Costa Rica – Around San Jose

Leaving Arenal we head towards the capital city of San Jose. Or try to. I don’t have any wireless as it’s been easy to find wifi when parked so far. I’m using OSMAnd which allows me to download and store maps for offline use while driving. It has worked well so far but not today. We get about 20 minutes south of La Fortuna when the road is blocked at a bridge which is under serious construction. The guy at the bridge tells us the only way is back to La Fortuna then east to San Jose. Throw in some more construction and terrible traffic going into San Jose and a three hour trip turned into six and a half hours. We check into the hotel late in the afternoon and find a local stir fry restaurant for dinner, then back to the hotel and spend the evening watching Harry Potter in Spanish.

Next morning we are off to the Toucan Rescue Ranch not far outside San Jose. We arrive a little early and grab a delicious lunch at Sibu Chocolate. They have delicious, if pricey, chocolate. I was afraid to ask how much one of these giant bars cost. Lisa stocked up on some smaller packages for people back home.

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We get checked in at the Toucan Rescue Ranch and take the afternoon tour. Despite the name their primary purpose is sloth rescue, although they do have a ton of toucans and other animals. They raise abandoned babies with the eventual goal of releasing them into the wild.

The sloths in the chairs are “teenagers”, not babies but have a way to go to full adulthood. There are six or seven there and they just spend their day in a big sloth heap, eating occasionally. There are some older sloths that can’t be released so this is their permanent home.

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We are staying overnight here at the ranch, so after the tour we are free to wander around and look at the animals for the rest of the day. Our little cabin is next to the owls, and we hear them hooting softly all night. On the other side are the large toucan enclosures, the call of the toucans sounds almost like frogs chirping.

The big event is in the morning, when we join the real baby sloths for their breakfast. The tiny ones are fed by eye dropper every few hours, while the bigger ones are able to eat soft flower petals. It’s very entertaining.

 

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We then spend three nights at an Airbnb southeast of San Jose. This is a little different, just a room in the family’s house. It’s a very cool house, the husband is an architect and designed and built the house, and has another one in progress next door. They make us feel welcome, the first night they have a couple of high school and college age nieces visiting and we join them for a big family dinner.

Tired of not being able to actually see into a volcano we drive to Volcan Irazu, the highest volcano in Costa Rica at 11,260′. It’s not too difficult to visit as the parking lot is only about 1km from the crater rim. It’s a little disappointing as all of the pictures show a stunning bright green lake in the crater, but apparently last year there was a fracture in the lake bottom and all of the water drained back into the volcano. It’s a great view though, it was cloudy down below but we have driven up above the clouds.

There are supposed to be good hiking trails in another section of the park, at the end of a rough 4×4 trail. We take it as far as I can go but I am stopped by a 40 degree hill made of loose softball sized rocks. Even in 4-Low with the center differential locked I can’t get up more than a couple of feet before sliding back down.

We turn around and on the way out Lisa yells “WHAT IS THAT??? STOP!!”

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It’s the Sanatorio Duran, originally a TB sanitorium then used as an insane asylum, orphanage, and a prison. Supposed to be the most haunted spot in Costa Rica. It’s been closed since the volcano erupted in the 1960’s but today for just about $1 each anybody can go inside and play. It turns out that one of Lisa’s lifelong ambitions is to play in an abandoned insane asylum so this is her day.

It is pretty creepy inside, it’s mostly empty but you can see fixtures in the old lab, operating rooms, examining rooms.

The handprints are in the children’s wing, where young TB patients lived. All that is left of the pharmacy is the sign.

Next day we drive to Orosi, a small town in a scenic valley. It’s a little wet so we skip hiking in the National Park nearby. It takes a couple of hours to drive a big loop around the valley, stopping in the town and visiting the church dating back to colonial days (1743) and the ruins of another church from the 1600s which was destroyed in one of the many earthquakes since.

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Costa Rica – Arenal

After two nights in Liberia we leave the heat behind and head to the mountains. Our destination is La Fortuna, at the foot of Volcan Arenal and surrounded by rain forest. It’s a popular tourist destination, full of hot springs, ziplines, rain forest, and ATV tours. When we arrive at the end of Lake Arenal we have a great view of the volcano while eating lunch.

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We’re staying three nights in a cabanita a few miles outside of town, with a good view of the volcano. It tends to be cloudy, so seeing the entire volcano is rare. Some people visit and never see it.

Lisa says this place has the best shower of her life. It’s all rainwater so the water is very soft, and the shower is huge with a gigantic waterfall head, great water pressure and endless hot water.

On the first night we are driving into La Fortuna for dinner when we see a large group of people standing on a bridge. I’m wondering what the big attraction is when Lisa suddenly yells out “SLOTH!!!”  I just pulled around the corner and threw my flashers on (in Central America pretty much anywhere on any road is fair game for a parking spot) and Lisa jumped out and scurried to the sloth bridge. After awhile I get myself parked a little less obnoxiously and join her; it turns out that there are actually two sloths in the tree just ten feet off the bridge, a mom and a baby. They don’t seem to notice the crowd, they’re just hanging there eating leaves verrry slowly.

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For our first adventure tour we go to Mistico Park for some canyoneering.

 

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On this trip you make your way down a deep narrow rain forest canyon towards the river, using ziplines, rappels, hanging bridges, wading, and jumping. It was a ton of fun, probably the best activity in Costa Rica.

 

Arenal is an active volcano, but dormant since 2000. It erupted many times from 1968 to 1998 and although dormant it still emits deadly gases, so people are not allowed anywhere near the volcano. The closest you can get is on the 1968 trail, which goes up into the lava fields from the first, and largest, eruption in 1968. It’s a good hike, passing through many different types of vegetation and of course the lava fields.

 

 

On the last day we go ziplining, I think it’s mandatory in Costa Rica.  The longer ones were incredible, speeding along for half a mile at 650 feet above the rain forest overlooking Lake Arenal and the volcano it really does feel like flying

Another video, getting good use of the GoPro

Costa Rica – Liberia

Crossing the border from Nicaragua to Costa Rica was not too difficult, just long. At the Nicaragua exit there were several buses discharging people into the long line for immigration, so we stood there for quite awhile. Had to pay $2USD for immigration then another $1USD for a local tax, kind of strange since neither Nicaragua or Costa Rica uses the US dollar. They wouldn’t accept my $1 coin left over from El Salvador either, had to be a paper dollar. Once the customs paperwork was was done we then had to find the police officer hiding in the chaotic parking lot to sign off on the papers, then on to Nicaragua. Their immigration office was in between buses so that went quickly, then started the customs paperwork at one office then walked a couple of blocks down the road to buy insurance and complete the temporary import permit. Probably about 3 hours in total.

I got a beach condo from VRBO for the week outside Liberia, near Playa Potrero. The complex is nice but almost deserted. The condo is right on the pool and has cold AC and decent wifi so I’m set for the week.

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Short walk to some nice beaches, also almost deserted this time of year.

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Not much else around but a handful of beach restaurants and bars, with one tiny grocery store. It’s a relaxing week.

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After the week on the beach I went to Liberia for a couple of days, at an Airbnb in town. I figured since I have a couple of days to kill I’ll try to get the yellow fever vaccine I’ve been meaning to take care of. It’s hard to figure out if I really need it, the rules are complicated depending on which countries you’ve been in and where you are going but better safe than sorry. The Liberian Ministry of Health is just a couple of blocks from the AirBnB but they tell me they don’t do vaccines, just issue the yellow fever certificate. They suggested that I try a pharmacy, so I go into the first one I see, which forwards me on to another one in downtown Liberia (which is all of about 4 blocks by 3 blocks). Arriving at the downtown pharmacy they tell me that they do have one vaccine left but I’ll have to wait for the doctor to come back from lunch in an hour or so. Finally the doctor arrives, I pay about $100USD and get the shot along with all the paperwork and the box the vaccine came in. Next day back to the Ministry of Health with the paperwork and the box, fill out more paperwork and I have my official certificate of yellow fever vaccination. Good for the next 10 years.

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Moved to a much fancier Airbnb near the airport in preparation for Lisa’s arrival the next day. Nice two bedroom condo in a big development, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Huge iguanas hanging out by the pool. It’s convenient though, when I’m getting in the car to go to the airport Lisa’s plane flies right overhead, so I know it’s on time (the Liberia airport has just a handful of international flights each day so when I see the Southwest plane going by I know it’s her)

Lisa’s plane comes in

Liberia is in the northwest of Costa Rica, the hottest and driest part of the country. We spend one day hiking in Rincon de la Vieja national park. The trail to the top of the volcano is closed due to recent volcanic activity and deadly gases (it actually erupted after we were there in May and June) so we take the trail to the La Cangreja waterfall instead. The first half of the trail is through forest but once we break out into the open it is pretty hot. From up in the hills you can get a glimpse of Nicaragua and Lake Nicaragua off in the distance.

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The final section of the trail drops steeply and roughly into the canyon, which is nice because it’s about 20 degrees cooler near the water.

When we arrive at the waterfall we jump right in and cool off. The water is perfect after a long sweaty hike.

This picture is like the one you see on Tripadvisor etc, just the waterfall with nobody in it. I figured it would be crowded but no, just two people getting ready to leave. We had the whole waterfall to ourselves for about half an hour before people started showing up. By the time we left it was starting to get crowded.

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Swimming in the waterfall:

Costa Rica – La Cangreja

By now it was into the full heat of the afternoon and the sunny part of the hike was quite hot. We made it back to the forest and stopped by a stream to cool off. Lots of interesting plants around.

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Ran into a bunch of Capuchin monkeys along the trail. They were not happy to see us, they were breaking off branches from the trees and throwing them down onto the trail at us.

In downtown Liberia we found a good restaurant and had a typical Costa Rican dinner, heavy on the rice, beans, plantains, and chicken. After dinner Lisa passed on the cakes and got the first of many Costa Rican iced coffees.

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