A Travellerspoint blog

2 weeks in Costa Rica

semi-overcast 26 °C

I met up with Sarah and Gemma in Allajuela as its near the airport and they didn´t arrive until quite late. We have spent the last 2 weeks travelling around northern Costa Rica and have managed to see a lot of the country in a short amount of time. As Costa Rica is quite small it has been a great place to see a lot of different things, but I think the main highlight for us has been the wildlife.
On our first day we visited one of the many active volcanoes in the country, Volcano Poas and enjoyed quite a relaxing day doing a little bit of walking near here while we adjusted to the heat and humidity.
Our first stop was La Fortuna. The evening we arrived we were lucky with the weather. After a storm early in the afternoon the weather cleared, so we went on a guided walk in the forest where we learnt a lot about the plants and wildlife. Once it was dark we went to see Volcano Arenal, which is apparently the second most active volcano in the world. At night it is possible to see glowing rocks and lava flowing down the side of the volcano, we were really lucky to get an amazing view of this. Then we spent the rest of the evening enjoying more geo-thermal activity in the hot spring.
The next day we travelled to Tortugera on the Caribbean coast, an area known as a mini Amazon. Its on a peninsula inaccessible by road so it was a long journey by bus and then boat. I enjoyed seeing the Caribbean way of life here, very different from anywhere else I have been so far. This evening was very different from the last as we went to watch turtles nesting on the beach. It was a very strange thing to see, and be able to get so close to. It did feel like we were disturbing the turtles, getting so close to them when they are actually laying their eggs, but we were assured that once they have actually built the nests it is fine to watch them. We watched 2 turtles laying there eggs, covering them then walking back to the sea. For me the most impressive thing was the size of the turtles, they were huge. And almost as impressive as the turtles was the huge thunderstorm we watched out to sea.
After a late night turtle watching we had an early start to go on a canoe trip to see more wildlife. I really enjoyed this as it was a very relaxing way to see a lot more wildlife including caymen, iguanas, several species of monkeys, river turtles and many types of birds. In the afternoon we headed back to La Fortuna and in the boat on the way back I think we saw even more wildlife than we had seen on the tour in the morning.
Our next stop was Monteverde, a small town in the hills that was originally founded by Quakersin the 1950s. The afternoon we arrived we went on a tour of the cheese factory that the original Quakers set up and is still running now. It was actually interesting to see and I enjoyed it because it was my first chance to try some real cheese in a very long time, they even had a reasonably good Chedder.
The following day we went on 2 tours, the first a guided wildlife walk through the forest on a series of hanging bridges. The second part was a canopy tour where we went on a load of zip wires through the tree tops, very good fun. We also had to do a tarzan swing, which in a way was like a bungee jump as the 1st few seconds you were just free falling before you actually started to swing.
Our next stop was Liberia in the north west of the country. Here we visited Rincon de Vieja national park to see some more geothermal activity, hot springs and boiling mud. It was a nice walk through the park and we also saw some more wildlife, huge butterflies, iguanas and monkeys. Liberia itself was a bit of a disappointment though. the guide book describes it as a colonial town and one of the must see things in Costa Rica. It had one street where there were a few old houses, but that was about it, definitely not one of the highlights of the country.
We decided to spend our last few days at the beach, so we went to PLaya Hermosa. This was a very quiet little village, with virtually no one else there. We spent a nice relaxing day there, enjoying the beach and swimming before heading further south, to the resort town of Montezumma. Here was a lot more developed than Playa Hermosa and the closest beach was about half an hours walk along the coast. But we stayed in a nice hostel with hammocks in the garden by the sea. We spent a day here walking to a waterfall in the morning. This was a good walk along the river and had a good pool for swimming under the waterfall. In the afternoon we walked further along the coast to the beach, where we tried to swim, but it wasn't really possible. The following day we spent travelling back to Allajuella. Then our last day we spent at Xandari spa resort just outside the town on a coffee plantation. For me this was a bit of luxury, a very big change from staying in hostel dorms. We spent the morning walking around the site which has 5 waterfalls. on the way we came across a huge snake on the path, at least 1.5m long. LAter we tried to find out what it was and the closest picture we could find is of a snake that is apparently has a deadly venom. After lunch the weather wasn't so good so we passed the time doing a jigsaw, before having a very nice dinner.
Unfortunately the following morning Sarah had to leave very early for her flight home and I wanted to get back to San Jose to try and get a bus to Nicaragua. So I only had a short time enjoying a bit of luxury.

Posted by katiew 07:10 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Back to the Northern hemisphere, Costa Rica

storm

My first impression of Costa Rica when I saw it from the plane was how green it looked. Everywhere was green with just a few buildings. Everywhere else I have been it has been the middle of the dry season so I have got used to brown and dusty places, here it is very different. My second impression of the country was much it seemed like the states, but a bit poorer, but maybe thats just the capital. I arrived in the evening so just found a hostel and something to eat then was too tired to do much else.

I´m not used to being in such a small country where you can get anywhere within a few hours, so it was hard to decide what to do with the 4 days I had before having to be back in San Jose to meet my friends. In the end I guess I went for the obvious choice and went to Chirripo national park in the south, where there is Costa Ricas highest mountain.
After spending a night in San Isidro I got an early morning bus to the village and park entrance as I wanted to get an early start to avoid the heavy rain that seems to happen every afternoon. After arrivingh at 7am, I then took a wrong turn in the village so it wasn´t until 9am when I actually got to the start of the path. The walk was a steep climb up thtough the cloud forest. To start with I had good views, until the clouds came down, but it was still a nice walk. I reached the half way point after about 3 hours and by then it had started raining heavily but I decieded I should carry on to the top anyway after getting that far. What I thought was heavy rain then got even heavier and I was soon soaked through despite wearing waterproofs. At least here it is still warm even though it is wet. The rain made it hard going, but I eventually made it to the refugio at the top where I was to spend the night. Luckily I stillhad some relativly dry clothes in my rucksack so was able to get changed. I met a very nice group of Costa Ricans who gave me a bowl of soup and a mug of hot chocolate to warm up as because I had climbed to over 3000m it was now pretty cold. THe refugio only has electricity for a couple of hours in the evening so it was lights out at 8pm and an early night.
I got up early again the next morning and was relieved to see the rain had passed. I spent a couple of hours exploring the area of lagunas around the refugio before starting to walk back down to the village. The walk down was really nicer as the clouds were much higher than they had been the day before. I also saw a lot of butterflys and tiny hummingbirds. I made it back to the village in time for lunch and luckily I had just madeit into a cafe when the afternoon rain started again.
Having enjoyed my first few days in the south of Costa Rica, the following day I returned north to Allajuela to meet Sarah and Gemma that were arriving from home that evening.
And now almost a week later I am still trying to dry my boots out after that first days walking.

Posted by katiew 16:37 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Quito

overcast 19 °C

We arrived in Quito Sunday afternoon and decided to stay in the old town. After finding a hostel we tried to find somewhere for lunch. The town was surprisingly quiet, the roads were closed to cars and there were a lot of people walking and cycling, but almost everything was closed. Apart from that we liked the old town, a lot of nice squares, impressive buildings and it seemed very quiet and easy to get around for a capital city. For once it wasn´t completly overcast and raining so we decided to make the most of the weather and spent most of the afternoon in La Carolina, the main park in the city. It was obviously the place to be on a Sunday as it was really busy but it was still a really nice place, until it started raining and we back to the hostel. In the evening, it was even quieter and the only place we could find that was open was an internet cafe.

The next day we decided we should go to the Equator which is marked by a monument and a few museums just outside of the city. Although its not far we had a few problems working out the public transport system and it took us nearly all morning to get there. When we finally arrived we ended up going to what is probably best described as the alternative museum. It was set up by a small group of people who have proven that the equator isn´t where the monument and official museum are, but 240m away. They are investgating a pre-Inca arcaeology site which they think was built to mark the true equator. the guy running it told us a lot of interesting information about archaeology, geography and astronomy in the area, he also talked a lot of rubbish as well. After that we deicided not to even bother going to the official museum and went back in to town, a slightly better route than we had taken. We spent the rest of the day looking round the town and doing a few jobs that we had to get done before our flights the following day.

It was an early start the next day as Cathy's flight home was at 9am. My flight to Costa Rica wasn´t until 2pm so I just spent most of the day at the airport.

Posted by katiew 19:07 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Otavalo

overcast 18 °C

From Latacunga we decided to go to Otavalo for a few days as several people had told us it was a nice place to see. We arrived Friday afternoon and spent a while looking around the market in the main square, a big crafts market, mainly aimed at tourists but used by locals as well. There was a lot of really nice stuff and if I didn´t have to carry so much, I could have ended up spending a lot of money. As usual it started to rain so we gave up and spent the rest of the afternoon indoors. After dinner we went out for a drink and discovered that here you could even barter over a bottle of wine in a bar. This happened completly by accident, we asked what wine they had, were deciding whether to risk it as Ecuadorian and Peruvian wine is really bad and the bar women just started decreasing the price for us, after that we decided to have it and luckily it turned out to be Chilean wine, which they had to go out and buy specially for us.

Otavalo is famous for its Saturday market, so we were expecting it to be a bit bigger than we what we saw the day before but were suprised to see that it almost completly takes over the town as it spreads to all the streets around the centre. People come from all over Ecuador to buy and sell anything and everything. We spent all morning looking round, buying a few things, trying different types of food from the stalls. It has to have been one of the few times I have actually enjoyed shopping for anything.

In the afternoon we decided to go to Peguche, a small village nearby where they still maintain a very traditional lifestyle. The village was very quiet because everyone was at the market but we had a nice walk to a waterfall, until it started raining, so we went back to Otavalo.

THe following morning it was time to go to Quito as we only had a couple of days left before our flights.

Posted by katiew 18:52 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Latacunga and Quilotoa

overcast 17 °C

The bus from Puerto Lopez to Latacunga took longer than expected, after leaving at about 5am we finally arrived in the evening and went to the first hostel we saw. Then we explored the very limited choices of places to eat and ended up back at the Chinese across the road from the hostel. As everything in the town seemed to be shut by 8pm we had an early night to get ready for another early start the next day as we had decide to spend a few days travelling between small villages in the surrounding countryside.
We got another bus to a small town in the middle of nowhere and then got a lift in the back of a truck to the village of Quilatoa. The village actually only consists of a couple of basic hostels, a shop and a small market where locals sell handmade crafts. But the village is in a good location right at the top of a volcano crater. We spent the afternoon walking down into the crater where we hired a kayak and paddled round the crater lake until as usual in Ecuador, it started raining and we walked back up to the top.
Early the following day the weather had improved a bit and we had better views from the top of the crater, across the surrounding countryside to the volcano Cotopaxi on the horizon. We spent the morning doing a nice walk to the village of Chugchilan. It was a good walk that went half way round the crater, down the other side and then into a canyon, which we had to cross. In the afternoon we decided to go horseriding into the cloud forest. Unsurprisingly being the cloud forest in Ecuador we ended up in the clouds yet again, but it was still a good afternoon.
The following day we decided to walk to the village of Isinlivi. The evening before we had met a French guy who had done the walk in the opposite direction and gave us a set of instructions that he had been give. The walk was supposed to take 4-5 hours and he said he had got a bit lost so it had taken him 6. Once we read the instructions we could see why he had got a bit confused, but we thought there would be enough locals to ask if we got lost.

All went well for about the first 45 minutes until we reached a village that was mentioned mentioned in the directions, but on their map it was shown so we carried on. Just to check we asked a girl that we passed, turns out the map was wrong and we shouldn´t have gone as far as the village so turned round. In the village we asked around and found an alternative way to get on to the path we had previously missed. Things went well again for a while, we found the path, went down to the river and followed that for a while and it seemed to fit with the directions (except we didn´t see the small dog that they mentioned). However once we crossed the river the directions got even worse. we were stood in a small field surround by trees and bushes and the instructions said something like walk through the bushes, turn left at a tree, take 2 steps, walk past a bush etc. After wandering round for a bit and find nothing useful we went back to ask another group of people, who told us we should walk back along the river and cross at a different bridge, the bridge that it siad not to use in the directions. We thought we should try it anyway, crossed the bridge and found ourselves surrounded by a barbed wire fence. We spent a while looking for paths in the area and found a few tracks which soon just disappeared. Having already taken us about 5 hours to get what we assumed was less than half way to the village (the walk was suppossed to take 4-5 hours) we admitted defeat and decided to turn back. When we reached the main road someone offered us a lift in the back of a truck to the next town. We spent most of the journy trying to see where the village was or find any route up from the river, but to us it looked virtually impossible, whichever way we could have gone we would have ended up at the bottom of cliffs. After a very dusty and uncomfortable journey we made it to Sigchos where we waited for the evening bus back to Latacunga.

Posted by katiew 18:36 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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