It took a lot of preparation for me to undertake this trip to Central America. International travel has a lot of red tape involved. It was a gamble to travel to this region at the supposed transition of the rainy season. I have been attracted to Costa Rica for quite a few years. I initially was fascinated by the famous ocean waves, and then by the rich volcanic landscape and wildlife. Thrusting myself into this endeavor I bite the bullet, but it bites me harder.
Day 1 I drive in vain to the gate of Poas National Park to see the crater lake. It was about 3pm and they basically turned me away as it was too late. The Park closes at 3:30pm. What is also frustrating is that all these places open at 8am when the sunrises at 5am. The park hours are more like business hours. It does not consider that the best ambiance happens during sunrise and sunset when these places happen to be closed. In short I estimate that the natural wonders are operated as the epitome of the “Tourist Trap”. You are told the entrance to the park is $10 and the parking is $3. The $13 is not unreasonable, but the packaging is manipulative. You park near a beach, and a self proclaimed security says that there is no charge to park, but that if you want him to protect your car to pay him $2. Again the $2 is not the issue but the manipulation. In one place the attendant told me upon my asking that there is no charge to park the car but it is $10 to enter the trail. As I entered the trail I behold landscape workers on the trail thus killing any feeling of adventure. This was a common theme in the trip. Add the fact that the main feature Arenal Volcano Mountain was being clocked in rain clouds. I left moment’s later feeling ripped off. That feeling would remain thru my travels.
In all the 1500 km that I drove I did not encounter a “scenic drive” in the true sense of the phrase. The country seems rigged to rip off tourist by alluring them to a restaurant or hotel as they advertise that their property affords the best view of the beach or volcano or whatever. I did not see one designated pull out for scenic value that wasn’t attached to some gimmick. There are actually almost no pull outs whatsoever on any road. No rest for the weary traveler that endures the mental strain of the video game. The game while driving is to avoid the pot hole as you swerve to miss hitting the dog that wants to bite the tires of the car. The game intensifies when people come at you from all angles as do the cars of all types. For variety you will see cows on the road or more frequently large tractors going 10 KMPH. All this is to be expected in a Latin American country unfortunately.
The region is naturally phenomenal yet the wonders are usually cheapened into a Side Show attraction. What deforestation, mineral extractions, dams etc did not do to destroy nature, the heavy exploitation aimed at tourist did to minimize its appeal to the lover of blessed wilderness. You are bombarded with advertisements for canopy tours, zip line adventures, hot springs (10 in one town alone), surf schools (10 in one small town), night hiking tour, wild life guides, boat rides, canoe rentals, bike rentals etc. The marriage of natural wonder and commercialization is a bad one. Most of this is done in a distasteful and dishonest way.
It is possible to find isolated spots of beauty on a beach or a forest as I did. This does take considerable effort in most cases though. The region is rigged or set up much better for the resort type vacation than an adventurer. Most of the hotels I stayed on were on great locations in excellent settings and decent rooms for good prices (So Called Low Season).
All these logistics never take up so much space on a travel journal, but these issues tainted the trip. The business affair of a trip should serve the higher purpose of exploration in as a transparent manner as possible, not be the consuming force that it was in Central America for me. I would have probably not harped so much on such topics if the weather related issues did not ruin my essential purposes for going. Add to the fact that clouds blocked views of 2 volcanoes I went to see; the waves were no better than Florida. Costa Rica has great potential for an amazing trip, but I lost badly on my gamble. I was asked to rate my experience from 1 to 10 and I rated it at 3. Tally a traffic ticket to the tune of $600 to the loss. I had a car following me too closely from behind while a work truck abruptly pulled from being parked on the side of the road in front of me. I quickly decided to pass him (double yellow line) as opposed to slam the brakes on a slick road going down hill. Did I prevent an accident? I do not know, but I got fined. This was my most expensive and unfulfilling trip I had been on (and I have been on many). The good moments were few, fleeting and infrequent for a 7 day trek. I would be overlooking the coast from a hill at sea cliffs early in the morning when construction vehicles loudly chug up the road spewing black smoke from the exhaust pipe. Welcome to paradise. I know that one may find a slice a paradise in this region. It will not be easy or cheap to attain it though.
I would have liked to write only of the handiwork of The Creator in this region. That which I saw (apart from bad weather and policy) I totally liked. La Paz Waterfalls and Garden are a worthy visit. The exhibits of native animals are no better than a zoo. The landscape and set up is very good. There are 3 waterfalls consecutive on the river. All of them are impressive and can be visited one after another in short succession. This I found unique. The following day I see the La Fortuna Waterfall under some intermittent rain. At this time (only time in the trip) I venture in the strong currents proceeding from this over 100 ft freefalling waterfall. I could not get very close to where the waterfall was hitting due to this strong current. I ventured to the side of the falls on a slippery rock ledge. It felt like I was in the middle of a tropical storm.
The next day I go to Tenorio / Rio Celeste. I had greatly anticipated visiting this milky blue river and it did not disappoint. The hike to it is difficult at times (steep and slippery) but not overwhelming. There is a stark blue lagoon that I really liked. The water of the lagoon is as clear as milk; meaning the blue color dominates. The place in the river where the clear water becomes blue is unique. The waterfall is found a ways off the main trail down a very steep and slippery (dangerous) stairway of sorts. It is a powerful freefalling waterfall which is also relatively wide. It is dangerous and awesome with the stark blue water at the base of the falls. This place also has hot spring sections. One place (rightly forbidden to enter) one can clearly see the boiling water coming from the river bottom.
For the closing of this day I make it to the Pacific for my first time in the trip. As I was strolling on Playa Ocotal I see tracks of a big dog on the sand. A moment later I hear a guttural howl and expect to see the big dog, but instead I see a group of 3 monkeys above me on the trees. The howler was the Alfa Male. Cool experience. I later find a secluded section at the base of a headland to see a nice sunset. I randomly got a close look at 4 colorful parrots (I am told they are Macaws) I have never seen such colorful birds on the loose. There are a lot of colorful flowers all over, but they are usually road side / farm side and not on the trails or fields. One of the reasons I enjoyed my hotel rooms was because of the garden settings and frequent colorful bird visitors. I saw a lot of humming birds. The country hills and mountains are indeed green with varied plant and tree life, but I prefer the rain forest of the Pacific Northwest or Puerto Rico’s El Yunque. The country is very mountainous all over but there are few impressive peaks. The peaks that do stick out are probably all the classic volcanic cones.
After being directed where to park near the Manuel Antonio National Park I was promptly pressured to hike with a guide for $20 more. He said I would not be able to see much wildlife on my own, but with the guide equipped with scope I would see all kinds of animals. The truth is I would have seen most of the animals on my own, but don’t regret going with my guide Mapacho. He spotted and explained some things that only a guide could. Beyond that it was the fellowship shared with him and a couple of older farmer folk from Kansas that enhanced the hike. I then go to the famous surf spot Jaco and only medium waves (mostly clean) were breaking relatively close to shore. I still enjoyed seeing a couple of local surfers ripping. I spoke with a local after sunset that informed me that I was looking at a Costa Rican Surf Champ ripping. I could easily see that this guy was top notch in his skills. The same kid told me that Jaco gets waves with no swell, and I was looking at a no swell day. He mentioned that waves with a swell will be much larger. Some of the waves I saw were around 4 ft. I wish my local break would be 4ft on a no swell day.
Now I am down to my last full day and ambivalence best describes my frame of mind. I want to see the glories found in the region but I am totally fed up with the systematic exploitation. I travel up a mountain thru thick cloud cover to reach Irazu along with the tourist riding tourist shuttles. For about 30 minutes the weather was interesting. Most of the clouds were below this elevation and only some were passing at ground level. The sun was shinning. I was venturing toward the attraction (the crater). It was windy and chilly but not uncomfortable. I saw a shallow ordinary looking lake called Playa Hermosa thinking it was the crater. I was very unimpressed, but took some mandatory pictures. I meandered to the main path again and found myself at the rim of a huge hole more than 900 ft deep. I was impressed. I then saw to my astonishment the actual crater lake. I was laughing at myself in joy. It was the most stunning site I had seen in the trip. I took it for granted that the sun was illuminating this marvel because a few moments later it was as foggy as a summer morning on the northern Pacific Coast. Soon after came a persistent drizzle that wet my camera equipment. There are no more highlights worth the mention that I can recall.