Costa Rica in 10 days
Costa Rica is the most popular Caribbean destination for those who live in the islands and want to enjoy a holiday. Nestled between Panama and Nicaragua it is a small country with a stable government, friendly people and an extraordinary array of wildlife and landscapes. With four mountain ranges and over 700 miles of beaches there is something for everyone. We recently enjoyed 10 days in the country and have pictures and brochures for those interested in a great getaway.
San Jose, the capital, is situated in the center of the country and has the only international airport serviced by most US carriers. We flew on LASCA, the Costa Rican airline out of Dallas and the service and flight were superior. We rented a 4 wheel drive vehicle at the airport and it too was superior and survived an arduous trip. We recommend, however, that you enjoy the Costa Rican bus service which utilizes large, clean, modern Mercedez Benz buses and provides service throughout the country. We will on our next trip.
We spent the first night in San Jose at the Coribici Hotel which is similar to a Radisson or Hyatt in the States. The next day we headed down the mountain to the Pacific Coast and Manuel Antonio, a beach resort adjacent to one of the many national parks. The road is narrow and winding and for the last 30 miles, unpaved, so it took almost 4 hours.
The Pacific coast reminded us of the Big Sur in California with a shore line of beaches and steep cliffs falling to the sea. In Manuel Antonio, all of the hotels are located on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, including the Mariposa where we stayed. The first hotel built in the area, it is a beautiful hotel with a small pool a good restaurant and comfortable rooms.
We spent most of our 5 days at the beach south of town where we managed to pull ourselves out of the beach chairs to enjoy superb drinks and meals at a small restaurant across the road. Mahi Mahi was served almost everywhere with a "Tipico" plate of rice & beans, salad and plantain. Unlike the Jamin House plates, the rice & beans were made with black beans and there was little spice used in most of the entrees.
Since there are many volcanos in Costa Rica, including two which are active, the beaches are black sand and quite soft. Manuel Antonio is also known for it surfing so there were a number of Californians on Spring Break enjoying the waves.
On our 6th day we travelled back 40 miles north over the unpaved road to Jaco, a resort town known as a scuba diving center. We stayed at the Best Western on the beach which is an excellent hotel, though very American. Our travel agent recommended that we take this short trip to get that awful road out of the way.
The next day we headed north on the International Highway and found a small dirt road heading up to Monteverde, a rain forest high in the mountains. This road made the road to Manuel Antonio seem like 281. Though only 30 miles long it took us 2 hours to make it up the mountain. The road was constructed with rocks and huge pot holes had been created by the rains. In some places, with barely enough space for a car, sections of the road had been washed over the cliff. Of course there was no guardrail.
But we made it and we arrived to the small town of Santa Elena, adjacent to the forest. We stayed at Sapo Dorado, a small complex of secluded cabins surrounding an excellent restaurant. We had a view from our cabin of the Monteverde forest backlit by the Pacific Coast in the distance. It was warm in the day and cool at night.
Monteverde is a forest purchased over the years by a group of Quakers who have attempted to preserve the natural habitat. Only 100 people are allowed in at a time, so you may have to wait. We made a reservation and were allowed in the next day, where we walked and walked and walked. It requires 2 hours to traverse the shortest path. You can spend up to 8 if you want to climb.
We completed the minimum tour, thank you, and decided to forgo the butterfly farm, cloud forest and the experience of swinging with the monkeys, since this was a vacation where our feet needed to recover. We just slept, ate and enjoyed the scenery.
One of the two active volcanos in Costa Rica is Arenal to the northeast of Monteverde and we were to spend our 9th day in Fortuna, a small town south of the volcano. We travelled around Lake Arenal, a man-made lake about the size of Buchanan and arrived at Tabacon, a resort south of the lake at the base of this magificent mountain.
Tabacon was our favorite place and we plan on returning there on our next trip. It is a resort built adjacent to hot springs which have welled up from beneath the volcano. The owners have channelled the springs into a river with several waterfalls and a myriad of small, natural, secluded pools amidst a minature rain forest. They have built an attractive hotel with 4 swimming pools, 3 of which are fed by the hot springs along with facilities for massage and jacuzzi.
As the hotel was booked solid, our accomodations were at Las Cabanitas in Fortuna, about 10 miles south. Another resort with small cabins with a view of the volcano, it was comfortable with a nice pool.
But after checking in, we headed back to Tabacon for a massage and a day of enjoying the springs with dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was the best of our trip. In addition to great food, we had a table with a view of Arenal spewing out giant boulders about every 5 minutes. At night you could watch the lava flowing down the mountain but since we were by now asleep by 8, it was an event we missed.
The road back to San Jose from Fortuna was paved and offers a spectacular view around every bend. We completed the trip in four hours and arrived in San Jose with enough time to buy souveniers. But there were 2 problems on our last day. First, Costa Ricans do not have any significant indigenous craftsman, so most souveniers are imported.
Second, there are no cash machines in Costa Rica that work so we almost ran out of money. So we did what was now natural. We ate and fell asleep before 9 on our last day.
We highly recommend a trip to Costa Rica in the near future. While still relatively undeveloped, it has been "discovered" and has changed since my last visit in 1992. If you want to go for just 3 or 4 days, drive to Dallas(It's quicker) catch the LASCA flight to San Jose and take the bus to Tabacon where you'll arrive in time to enjoy a massage, a dip under the waterfalls of the hot springs and an excellent dinner while you watch the lava flow.
Thanks to Jodie of Highland Lakes Travel for planning a great trip.
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