Category Archives: Costa Rica

Costa Rica Part 3 – Samara and San Juan

The next leg of our Costa Rica trip started with a 5 hour overland drive from Santa Elena/Monteverde as we headed down the Nicoya Peninsula to the coastal town of Samara. Samara is on the Pacific Coast and boasts a long beach with a gentle surf. Neighboring beach towns have bigger waves and a bigger surf contingent, but Samara suited us perfectly.

Monkeys in the trees on our way into Samara

Monkeys in the trees on our way into Samara

my new friend

my new friend

We stayed at the Mirador de Samara which is a bit older, but offered us some space to spread out. Our hotel suite included a beautiful double terrace, kitchen, living room, bed room and spacious bathroom. We were just a few steps away from the pool which allowed me to start and end each day with a dip. The hotel is situated up the hill from the beach which made for excellent views.

Sunset view from the Hotel

Sunset view from the Hotel

Day view of the ocean from our terrace

Day view of the ocean from our terrace

The only down side to our hotel was the many stairs we had to climb each day after a long day in the sun.

Just some of the  many steps at the Mirador de Samara

Just some of the many steps at the Mirador de Samara

Samara is known for its low key vibes and a little bit of a hippie presence. There are a lot of young western backpackers in the area. The downtown of Samara offers a variety of restaurants and bars as well as a “Natural Center” with  vegetarian foods, organic markets, spas, and other businesses.

Evidence of the bohemian presence in Samara

Evidence of the bohemian presence in Samara

The Samara Natural Center

The Samara Natural Center

Being an early riser, I started taking morning walks on the beach before my travel companions were awake. It was lovely to enjoy the beach before the peak heat of the day and before many people were out. Many of my favorite photos from the trip were taken on those morning walks.

The tide going out in the morning

The tide going out in the morning

Squiggles in the sand from the crabs retreating in the morning heat.

Squiggles in the sand from the crabs retreating in the morning heat.

A local fishing boat beached after the mornings catch

A local fishing boat beached after the mornings catch

Shells on the beach

Shells on the beach

The beach in Samara was wonderful and very spacious. Palm trees offered much needed shade and the cove was large enough that you could spread out if you wanted.  The waves were large enough to be fun but small enough to float and relax.

The view from my towel on the beach

The view from my towel on the beach

While in Samara we mostly relaxed and enjoyed the local food and drinks. After 6 days  of hiking, climbing, zip lining, canyoning and rappelling we were ready for the chill portion of our trip. However, we did manage to get up the energy to take a kayak trip down the Rio Ora to it’s ocean end point at Playa Camaronal. Playa Camaronal is an animal refuge area with focuses its preservation efforts on the sea turtle. Unfortunately we weren’t there during hatching season so we didn’t see any turtles. Nonetheless, the untouched and natural windswept beach was a lovely place to rest before kayaking back.

Kayaking out to

Kayaking down Rio Oro with the surf of Playa Camaronal in the distance

The natural and more rugged beach at  Playa Camaronal

The natural and more rugged beach at Playa Camaronal

Leaving Samara was hard to do, as it signaled the beginning of the end of our vacation. But, after three days of fun in the sun, it was time to return to San Jose for one last day before our departure.

Costa Rica Part 2 – Monteverde Cloud Forest and Santa Elena

Our journey from la Fortuna to the Santa Elena/Monteverde areaincluded two very bumpy van rides and a wet boat ride across Lake Arenal. Believe it or not, that was the quickest way of getting across the various jungle and cloud forest areas. Many of the roads in the more remote areas of Costa Rica are rugged dirt roads and they can be incredibly steep. There were a few moments where it didn’t seem like our vehicle was going to make it up the hill and at least one hill that we couldn’t conquer. I can only say that I’m glad someone else was driving.

Our "ferry" to Monteverde

Our “ferry” to Monteverde

Rainbow viewed from the van as we were pulling into Monteverde

Rainbow viewed from the van as we were pulling into Monteverde

Monteverde is home to one of Costa Rica’s cloud forests and an incredible biological preserve. Cloud forests are different than rain forests in that they a characterized by persistent low-level clouds whereas a rain forest is characterized by consistent heavy rainfall in a tropical environment. Essentially, a cloud forest is a tropical or subtropical forest in the clouds. This kind of environment allows for lush forests and biodiversity.

We chose a more rustic hotel, La Colina Lodge close to the Biological Preserve to have a fully immersed experience. It was a beautiful property with a lodge like feel and plenty of wildlife just outside.

La Colina Lodge

La Colina Lodge

The main attraction in Monteverde is the incredible zip lining and suspended walkways through the cloud forest. For me, this was why I traveled to Costa for and what I had dreamed of since I was a child. So, we dove right in with an  adrenaline packed day zipping along 12 zip lines and 18 platforms for 2.5 hours at the Selvatura Adventure Park. We started with some basic instructions and practice on small zip lines. Pretty quickly, we were ready to shoot off into the clouds. In many sections, the clouds would swallow you up just a few feet off the platform.

zip lining through the trees and into the cloud mist

Zip lining through the trees and into the mist of the clouds

Coming in for landing at one of the platforms

Coming in for landing at one of the platforms

After zip lining, we took  the chilled out option of walking the suspended bridges through the cloud forest. The bridges were peaceful though they did sway with each step. They offered the opportunity to slowly take in the forest from above with only the occasional interruption of a zip liner zipping by above us.

Long Bridge into the clouds

Long Bridge into the clouds

Can you find the zip liner in the background?

Can you find the zip liner in the background? He is just a tiny speck

We finished up our adventure packed time in Monteverde with a night hike tour. Along our way, many people had recommended the nigh hike as something not to be missed. However, I was slightly nervous about the proliferation of vipers and snakes in the forest. When our guide arrived, he was wearing heavy rubber boots and pants. He then showed us a tarantula in its hole not far from where we were standing.

A tarantula in its burrow

A tarantula in its burrow

This did not instill much faith in the protection of my capri running pants and light sneakers. I asked our guide if we were going to be okay as we were dressed. He answered after a long and disconcerting pause  that we should just step only where he steps. Not long after heading into the forest, he pointed out a gigantic viper in the trees. After that, you bet your ass that I stepped only exactly where he stepped. That is… until we got word of a sloth in the area.

Now, I love sloths deeply. They are my spirit animal and I was desperate to see on in the wild while in CR. So, news of a sloth took away all my fear and I took off like a shot into the trees to see my slothy friends. Indeed it was glorious to see him in the trees. As our hike was ending, we got doubly lucky and immersed from the woods to see a sloth hanging out on the telephone wires by the tour office. It was just awesome to see one out in the open moving along the wires up close.

Sloth on the wires in the darkness

Sloth on the wires in the darkness

With that, I was ready to leave Monteverde feeling accomplished. From there were were to take our longest journey yet (5 hours on the road)and head to the coastal town of Samara for some rest and relaxation in the sun and surf.

Costa Rica Part 1 – La Fortuna & Arenal

Just about a year ago, I set off to Costa Rica for a 9 day adventure. Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of  zipping through the cloud forests and visiting the land that inspired Jurassic Park. While we were gone, NYC had 4 separate snow storms, so I can only believe that we traveled at the perfect time. Seriously, we were living the dream.

I am a total REI and gear junkie, so of course there was no packing light for this trip. Besides, we were going to be zip lining, kayaking, hiking up volcanoes, swimming in waterfalls, canyoning and going on nigh hikes through the jungle. One must be prepared for anything and everything.

Me and my pack

Me and my pack

After hours of travel, we arrived in San Juan which is not much to write home about. That is, except for the churros. For just a few bucks, you could buy a fresh hot churro filled with your choice of dulce de leche or chocolate sauce. It still is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

So much delicousness

So much deliciousness

From San Juan, we traveled three hours by van to La Fortuna, which is the principal gateway to the Arenal Volcano. Our hotel, the Vista Del Cerro was wonderful. The staff helped us so much with tips and discounts and the pool with a view of the volcano was all I needed at the end of every day. The cow neighbors weren’t bad either.

The pool at  Vista Del Cerro with the volcano in the background

The pool at Vista Del Cerro with the volcano in the background

The neighbors

The neighbors

It is also home to several hot springs hotels and resorts where you can relax in the warm water or choose to be pummeled by a waterfall to work out the knots.  Arriving around 6pm, we headed straight to the Baldi Hot springs to unwind after our travels.

The entrance to the springs

The entrance to the springs

Baldi offers 25 thermo-mineral hot water pools flowing naturally from the base of the volcano at temperatures ranging from 93, 100, 102, 104, 109, 110, 113, 116, 152. For the more adventurous, they also have a variety of slides and rides. My favorite part was to stand under the waterfalls and let the pressure of the water work out any kinks or knots in your muscles. It was a perfect start to the trip. https://www.baldihotsprings.cr/

Just one of the many pools

Just one of the many pools at Baldi

On our second day in La Fortuna, we had the morning to kill and decided to take a taxi up a very bumpy road to experience the Fortuna Waterfall. Getting to the waterfall requires walking down a lot of very slippery wooden stairs, but it is certainly worth the trip. The waterfall is about 200 feet high and emerges from the jungle out of no where. The water is chilly and the current is strong enough that they have a lifeguard stationed there. It  was so invigorating to swim in the waters with such a powerful force behind us.

La Fortuna Waterfall - the people in the picture show its sheer height

La Fortuna Waterfall

Coati rummaging through trash near the falls

Coati rummaging through trash near the falls

After the waterfall, we went on a hike to the Arenal volcano and through the surrounding jungle. Though we couldn’t see the glow of the volcano because of the cloud cover, it was a wonderful hike with lots of monkeys, toucans and other flora and fauna.

View of Arenal

View of Arenal

On our last day in La Fortuna, there was a mix up with our transportation and we were graciously given a free canyoning and rappelling tour through the rain forest. Its certainly not for the faint hearted, but it was perfect for our itinerary. This essential meant a hike through a jungle river with rappelling down waterfalls, the longest of which was 200 feet tall. As they say, you will get wet.

Working my way down a waterfall

Working my way down a waterfall

Part of our group getting bombarded in a mini waterfall

Part of our group getting bombarded in a mini waterfall

From there, we had a quick opportunity to freshen up before heading off to our next location, the Monteverde Cloud Forrest which I’ll cover in my next post.