Here’s a summary of what went down in Costa Rica for those who are interested….
Day 1: San Jose
We arrived in San Jose around noon on Saturday after a red-eye flight out of Seattle. When we showed up at the airport, we saw our names on a sign, and proceeded to get in a van with what would be our first of many drivers – Stewart. He took us from the airport into downtown San Jose, and got us up to speed on some of the culture. He informed us that there’d be no need to exchange money – everyone takes US dollars in addition to the local currency, watch out for pickpockets, etc. He dropped us off at the Britannia Hotel. It was a pretty, quiet hotel a few blocks from the city’s center. MS took a nap after our long trip while I went out exploring. The city had a lot of character. The streets and sidewalks were very poorly maintained – cracked and at times littered with garbage. The buildings also looked filthy, but it wasn’t at all like being in a third world country. I happened upon an electronics store that sold big screen TVs, so that felt a little more like home. I also stumbled upon some kind of Costa Rican lasso competition.
When MS woke up, we went out and grabbed dinner at the News Cafe on one of the main drags. It was an Americanized restaurant with copies of US Newspapers on the wall. We ordered a traditional Costa Rican dish, Arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) which was pretty good. We walked around the city a bit – there were a lot of street vendors selling bracelets and other crafts. We went home on the early side because the next morning we were leaving for our first real destination.
Day 2: Trip into Tortuguero
We had to get up very early (5:30 am) for the trip out to Tortuguero. We didn’t really know what to expect, only that we were getting picked up at 6am. A few minutes after 6, a van pulls up with a bunch of people already on it. A guy throws our stuff in the back, we hop aboard, and we are on our way. It was apparently a “tour” type situation – one guy drove, and the other one told us where we were going, what we were going to see, etc. The bus ride started off well enough, but it eventually got tiresome. After about 2 hours we stopped and had a nice breakfast. He informed us it would be another hour and a half of driving before we’d get to the boat that would then take us to our hotel. By this time we were pretty sick of driving. The van was getting hot (even though it was air conditioned) and the seats were not roomy.
We stopped a few times to see animals, including a two-toed sloth. Everyone loved that so much that the tour guide promised we’d find a three-toed sloth. We just wanted to get to the boat. Needless to say, we ended up stopping to see a three-toed sloth. The tour guide also informed us that we’d be going on an expedition the following morning at 6am, at which point I thought MS was going to claw my eyes out, but I assured her that we could skip that. At long last, we arrived at the docks, ready to board the boat. The place we’d be staying at was not accessible by car.
The boat ride in was great (video here). They went fast, it was warm, and scenic. We arrived at hour hotel 2 hours later, which felt like a much shorter trip. It was called the Mawamba Lodge and was very nice. We had lunch there – as we found out all meals were included during our stay, and they were very good as well. That afternoon we swam in the pool, and later went into “town” in Tortuguero, which was more like a village. We walked back along the beach which is on the Caribbean Sea. We learned that the beach was unswimmable due to various hazards (riptides, jellyfish) although one of the locals later told us that they swim in it all the time.
Day 3: Tortuguero
We spent the morning relaxing near the pool, rather than going on any early morning sightseeing expeditions. While laying in our respective hammocks, reading, an enormous lizard ran up. I later got a video of him when he came back. I remain convinced that seeing him was much cooler than anything we would have seen on an early morning walk.
In the afternoon we agreed to go on a boat ride, which was less a “ride” than it was alternating between floating and idling in a boat while looking for animals. We saw some monkeys, and a number of turtles and Caymans (look like little Alligators) and I got a video of a bird that was hopping around near the water. MS slept through most of this, which I don’t blame her for since it was pretty slow going. There are only so many birds you can see, or turtles you can stare at before the novelty wears off.
The rest of the day was fairly relaxing. By this point we were familiar with the other people on the tour. There were a number of women who seemed to talk endlessly who we’d avoid sitting near at each meal – three of them were there on vacation together. One of them, an Asian woman (which I only bring up because her cultural background may explain some of her behavior) told us that she was staying with the other two women but had to get a seperate room after the first night because one of her companions snored so loudly that she couldn’t sleep. She said desperately that she was on vacation and it wasn’t right that she couldn’t even sleep. I guess it was kind of her not to point out which of the two women was the snoring culprit. They chatted beside her and pretended not to hear their companion complaining to perfect strangers about their sleeping habits.
Day 4: Leaving Torguguero and heading for La Fortuna
Luckily we were able to depart at a resonable hour, and after breakfast re-boarded our boat for the ride back. The ride back was as pleasant as the ride in. When we were within 15 minutes of our destination, we had to slow down because a cow was crossing the river. After hitting the docks, we boarded the van and headed back to the location we had breakfast at 2 days before, only this time it was for lunch. When we arrived for lunch, there were pitchers of juice on the tables. Our Asian-lady friend took the liberty of using her utensils to stir up each of the pitchers for us. We couldn’t figure out why she found that necessary.
Our ride from the lunch location down to La Fortuna, where the Arenal Volcano is, was to take 3 hours. Our driver was named Marvin and we had a van all to ourselves. None of the people we’d met on the first part of the tour would be with us for the rest of the trip. The van ride was nice and peaceful. Marvin pointed out a number of farms, rivers, and other sights on our way. That evening he dropped us off at the Volcano Lodge, which was a great hotel. Each room had a porch in the back with rocking chairs and a view of the volcano.
Day 5: La Fortuna and Tabacon Springs
The morning was very relaxing. MS slept, and I sat out on the porch, drank coffee, and read. Unfortunately, although it was very scenic, it was too overcast to see lava flowing from the volcano. Most of our view was like this. We had lunch at the hotel, and went to the Tabacon Springs for dinner.
There was a free shuttle to the springs, which were awesome. When we showed up we had to check in. While we were waiting, we overheard some guy complaining to a woman at the desk that “you have to be a millionaire to come here.” What it turns out he was complaining about was the $10 deposit to rent a locker (which is refunded when you return the key). He said that he only had $10, and he needed it for the ride back. His wife (or girlfriend) displayed a surprising lack of humiliation. Although I myself am not a millionaire, I was able to use a credit card to rent a locker and some towels for MS and myself.
The springs were beautiful, and after dinner we went swimming. The main pool had a waterslide and a bar. We went to a more remote pool. There were lots of pools littered around a dimly-lit network of sidewalks. The pools were warm, although different pools had different temperatures, so you could pick a warmer or cooler one to swim in.
Day 6: Leaving La Fortuna and heading to Guanacaste
We ate breakfast and headed out at 9am for the beaches of Guanacoste to finish our trip. Our driver was Mario and was very friendly. He informed us that, unfortunately, we’d be picking up another 2 people for the ride down to Guanacoste, but they’d be getting out halfway through our 4 hour journey.
We pull up at the other hotel, and Mario gets out to find the other couple. He comes back after speaking to the people at the front desk with a smile on his face. Like most of our drivers, Mario spoke limited English, so he spoke to MS who knows some Spanish. He tells her that the two people were gay, and makes a little fairy-like hand gesture (as if he had wings). MS didn’t get what he was talking about… she understood every Spanish word except “gay.” Me as the English-only person knew exactly what he was talking about, so I translated for her.
The guys who got on were American, but very bizarre-looking. One of them had long brown hair, was pale white, very skinny, and was in a “snippy” mood. The other had long blonde hair, blue sunglasses, and although was probably the more odd-looking of the pair, was much nicer. The brown haired guy had a little bit of an attitude with Mario, asking him questions in broken Spanish and becoming visibly upset when he didn’t understand. We stopped, at his request, to use the bathroom. They got out and went to the bathroom together, which Mario laughed at. He slapped me on the back and told MS that I should watch out. About an hour after our bathroom stop, they got out at their resort, and we continued on.
It was a long ride, more like 5 and a half hours, and near the end of the trip the roads were exceptionally bad. We were happy to arrive at the Hotel Tamarindo Diria which seemed very nice. The weather was hot, the pool was a good size, and the beach looked beautiful. The kid at the front desk had kind of an attitude, but other than that the place was A-ok. MS took a nap while I got the lay of the land. This area was much more developed, and was booming with growth. Condo ads and Century 21 signs were everywhere. There was a convenient Burger King so I grabbed a Whopper just to see how it’d be. It was very similar to the US’ aside from the cheese, which I think was cheddar instead of American. When MS woke up we had dinner at the hotel. She had the local lobster, which was very good.
Day 7-8: Guanacoste (Tamarindo)
The next 2 days at the hotel were very relaxing. We layed by the pool, read, and at this point had some internet access, so we were able to get our e-mail checked. There were a lot of restaurants in town, and we tried several of them. We were even able to find a place that served “Nachos as big as your ass” which were, in addition to being large, quite tasty.
On the last day we swam in the ocean (this is the Pacific Ocean now, not the Caribbean) and had more lobster for dinner.
Day 9: The trip home
We were happy that we were going to get into Seattle by 3pm, however the downside of that is that we had to leave the hotel at 4am. The roads were the same ones we’d come in on – largely unpaved and bumpy. I got a short video of what the ride was like. It was a little rough, especially at that hour. We stopped at a hotel to pick up one other person to take to the airport, but he never showed. So, we left without him.
The Liberia airport was incredibly small for an international airport. There were all of two planes there, but each one was from a major US carrier. I don’t believe there were more than 2 gates at the airport – hands down the smallest one I’ve ever been to. By the time we arrived home we had been traveling for 14 hours straight.
Although we were happy to have seen so much of the country, it was probably too much traveling for a 9-day period. If others are considering visiting, I would probably recommend skipping Tortuguero and trying to minimize the amount of travel. If you want to see a rainforest, it might make more sense to visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest (which we never went to) simply because it’s much closer to the Volcano. The roads are so poor that a lot of driving can be brutal, and it takes more time than you might think from looking at a map.