We arrived at La Fortuna late afternoon, after the 5 hour mini-bus ride up from Pavona dock and the driver dropped us right outside the car rental office. Our AirBnB, Cabinitas de Sammy, was about 30 minutes drive away from town, up near Arenal Lake so we’d hired a little 4WD car for the 3 days of our stay, which we collected with minimum fuss. By the time we’d had coffee and then bought some supplies darkness had fallen, which added to the “fun” of trying to find our little place on the dark mountain road. Actually Google Maps led us straight there with no drama until we came upon a security gate-post, apparently in the middle of nowhere. (We later learned that there was a tourist attraction further up the hill). The security guard helpfully turned us back saying our house wasn’t there however, after double checking Google Maps, Ian persisted and in the end the guard got on the phone and hey presto, it turned out our house WAS inside the gate after all, 50 metres down the track.
Having negotiated that particular hurdle, we soon found our place, all lit up on the hillside with Julio, the caretaker, waiting to meet us and show us round. To say we were impressed by the place would be an understatement; compared to the “cabinas” that we’d been renting so far this house seemed huge and we couldn’t believe that we had it all to ourselves. The centre piece was the long terrace running the whole length of the front of the
house screened from the elements by sliding glass doors. With comfortable chairs and fantastic views, this became the place where we spent a lot of our time over the following 3 nights and 2 days. The other highlight of the house was Pinto, the resident cat, who enjoyed the competition between Jan and Mary over who could spoil him the most.
It rained a lot whist we were there, not ALL the time but well over half of it and when it rained it really rained – heavier than we’ve ever known. This didn’t really bother us as much as it could have done as we were enjoying the relative comfort and luxury of our accommodation. We never actually saw the Arenal volcano due to the cloud cover; had the weather been clear we’d have had a grandstand view from our terrace. At over 1650 metres above sea level it’s the youngest active volcano in Costa Rica. It last erupted in 1968, destroying the town of Tabacon, just down the road from our
house and now the site of one of the largest hot springs in the area. For many years it was a huge tourist draw until it became dormant again in 2010. The area is still a big tourist attraction with lots of hot springs around and many adventure activities on offer – canyoning, white-water rafting, canoe excursions, etc. Hampered by the rain we did none of the above, content to sit on the terrace and observe the wildlife, read, relax, etc. We did manage a couple of trips into La Fortuna for more provisions and gift shopping and a trip to the famous La Fortuna waterfall, a very touristy spot just outside town.
On our last morning in the area we dropped the car off nice and early at the rental office and were picked up by the trusty Interbus shuttle service for the longish haul down to Quepos and its neighbouring Manuel Antonio National Park. We’d originally intended to avoid this area due to its reputation of being very busy and touristy but after several days of rain and high humidity we fancied the chance to dry ourselves and our clothes out, (our boots were still wet from our trek in Cahuita National Park). Also this was going to be Mary’s last three nights in Costa Rica so we had to finish up within easy striking distance of San Jose airport. It was Saturday
afternoon when we arrived there and, with the realisation that Manuel Antonio National Park is closed on Mondays our visit had to be the following day. So having checked into our accommodation (back to the old cabinas again) we set off into Quepos to arrange ourselves a guide and figure out how to get the local bus service from Quepos out to the park, a distance of 7km.
Manuel Antonio lived up to its reputation, it was much much busier than the other two parks had been, almost bordering on
being a zoo. Also whilst everyone was getting excited about seeing a sloth we found ourselves being a bit blasé – 2-toed, 3-toed – we’ve seen them all! We did complete our set of Costa Rican monkeys by seeing the squirrel monkey but that was about it. Most of everything else we’d seen at some point on our previous travels and the racoons and white-faced Capucins were in no way phased by the hoards of tourists crowding around taking pictures of them.
Our guided tour, courtesy of Edgar, was short at 2 ½ hours after which we enjoyed
an hour or so on one of the two magnificent beaches that the park has to offer before making our way back to the town, stopping for lunch along the way. We were all very tired and dehydrated by the end of the days outing and could barely summon the energy that evening for our walk back into Quepos Marina for our evening meal. However, fortified by our pizza, we were glad we’d made the effort as, on the way back, we were treated to a performance by a local percussion band practising for an upcoming festival. The spectacle and the rhythms generated by this large group of young, energetic people was a welcome diversion for a half hour or so.
For our final day we decided to round off our “Costa Rica Nature Watch” experience with a tour of the mangroves. William, our guide, was born and bred in the region and lived in a small house on the edge of the mangroves with his family. He was passionate about his subject and this passion was conveyed throughout our little boat trip with him. Not for William the feeding the monkeys gimmicks, his tours were strictly about the environment and its protection. It was a very relaxed afternoon, in the company of an American family from Pennsylvania and culminating back at his house with a home cooked, (by his wife), meal of Casados. One of the highlights of the tour was our sighting of an Osprey. This particularly resonated since these birds have been nesting in the Scottish Highlands since the mid-70s amid tight security and this was the first time we’d seen one “in the flesh”.
So that was it for Mary; the next day Interbus was back in the morning for a
relatively short ride to the airport. Mary met up with her travelling companion from the outward leg and they happily went off to the gate, swapping stories about their respective travels, leaving us to find our way back into San Jose for our final night in the sanctuary of the good old Hostel Urbano, where we’d left some stuff during our travels around the country.
We now had 12 days left in Costa Rica, the last 12 days of our big adventure, and we intended to spend them up on the north-west coast where the weather was reputed to be warm and the beaches lovely. We’d also booked to do some diving up there at a place called Playa Ocotal with an outfit called Rocket Frog Divers who, among other sites visit the famous Bat and Catalina Islands. Whilst diving with them we also signed Jan up to do the PADI Advanced Open Water course, so we had lots still to look forward to.
The day after Mary had left we were back out at the airport again where we caught a 12-seater single-engined Cessna for the 50-minute flight to Liberia up in the north of the country. We’d also treated ourselves to a hire car for the rest of our stay so transferring to our accommodation in Playas del Coco was straightforward. We were glad that the car had air-conditioning as arrival here was even hotter than Quepos with the temperature well into the mid-30s. So now we had almost two-weeks of relaxation to look forward to, preparing ourselves for the return to the real world.