Well folks, here it is, the final Costa Rica installment. Just in time to make room for canoe trip recaps!
On our return to the coast from Monteverde we detoured to Tenorio Volcano National Park, which we highly recommend! It has a super 6km hike (round trip), which we were fortunate to hit on a not-too-blisteringly-hot day.
The hike followed the Rio Celeste, and the first attraction en route was a beautiful falls. And beautiful stairs to get it to it. Many, many stairs.
From there the trail continued to the next look, which provided a view of the Tenorio Volcano Complex, which is part of the Guanacaste Volcanic Mountain Range. The Tenorio Complex consists of Tenorio One, Tenorio Two, and Cerro Montezuma.
After admiring the volcanos we continued along through the woods and over some bridges to the turn around point, where there is a very cool phenomenon occurring in the river. Two rivers (Rio Buenavista and Quebrada Agria) meet at this point, and the bright colour is caused by the mixing of two non-coloured effluents. The pH change in the mixing point increases the particle size of a mineral present in the Rio Buenavista. Some of these aluminosilicates rest on the river bottom (the white sediment), but most remains in suspension in the water. These suspended particles scatter sunlight in such a way that the river becomes a gorgeous sky-blue.
In the physics word, this optical phenomenon is called Mie scattering (for the record, physics bores me to tears. I included this sentence purely to make my physicist Dad proud. Or maybe to poke fun at his love of physics. Hi Dad!).
And thus conclude my Costa Rica recaps. Sad, I know. Time to change channels back to spring and summer canoe trips…guess I don’t have much to complain about!
We’re nearing the end of my recaps, and I’m mashing two things together for this one – a waterfall and one of two national parks that we visited.
First off, post scuba diving one afternoon we drove to a popular waterfall that was nearby, say a 40ish minute drive, called la Catarata Llanos de Cortes. Although not an official park, it does have an entry fee, operating hours, and a lifeguard (who stopped me from getting as close the falls as I wanted to…).
It’s a gorgeous spot with a lovely pool for swimming below the falls.
There was also supposed to be a trail to the top of the falls. However, we waded across the river to get to it, and found it blocked up with caution tape. Now, we did see a group go up anyways, but we weren’t in the mood to break any rules and potentially have to explain ourselves in Spanish.
Instead, we swam, relaxed on shore for a little while, swam again, and then headed back to Playa del Coco. Had we come earlier in the day it would have been a great spot for a picnic lunch and to hang out with a book. For us, the 4:30pm closing time meant a relatively brief visit.
Our biggest day trip venture from Playa del Coco was to Palo Verde National Park. Now, this is the only thing we did that I don’t wholeheartedly recommend. It was good…but it wasn’t great enough to be worth the long, very rough drive in. So while it was still a good experience, in hindsight we would have opted for something different. But, if you’re passing close by, it could be worthwhile. It was also a great place for birding, if you’re into that, and I bet it would be a much different place in the rainy season – it was quite oppressively hot and dry when we were there.
The park entrance was one of my first big Spanish tasks, because the staff there spoke absolutely no English. Through my Tarzan Spanish, hand gestures, and maps, I was able to book us a boat ride and find out which two trails were most recommended. Not bad!
Our first destination was the boat tour, but en route we were entertained by capuchin monkeys!
At the end of the road our boat was waiting for us. A couple from Quebec were on the tour as well, so I had fun chatting in French (and feeling much more competent compared to my Spanish bumbling!)
On the tour we saw lots of birds, some iguanas and, most impressively, lots of crocodiles!!
Those crocs could move FAST. No matter how hot it was, there was certainly no temptation to jump into that murky water for a swim.
On our drive back out through the park we stopped for two walks, the first being quite a short one, basically the length of this boardwalk. You can see from the cracked mud how dry it was!
Our second walk was more substantial, about 1.5km each way (which doesn’t seem substantial, unless you’re there and feeling the heat!). This one took us to a nice lookout. And included howler monkeys startling us with howls along the way!
All in all, we saw and did some neat things in Palo Verde. It didn’t end up being our ideal activity (although the crocs were cool!), but that speaks more to our own interests and inclinations than the experience itself, so don’t let that deter you if it really appeals to you!
My next post will talk about a national park that we did really love!
On day 7 of our trip it was time to head inland and upland, i.e, up to the town of Monteverde, located in the mountains at 1440m. The draw here is the Cloud Forest (bosque nuboso), a rare forest type located in tropical or subtropical mountain environments where there is a consistent cloud cover. There are over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and 1200 species of amphibians and reptiles living within the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
There are a number of different parks and reserves in this area, each offering different activities. We spent a day at Selvatura Park, which included a canopy walk, butterfly garden, herptarium and frogs, hummingbird garden, and insect museum. There was also ziplining, but we were there for the wildlife and landscape.
Everything was with a guide, except for the hummingbird garden. We were impressed at how knowledgeable all the guides were! Our first tour was the main event, the canopy tour with the hanging bridges. We saw lots of interesting and beautiful plants and birds…and I can’t remember the names of any of them. But here they are!
Even the trees are expressive in the cloud forest.
Next, we toured the butterfly garden, herptarium and frogs, and the insect museum (i.e., insect collections…not live insects). The butterfly garden was quite large, with a wide variety of butterflies and flowers.
The frogs and reptiles were really neat, but don’t photograph well in their glass aquariums. Here is one lizard to serve as a representative of the herptarium.
No pictures of the pinned insects…although that was actually surprisingly interesting!
Our last stop at Selvatura was the hummingbird garden. It was a cozy little garden with a few hummingbird feeders and benches to sit and relax. If you stand still the hummingbirds will use your finger as a perch to drink! Both Mom and Dad served as excellent hummingbird perches. I did not…see, not only were there hummingbirds around the feeders, there were also wasps. I have never liked wasps, and after last summer’s traumatizing wasp experience I really don’t do wasps. So I failed miserably at holding my finger still long enough for a hummingbird to land. I did take some pics though!
There was also a coati that wandered through! This was exciting…until later we saw one in the garbage can (like, literally climbing in and fully disappeared), and realized that they’re basically the Costa Rican equivalent of Canadian trash pandas (i.e., racoons).
But they’re still cute.
The other thing we did in Monteverde was a night walk – this was SO cool! We paid for a private tour with a very small company called Johnny Loves Nature Eco-Tours – it is Johnny himself who owns the company and does most of the tours, but hires his brother for a few. He picked us up at our hotel and drove us to a small, nearby reserve. The tour was worth it before we even got there though – en route we stopped to admire some snoozing sloths that he has spotted on the way over!
The tour was awesome. I was expecting mostly creepy crawlies, and we did see one tarantula, but we also had some really good mammal sightings – we had a perfect sighting of an armadillo, a weasel, an olingo, and a weasel! Plus frogs, tree frogs, toads, lizards, and a teeny tiny praying mantis. Johnny was a fantastic guide – he was extremely knowledgeable, and extremely enthusiastic – some of the mammals we saw aren’t that common, and he was really excited to see them and show them to us!
Given the fact that this was after dark, there was no point in trying to take pictures. One of those experiences to just be enjoyed in the moment. But if you’re even visiting the cloud forest, a night walk should be on your to-do list. I highly recommend Johnny’s tour, but even if you go with someone else, make sure you’re with a small group. The animals move quickly, and had we been a larger group only the first 2-3 people would have seen many of them.
Be forewarned, the drive up is not for the faint of heart. I only screamed outwardly once (we were on the outside of a switchback with a precipitous drop when a bus came hurtling around the corner, half in our lane), but I rarely stopped screaming inside. Near the top we weren’t near as many cliffs but the road had some really rough sections. It’s totally doable, tourists do it all the time, but it’s definitely not super fun. If you’re leery, there are lots of tourist buses to shuttle people to Monteverde and back.
In my previous post about zip lining, I mentioned Diamante Adventure Park, and how we chose not to go zip lining there. However, this park has a number of different activities, and we did visit the animal sanctuary, which was well worth it! The sanctuary is the largest in the area, and all of the animals have been rescued by the Costa Rican Ministry of Wildlife. Now, enough with the words, on with the pictures.
There was a variety pack of frogs and pretty flowers. And a bunch of reptiles, but they didn’t photograph well in their tanks.
A howler monkey feeling the heat.
Turtles, iguanas, and large, toothy iguanas (right?).
Sloths! So lazy they wouldn’t even eat at feeding time, when the keeper was hand feeding them (Jack the Dog must be part sloth…).
There were many butterflies. Here are two.
And beautiful toucans.
And last but not least, there were 4 types of jungle cats. I was only able to capture two decently, since they were behind glass.
One of the things we wanted to try while in Playa del Coco was a zip lining tour. We came across two main options within a reasonable distance of town – Congo Canopy and Diamante Adventure Park. Both looked great, and by no means am I saying that one is better than the other, but they do seem to be very different experiences, so choose accordingly!
The Diamante zip line tour seems fantastic for those with a need for speed and adrenaline. It includes superman jump, a free fall, really loooooooooong zip lines… cool stuff, but not for us. Instead, we opted for the “family friendly” original zip line canopy tour at Congo Canopy, with 11 cables and 3 hanging bridges, and we were more than happy with our decision.
We were there first thing in the morning, so we were able to go as a group of 3. Private tour!
We had two guides with us, who were super nice, and also hilarious. It only took us a few minutes to get used to their jokes and remain nonchalant when they came flying towards us hollering as though they couldn’t stop. Or offered a high five just as they were about to take off down the zip line…and then held on as though you were to be yanked right off the platform. They were fun!
We also had a photographer zipping (hahaha) around with us. Since we couldn’t bring cameras we thought it would be worthwhile to pay for their photo service, and with three of us it made a lot more sense to pay for a CD with a bunch of pics instead of just one each. So all of the pics in this post were taken by the Congo Canopy photographer (who was also a super nice guy).
You can see in the above pics that we have one gloved hand resting on the cable behind us as we cruise down the line. One of the things we liked about this particular zip line tour was that, because the cables were not extremely long and fast, we were able to have a bit more control. For example, we controlled our speed by braking with that back hand as we approached each platform.
As I mentioned above, there were also a few hanging bridges to cross.
One of the cables had the option of going upside down!
The only unfortunate thing with this one was that we didn’t know if we had to pull ourselves upright before reaching the end. Not knowing, I started to, but the guides called out not to. Which was fine, except that my parents were watching from the far end and thought that I had tried and failed. Given that, my Dad decided not to go upside down, although he did briefly go hands-free!
We also had the option on one cable of going superman style. This one was with a guide, who took care of the braking.
What happened next is possibly the best memory of the entire trip for my Dad and I. See, my Mom was an enthusiastic participant and was having a great time, and was also completely content to go last every time and to forego the superman flight. Well, on the next cable, our guide motioned to Mom to come over first and started setting up the harness and cable…about halfway through it dawned on her that he was actually setting her up for the superman! But too late now, off she went, and is glad she did (I think)!
Although we went in the morning so it wasn’t AS hot as it could have been, quite frankly it was never not hot. The tour was nicely set up with some water along the way. We took a break for some water and pictures on the highest platform.
Another great thing about this tour was the wildlife that we saw! I could be wrong, but I suspect one wouldn’t have as many interesting sightings on the zip line tours focused more on adrenaline.
And finally, the after shot.
It was a fantastic morning. The site also offers other activities – horseback riding, a small animal sanctuary, ATV tours, and river float trips. We had a few minutes after zip lining and checked out the animal sanctuary, which was worthwhile as an add-on, but wouldn’t be worth it if that was all you were going to see (it’s neat, just quite small, there is another I’ll recommend later that is a primary destination). Definitely a spot worth checking out if you’re spending time in the area.