary with two toddlers – Part 1

As you already know from our previous post – we have absolutely fell in love in Costa Rica. You might ask yourself – how did we decide what to visit and where to go. I can tell you one thing – it was not an easy decision for us to make. Few months before our journey we have been reading various blog posts and borrowing various guide books about Costa Rica, in order to get a better insight on what to expect. Additionally, having our two toddlers with us – made a few restrictions on our travel plan – no rafting and no zip-lines for our family. In case you did not know zip-lines were invented in Costa Rica and some of the most amazing ones are located there. As you can guess – we can not wait that our kids turn 5, so we can go on the most exciting zip lines with them:D

Even without rafting and adventure zip line parks there is a lot of adventure you will experience in this country. You can climb various volcanos, we opted for the hike on Rincon de la Vieja,visit various national parks and explore secluded beaches and hang there with various primates;) In the image below you can see a final plan including marked places where we slept:

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Initially we thought we would also visit Caribbean coast, but we realised it would be too exhausting for our kids. Main reason was that there is no road with which we could make a nice “shortcut circle”, but more about roads and driving in Costa Rica in future posts;)

We have arrived at night and decided to sleep over in Alajuela and immediately after waking up rent a car. Due to our jet-lag we were ready for breakfast at 4 am and the great thing was that at the hotel at the airport they start serving breakfast at 4 am:)) It was a perfect beginning of our family adventure. Another thing – we loved our jet lag and we did not want to fight it – not in a country like Costa Rica. We have seen so many beautiful sunrises and enjoyed our mornings. Anyway day always ends around 6 pm in Costa Rica so we were able to enjoy full days exploring.

On the first day we explored San Jose – we really loved the food market there, had a nice lunch there and wandered around to visit the parks, national theater and the old post. Even though Ticos are not a fan of San Jose, we have really enjoyed it. There you can enjoy the bird melody from the traffic lights, nice people showing you where to go when you are still disoriented due to jet lag and eating amazing food at the market.

After exploring the capital in the evening we stopped by in Cartago and visited Basilica of Our Lady of Angels. Since we have travelled a lot, we have visited a lot of impressive churches, especially in Italy, but this one in Cartago is truly special and worth visit. From outside its architecture resembles the orthodox church. Inside is extremely beautiful, but unfortunately my photography skills are still not good enough to capture it all.

Second night we slept in Paraiso – for two reasons. First we did not want to spend too much time in car with our kids during the first day. Second – we wanted to explore Orosi and Ujarras region – with its amazing coffee plantations all around. Definetly one of the most scenic spots of Costa Rica is in this region, having views of 2 vulcanos it really makes it impressive. Ujarras ruins are for free and are really spectacular. We made a picnic there, saw a lot of parrots and had a nice chat with guards who told us how on some days you can even observe toucans there. Big bonus to make a picnic in Ujarras is – there is a big playground for kids just on the ruins site. Also for 2,5 hours that we spent there we were the only ones on the sight, apart from the guards at the entrance. We had this huge park just for ourselves and all the animals around us;)

After our picnic lunch we headed to San Isidro del General over one of the most amazing roads in the country – Cerro de la Muerte. We passed over the highest parts of Inter-American highway. On your ride you are surrounded by National Park Tapati on one side and National park Los Quetzales on the other side. I think it’s quite a unique spot in the world. Additionally the only signs on the road are to take care of wild animals passing by with a tapir depicted on the sign. Views are indeed breathtaking.

San Isidro del General is not a touristic spot, or a town which should be on your top list of places to visit – but it is very different from any other place in Costa Rica. By observing the cars around you, you can immediately notice that people here are more wealthy than in the rest of the country. Prices of food, clothes etc. are very similar to those in Europe. Just for comparison, food in the capital was much cheaper (almost twice) than here. Do not get me wrong – it is worth to come here, to stop by for a lunch or dinner after you experience driving on Cerro de la Muerte – drive you will never forget. Our kids mostly enjoy ice cream in Soda Suyapa. Guess if you would ask our daughter for her memories of San Isidro – it would be the icecream in this place, it was very different from what we experienced anywhere else but also extremely tasty. This place is there already for 80 years so definetly worth the icecream stop.

Another reason that it was worth to sleep over in San Isidro – we woke up with a view of Cerro Chirripo – definetly a place we want to climb but it is impossible with small kids. If you climb it you have a view of Carribbean sea  on one side and the Pacific ocean on the other. No need to say I can not wait for that moment in future when we ll be able to climb it 😉

More about itinerary of our Costa Rica journey in the next post:)))