Pure life! Welcome to Costa Rica, amazing home of rainforests, volcanoes, beaches, big cities and small villages. The people here are warm and friendly, and there is enough adventure for everyone. The culture is inviting, the scenery is magnificent and the weather is right. This is a "green" country. People, mostly a mixture of Spanish and Indian, are called thicanos. The language is Spanish, although many people speak English. "Pure life" is the tican way to say "enjoy life!"
Although familiar in many ways, Costa Rican culture has enough unknowns to be intriguing. Driving from the airport to the hotel in San Jose, we saw a cow grazing on the overpass and a horse trotting down the road.
We spent the first day at the Gran Hotel, a luxurious 1930s style accommodation. It is the only hotel in the country considered historic. During lunch and dinner, a piano concert was underway. Very chic! Breakfast was typical of Tican: beans, rice, chorizo and cheese, with strong coffee. The staff were very friendly and helpful. The maitre d 'Rudolpho was especially kind. We visited the zoo, the National Museum and a butterfly garden. While almost everyone we met was warm and friendly, hold your bag and camera. Theft can be a problem. An outdoor market, or market, has clothes, books, souvenirs, bags and much, much more. Great shopping! We chose Nuestre Tierra for lunch. Lunch was cerviche, a delicious mix of shrimp and fish. Once again, we were warmly welcomed by the staff. After an afternoon of pilgrimage, dinner at the hotel was Robespierre, a wonderfully tender steak dish flavored with rosemary, thyme and sage.
Cars could only drive on alternate days, depending on the last digit of the license plate, odd or even. This reduces traffic and air pollution. We didn't need the car because we were everywhere! Stay in areas where there are people and do not enter less crowded neighborhoods to avoid problems. The city of San Jose is vibrant but also crowded. Most shops are completely open on the street side. Shopping is diverse, just as it is in any big city. All over town are sculptures of cows: dancing cows, chess cows, pink cows. It's called the Cow Parade. It is very capricious!
We visited the small National Theater Museum to discover the history of Costa Rica. Early people wore beautiful gold ornaments. We saw native animal exhibits and more. The square was great for watching and feeding the pigeons. Everywhere there are fresh produce booths and small kiosks selling magazines, toys, snacks and the like. Makes a very colorful city scene! The parks offer green spaces and peaceful oases. The mountains are always in sight. We wandered to the zoo, where alligators, tropical birds, big cats, monkeys, snakes and brightly colored plants consumed us. Ponds and streams have created a natural habitat.
The Spanish influence is evident in ornate iron and decorative wood. At the Costa Rican National Museum, we discover more about this beautiful nation. There are primitive native dioramas, 16th-century Spanish cannons, funerary customs, ceramics, native animal exhibits, colonial furniture, displays highlighting the coffee and sugar industries and the painted ox carts that are part of the culture.
After a breakfast of fried manioc and sausage in tomato sauce, which was very tasty, we left the city for the country, driving along the two-lane highway with hundreds of other cars. At one of the sodas, or snack bars, we stop for lunch. It was next to a calm river and was very nice. Most sodas open on the sides to catch the breeze. We enjoyed the ride, seeing the mountains, forests and small villages. Each has a church, school, soccer field and soda. We stopped at Do It Center, a tican version of Lowe's or Home Depot. Checking it was fun! There were toys, kitchenware and children's appliances. It is a nonprofit community organization. Our trip took us to the Pacific beach in Playa Hermosa to the El Valero hotel. Our hotel features a pool, private beach and outdoor dining. It was the opposite of San Jose, being very small and quiet. It's a paradise! A small animal made some interesting drawings of doodles in the sand! We swam in the warm water and watched the bright red sunset. As it is near the equator, it was already dark at 7:00. The staff, once again, was very nice. Dinner was delicious, a Chateaubriand. It is made with meat, mustard, mushrooms and sherry. Our room was nice, and a balcony catches the ocean breeze.
Another healthy tican breakfast of tortilla, cheese, beans and rice with strong coffee helped us start the day. We spent the morning diving and swimming. We were practically alone on the beach! We saw some very beautiful fish and found some unusual shells. The water was very clear and hot. What a great way to start the day! We were curious about Play del Coco, a seaside resort not far away. A short drive took us to a colorful and sleepy little town. We shopped at the Market (shoes, dresses, masks, CDs, etc.) and had a cool drink in the secret garden of a soda. One of the bars was called The Louisiana Restaurant and Bar. Our Lady of Monte. Carmel is the catholic church of the city. It is open to the public, is a very beautiful church and a good place to have a moment of silence. We enjoyed our long walk on the beach. On the way back, we bought at a supermarket, which was much smaller than an American supermarket, but we ate Costa Rican food and so it was very interesting.
Our dinner was tapas at the Ginger near the beach: summer rolls, salmon caprese, Aztec soup and Ahi tuna. It was all delicious! We tasted the native liqueur, guaro. It is sugar cane, very popular with Americans. It was very sweet and we didn't care about the taste, although in a mojito it was better. A walk on the beach in the moonlight and it was time to spend the night. Tomorrow I dive!
Today was exciting because I went diving! Marine fauna was abundant! We say many varieties of fish and sea turtles. The water was clean; the guides knew their websites. I would love to do more on another trip! This was my first dive in the Pacific. Greg sat on the deck and went sightseeing. Then we headed to Playa Panama on the winding road, which consisted of a small hotel and a beach. Great to really get away! We arrived at the hotel to find the electricity. Apparently this happens often and it is someone who guesses when he returns. We all made it, and today was the hotel barbecue. The food was delicious, of course. Many people from the community came in and we met some Americans now living in Playa Hermosa. We had some interesting conversations! We play with the bartender! The day was good! We really enjoyed Costa Rica!
Now that we know the beach, we want to get acquainted with a volcano! Mt. Arenal is an active volcano in central Costa Rica. The roads were winding, narrow, mountainous and gave us beautiful views! We took pictures of course! We stopped at a German bakery / cafe / indigenous craft store combination! German food in a Central American country was a turnaround. As we ate our bratwursts, a man on horseback trotted down the street and then back. We don't see it in the cities of Florida! We navigated the small market and continued on our way. Arenal Lake is breathtaking! We realize that wildflowers are a combination of tropical and those we grow at home, making them quite exotic. We stopped for coffee at a small café overlooking the lake. A security gate at the entrance reminded us that there is a crime problem if we are not careful. The trip to Arenal Park took us 6 hours, due to the unpaved roads and our stops. We saw a monkey cross the street. We spent the night at Mt. Arenal Observatory Lodge with a clear view of the volcano! We heard and felt the crashes, and after dark we saw the bright red lava coming down the mountain! It was an amazing experience! How many times can you sit in bed and watch a volcano! The park has hiking, windsurfing, fishing, cycling and more. Walked in the rainforest, an exciting experience! When we reached a waterfall, we would dive into the pool to cool off. Everywhere we saw hummingbirds and butterflies! Two specialty drinks are offered at the bar, both burning in honor of the volcano! Tomorrow we will go rafting!
The rafting adventure was magnificent! We ran in three rivers with capable guides. Our guide, Tony, took an attractive blue poisonous frog to show us. We jump, jump and fly across the waters. After the exciting raft trip, we had a tasty lunch with our group at a Tican steakhouse. A sloth hanging on the tree caught our attention. A quick stroll through the charming city of La Fortuna allows us to appreciate Costa Rican culture, especially the laid-back pace of life and the appreciation for education in this country. We like the colors, the food, the music, the friendliness.
Santa Elena is a mountainous city, reached by a single very narrow, unpaved and winding road. There are holes, no guard rails, and a stream crossed the road at one point. It was dark on the way. I didn't know if we could make it to the top. However, Santa Elena is worth it all! It is a splendid place to visit! We stayed at the Finca Valverde Hotel. Once we followed the porter down a long, winding path, we were able to settle into our hotel room in the middle of the rainforest.
We sat on the porch drinking coffee and watching the kinkajous, toucans and other tropical birds. After breakfast, there was the Orchid Garden. It was heavenly! So many species! Varied colors, sizes and shapes. There were Chunches, a coffee shop / bookstore / laundry room. This is a great place with a wide range of books and many food options! This is where we met Cindye, a Texan who loves living here and knows where to find something! There was the Serpentarium. It was full of snakes and lizards of all kinds. There was the Coffee / Sugarcane Plantation Tour. We rode in an ox cart and made candy at the end of the ride to take home. How many times have we been able to do that! So much to do in one day! There were hotels, restaurants, shops, all with a small-town flavor. The city is very small so walking is the best way to get around. At the end of the day we were tired, but very happy to have seen and done so much. And tomorrow, we close the canopy!
Today's breakfast was at the Treehouse Hotel and Restaurant, which has a real tree growing through the roof! Tican coffee has become our favorite. It is strong and full of flavor. We ate warmly because today was our Canopy Tour in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest in Selvatura Park. It was raining, but we were in the rainforest! There are trails and gardens to occupy the time while waiting to close. A walk in the sky was exciting and gave us spectacular views. The vegetation is huge! The feeling of closing the canopy is like flying! We look at the trees and fly through them from one platform to the other. This was our first zip, and we loved the experience! Impressive! I went on Tarzan's swing while Greg watched! What fun! We saw some monkeys playing in the trees. It continued to rain, so we suggest taking ponchos out.
At dinner we walked the short, steep distance to Chimera in Monteverde, where Cindye works at night. The views were lovely. The food, tapas, was great! Especially tasty was the mango ice cream. Very average price too.
A walk to the Treehouse for breakfast, only to find the broken coffee maker! Oh no! Luckily, Chunches and Cindye were available, so we had breakfast there and talked to our new friend.
The Monteverde Cheese Factory has many varieties of artisan cheese. We bought a tasty Gouda. A few shops along the road were open, so we looked. Back in Santa Elena, we visited the Frog Pond, full of frogs and tropical frogs. It was a good time because it was raining again. The Butterfly Garden was nearby, with dozens of delicate, beautiful and colorful butterflies. Glasswing has transparent wings! Both attractions were fun! Unfortunately, it was time to go back down the mountain. We had to say goodbye to Santa Elena and Cyndye! Head back down the narrow, steep, serpentine road to San Jose once more. On the way, we stopped for a soda for lunch. A man drove his little herd of cattle down the road and passed us. Very picturesque!
Back in the heart of San Jose, we stayed again at the Gran Hotel. We felt old friends, the way the staff greeted us. From our room we had a good spot for the street performers around the corner. We were in front of the National Plaza Theater and all the people. We had dinner at Le Monastere, a former monastery set high on a hill with fantastic views of the city lights at night! Great food! It was highly recommended by the hotel staff and worth getting there! An evening city tour was great for people watching on our last night here. There were some street performers, and music floated from the clubs.
When we were at the airport, we found that most food courts carry only cash and ATMs were in trouble. Counting our move, we were able to buy a drink and a bag of chips for lunch! Adios, Costa Rica! Prices for most places were average, amenities were modern, the weather was good and the people were great! We look forward to another visit!