Costa Rica's Varied Nature
The tropical rainforest hugs the beach
Exploring Costa Rica from Corcovado on the Atlantic coast, via Torteguero on the Caribbean coast, the Irazú volcano with its three craters, Ciudad Quesada, Arenal volcano, Sarapiqui river, the Monte Verde and Santa Elena rainforests. Finally, Manuel Antonio, which is beautiful, but more like a park than wild nature.
Travelogue & photos: Marianne Bekkering
On our first morning we fly from San José to Palmar Sur in the south, on the Atlantic coast, in a plane with only nine seats. We are flying low, so we see everything clearly; the cloud formations are really beautiful. From the air we see an airstrip - or is it just a road along which all trees have been felled?
In Palma Sur a car takes us to the ship that will bring us to Drake Bay in a little over an hour. First we are on the Rio Sierpe, where we see crocodiles lazying on the bank, below large bamboo, then we are on the sea and round the the end of the peninsula to Drake Bay.
High waves make it hard to get from the river to the sea, but after a few turns and going with the flow of the waves, we make it.
Aquilla Lodge near National Park Corcovado is a paradise on earth. The location is beautiful and the atmosphere is relaxed. On the way to our room we pass flowers we have never seen before, in an exuberantly beautiful garden.
We unpack our bags and then take a walk and cross our first suspension bridge to a nice beach. When we return, there are monkeys in the trees on the grounds of the lodge.
We haven't been in Costa Rica for 24 hours, but feel as if we have been here for a while, because we already have seen so much.
At night it pours, a real tropical torrential shower. We are woken up early by the sounds of the awakening jungle, but our final "wake-up call" comes from monkeys who run over our roof to jump into the palm tree next to our room.
After breakfast we explore the mountain behind the lodge, where several hiking trails have been laid out. The path is slippery because of the rain, but it is beautiful here, with every now and then a view of the bay. Then we walk to the village via the shore, which is dry now that it's low tide, and then back to the lodge. The jungle stretches all the way to the beach.
A guide takes us on a walk in the afternoon to spot birds, but unfortunately most stay hidden because of the rain. A little later we are surprised by a huge shower.
National Park Corcovado
A real jungle in which we clamber over fallen trees
We are woken up by howler monkeys. My goodness, are they loud!
Today we visit the National Park Corcovado with a guide. It has rained a lot tonight, but when we leave it's dry and except for a few little showers it will stay that way. But we are prepared and take rain wear with us.
A boat takes us in half an hour to the bay where our route begins. This is one of the entrances to the park. It's quite a struggle to dock because of the tall waves.
We enter the - secundary - rainforest. Our guide tells us a lot about plants and animals we see. There are no real paths here, it is a jungle in which you have to clamber over fallen trees every now and then.
We see howler monkeys, spider monkeys and all kinds of birds, f.e. red-and-green macaws. The beautiful, large trees often have impressive roots.
After lunch, on the spot where we docked, we walk to a waterfall in the primary part of the rainforest.
This part if even more beautiful - because older - than the secondary rainforest. We have to clamber a lot and here and there it's slippery because of the rain, but it's extremely worthwhile.
We cross a fallen tree over a fast-flowing river to the waterfall.
Green walls with dozens of meters long vines
The next day we take the little plane back to San José. There we get on the bus to National Park Braulio Carrillo, which is on the way to the Caribbean coast. It has wonderful tropical vegetation and countless waterfalls.
On the way to Torteguero we pass beautiful and varied nature. We stop in Limon, where a boat takes us to our lodge in the national park. Our boat ride takes us through rainforest: the banks are covered with dense forest, many flowers and numerous birds.
The canal is parallel to the Caribbean coast and was dug to transport tree trunks. After two and a half hours we arrive at our lodge in Torteguero, which is surrounded by flower gardens.
Everything feels damp. Even our map is clammy and our clothes hardly get dry.
It's dry the next day and before breakfast we take a walk on the beach, which lies directly behind the lodge. High silver waves and a panoramic view.
The jungle borders on the beach and the lodge lies exactly between the beach and the canal.
It starts to rain after breakfast and so we are not going for a hike, but take two boat trips instead.
We see many animals: monkeys, iguanas, beautiful butterflies, a large black bird, an otter, a tapir and a small crocodile. Also lots of birds, among which a vulture who sits on a high branch drying its impressive wings.
As soon as you sail on one of the little rivers, you are in a different, stunning world. Trees lean over the water, there are beautiful flowers everywhere, and all of this is accompanied by the sounds of howler monkeys and birds.
After lunch we take another boat ride. This time we go into the primary rainforest, which is older and more impressive than the one we saw this morning. The latter was, until recently, still used for timber.
It became a national park in 1970 and from that moment felling trees was forbidden, so nature has been able to recover. The part where we visit this afternoon was never used for timber or anything else. High green walls, which are themselves covered with dozens of meters long vines. We see less animals, because it's seriously raining now, but it's still worthwhile.
The sounds of the surf and birds wake us up early. When we get up at 6 AM it's dry and a little later the sun shines bright.
We take a walk in the garden before breakfast and see a bright green little poisonous frog; we also see our first toucan. It is a fantastic bird.
After breakfast we take another boat ride on the canal to Limón. Everything looks different and even prettier when the sun shines. We also see more animals, which are enjoying the sun - just as we do.
Crocodiles are warming themselves on tree trunks; monkeys are sunbathing on branches that lean over the water and we see many turtles on the banks. And of course all kinds of birds; and three sloths who are living up to their names.
After two and a half hours the boat trip is over, unfortunately. When we dock, we see a sloth in a tree, chewing leaves.
One of its three craters has a green-yellow lake inside
We take the bus back to San José. Half-way between Limon and San José our rental car is waiting for us at restaurant Rio Dante. It is a two hour drive through a wonderful, green and hilly landscape to Turrialba in the mountains. In the mean time the sky is overcast again, but in the mountains the clouds look actually pretty.
The next day the weather is wonderful. We have breakfast on our room's terrace, with in the background the song of one of many beautiful birds.
We drive to the Orosi Valley, a little farther south. It is a pretty river valley.
Before we leave the valley we have lunch at the Sanchiri Lodge. We have "tortilla queso," a kind of pancake with cheese, and a meat stew with tortillas. From our table outside we have a great view of the valley.
Then we are on our way to the Irazú volcano, via the town of Carthago. It is the highest and largest volcano of Costa Rica and with clear weather you should be able to see both oceans from there. Its last eruption was in 1994; the eruption in 1963 was bad enough that people were walking with umbrellas to protect themselves from the ashes even two years later.
The road there in and by itself is already a reason to go. One panoramic view after another. The volcano itself has three craters, of which the most impressive one has a green-yellow lake inside.
We walk around for a while and then take the car to the highest point, where you have a splendid view of the three craters. Then we drive back to our hotel in Turi Alba.
We are woken up by screaming macaws
Today we drive north through a sometimes European looking landscape, including black-and-white cows, to Ciudad Quesada. This is obviously an agricultural and cattle breeding region.
The name of our hotel is El Tucano. I say jokingly that there should be a toucan in the garden and indeed: even before we reach our room, we see a toucan eating leisurely from the fruits of the palm tree in front of our room.
We are woken by screaming macaws at 5:30 AM. I run outside with my camera and I see one, sitting high up in a tree. Its colors are beautiful.
A coatis family is blocking traffic
Today we take a day trip to the Arenal volcano. At first we drive amidst the clouds that cluster around the mountains, but the more we descend, the better the weather gets.
We drive via Aquas Zarcas to Muelle; it's hard to find, because signposting still isn't up to specs here. But our wrong turns lead us to beautiful surroundings, where we also see a toucan.
In La Fortuna we take a left at the church and drive to a waterfall, which crashes down from a great height.
First we look at the waterfall from a distance, on a high perch, and then we clamber down a thousand meters on a narrow but safe path.
There we see how the water comes crashing down and splashes in a basin. People are swimming in it, but the water is very cold.
We drive on to the Arenal volcano. Unfortunately the sky is overcast and the volcano is completely obscured by low clouds.
We drive along the north side of the volcano to Lake Arenal, a reservoir built in the 1970s.
On the way a family of coatis (a kind of raccoon) is blocking traffic by sitting in the middle of the road. They are being fed, even though it is forbidden to feed any animals here.
A little farther we have lunch in a restaurant on the side of the road; we have delicious broiled tilapia.
Colorful birds, large butterflies and green poisonous frogs
Today we drive east, to the Sarapiqui river area in the north-west of Costa Rica.
When we reach San Miguel, it stops raining. Here we drive part of the Circle Route (Poas - Puerto Viejo - San José ).
A little past Puerto Viejo we drive to Salva Verde Biological Station, but walking here is not so attractive, since most paths are made of concrete.
We drive back and visit the Salva Verde Lodge in Chilamate, surrounded by jungle. On its grounds are hiking trails. We have lunch here and see beautifully colored birds and large blue butterflies. We take a walk in the lodge's "garden" and see a pretty green poisonous frog.
Beards of moss hang from the trees in the rainforest
We leave early in the morning for the mist woods of Monte Verde, high up in the mountains. We already know the first part of the route. Via La Fortuna, the Arenal volcano and then along the north-side of the lake.
We drive around the top of the reservoir to Tilaran. We ask if the road to Monte Verde is open. It is, but we are happy to have a 4WD with its large wheels. The road is really bad and the second part is so muddy we have to turn on the 4-wheel drive.
There is a strong wind. When I get out of the car to take pictures, I have to brace myself to keep standing.
The route has beautiful panoramas against alternating sunny and cloudy skies. The rain yields spectacular pictures of leaden clouds around mountain peaks.
In Monte Verde we see a splendid, almost double rainbow hang over the village. The hotel is a pleasant surprise. The window in our room is positioned in a way that makes it look as if you can walk into the jungle. We visit a nearby frog farm to see the pretty and brightly colored poisonous frogs.
The next morning we visit the nearby Monte Verde Cloud Forest, despite the rain. It is a wonderful area, where the trees have beards of moss, because of the constant mist. Every now and then there's a brightly colored flower. The trees are completely overgrown by other plants.
The paths are clearly indicated so you can walk by yourself and they are also "paved" with concrete tiles so you don't have to slither through the mud. We cross our first long suspension bridge between the tree tops.
The downside of the rain is that we hardly see any birds in this bird paradise.
We walk through the park for a few hours. It is clearly out of season, because there aren't many other people here, which helps us to feel one with nature.
At the exit of the park we stop and visit the hummingbird gallery, which has fake flowers filled with nectar. Quite a lot of those pretty, elegant birds in colors from metallic-green to a deep purple-blue are foraging here.
Back in our hotel we have a delicious salad for lunch, after which we sit down and read in front of the fireplace to get warm.
Santa Elena Nature Reserve
It rains hard again in the rainforest
When we wake up, the sky is partly blue and after a wonderful breakfast with tasty pancakes with fresh fruit, we leave for Santa Elena Nature Reserve.
When we arrive, it has started to rain again and there is a strong wind, at a temperature of 14 degrees centigrade. We won't see many birds today and because of the strong wind we can't go on the suspension bridges: they are much higher up in the tree tops then in Monte Verde Cloud Forest.
So we take a lazy day and later in the day the weather improves enough that it is nice to sit in the rocking chairs and read. One look at Mt. Santa Elena convinces us that it's still raining over there.
The next morning the sky is clear blue and we drive to Quepos. It's sunny and hot and we have wonderful views on the way.
On the way we buy tasty empanadas (deep-fried doughpockets) with meat at a food stall.
We drive via Sardinal and Caldera to Jacco, which is familiar ground, because we were here already a few years ago.
We cross a bridge below which we see crocodiles, along National Park Carrera where we drove last time to see macaws, but there weren't any. And then along a beautiful beach with the well-deserved name Playa Hermosa.
National Park Manuel Antonio
Iguanas, capucin monkeys, sloths and coatis
We continue on and cross many almost collapsing bridges to Quepos and National Park Manuel Antonio. Last time we were here we thought these bridges would collapse if a truck would cross them. But after four years everything remains the same and the bridges are still in place.
We are stopped by police. Our speed is 60 k/p/h on a road with a speed limit of 80 k/p/h, but according to the officers our speed was 109 k/p/h. And this on a road full of large and deep potholes. It wouldn't even be possible.
We were warned that this might happen. Apparently the police is corrupt: they try to earn some extra money by fining people and making them pay cash, which isn't even allowed. The advice was to pretend not to understand a word of Spanish and that is what we do. When the officer points at the speedometer, we smile sweetly and say that this is impossible. It works, we can continue on without any further problems.
Our hotel in Quepos is terrific. Founded by a Dutch couple, it was built in Spanish parador style, surrounded by a beautiful garden full of flowers.
We booked a room high up on the mountain, where we have views of the bay and the sea.
After a wonderful breakfast of fresh fruit and pancakes, we drive to National Park Manuel Antonio. It is wonderful, even though it's more like a park than "wild" nature.
We see many iguanas in different shapes and sizes and even more capucin monkeys, who are just as cheeky as they were a few years ago and who still jump around in great numbers on the same beach.
We see a sloth and yes, it's hanging from the same tree as last time. I know they are slow, but this slow...
We walk to the observation point and as a bonus we see some coatis at the exit. And then we leave the park, wading through water.
We have lunch at our favorite beach restaurant below trees with monkeys in them. We have a nachos dish with melted cheese and spicey bean-beef stew, lettuce, tomatoes and guacamole.
Today is our last full day in Costa Rica and we take it easy. We sunbathe, sit in the shade and read a lot. At noon we return to our beach restaurant and enjoy another hot nachos dish.
We drive back to San José in the afternoon. We booked the same hotel for our last night. Tomorrow we have to go home, unfortunately.