Today we continue with our blog post on an amazing Costa Rican adventure. This tiny Central American country is teeming with fascinating wildlife, incredible nature and ultimate thrills in equal measures. In Part I, Aled Bryon told us of ´The Land of Turtles'; Tortuguero. In this post, he details his other highlights, including active volcanoes, waterfalls, exotic birds, surf, sand...and of course 'Pura Vida'!
Don’t miss Part I of this very personal story!
My Costa Rica trip had many incredible highlights; the ones I loved the most were:
La Fortuna and Volcán Arenal
Not long ago, La Fortuna was the archetypal one-horse town before the development of tourism in Costa Rica turned it into one of the country’s top destinations. While there is still not a whole lot to see or do in the town itself (other than dodge the many tour operators that have set up on every block), the main attraction (and the reason for the operators) is undoubtedly because it is a perfect base camp for the formidable Volcán Arenal, which was one of the world’s most active volcanoes until 2010.
While the volcano has now stopped spewing its lava liquid (fortunately I managed to witness one of its last explosions in September 2010), it is still an impressive sight and casts an imposing shadow over the tiny town of La Fortuna which lies at its feet.
Luckily, while the volcano is no longer very active, the molten rock deep below the surface still feeds the town’s second biggest attraction; the volcanic springs. Although there is nothing quite like bathing in warm natural water, the springs are what you might expect – touristy and expensive – so you might not quite get that ‘natural’ experience you were hoping for.
As an alternative, check out the La Fortuna waterfall, an hour or so trek (or pony ride) from the town. The walk is well worth it, as along the way you get incredible views over the rainforest and the waterfall itself before the 500+ step descent to the pool below, where you can admire the huge cascade of water as you take a bathe in the plunge basin.
Monteverde and Santa Elena
The majority of travelers who visit La Fortuna go straight on to Santa Elena (a village nestled way up in the cloud forests of Monteverde). In doing so, it is necessary to make a jeep-boat-jeep trip and brave the very rough and rocky roads up through the hills of forest. Like so much of Costa Rica, the long and arduous journey is usually always worth it when you discover the wonderful things that wait. In fact, the notoriously haggard roads leading to and from Montverde are that way for a reason – to stem the growing number of visitors – however it often does little to deter people from visiting one of country’s greatest sustainable tourism projects.
Primarily, Montverde is a birdwatchers paradise, and the perfect place to catch a glimpse of the quetzal, one of Central America’s most famous birds. Guided walks are available to take you around the protected forest, and it is highly recommended, as without the incredible knowledge and skill of a guide (ours could recognize and imitate the calls of over a hundred different bird species), getting that perfect photo might prove elusive.
On the other end of the spectrum, Monteverde is also one of Costa Rica’s adventure tourism capitals. If spotting endangered birds is not your thing, then throwing yourself from tree to tree (on a zip wire) hundreds of feet above the ground may well be. If you’re a thrill seeker, then this is a must do. Or a ‘Do and Die’ as I like to call it.
Puerto Viejo and Bocas del Toro (Panama)
If it’s the party and surf you are looking for, then you’ll find it here in abundance, and then some. While Puerto Viejo has long been the hardcore surfer’s staple in Costa Rica, many of whom come to ride the country’s biggest break – the famous Salsa Brava, it’s the laid back surfer vibe seamlessly blended with chilled-out Caribbean culture which gives this beach town its unique feel, and a place on the to-do list of most backpackers visiting the country.
With the reggae music, Bob Marley merchandise, and wide availability of weed, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve been teleported to Jamaica, yet what it lacks in the traditional Tico experience, it makes up for in pure hedonism. Countless hammock hotels and bars line the beachfront, meaning you’re never far away from the nearest party, or the next skinny-dip. It’s not surprising to hear then, that most travelers who come here early in their trip end up staying far longer than planned (myself included) or even scratching off the rest of their itinerary.
It makes it that much harder to leave when just over the border (in Panamanian territory) is perhaps the region’s foremost fiesta destination, Bocas del Toro – or the Bull’s Mouths – a group of paradisiacal islands that are Central America’s answer to Ibiza (but only 30 cent a beer!). While this may not be to everyone’s taste, if you’re young and virile (or maybe just virile) then Puerto Viejo and Las Bocas may well eat you up and spit you back out again. If not, then trying to catch a wave on the Salsa Brava most certainly will.