Monday, May 25, 2015

Costa Rica Bucket List

The first half of my year in Costa Rica, I was mostly focused on my job, making friends, and practicing my Spanish. This was great because I created an amazing foundation for my life here in Costa Rica. However, when I went home for Christmas I got bombarded with questions, "Have you been to _________ (popular location in CR) yet?" "How is ____________ (popular place in CR)?" and it made me realize that although I had spent four months in Costa Rica I really hadn't seen much of the country. So, when I got back after winter break I decide to make a "Costa Rica Bucket List" so I could keep track of all the places I wanted to visit and all the things I wanted to do before I leave.

Well, time flew by and I was down to my last month and a half and still hadn't visited three of my top five places on my list... so it was time to do some work. With the exception of one weekend, I've spent the last six weekends traveling to some of the most well-known places in Costa Rica. Now, I feel like I can finally say that I really know the country.  As of this past weekend, I've finally checked off the top five places on my list, including what I consider to be Costa Rica's big three: La Fortuna, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio.
Baldi Hot Springs

I'd been dying to go to La Fortuna all year because I had heard nothing but good things about the small town located next to the famous Arenal Volcano. I finally happened upon the perfect opportunity to go to La Fortuna with my friends a few weekends back. My friend Angie has a finca in San Carlos, just a half hour drive from La Fortuna. A bunch of us went out to her finca for the weekend for the Expo San Carlos (imagine a small state fair with a horse parade). We went to the Expo on Saturday, which left us with a open Sunday afternoon. We decided to visit the Baldi Hot Springs in La Fortuna. The Arenal Volcano is famous for its natural hot springs due to the proximity of a very active volcano. We chose Baldi because although it's a little pricey, it's the nicest hot springs in the area and the biggest in the world. There were 25 pools of varying sizes and temperatures as well as four water slides. Nearly every pool had an amazing view of the Arenal Volcano just a few hundred meters away. The volcano is so tall that the top is usually hidden by ceiling of clouds, however we were lucky to see the clouds clear  for a few minutes in the afternoon just long enough to get a clear glimpse of the peak. It was absolutely stunning. Although there's a lot more to do in La Fortuna such as hiking, zip-lining, horseback riding, etc, we only had time to spend a relaxing afternoon at the hot springs, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I'd love to get back there someday and try the rest of the tours, but for now I'm satisfied with the little taste I got of La Fortuna.

Hanging Bridges of Monteverde
The first weekend of May Costa Rica celebrated its Labor Day. The holiday landed on a Friday this year, which meant I had a long weekend to take advantage of. I decided to solo trip to Monteverde to see the cloud forest that had everyone talking. Some even claim its the most famous cloud forest in the world, so I had to see it for myself. I made the five hour trek to the small city of Santa Elena, which is just a few kilometers away from Monteverde cloud forest. I know exactly what most of you are thinking.... what's a cloud forest? A cloud forest is a tropical forest that's characterized by lots of fog and 100% humidity. The mist and moisture causes growth of lots of moss and other tropical plants, in fact some of the plants get all their water from the moisture created by the clouds rather than rain or some other source. Only 1% of global woodlands are cloud forests. Anyway, I got to Santa Elena around noon. I knew that national parks usually close around four, so after I dropped my stuff off at the hostel I grabbed the next bus to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. I spent nearly three hours hiking the trails, birdwatching (Monteverde is famous for its wide variety of hummingbirds), and gazing in awe at the lush, green beauty that surrounded me. I considered myself lucky because the forecast for the weekends was non-stop rain and thunderstorms, however I only got rained on the last twenty minutes of my hike. I'd call that a win. Day 2 I had some big decisions to make. Santa Elena is known for offering tons of high-thrill activities such as bungee jumping, cave repelling, zip-lining, and more. As much as I would've like to do them all, I didn't have the time or money for them. So I chose to do a zip-lining and hanging bridge package deal as they were both things I've never tried before. I lucked out big time again on Saturday as the morning greeted me with clear blue skies and lots of sun. I had a blast zip-lining, but as most people tell you the joy zip-lining isn't really about the activity itself, it's about the amazing views you get as you're doing it. Some of the lines went under that canopy and some of it over, making for some spectacular, breath-taking views of the forest. After a morning of zip-lining, I spent my afternoon hiking through the hanging bridges which are great places to animal watch and get  great views at the forest. All in all Monteverde was great! It's absolutely stunning and I'd highly recommended. Getting there and staying there is cheap, but it's the tours that'll get you. If you're ever headed to Monteverde I'd recommend setting your heart on one or two tours before you go because it can be overwhelming once you get there.

Finally, this past weekend I visited Manuel Antonio with a bunch of my friends. I've been begging them to go to MA with me all year, and we finally found a weekend that most of us could go. I wanted to go to so badly because my parents and sister visited there a few years back for a spring break trip and they adored it. I couldn't wait to get to this tropical paradise! We met up at our hotel in Manuel Antonio early on Saturday. After we got a bite to eat we went straight to the beach and spent the rest of the day there. Something that's confusing about Manuel Antonio is that there's a lot of beaches and two of them have very similar names. The nicest one is called Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, but as you may have guessed it's inside the national park and requires a fee to enter ($16 if you're a foreigner like me). So on Saturday we stayed at the regular Playa Manuel Antonio which is still pretty nice, although a little rocky. The reality is, when you're with friends it doesn't really matter how nice the beach is. Good company is what makes a beach day great, and that I definitely had. That night we went searching for a restaurant with a TV so we could watch the Costa Rican League national championship game. Heredia (my team) played against Alajuela's La Liga which holds a lot of heated rivalry. The game went into extra time and eventually penalty kicks, which made for a very dramatic ending. Heredia won on the 6th PK which was very exciting to watch. It would have been nice to be in Heredia to celebrate (I heard the celebration in the street afterwards was crazy), but it was worth it to be on vacay with my closest Costa Rican friends. The next day we went to Manuel Antonio National Park. The only hiking we did was to two of the beaches, but we were able to see quite a few animals on the way including tropical birds, a few species of monkeys, colorful crabs and some raccoons (who were clearly used to human company). The beach was absolutely beautiful. Even though it was an overcast/rainy day, we were able to swim and enjoy the clear blue waters and tropical vegetation that encircled us. The sand on this beach was some of the finest and whitest sand I've ever seen. It was simply pristine. The beach even landed spot #17 on Trip Advisor's top 25 beaches in the world list, and I can see why (although my favorite beach is still Punta Uva in Puerto Viejo). After we logged some beach time we went back into town for a late lunch and headed back home. A beautiful sunset lit our path back to San Jose. My overall review of Manuel Antonio is that it's beautiful but over-priced and very touristy. I'd recommend it for someone who doesn't mind paying a little extra for food and lodging, and is looking for somewhere that's easy to get around without Spanish. However if you're looking for a beach town that's more authentic and quaint, I'd recommend somewhere else.
Playa Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio

As you can tell all La Fortuna, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio are all incredible places. They each highlight different areas of Costa Rican landscape and a range of activities. I enjoyed them all, but they are all admittedly touristy. Stay tuned for my next two posts about my favorite places in Costa Rica and what to know before you come here to get my unfiltered opinions about where to go and what to do in this beautiful country.

(Note: As I leave for Colombia at the end of this week, there may be a break in my Costa Rica blogging in order to blog my Colombia trip, enjoy!)

No comments:

Post a Comment