In the morning we chilled out on Playa Cocles, then beached hopped along down to Punta Uva, which provided the clearest waters we have ever seen, going 100 metres out to the sea until it hit the reef. It was deliciously warm as well, even in the evening. Our last supper in Costa Rica, ended with the cliche BBQ on the beach. We'll be back to this place for sure...
We tried to find the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary in Moin, Limon, but after an hour of searching, we gave up and headed to Sloth Sanctuary on the road to Cahuito. You don't get to hold the sloths anymore, so the $25usd 2 hour tour included information about the sloths and meeting the adults and baby sloths in captivity. We then went on a canoe ride through the jungle and spotted wild sloths, birds and monkeys. They only have a few tours a day, so it's worth checking on the website first. Ours was at 11am. The sanctuary was alright - the tour was padded out a bit, but it's good to see the sloths up close.
Further along the road, we went to the Kekoldi iguana farm, which was pretty cool. We'd seen a lot of iguanas already, but some of these were 2 metres in length and beautifully coloured. The babies were in cages, but the adults roamed free with the chickens in the ground. There's also a view point at the back of the pens. For $4usd for a quick stop, we'd recommend it. Plus, we saw two iguanas getting it on!
We then looked around Parque Nacional Cahuito. The beach was picture postcard perfect. It's entry by donation too. The town itself is pleasant enough, with surf shops and cheap seafood restaurants. Plus you can book a shed load of tours from here to practically everywhere in Costa Rica and even Panama.
In the evening we went to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and strolled around the town. Things turned a little soar when we kicked off in a pizza restaurant as it took 90 minutes for them to make a pizza, the server was so rude and then they wanted service charge! It was never going to happen.
We ended the day, camping on the beach. That's more us.
Another country for Dougal, means another garage. We decided to deal with all his problems, before they escalated, so he had a full day of spa treatments. Finally found a garage that know what they are doing and don't rip us off. Land Rovers are easy to fix in Costa Rica as they are popular (there was even a world record set in November for the most Land Rovers in one place...wish we'd been here). If you have a Land Rover and you're in Costa Rica, we recommend heading to TJM.
We spoke to loads of locals all day, quizzing us on the trip. Some even saw us online and came down to say hi. That was pretty awesome. The powers of Facebook work again.
$180usd lighter and with a van that doesn't seem like he going to break down anytime soon, we made our way to Puerto Limon. Feels good to have breaks not held together with string anymore :-).
With no toilet in our little camper, we often jump out in the morning and go...wherever. There's no shame with overlanding. Today, however, thinking we were in the middle of nowhere, I ran out at 6am completely naked, only to be greeted with a man on a horse. Luckily he missed out on Gwyn's full frontal, or he'd been scarred for life.
We then made our way to Uvita and haggled down a price for a whale watching tour. We paid $50usd if you want a guideline. There's loads of operators, so just be cheeky and put on the 'I'm poor' face. At 8:30am we entered the Parque Nacional Marino Ballena. We saw bottlenose dolphins then two humpback whales - a female and her calf. They didn't breach or slap their fins like the males did when we were surfing the other day, but we got really close to them and they were huge. Such graceful animals. As part of the tour, we also went to see turtle island (filled with birds!...there's a lost in translation for you), and caves. We then went snorkelling near the whale's tail part of the national park. The snorkelling was pretty crap, other than seeing a load of huge spotted puffer fish. Overall, the tour was worth it though. Not many places in the world you'd be 3 metres away from humpback whales.
We then drove back up along the coast to San Jose, as we need to pick up parts for Dougal. He's controlling our lives and he needs sorting!
We woke up at 6am and saw the most beautiful sunrise over the deserted beach. It started out as a good day, but things changed.
Corcovado, the most bio diverse place on earth, says National Geographic. It sounds like Gwyn's dream, but all day he moaned about being too hot, too thirsty and too tired. God help us when we get to the Amazon then!
At 8am, we left Cabo Matapolo. An hour later, after driving off-road and through rivers (you need a 4WD) we arrived at Cavate. The journey is an adventure in itself. A local offered to let us park in his garden for free all day. If you can't do that, just park near the air strip and walk along the beach to the first ranger station.
It took us 90 minutes to walk the 3.5km to Leona ranger station, as Gwyn was already dragging his feet at this point. You can fill up with drinking water here. From Leona station, we walked along the trail which skirts between jungle territory and immaculate white sand beaches. The beaches are gorgeous, with misty mountains in the background. Within 5 minutes of being in the jungle we saw macaws, monkeys, coatis and snakes. At lunch, we napped on the beach, so Gwyn could snap out of his mood and then we continued to head towards Sirena, wading through thigh high rivers. It was very humid and we'd drenched our clothes in sweat, so be prepared for that. The trails are well maintained, signposted and mostly flat, so it's doable without a guide (they're pricey, but worth it apparently). We walked about 4 hours from Leona station, then turned back. Tiredness had eventually got to me and I started shouting at Gwyn. Due to this, we ended up walking past the exit to where our car was parked for a further 2km. We then had to turn around. In essence we added a good 90 minutes onto our hike, all because we were arguing and not concentrating on the turning off where we left the car. We were exhausted, but managed to catch sunset and find beers from a makeshift shop that a resident had set up to trap day hikers and charge extortionate prices on drinks (eg a can of coke was $3usd). After arguing all day, we made peace after finally eating.
We drove out towards Puerto Jimenez and spent the night in the van there.
Minus the couple arguing thing it's actually an easy trek. Corcovado is beautiful and definitely worth the hassle getting down there if you love nature and wildlife. We had no issues with insect bites (think we are getting immune to them now), but they strongly advise to take repellent with you. We both agreed that we would have loved to have spent more days in Corcovado and camped overnight at Sirena station, then gone to Los Patos. Around Sirena is 'the place to be' for wildlife. You have to reserve head for a permit by ringing them (she told us to email), emailing them (they never responded) or by going to the Conservation Office in Puerto Jimenez (by that point they only had availability in a week, even though we had our own camping equipment and didn't require meals). The only other way to go for a longer duration is to book onto an organised guided tour. We saw prices for $300usd for a 2 night trip. We didn't account for this cost, so didn't sign up to one. You should splurge on this one though, as it'd be a shame to miss out. If you're on a budget or doing long term travel, then just do what we did for a taster.
After realising in the morning we couldn't get a permit to stay the night in Corcovado national park (just a day pass), we decided to drive the dirt road to the peninsular (Cabo Matapolo) and spend the day chilling out. We went wading through the rivers and rock pools and chatted to loads of locals about our trip, whilst having an all day BBQ and bonfire. The surf this time of the year isn't the best and the swimming is only safe within the first 5 metres, but the rock pools are massive (big enough to swim in) and it's a good place to relax watching the countless Herons, Scarlett Macaws and howler monkeys in the jungle. This place is a little cut off and you definitely need a 4WD drive to get here. Bring supplies as there's no shops around to stock up and look out for snakes when nature calls.
We decided to head to Dominical to catch some waves. There's not much to the town, so if you don't surf, we don't see the draw for tourists. The surf was pretty good, constant and long (just the way we like them) and with the mountains and jungle backdrop, and the long deserted beaches, made it our little piece of paradise. The highlight was looking behind and seeing two humpback whales breaching and slapping their fins against the water, entertaining us for 30 minutes like something out of a 'SeaWorld Show'. Unbelievable. Never would have thought we'd be surfing with wild whales. It's one of the highlights of our Central America trip. Still in shock as to what we witnessed. National Geographic eat your heart out!
In the afternoon, surprisingly given it's the dry season, a tropical storm started. We ended up having showers in the rain and then had a BBQ under the van's canopy, whilst parked up on the beach, watching the lightening over the sea. At night, we drove the 150km to Puerto Jimenez. It's paved all the way, but be prepared for windy roads and foggy patches if you drive in the dark.
Another early start as we drove to Manuel Antonio from Jaco. There's some gorgeous vistas along the coastal road. We headed straight to Manuel Antonio national park though. From the entrance there's a main trail that takes about 20 minutes to get to the national park's beaches. There's essentially two main trails after that: one is a big loop near the beaches and another is a 40 minute round trip hike to the mirador overlooking a beach. There's also a short side trail to a really quiet beach, that's worth the stop. The beaches in the national park are stunning, with jungle backdrops, white sand and turquoise warm sea. It's like something out of the 'Lost' series. It's definitely one of our favourite parks so far in the Central America section of the trip. When the crowds came, the beaches lost their secluded atmosphere a bit though. We stayed in the park for 6 hours, but you could spread it out for a full day by bringing food supplies. The wildlife was plentiful and we saw a lot of different types of monkeys, birds, raccoons, coatis, lizards, deer. Be carful with your things - a monkey 'borrowed' my bag for half an hour and some raccoons stole a whole family's picnic.
We reckon you could swim around to the national park beaches and avoid the entrance fee if you want to be a sneak...
Unfortunately, you can't take any alcohol into the park (and they check your bags too), so we got our 'sunset with drinks fix' at the El Avion bar along the main road (about a 10 minute drive from the national park). It's a cargo aircraft bar. You can have cocktails in the cockpit. The sunset was pretty awesome too. It's a must-do in the area. Perfect end to a perfect day.
At 8am, we made our way to the entrance of Volcan Poas. The walk to see the main crater was only 5 minutes, with an optional hour round trip to see the lagoon. The crater is cool to see and the lagoon is pretty enough to warrant to short hike. We spent about 1hr 30 minutes in the national park in total, so don't schedule a full day out for it.
Near the Volcano (15km east) is La Paz Waterfall gardens. We were going to go here, but for $40usd for a 2 hour tour, we thought that was steep. It did look really pretty though, but we've seen a lot of amazing waterfalls and had already been to the 'zoo' attractions they have to offer. If we weren't on a long-term trip, we probably would've gone though.
We went to Herida to look around. Like all Costa Rican towns, it lacks any charm. However, we did find a Land Rover specialist to get spare parts for Dougal in the event of his inevitable failings.
We then made our way to Jaco, for surf board and bikini shopping and watching the sunset on the beach (it's a common theme).
In the morning we made the short journey to Monteverde national park. Just outside the entrance was the hummingbird gallery. It's essentially a gift shop and cafe that has bird feeders hanging outside. It's a freebie and there's loads of hummingbirds about (we saw 10 different varieties). There was a guy giving a lecture and Gwyn was trying to recapture a postcard image he saw (he took over 800 pictures), so we stayed an hour, but for most people it would be a 15 minute stop. They are used to human company and fly around your head and settle on your finger. So cute.
We then went to Monteverde reserve, which is actually a massive national park, but only 3% is open to the public. We did the majority of the trails (which integrate with each other) in 3 hours. The trails are well maintained and there's a few pretty vistas, waterfall and bird wildlife, but it's not as impressive as we thought it was going to be and at $18usd pp entry, it's definitely one of the most pricey national parks going. The trails are also very samey, so so don't expect much variety. We saw some quetzals and some people did report seeing a sloth, but we just thought it was a moss ball/termite mound. Who knows...
In the afternoon, we decided against doing the the canopy/zipling at a $77usd pp. The Skytrek tour did look good though and many people we met had a fun time, but we have done loads before and in Honduras we even did a jungle zipling tour, so we decided to go to the coffee and chocolate factory instead. Gwyn also decided to tamper with Dougal to fix the lights. At the moment we either have no lights or full beam. It's kind of sorted. Another temporary fix to add to the list.
Later, we drove to Volcan Poas and camped outside the entrance.
In the morning, we visited the El Castillo's Butterfly Conservatory. It's close to La Fortuna. The place was huge, with wildlife and jungle trails, butterfly tents, frog tents, orchid gardens and hilltop vistas. It's a pleasant stop for a few hours if you like that sort of thing and with butterflies landing on you.
We then drove the windy road around the lake to Santa Elena, stopping along the way for wildlife sightings, gorgeous views and bakery shops.
Santa Elena is packed with tour companies offering the usual - zipling tours, quad biking, hot springs, national park tours, coffee and chocolate tours, etc, so it's a good base to book onto activities.
We went into the Tabacon Hot springs at 10am (when it opened). We purchased the full day pass including lunch and dinner. The first few hours were really quiet and then the families turned up. The spa is a massive area though and there's a section just for adults, so it's easy to get away from the crowd. There's a few swimming pools near the entrance with a slide and swim-up bar. Warning: the drinks are priced three times more than everywhere else.
Overall the spa was beautiful, set amongst the jungle with waterfalls and delicious food. We met up with an American couple we met a few days ago and celebrated in the new year by getting wasted with them. We had a really good time, that's all we will say :-).
After a long night waiting it out for the turtles, we started the drive to Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja. It's rated as America's Yellowstone national park equivalent, but you'd be thoroughly disappointed if you expect that it'll be like that. You can no longer climb the volcano, so the next best trail (Las Pailas sector) goes through mud pools, sulfurous fumaroles and a waterfall. It's a little underwhelming if you've been to places likes Yellowstone, or seen geysers in Iceland and sulfurous fumaroles in New Zealand. The highlight for us was the amount of wild monkeys on the trail. There were loads of them and they weren't shy in coming for a closer look.
We then made the 3 hour journey to La Fortuna. We thought Arenal backpackers resort would be a good place to welcome in the new year. The hostel is pretty cool with a decent sized swimming pool with swim-up bar and loads of hammocks in the manicured gardens. We were enjoying the free shots and chatting to other travellers, then at 11:30pm they chucked us out as we weren't 'residents'. B*****ds. We welcomed in the new year sat watching the 'Dexter' series (it has become an addiction) in Dougal, watching the fireworks go off in the streets. Start as we mean to go on...in the van again. It wasn't quite the new year party we were after, but c'est le vie.
More surfing shenanigans in the morning back at Playa Grande, then beach bum living in the afternoon with a picnic. This is certainly the life for us.
In the evening we had another BBQ (getting very predictable now), then went to Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas de Guanacaste to witness a Leatherback turtle (the biggest in the world) lay her eggs. 60 people signed up to see this wonder, but after the lecture of the Leatherback and being told there's no guarantee she will come tonight, everyone left, apart from 4 of us, who wanted to stick it out. An hour later, we walked down the beach and saw the whole process under a mass blanket of stars. It was amazing. The 56 other people missed out. Plus you only pay when there is a radio call from the volunteers patrolling the national park beach, so you don't run the risk of losing your $25usd pp.
The Leatherback we saw was 1.50 metres in length. She laid 80 eggs, which were surprisingly quite small given her size and they resembled boiled eggs. The whole process lasted a few hours, with majority of the time taking her to dig the hole. We stayed outside the national park that night as it was 3am by the time we got back.
We rented boards for $10usd each for half a day from Frijoles Locos. They weren't long boards, so it took us ages to get used to them. We had the waves all to ourselves for hours. The beach here is gorgeous too - white sands and mangroves as the backdrop.
In the afternoon we looked around the surf shops in Tamarindo. It was a world away from Playa Grande and completely packed with foreigners. It wasn't for us (very resort like) but if you like the home comforts and beautiful looking people then head there.
We headed further south to Playa Avellanas. It was busy as it was the weekend (and the Christmas period), but we heard good things about Lola's bar (rated one of the best in the world apparently). Although the menu is short, the food was fresh and simply awesome. It's not a cheap place, but you pay for the location (it's right on the beach). The only downside was that it was a bit disorganised and we had to wait an hour for a table. Still, definitely worth the splurge.
For sunset we went to quieter Playa Negro (10 minutes away). It was one of those 'I'm so lucky to be here' moments and as we had our cold beers and BBQ we knew that this country would be a hard to leave.
We drove from Liberia to Playa Grande on the Peninsular and booked onto the turtle observation at the office of Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas de Guanacaste.
We then went to have a 2 hour surf lesson with Frijoles Locos surf shop ($30usd each). We haven't been on boards for a couple of years, so we definitely needed the confidence boost and the instructors were laid back and had plenty of experience. Recommended. Playa Grande has consistent waves and the area is quiet, so it's ideal for those with a bit of experience, but need to practice. The famous dive sites Witches Rock and Ollie's Point are for experienced surfers only though...and very pricey excursions.
We then found a secluded beach for the night, watched the sunset and had a BBQ. Already in love with Costa Rica.
Ahh another border crossing. These days always drag. This has been the most disorganised crossing to date and we couldn't even attempt to explain the route to get around the place. There was be a lot of "donde esta....?" ("where's the...?"). Checking out of Nicaragua was fairly painless with just a quick inspection (if you can find them) and a stamp out. To enter Costa Rica you go through the usual spray ($2usd), pay a $2usd tourist fee and insurance is 18,000 colones ($36usd). The latter sounds expensive, but it lasts for over a month. For a more detailed account of the mess of this border crossing, click here
We stayed the night in a McDondalds car park in Liberia.