Hopefully we were going to like La Fortuna more than we did last year where we spent one brief night before heading up to Los Chiles and Nicaragua. It was the same time of year, it was still a major touristy town and it still suffered from torrential downpours, but being a couple of kilometers out of town and having great views of Volcan Arenal made us commit to three nights at Cabinas la Catarata.
Getting there was an easy five hour bus ride from one of San Jose’s bus stations. Of course it was the one that our cab driver didn’t take us to the first time – we were already running very late after having to return the rental car so when I asked at the information counter which bus was for La Fortuna I was quickly informed that this was the wrong station! Damn cab driver. Another speedy drive through town and we made it with minutes to spare.
The deal was better than expected as the La Fortuna area is full of resorts, spas and hotels outside of our pauper budget. We had a fabulous cooked breakfast w/fruit and a basic kitchenette, then our hosts upgraded us to a larger two bedroom cabin – all for $40 a night – they were very charming and helped us out in any way they could. We enjoyed it so much that we stayed for eleven nights before heading to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast.
The beautifully planted gardens, full of exotic birds were a real pleasure to sit out in each morning, especially when the owners went through their daily ritual of putting out bananas – the birds were every color imaginable, from bright red tanagers to azure blue honeycreepers. There were often mornings where I planned to go out early but those days always ended up later with an extra mug or two of coffee whilst sitting on the deck watching nature in full swing, both in the animal and geological worlds. It would have been great to see Volcan Arenal coughing up lava! We both loved it here and with reliable WiFi we couldn’t have asked for anything more.
Over our only long weekend we made it zip-lining with Arenal Mundo Aventura, with the longest zip-line being almost a kilometer in length, followed by a hot spring and dinner evening at Baldi Spa, then grade III / IV white water rafting with Costa Rica Descents on the upper Balsa river, and finally we hiked to the Fortuna waterfall. It was an amazing action packed weekend at pretty good value for money. I’m not sure how some of the rafting companies do their river grading but in Costa Rica on the Balsa river the rapids were some of the wildest I’d ever been through – it was mostly grade III but they always kept us on our game. We could tell from the faces of a couple of folk in our raft that they couldn’t wait for it to be over!
La Fortuna town, like before, didn’t have so much to offer us and once we’d booked all our adventures there was no real desire to go back, except either running through on our daily runs or shopping for groceries. Andrea was so pleased with being able to go and workout each day – she also knew to make the most of it as we never could tell how safe the next place might be.
Being able to eat in the cabin was our biggest gain even though we only had a rice cooker and electric skillet. It was amazing what we could make with so little equipment. I think in the eleven days we only ate out twice which saved us a bunch of money and ensured a healthy diet. This leads me to our biggest gripe with traveling. We would love to stay in more places where we at least have a kitchenette – a fridge and a small stove top would suffice. Eating like the locals is very enjoyable but going without salad and vegetables for too long definitely gets us down!
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
This Caribbean town, an hour south of Puerto Limon and 49 kilometers away from the frontier town of Sixaola, was our final stop in Costa Rica before heading across the border to Panama. We had already spent one night here after my La Ruta race so we knew exactly where our accommodation was, and with seven nights we found it perfectly located on the edge of town. Hotel Blue Conga was managed by Pierre and Marise, both fantastic hosts from Canada, who planned to open their own place in the area in the not too distant future. In the meantime they are running this hotel very well, providing us with bike rentals and the best tours, run by Pierre himself and totally free!
A car is a rarity for backpackers and we’d ditched our rental back in San Jose leaving us with walking or making full use of the bikes at the Blue Conga. We understood that they rented them out so getting them gratis whenever we wanted was a bonus we liked! Manzanillo, at the end of the road, was the farthest we went with a whopping 32km roundtrip, very unlike the days when we’d go out and hammer 112 miles!
With two national parks, Cahuita and Manzanillo, within easy reach of our hotel I had plenty to keep me occupied, not that I needed to head so far to see monkeys, sloths, agoutis and birds galore. We even had the Jaguar Rescue Center a couple of kilometers away, which made for a great visit during one of Andrea’s extended lunch breaks. I ventured out with our hotel manager and expert guide one afternoon to Cahuita National Park where we came across a pit viper, many sloths, huge lizards, raccoons and monkeys – the guy had an amazing eye for seeing animals high up in the treetops and undergrowth.
As well as the parks and countless beautiful beaches, Puerto Viejo is rammed with bars, spas (one next door to our hotel particularly good for chocolate massages and facials), and restaurants to suit all tastes. With no cooking facilities available to us, the week was spent experiencing the local Caribbean flavored cuisine.
On our final afternoon, once again with our hotel manager come tour guide we headed off to a waterfall just outside of the town of Bribri. Bribri is also the name of the local indigenous people of the Talamanca region, ranging from southern Costa Rica down into Panama. At the end of the trip we were invited into a local’s house, with the living area high up on stilts, to have juice and very nice bean filled savory pancakes.
Bye for now Costa Rica – maybe see you for La Ruta 2014….
October 29th – November 16th 2013