We had been keen to visit Costa Rica after hearing how beautiful it was and more recently, after reading about how CR is a green happy and sustainable country. So it was a no-brainer to plan a trip there for our first winter break here in the US.
I broke with tradition by booking the trip through a travel agent. I wasn't very sure how making the arrangements on my own as I usually do, would work out in Central America. Turns out, CR is super-safe and probably the only place in Central America we could have managed without any outside help.
Our itinerary started with a direct flight from DC to San Jose, the capital. We landed from low digit minus temperatures to a balmy 23 degrees C. It felt so good!!! We were met at the airport and immediately whisked off to our first home for the next 4 nights - La Fortuna in Alajuela province. The drive was long (about 3.5 hours) and the kids slept off on the way, only waking up for a pizza lunch midway.
|Lost count of times we have rigged up makeshift "curtains" in cars to ward off the sun falling on our babies :)
Check out the view from our room! This is Mount Arenal, which dominates the landscape in the La Fortuna/Arenal area. This is an active volcano which last erupted in 2010.
The next day, we set off to explore the Arenal Lake and got some amazing views of the volcano from the lake, and from a short hike around the Arenal National Park. Our tour included a 3 hour stop at a hot springs resort, which had looked great on paper but was far better in reality! The whole area being a hub of geothermal activity, there are several resorts which are amusement parks-cum-jacuzzis rolled into one. For the adults, there are pools of varying water temperatures, with fancy waterfalls and all - ranging from a very pleasant 22 degrees to a scalding 60 degrees! For the kids there are several slides - some of which fall straight into a warm pool. Y walked into this wonderland and immediately exclaimed "This is the highlight of this trip!!!" The kids were thrilled with a silly play structure which emptied barrelfuls of water on them every few minutes. I have to say it was strangely addictive when I joined them and stayed on, playing and splashing, for far longer than I'd intended.
The hot springs were amazingly relaxing and after a few hours, our limbs tired, we showered and went back to our hotel, all set for a heavy Day 2 in Costa Rica.
Day 3 - I had booked a hike in the Tenorio NP, a 7 km loop to see the amazing Blue river or Rio Celeste. It had rained the previous night so the trail, in addition to being narrow and rocky, was also very muddy and slushy. Fortunately our guide had advised us to rent rain boots so we were able to manage without slipping or destroying our shoes. I had been concerned whether Y would be able to complete the hike but she was a trooper and except for the very last half-km, did not need to be encouraged or prodded to keep moving.
Day 3 dawned bright and sunny but we were hotel-bound as Ads was running a temperature. Fortunately I had designated this as a rest day (we need plenty of those on vacation!!) so we just chilled by the pool, ate a lot, played word games and took an afternoon nap!
Day 4 was our transfer to Monteverde in the Puntarenas province, a huge draw in CR due to it's "cloud forests". The combination of cloud and tropical forests in this area contributes to the climate which is misty windy and rainy and also to it's staggering biodiversity. The drive was long and meandering and as we approached Monteverde, we were greeted with stunning vistas like these...
The next day, Day 5, we went to the Cloud forest reserve for a 2-3 km guided naturalist walk along the treetops, complete with hanging bridges over the forest canopy. I had a mild panic attack on one of the bridges which was swaying dangerously in the wind but soon got the hang of staying calm while walking on top of the forest canopy :) We were disappointed in not seeing the Quetzal, the national bird of CR known for it's striking plumage. Apparently it's chosen food was not yet ripe and ready for it and it would be a couple more months before it would appear in the Cloud Forest!
We took a gondola to the very top of the cloud forest. We couldn't take our phones with us so I have no photos but suffice to say, it was breathtakingly beautiful. Huge clouds billowed across the sky, some skimming the tops of the trees and mountains, some bounding along far above. Everywhere one looked was an ethereal magical sight. In the far distance, the Pacific was faintly visible through the sheets of mist.
At the top of the cloud forest, we all managed to complete our practice zipline easily. When it came to the actual zipline circuit, it was too high and intimidating for both Y and me to even consider attempting. I was pretty sure S and Ads would go for it but surprisingly Ads, who likes all the adrenaline-pumping stuff, was very hesitant to go one the zipline. Inspite of spirited urging from Y and me, he refused to go ahead so we took the gondola back to the bottom :) Of course, when we were heading back home, he said Oh I should have gone :(
So that was the end of our fantastic Monteverde segment.
Day 6 - We moved to yet another province, Guanacaste. After volcanoes and cloud forests, it was time for some sun 'n sand! The plan was to sail, snorkel, catch some sunsets and just chill...which is exactly what we did! It was an endless round of eating, fresh sea air, long walks on the beach, more eating, swimming and hot tubs!
Costa Rica used to be know as the 'geek' of Central America due to its tech industry and its low crime rate. Today it is better known as an eco-tourism hotspot and also an ecological powerhouse. 6% of the worlds biodiversity in 0.03% of the landmass, 24 national parks protecting a 30% of the country from “development”. But more than anything else, what delights is their philosophy of Pura Vida- the pure life. CR invites you to kick back, unplug, and chill. At the height of the tourist season, never saw a single Tico lose their cool, yell or seem frazzled. Pura Vida is a way of life, an attitude, an emotion, even a greeting! Keep it simple, keep it real.
As the Ticos say, Pura Vida and Feliz año nuevo, mis amigos!