Costa Rica was absolutely beautiful. The leaves were green, the air was moist, the people were relaxed, the beer was refreshing, and the sand crabs were really really cool.
The journey started with a 3:30 am pickup from home to get to the airport for a 6:20 flight. Awesome. US customs guy was really mean. Though I think I would be if I was working at 4:30 am. Flights were fine, stopover in Miami was fine. Finally got to San Jose at about 2ish. We arranged a pickup from the airport to the bus station that was halfway across town. Our driver told us that there is around 5 million people in Costa Rica and 2 million of them are all in San Jose. Crazy. Grabbed a bus at 4 and spent the next 4.5 hours getting to the Caribbean coast. There was a delay in the mountains because of a lot of atmospheric fog! We finally arrived in Puerto Viejo after 19 hours of trying to get there. Good stuff.
Finally settled in to Pedro’s Place, an amazing studio apartment right on the
Playa Negra beach (black sand beach). The managers are Susana and Rene. Rene was extremely nice and also provided us with taxi service when we needed it. We didn’t meet Susana or Pedro the owner, but we had a wonderful time there. The place was clean and spacious and the balcony overlooking the back garden and ocean was breathtaking. When we woke up the first morning and looked out, we knew we picked the perfect place to stay for our first 3 nights. We found all the places we stayed from www.puertoviejosatellite.com. It is an amazing site that helps you plan your whole trip in Puerto Viejo and the surrounding area with helpful info on anything you’ll want to know.
Once we decided to actually do something with our day, we walked on the beach for 20 minutes into town and had some breakfast. We were going to rent bikes but realized we only brought enough money to barely cover breakfast with us. So back to Pedro’s we went. Though with full stomachs we decided to do some swimming first. Warm warm warm!! The ocean was beautiful and the black sand is gorgeous, a little thicker than normal and sticks to you a bit more, but gorgeous. After laying in the sun for a few minutes I saw a bit of sand beside me move. I looked over and out popped a little sand crab.
The beach is covered in them. I found them fascinating and took more pictures than necessary. Back into town we went, rented our bikes, explored a little, had our first beer of the vacation, and got some groceries for the next few days. We pretty much only drank Imperial and Pilsen which are the local beers. We also found out that Costa Rican breweries don’t make kegs because not enough people like draught. Interesting.
The evening was spent on the balcony listening to the ocean, enjoying the Imperial, relaxing on the hammock, and watching all the fireflies that glistened around the trees in the garden.
The jungle is a noisy place. We kept finding ourselves waking up so early because of the light and the birds. Not just a regular bird chirp, but a distinct rhythm that you couldn’t tune it out. I couldn’t even tell you what we did the next day. More beach, more food, more exploring. There are great little shops in town. One I enjoyed was called Lulu Berlu, a local art gallery. I saw a print there I should have picked up and I’m still trying to find out the artist’s name. I know it was Nicholas something. We also went to eat at The Beach Hut that had a piece of art I loved immediately. But I couldn’t have put it in my luggage without it getting wrecked from the airport so I just admired it from afar. But I still think about it…
I just went to the Facebook group to ask about if they’d ship and how much it would be. I should have just bought it!
Anyway, once our three nights were up at Pedro’s Place we headed over to Rocking J’s. The most elaborate hostel you’ll ever stay at. All the floors and pillars are covered in mosaic tile art and all the wood for the
lockers are painted vibrantly.
All the picnic table tops and benches are plastered with pictures and memorabilia from J’s life. There is a restaurant attached at the entrance called @ E’s and is owned by J’s brother Erik. Everyone who works there is beautiful and kind and you could tell loved their life. The first night we stayed, there was a huge party. Apparently a national television station was covering a story that Rocking J’s was one of the top 3 interesting places to stay in Costa Rica. Because of that we got a show! Lots of fun people, lots of booze on the dance floor, live music, fire dancers, and a bonfire in the back right on the beach. We stayed in a tent for $6 a night and they provided bedding and everything. Not that you need anything other than pillows because of the heat.
We explored a little more while we were there and through a short jungle trail found the main beach that the surfers went to called Playa Cocles. We decided we’d go there the next day then woke up to rain. All day rain. So into the hammocks we went and read for the afternoon.
Our only mildly nerve wracking issue was that we needed to get from Puerto Viejo to Arenal Volcano (a 5 hour drive) and stay somewhere in La Fortuna (the town right beside the volcano) for a night. Thankfully, the company we were using the whole time for transportation, Gecko Trail Adventures, was brilliant. We pretty much told them what we wanted to do and they arranged all the transportation and events for us. If anyone is planning a trip to Costa Rica, I highly recommend using their assistance.
So we booked a package: a shared van from Puerto Viejo to La Fortuna, overnight stay in La Fortuna at Hotel Jireh (with volcano view), a few hours at the famous Tabacon Hot Springs with a buffet dinner, a drive up to the volcano at night to see the lava, and a horseback ride to a waterfall the next day. Perfect.
Our driver with the Interbus was very familiar with the roads and got us there earlier than expected. We had a few hours to rest before heading to what we thought was a hike but turned out to be the hot springs visit. We arrived too late in La Fortuna for the hike to the lava so we got the night time drive instead.
So about Tabacon. Not overrated at all. One of the most beautiful places I have visited. Natural volcano heated springs and about 12 of them. All ranging from really hot to lukewarm. Carl was dealing with sunburns so he wasn’t enjoying the extremely hot ones as much but we found some perfect temperature pools. There was even a place where you could sit behind a waterfall and it was like a sauna. So cool. And the buffet was great!
Fed well and relaxed we got picked up, just the two of us, by a driver and a guide and headed up the road to the volcano. We turned off the highway onto a road with more potholes than you can imagine. In the dark. All the while our guide was telling us the really cool history of how no one knew Arenal was a volcano until 1963 when it erupted and all the damage it caused and how La Fortuna is only a city now because of tourism. A very bumpy 10 minutes later we park the van and turn off all the lights. For a brief second I thought…Okay, alone in a van on a back potholed road with two strangers in the dark. I guess we’d be dead by now if this turning into a scary movie. Obviously not the case! We were staying in the dark to see the lava better and hear the thunderous clap of the rocks bursting from the volcano.
Well all this would have happened if it wasn’t so DAMN FOGGY!!! We didn’t see a single red glint of lava nor heard the thunder. Mother nature and I were not on good terms after this incident.
Back the hotel we went and woke up the next morning at about 6 am for a horseback ride! I was really excited for this part and I didn’t realize until we were finished how much was included in the tour. Our guide’s name was Robin Hood, and we were with another couple name Lee and Kristen from Chicago.
We got our horses and helmets and set off into the jungle. Our horses knew the route so well and seemed to be in competition with each other. They would be bump into each other to get ahead which would leave its riders leg to leg for an awkward moment. We were on horseback for about an hour then let them rest while we went ahead on foot. We hiked down a very steep mountainside on stairs, across an amazing Indiana Jones-esque bridge to get to the waterfall. It was breathtaking. We had to cross a river and climb a bunch of rocks to get to the base of it.
The hike back up the mountainside was certainly daunting but not as difficult and I thought it would have been. Back onto our horses we go to a recreation of a village of a traditional Costa Rican tribe. They were selling local artist masks and pieces. We bought a rain stick!
The last part of the tour after galloping our horses back to their stables was to visit the butterfly and frog shelters of certain species they are trying to protect. And the gardens of beautiful flowers surrounding the area!
A worthwhile package and I highly highly recommend it! Needless to say we were exhausted by the time we took a taxi to our last destination: The Springs Resort and Hotel. The money grabber.
But it was completely worth it! A gorgeous resort full of natural and man made mineral springs complete with a spa floor, exercise room (yeah, didn’t set foot there), 4 restaurants, free internet, swim up bar, all with a gorgeous view of the volcano. When you can see it. When it isn’t foggy. Which it barely wasn’t.
Our room was insane. Hugh bathroom with jacuzzi, giant king bed, full bar, flat screen, living area, and the terrace. Oh the terrace! Two hammocks, rocking chairs, a little patio furniture set, a volcano view, and oh yes, a private mineral spring hot tub. Just for us. Did I mention we were there accidentally on valentine’s weekend?
We spent only two nights there but loved every minute. We received a complimentary hour massage just for booking when we did, spend the whole afternoon in the pools and springs (mostly at the swim up bar) and the evenings eating and drinking and relaxing.
The ride to the airport the day we were leaving was fine and the whole trip home was decent. It wasn’t 19 hours like the trip there but we were exhausted and very sick of flying by the last flight. Which had 4 babies on it. Awesome. All in all it was a brilliant trip with only one major downfall. No monkeys!!! I didn’t see a single monkey the whole time I was there. Didn’t even hear one! As far as I can tell. I guess I don’t know what monkeys sound like, but from what I’m told you can’t miss them. I was anxious to be back in my own bed, but waking up the next morning made me crave the Costa Rican air again. I hate the sinus congested, dry lip/skin/eyes/ of Toronto winter. All of that went away in the south.
Anyway, a worthwhile trip and one I’ll always remember. Beautiful, warm, lazy, and fun. I’d say a perfect vacation! Oh, and I absolutely LOVED having normal eyes for the vacation! Every time I saw someone in glasses or putting in contacts I smiled to myself. Hells yeah!