Looking for natural hot springs, refreshing rivers, and jungle wildlife, we arrived in San Jose after a several hours extra layover in Texas due to volcanic ash in the air around San José. The ash was all carefully cleaned from the rental cars, our friend at the rental company smiled as he recounted the mornings’ work.
Driving in Costa Rica is not for the faint-hearted. Not because of multi-laned, speeding mayhem but due to the narrow, winding roads where lanes come and go without warning and there always seems to be walkers of all ages unconcerned by the traffic passing within inches of them. Our introduction to driving was with Friday night traffic as we made our way to Quesada for a couple of nights at the Termales del Bosque. We awoke the next morning to breakfast on the patio before heading to the hot springs via a trail through the forest. To our surprise, besides us, the visitors that day were only a handful of local families and couples. Less than 24 hours into our trip, and we’d already settled into the “good life.”
Continuing our circular drive, we went northwest to La Fortuna. We stayed at Arenal Oasis Eco Lodge & Wildlife Refuge, a paradise owned by the family of David’s friend. The cabins provide a jungle retreat from the daily rain showers and the perfect place to hear the chorus of animal calls each afternoon. On our walk to breakfast, we passed by a neverending line of leaf-cutter ants carrying their leaves to some unseen destination.
And the best part doesn’t happen until nighttime! On their property, you can take a small group guided night walk to see frogs, snakes, iguanas, and centipedes. (Our guide, Gustavo, was the perfect blend of expertise and charm!)
As teachers, we always like to visit schools on our adventures. When we stopped by Escuela Nuevo Arenal, we spoke with the principal about the school and its importance to the community. He even showed us the forested area behind the school where students are labeling all of the different types of plants.
Afterward, a walk around the sleepy town then a delicious tostada in a “soda” where David took on the local kids in a game of fuzzball.
On our way to our most northern stop at Rio Celeste, Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio, we debated whether to detour to Nicaragua. (We decided to wait for another trip…..a Nicaragua blog for the future!) Rio Celeste is one of those natural phenomena that seems like a dream even while you’re seeing it. The sky-blue water is so mesmerizing that a folktale says that this is where God washed his brushes after painting the sky. The trek even during the dry season was fairly muddy and steep at times, but it was definitely worth the effort. When we first reached the enchanted destination, there was a 4-inch fluorescent blue butterfly dancing above the water. Breathtaking!
A video we took on the hike to “teñideros” (the place where the water color changes).
Luckily, we had the perfect place to rest at the Sueño Celeste Bed and Breakfast. The owners have created a relaxing retreat where you can feel the blend of their Belgian organization and hospitality with the “Pura Vida” lifestyle. The individual lodges hold beautiful beds draped in mosquito nets and terrific open showers. There is a small pool and hot tub for relaxing after a tiring day and a homemade breakfast to start each day while watching the birds or asking the owners for recommendations about sightseeing options.
A quick detour off of our driving circle took us to Jacó and Manuel Antonio National Park. Because the number of people and the general feel of a tourist trap, this was our least favorite part of the trip although Holly did get to see her first sloth in the wild!
While this destination was not as rewarding as the others in Costa Rica, the accommodations were exquisite! We had the boutique hotel, Forest Hills Suites, all to ourselves with the exception of one couple….and they were leaving for a night out when we arrived!
Costa Rica surely calls to all of those wanting to slow their pace and live in the moment. After having a taste of the flora and fauna, you wonder about all of the natural treasures that you haven’t yet discovered there. Then, you realize, you have the perfect excuse for a return visit!