Despite the first impressions at a party hostel in La Fortuna, I liked Costa Rica a lot more than I thought I would. I was prepared for something like Cancun or Cabo – American playground, expensive, less raw and real experiences with locals. To some degree Costa Rica is all those things. But more expensive also means its citizens generally enjoy a higher standard of living – especially contrasted to the basket case Nicaragua that I just left. While maybe not ideal for a traveler from a price point of view – it’s nice to visit a country where poverty is low and people seem generally upbeat about their futures.
In 1948 Costa Rica abolished their military, established a democracy and instead put the money into education and infrastructure. The gamble seems to have paid off mightily. Costa Rica and Belize seem to be the only two Central American countries largely spared from American adventurism in the last 100 years. I’m sure the history is more complex and less ideal. I’m just saying that based on the vibe I got from all the Central American countries I’ve been to – I get the strongest sense of optimism from the average citizen here.
End of All Roads Returns – with Riders!
While I was decompressing at Finca Escalante, the End of All Roads crew showed up across town in San Jose. For this leg they also had passengers. Bob brought his girlfriend Nami, Justin brought his wife Lara, and Dan brought his college-age daughter Allaira. Loading up was twice the fun!
I met them at the Intercontinental Hotel and was immediately presented with a load of stuff that they apparently could have carried, but chose not to since the car was available and offered. Note that in one of their earlier blogs, Dan had taken issue with someone who assumed they had a “support vehicle”. He made it clear this vehicle (piloted by Dan’s uncle Glen) was definitely not a support vehicle – but a completely superfluous guest driver. Just like me. As you can see:
Bill Hicks marketing rant seems in order here
Baldi Hot Springs
We made our way to La Fortuna – but not back to the party hostel fortunately. Instead we went to a sprawling hot springs resort just past town that was probably the nicest place I’ve stayed the whole trip – a bit of a contrast to the $11 hostel I stayed it in Tortuguero a few nights prior. One thing meeting up with others has done for my trip – add a lot of variety to the type of vacation I’m having. Which I think is a blast, but not the cheapest.
This was actually the gentle slide and it was still the fastest water slide I’ve ever been on. Also pitch black inside when we did it at night. You come out at the bottom into a big bowl – gotta be going 40 mph at least – then you spin around the sides of the bowl until you slowly lose speed and finally drop out of a hole in the bottom into a pool below. The whole thing is insane. Allaira went around the bowl 2-3 times. Dan and I went 4-5 due to the extra weight.
But the other slides were even crazier. Instead of pitch black, these had little pin-holes – which made it even freakier. I whacked my head against the side, hard – and decided one was enough. Both Dan and I spun around so much we came out upside down – literally riding the top of the enclosed slide to violently splash down in the pool.
Allaira came out on one side, about a second after the guy watching the pool told Dan to move back. She would have drilled him at 30 mph. On the other slide Dan went right behind Allaira. Which turned out fine. But when Justin’s wife Lara went ,she got stuck and had to scoot down. I shudder to think if that had happened to Allaira. Dan would have hit her going full force.
Waterslides kids – do your own safety assessments – at least in Central America and Kansas. Also if you weigh 250 lbs get ready for the ride of your life.
The next day we headed to the beach town Tamarindo – which took us on a scenic ride all around the picturesque Volcan Arenal.
Tamarindo is a nice beach town. Kinda warm for me, but they all are. We had a ton of fun frolicking the pool or our hotel and generally drinking two nights away. I got my 4th or 5th haircut of the trip. The expat owner of the hotel got a big kick out of our entourage and the bikes – which is a common theme. My car gets mild interest every now and then. The bikes get interest almost every time they stop. Along the road almost every guy turns around and watches them. Maybe half the women too. When the girls were riding on back they took lots of go pro video and generally waved at everyone who looked at the bikes.
We had some fun rides in the rain and dirt roads. Luckily we happened to be parked for most of the really torrential stuff.
A couple days later, the crew decided to head into the cloud forest for a few days instead of more beaches. Monte Verde is probably the most visited cloud forest town in CR – and where the ubiquitous zip-lining was invented. Some think it’s too touristy, and it probably is. But when you only have a few days you might as well hit the highlights imo. Personally I loved it, and the cool weather of course. We stayed at Jaguarundi – a lodge right in town that was very cheap – $29/night. I was worried it might be a bit too “rustic”. But it was lovely.
We went on a guided night hike and saw lots of little critters.
This is apparently the smaller, not-as-painful cloud forest version of the bullet ant – which by all accounts has the most painful sting in the insect world
Here’s a fun first-hand demonstration of what it’s like to be stung by a bullet ant. Costa rica has a few nasty insects and a lot of deadly snakes.
This place became our favorite night spot. I really liked the DJ and his salsa mixes. No I didn’t attempt to salsa dance. But this guy sure got into it when his jam came on:
The big highlight around Monte Verde is Selvatura Adventure Park. They have zip-lining, jungle walkways and a bunch of animal exhibits. We hit almost everything. Zip-lining was a blast. First time I’ve ever done it.
I wish I had more time for the walkways though. I really got into looking at the jungle and all the amazing natural struggles going on. Basically the whole game seems to be to grab height however you can. Life as a tree here seems pretty brutal – as about 100 different organisms seem to be hanging off you or trying to eat you.
The next day we drove to Liberia so the girls could fly out. Apparently these are the only pictures I took in Liberia – which would make one think it’s some kind of fortress town. It’s actually a normal gritty town.
The girls took an early flight out in the morning, and we headed for the Panamanian border.
We spent the night in Piedras Blancas – which seemed to be more of a roadside collection of restaurants and stores. We found a hotel just outside of town with a very interesting expat proprietor who was from Cuba but had lived in Russia and Canada before finally settling on the steamy Costa Rica coast. He made us a pretty good dinner of Cuban food.
And that was Costa Rica. The next day we crossed into Panama – read about it here!