Pura vida! Welcome to Costa Rica, an incredible home of tropical forests, volcanoes, beaches, big cities and small neighborhoods. The people here are warm and friendly and there is enough adventure for everyone. The culture is inviting, nature is magnificent, and the weather is just right. This is the "green" side. The people, mainly a mix of Spanish and Indians, are called Tikans. The language is Spanish, although many people speak English. "Pura vida" is the coolest way to say "Enjoy life!"
Although known in many ways, the culture of Costa Rica has enough unknown aspects to be intriguing. Driving from the airport to our hotel in San Jose, we saw a cow grazing from an overpass and a horse trot along the road.
We spent our first day at the Gran Hotel, a luxury 1930s style accommodation. This is the only hotel in the country considered historic. There was a piano concert during lunch and dinner. Very chic! Our breakfast was typical Tikan: beans, rice, chorizo and cheese, with strong coffee. The staff was very friendly and helpful. The Major of the Rudolfo Palace was particularly kind. We visited the Zoo, the National Musee and the Butterfly Garden. While almost everyone we met was warm and friendly, hang on to your bag and camera. Theft can be a problem. An outdoor or market Mercado has clothes, books, souvenirs, purses and many, many more. Great Shopping! We chose Nuestre Thier for lunch. Lunch was small, a delicious mix of shrimp and fish. We were again greeted with warmth by the staff. After an afternoon of wandering, dinner at the hotel was Robespierre, a wonderful delicate steak dish flavored with rosemary, thyme and sage.
Cars were only allowed to drive on alternate days, depending on the last digit on the plate, odd or even. This reduces traffic and air pollution. We didn't need the car as we went everywhere! Stay in areas where people are present and do not wander into less populated areas to avoid trouble. The city of San Jose is lively but also crowded. Most of the shops are completely open from the street. Shopping is diverse, like one find in every major city. Throughout the city there are sculptures of cows: dancing cows, chess cows, pink cows. It's called the Cow Parade. This is very bizarre!
We visited the small National Theater Museum to discover the history of Costa Rica. Early humans wore beautiful gold ornaments. We saw exhibits of local animals and many more. The plaza was great for people watching and feeding pigeons. Everywhere there are stands for fresh produce and small pavilions selling magazines, toys, snacks and the like. It makes a very colorful city scene! The parks provide green space and quiet oases. The mountains are always on view. We moved on to the zoo, where alligators, tropical birds, big cats, monkeys, snakes and flowering plants enveloped us in bright colors. Lakes and streams created a natural habitat.
The Spanish influence is evident in the ornate wrought iron and ornamental wood. At the National Museum of Costa Rica Museo, we discovered more about this beautiful nation. There are dioramas of early natives, 16th-century Spanish tools, funerary customs, pottery, exhibits of native animals, colonial furniture, displays highlighting the coffee and sugar industries, and painted Oscars that are part of the culture.
After breakfast of fried yucca and sausage in tomato sauce, which was very tasty, we left town for the country, driving along a two-lane highway with hundreds of other cars. We stopped for lunch at one of the soda bars or snack bars. It was by a calm river and very pleasant. Most carbonated drinks are opened to the side to capture the breeze. We enjoyed the ride, seeing the mountains, forests and tiny villages. Each has a church, a school, a football field and soda. We stopped at Do Do Center, a pumpkin version of Lowe's or Home Depot. Checking in was fun! There were toys, cooking utensils and appliances. It is a non-governmental public organization. Our driving took us to the Pacific Beach, in Playa Hermosa to the hotel, El Valero. Our hotel had a swimming pool, private beach and outdoor dining. It was the opposite of San Jose, being very small and quiet. This is paradise! A little animal made some interesting designs for scratching in the sand! We swam in warm water and watched the glittering red sunset. Being close to the equator, it was dark by 7:00. The staff, again, was very nice. Dinner was delicious, Chateaubriand. It is made with beef, mustard, mushrooms and sherry. Our room was nice and the porch catches the ocean breeze.
Another hearty breakfast of tortilla, cheese, beans and rice with strong coffee helped us to start our day. We spent the morning diving and swimming. We were practically alone on the beach! We saw some very nice fish and found some unusual shells. The water was very clear and warm. What a great way to start the day! We were curious about Play del Coco, a seaside resort nearby. A short trip took us to a colorful and sleepy little town. We shopped at Mercado (shoes, dresses, masks, CDs, etc.) and ate at the Secret Soda Garden. One of the establishments was called The Louisiana Restaurant and Bar. The Virgin Mary Carmel is the Catholic church in the city. It is open to the public, is a very nice church and is a good place for a quiet time. We enjoyed our long walk along the beach. On our way back, we shopped at a supermarket that was much smaller than the American supermarket, but had food from Costa Rica, so it was most interesting.
Our dinner was tapas in Ginger near the beach: summer rolls, salmon whipped cream, Aztec soup and Ahi tuna. Everything was delightful! We took samples of the native fluid, guaro. This is a sugar cane, very popular with the ticks. It was very sweet and we took care of the taste, although the mojito was better. A stroll on the beach in the moonlight and it was time to tune in for the night. I'm diving tomorrow!
Today was exciting because I went diving! Marine wildlife was abundant! We say many varieties of fish and sea turtles. The water was clear; drivers knew their sites. I love to do more on another trip! It was my first dive in the Pacific. Greg sat on the deck and made landmarks. Then we went to Playa Panama along the winding road, which consisted of a small hotel and a beach. Great to really get out! We arrived back at our hotel to find electricity. Obviously, this happens often, and one guesses when it will return. We all made it and tonight was a BBQ hotel. The food was delicious, of course. There were many people in the community who came in and we met some Americans who now live in Playa Hermosa. We had some interesting conversations! We were joking with the bartender! It was a good day! We really like the coastal Rica!
Now that we know the beach, we want to meet a volcano! Mt. Arenal is an active volcano in central Costa Rica. The roads were winding, narrow, hilly and gave us beautiful views! We took pictures, of course! We stopped at a Combined German Bakery / Cafe / Local Craft Shop! German food in the Central American country was a twist. While we were eating our fraternities, a man on horseback came jogging down the street and then again. We don't see this in Florida cities! We looked at the small market and then continued on our way. Arenal Lake is breathtaking! We noticed that wild flowers are a combination of tropical and home grown flowers, which makes it quite exotic. We stopped for coffee in a small cafe overlooking the lake. The secure gate at the entrance reminds us that there is a problem with crime if we are not careful. The journey to Arenal Park took us 6 hours because the roads were impassable and our stops. We watched a monkey cross the road. We stayed the night. Lodge Lodge Observatory, with a clear view of the volcano! We heard and felt the roar and after dark watched the red, lava lava flow down the mountain! It was a great experience! How often can you sit in bed and watch a volcano! The park has hiking, windsurfing, fishing, cycling and more. We hiked in the rainforest, an exciting experience! When we reached the waterfall, we plunged into the pool to cool off. We saw hummingbirds and butterflies everywhere! Two specialty drinks are offered at the bar, both of which flame in honor of the volcano! Tomorrow we are going white water rafting!
The rafting adventure was great! We ran three rivers with capable guides. Our guide Tony catches an attractive, albeit venomous, tiny blue frog toad to show us. We brawled, bounced, and flew down the water. After a sophisticated raft trip, we had a delicious lunch with our group in Tikan steak. Lazy, hanging in the tree, caught our attention. A quick tour of the charming city of La Fortuna allowed us to appreciate the culture of Costa Rica, especially the quiet pace of life and the assessment of education in this country. We like the colors, the food, the music, the friendliness.
Santa Elena is a mountain town, reached on a very narrow, impassable, winding road. There are dents, no guard rails, and a creek was passing in one place. The road was dark. I didn't know if we would reach the top. However, Santa Elena is worth it! This is a great place to visit! We stayed at Finca Valverde Hotel. Following the concierge along the long and snake path, we were able to stay in our hotel room in the midst of tropical forests.
We sat on the porch drinking coffee and watching kinkaiuses, toucans and other tropical birds. After breakfast, there was an orchid garden. It was heavenly! So many types! The colors, sizes and shapes are different. There were Chunches, coffee shop / bookstore / laundry. This is a great place with a great selection of books and lots of food choices! It was here that we met Cindy, a Texan who loves to live here and knows where to find something! There was the Serpentarium. It was full of snakes and lizards of all kinds. There was a tour of a coffee plantation / cane. We rode in the car and made candy at the end of the tour to go home. How often do we get to that! So much to do in a day! There were hotels, restaurants, shops, all with a small urban taste. The city is very small, so walking is the best way to get around. At the end of the day we were tired, but very happy to see and do so much. And tomorrow we shimmer in the shade!
Today, breakfast was at the Treehouse Hotel and Restaurant, where there is a real tree grown across the roof! Tican coffee became our favorite. It is strong and completely flavored. We had a hearty meal because today was our canopy tour in the cloudy Santa Elena Forest in Selvatura Park. It was raining, but we were in the rain forest! There are paths and gardens that take time while waiting for a zipper. The sky walk was exciting and gave us an amazing view. The vegetation is huge! Feeling as we zip over the canopy is like flying! We looked down at the trees and flew through them from one platform to another. This was our first zip and we loved the experience! Great! I continued on Tarzan's swing while Greg watched! How much fun! We watched some monkeys play in the trees. It was still raining, so we suggest packing a poncho out and about.
For dinner, we walked the short and steep distance to Chimera, in Monteverde, where Cindy works in the evening. The views were wonderful. The food, tapas, was great! The mango sorbet was particularly tasty. Very average price too.
Walk to the Tree House for breakfast, only to find the broken coffee machine! Oh no! Fortunately, Chunches and Cindye were available, so we had lunch there and talked to our new friend.
Monteverde cheeses have many varieties of handmade cheeses. We bought some delicious looking Gouda. Several shops along the road were open, so we searched inside. Back in Santa Elena we visited the Frog Lake, full of tropical frogs and toads. It was a good time as it was raining again. The butterfly garden was close by with dozens of delicate, gorgeous, colorful butterflies. Glasswing has transparent wings! Both attractions were fun! Unfortunately, it was time to head back down the mountain. We had to say goodbye to Santa Elena and Cindy! Return again along the narrow steep and serpentine road to San Jose. On the way, we stopped for baking soda. A man drove his small herd of cattle on the road past us. Very picturesque!
Back in the heart of San Jose, we stayed again at the Gran Hotel. We felt like old friends the way our staff greeted us. From our room, we had a good spot for street corner entertainers. We were away from Teatro Nacional Plaza and all the people. We had dinner at Le Monastere, a former monastery perched high on a hill with fantastic views of the city lights at night! The food was excellent! It was highly recommended by the hotel staff and it's worth the drive to get there! A night stroll through the city was great for the people watching our last night here. There were several street performers and music was flowing from clubs.
After being at the airport, we found that most food courts only take money and ATMs are both out of order. By counting our change, we were able to buy a drink and a bag of chips each for lunch! Adios, Costa Rica! Prices for most places were moderate, amenities were modern, the weather was good, and the people were great! We look forward to another visit!