Wildlife, landscapes, sea, rainforests, exotic birds, rare animals… Did anyone say Costa Rica? A brief foray into a green Central American republic that never ceases to amaze.
In the middle of a sabbatical year in the US we discovered that the winter vacation of the schools and that of the universities coincides for the most part. Which is a very popular winter destination in the US, and can be reached relatively easily on many flights via Miami or other destinations.
Another Travel Guide to Costa Rica
We decided to build a 12-day trip using the star method – four locations that served as a good base for trips in the area, without having to go through a hotel every night. Costa Rica is a small country overall that offers a huge variety of sites and areas. It should be taken into account that this is a country with a pace that is a bit reminiscent of Sinai – it is worth giving the time and absorbing the atmosphere around, not running all the time from place to place. Naturally we did not manage to do everything, and so important areas like the beaches on the Caribbean side or the famous Corcovado Park were left out of the picture of the trip. No choice, we’ll have to go back…
Costa Rica has a number of international airports, but most of them are small and serve a small number of companies. We landed at the main airport in the capital San Jose. An important tip for planners – the road infrastructure in Costa Rica is strange to say the least, and many roads suddenly become dirt roads (at best…), there is nothing to talk about road lighting. If the flight lands at night, you should sleep in the airport area and rent a car the next morning to start the trip. San Jose is home to about two million Costa Ricans (5 million in total). You can find in the city and in the vicinity of the airport malls, restaurants, large supermarkets, car rental – we did not stay to find out what else is there. A few more practical words – the local currency is Colon and 614 of it are worth one dollar. Almost everywhere we were happy to use a credit card, and almost everywhere was happy to accept dollars so there is no real reason to convert a large amount of money into local colonies. Our main use was for tips, although even there dollars would do the job.
Our first stop was at the Arenal Volcano. Arenal is an active volcano (last eruption in 2010) located about 90 km from the capital San Jose and rises to an altitude of 1,633 meters above sea level. The mountain environment is rich in rainforests, rushing rivers, hot natural springs, hiking trails and hundreds of different and varied attractions The town of La Fortuna is located right at the foot of the mountain and offers a variety of accommodation, restaurants and services for visitors. This was our first encounter with the rainforest in Costa Rica – among the many attractions in the area we chose Rainforest tops, rafting on a raging river, a trip to the impressive La Foruna waterfall, a dip in a hot spring site and a fascinating (and delicious!) Tour of local coffee and cocoa farms.
Coffee and chocolate tour and tasting – https://donjuantours.com/arenal-chocolate-coffee-tours
Rafting – https://www.costaricadescents.com
An Italian restaurant that the kids flew at – https://vagabondocr.com
Cafe with breakfast and especially fine coffee – https://redfrogcoffeeroaster.negocio.site
The town of Tamarindo
From Arnel we continued to the seaside town of Tamarindo. A 130km drive lasts at least three hours, on roads that change from a highway (relatively, yes?…) Of two lanes in each direction to a narrow dirt path in a forest. Navigation in the country is not very complicated, but it is almost impossible without internet maps.We bought local SIM cards in San Jose, mainly for the use of navigation software – it is very worthwhile to download the travel routes that will be stored on the mobile phone, as not all places have full cellular reception.
Tamarindo is a small town on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The town itself and the area offer a combination of amazing beaches, nightlife and many and varied restaurants. It is a favorite destination for windsurfers and surfers as well as for nature lovers who come to the area to watch the sea turtles hatch. The Corona period brought a new kind of visitor to the area – digital nomads who work via computer and via the internet, and enjoy the comfortable weather and everything the sea and the whole area has to offer. There is no end to boat owners who offer different types of boating and water sports to the many visitors. We opted for a sunset cruise on Catamaran – a leisurely cruise between the beautiful bays in the area, with opportunities for immersion in the sea and of course a magnificent sunset to finish.
Costa Ricans have a motto that is repeated almost everywhere – Pura Vida (Pure Life)! It’s useful for almost anything – hello, goodbye, appetite, cheers, thank you… The phrase is proudly displayed on a million shirts, hats and everything else in the many souvenir shops. Not a bad motto overall… Most of the locals we met were simple, kind and happy people. In restaurants we received generally excellent service and in general it seems that the population – and especially the large part who make a living from tourism – is happy for visitors after two difficult years.
Hotel – We were at the Pasatiempo Hotel which is right in the center of town. A small and simple hotel, with a good breakfast and a small and pleasant pool, and the big advantage – you can walk to the beach, restaurants and bars – https://hotelpasatiempo.com
Coffee – Excellent coffee and perfect banana bread in a small local cafe in the center of town called Nordico Coffee House. Great place for an hour work with the laptop. https://coffeenordico.com
Restaurants – quite by chance we came across two great restaurants, both of which are Israeli owned. It turns out that the place has a small community that has grown in recent years. Excellent Asian food at Green Papaya, and surprisingly quality Israeli food at Falafel Bar, both in a central and accessible location.
Monte Verde – The Green Mountain
Fertile Vida Tamarindo! Continue to Monteverde – the green mountain, a 160 km drive that takes 3-4 hours on paper and in practice a little longer. The trip starts on reasonable roads that become narrower and steeper as you get closer to the destination. The small town is located in the heart of the cloud forest – a tropical forest In a mountainous area characterized by high humidity and low cloudiness at the tops of the trees.This is a relatively rare phenomenon that has made Monte Verde a global center of interest, one that frequently appears in the list of wonders and places to visit before disappearing… The place is unlike any other place I have visited. It is of life in a cloud.By the way, one of the favorite phenomena of high humidity in the air is the formation of an entire arc that lasts for hours (as long as the sun shines and is not covered by clouds) and changes its place throughout the day according to the angle of the sun.
If Tamarindo is the capital of the sea and calm life, Monte Verde is the capital of hiking and nature. There are many attractions in the town and the area that bring you as close as possible to nature, and of course in the official nature reserves in the area you can walk independently. From the many and varied options, we chose an attraction that is one of the highlights of the trip in the area – omega (zipline) surfing over the treetops in the rainforest. We have done this already in several places in the world, but never at the altitude and length of the trails we encountered in Costa Rica. You are secured with a steel cable harness and glide at insane speeds – after the initial excitement fades a bit you start looking around and breathing in a view you will not be able to see anywhere else in the world. A rainforest from the tops, in the distance on the ground rippling rivers, and in Monte Verde it all happens in a cloud. Each such omega line ends in a small wooden platform, you disconnect from the cable and move on to the next cable – our route included about ten of these, with the last one being קילומטר kilometers long… definitely an unforgettable experience. The package we purchased at Salvature Park included in addition to the Omegas also a nice walking route through suspension bridges in the rainforest when at the end a cascading waterfall, and a particularly exciting visit to the Lazy Shelter – those weird mammals who spend most of their lives on the tree and characterized by slow motion. The sloth, recently hooked up to the national emblem of Costa Rica, is advancing at a dizzying speed of 0.25 mph and burning around 11 calories a day… After our hopes of meeting sloths in nature were dashed, the shelter in Monte Verde provided us with a meeting of about ten likable creatures and explanations from a professional guide.
In Monte Verde there is a particularly impressive balance between the desire to develop tourism as a source of income and the need to preserve nature, and especially the rare cloud forest. The roads in the area are less developed and harder to reach, fewer hotels and rooms are available for tourists, and in general tourism takes place in smaller numbers than in other places we have seen. The direct result of this effort is felt immediately at the entrance to the town – nature is present there in all its glory. The rainforest is seen from everywhere, the animals are all around, rare birds roam around… and yet, the place has excellent tourist services, restaurants, laundries and everything you need.
Important recommendation – If you are a lover of nature, animals and / or photography, it is very worthwhile to hire a local guide for a private trip or join a small guided group. Our ability to reach a new place in a completely different landscape and be able to identify and locate animals we do not know is limited… We should use local knowledge. A tip I got from one of the guides brought me to a lovely cafe called Stella’s located on the edge of town, near the Cloud Forest. Beyond the excellent coffee and pastries, at the back there is a large garden and many feeding facilities for the birds that come to eat bananas laid out for them by the waiters. One can sit at an indoor table outside, drink an excellent cappuccino, and watch from a distance some of the most exotic birds living in our world. Not a bad deal overall…
Monte Verde recommendations
Hotel – Choosing a hotel in an unfamiliar place is always a gamble. We use Trip Advisor reviews to reduce risks and in Monte Verde it worked great. Ficus Hotel – Large family rooms, balconies overlooking the sunset and a good breakfast https://ficuslodge.com/en
Attractions – a package of omegas (zipline), a trip on suspension bridges and a visit to a lazy shelter – https://selvatura.com
Manuel Antonio National Park
From Monte Verde to the last stop on the journey – the Manuel Antonio National Park area. A trip that lasts three hours, about like any other trip on this journey of ours in Costa Rica…
Leaving the mountainous area with rainforests and clouds, and slowly the landscape changes until you reach an endless beach with bays adorned with palm trees. Manuel Antonio National Park is considered a real gem – a nature reserve with beaches, rainforest and wild jungle, and many species of rare animals. Unfortunately we did not see the reserve – the information on the internet was not up to date, and by the day we arrived the quota of visitors was already full and it was not possible to tour the site. So while we were not in the park, we spent a lovely day in the town of the same name (Manuel Antonio) – a beach town with dozens of options for water sports and endless restaurants. Another day we went for a cruise in the mangrove swamp. The sailor brings the boat to the shore, knocks hard on iron bars, and out of nowhere white-faced cappuccinos come out and join the family for a brief moment… Later in the cruise we got a close look – some would say too close – at some large crocodiles lying on the shore. Another day and that’s it – 12 days in Costa Rica have passed and they have to start the journey back home. Fertile Vida Costa Rica.
Tips for a trip to Costa Rica
- Car Rental – The stock is quite limited, so you should start with a car, right together with booking hotels. A large part of the roads are broken (at best!) – you do not need a 4 * 4 vehicle, but it is very worthwhile for a relatively tall vehicle
- Food – In most touristy places there is a diverse selection of restaurants. The local menu is based on rice, beans and chicken in several versions – there is usually a variety of fruits (and excellent smoothies!), Vegetables should be stocked in the many supermarkets.
- The roads Not simple – it is not something to be deterred, but from our experience I recommend planning so that the trips will be during the day and not at night
- Telephone and Internet – We bought a local SIM card in San Jose, with a surfing package. In some packages the navigation software (Wise for example) is included without a volume limit. Overall worked fine, although in some of the more remote places there is no reception at all.
Map of Costa Rica:
In the top photo: a white-faced cappuccino
Amir Yerchi He is a landscape photographer living in Kibbutz Kabri in the Western Galilee. Feel free to follow on Instagram – @amiryarchi
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