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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Marvel at Manuel Antonio National Park

We originally had no intention of going so far south and visiting one of the largest attractions in the country, but the lure of what it had to offer was irresistible.
An unexpected lunch guest
A toucan also dropped by
The bad news was that it was almost a 5 hour drive from where we were staying and the best time to see the animals was gate-opening at 8am. We abandoned our Air B&B a day early and made the drive. It was slightly overcast, but warm, and we managed to avoid the Transito (traffic police). On a recommendation, we stopped (via a misguided route offered by Google Maps - sometimes she's such a cow!) at a hotel called Villa Caletas, a beautifully situated edifice, perched high on a cliff overlooking the ocean. We had lunch at their restaurant (Restaurante Anfiteatro) which, unsurprisingly, had an amphitheatre carved into the cliffside. Sadly, there was no musical performance for lunch, but we enjoyed sweeping views of the water, made more enjoyable by the lush tropical plants, excellent service and very fine meal.
Pathway to the restaurant
Overcast, but warm, with big views

After passing a couple of pleasant hours surveying the sea, we hopped back in the putt-putt (really, there's no other name for it, completely serviceable, but not terribly peppy) and continued on through Quepos to our hotel. It was a lovely little find called The Falls at Manuel Antonio. It doesn't look like much on the outside, but was a sweet little oasis after a long drive.
Flowers of the rain forest

We rose early to eat breakfast at 7am and met our transport at 7:45. We were whisked off to the park, picking up the rest of our group and were ready to head in a little after the 8am opening. Ron and I boldly opted to take the tour in Spanish. (Yay, us!) It proved to be an excellent experience and we understood nearly everything our guide, Jason, said.
Fawn hiding in the underbrush
Three-toed Sloth, making his way through the trees
White faced monkey (in silhouette)
Two-toed sloth (vaguely reminiscent of Chewbacca)

Just hangin' around
Sweet little hummingbird taking a rest
Squirrel monkey (too fast for a good pic)

Yup, we found the world's cutest monkey
M. Antonio is the smallest national park in Costa Rica (at least, I believe it is), but it offers a lot. There are three varieties of monkeys and both types of sloths, plus an excellent selection of lizards, birds and is also home to White-tailed deer. Not only that, but there is an excellent white sand beach in the park that is safe for children to swim. (Costa Rica is notorious for rip tides.) 

We had a great time, got to joke with some Spaniards and a mom and daughter from San Diego; all in Spanish.
Crocodiles on the way back to San Jose
Sharing a joke? Laughing behind the other's back?

These guys are big - 2 metres long or so

I have to say that it was the busiest park we visited and seeing the crowds, we were worried that all the animals would be scared away. Our fears were unfounded and we got to enjoy all the wildlife the park had to offer. It's well worth paying for a guide, as Jason (Jade Tours) pointed out things that we'd never have spotted on our own, including a confused little fruit bat hanging out on a tree in the middle of the morning.
Not the best photo, but that's the bat looking addlepated
I think it's safe to say that we've avoided the most touristy of traps (I'm talking about you, ziplines) and wrung the most out of our time in the wilds of Costa Rica. I'm sure, all told, we drove well over 3,000 kms on all our adventures.
The putt-putt before (Daihatsu Terios) - shiny!
The putt-putt after... (not shiny)
Next up, San Jose, the capital city. We might regret it, based on the faces of those folks that heard we were staying 2 weeks there, but we'll let the city speak for itself. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Beaches of Costa Rica

Canada may have the world's longest shore line and some truly stunning beaches, (I'm sure we all have a laundry list of favourites) but Costa Rica's bread and butter is made off of a variety of sandy stretches in various colours...oh, and zip lines. (We have yet to bother with gimmicks such as wires strung over the canopy of the jungle, but there's still time.)
Regular Sand

White Sand

Black Sand
This is definitely the place to come for beach bums, surfers, snorkelers and SCUBA-ers. There are empty beaches, hard to reach beaches, popular beaches, beaches with time shares (consider yourself warned), beaches lined with restaurants, crab filled beaches, rocky beaches...well, you get the drift.
Palm shaded beach
Boating beach
Pacific Northwest styled beach
You could plan a whole month's holiday just visiting beaches every day, I'm pretty sure. That doesn't make the sound of the waves any less soothing, or the long stretches of pulverized rock and shell any less stunning. So bring your SCUBA gear, your snorkel or your surf board. (You can rent gear, too, if you want.) Be prepared to sweat, watch for rip tides and enjoy the sun and sand.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Costa Rica - Not just beaches

Both Ron and I like beaches, or at least the sound of the waves. (Sand is overrated in my humble and unpopular opinion.) Is that why we came to CR? No, we came for the hiking and wildlife. The whole transit cop things put us off driving overly much, but we girded ourselves up and headed out to Parque Nacional Barra Honda, which boasts lots of bird life, monkeys and caverns that can be visited. What could be more interesting than hiking through the "dry" rain forest - so called because it only gets rain for half the year - and scrambling down slippery ladders to investigate the world underground?

View from the bottom of the ladder
Further in, a look back at the entrance

The Elephant trunk, baseball bat
and shark tooth
The Abyss, not a place to lose your footing
Moving further into the darkness
"The Cathedral"
"The Trees" formation
One piece of advice, if planning on touring around Costa Rica in a vehicle: get a 4 wheel drive. You can hope for an upgrade (we got one because we took out the very expensive full coverage), but some of the roads to these spectacular places really require a vehicle with high clearance and independent traction. We haven't even been on a road that "requires" doble traccion yet and we've been grateful to have it.

As Barra Honda is a national park, there is an entrance fee of 6,500 Colones each ($29USD) to access the caves or 6,800 Colones ($12USD) just to hike around. The extra money gets you a guide and spelunking equipment.
Perfect camouflage

Mama and baby Potoos making like logs
Roadside Hawk

White-throated Magpie Jay

The best part of having a guide is that they can show you unexpected things. We managed to catch a few different bird species on camera, because of our guide's diligence and we also got to see Howler monkeys in their natural environment. Their calls through the jungle are quite haunting, and I can imagine terrifying, if you didn't know what was making all the racket.

Another early start sent us off to Tenorio National Park (same entrance fee as for hiking through Barra Honda) to see the much lauded Blue Lagoon. (No not the movie from the 70s, but a lagoon so blue that it defies imagination. The water turns blue when volcanic minerals coming from thermal springs merge with the river water.) As we're here in the rainy season (May to October) there was a chance that the lagoon wouldn't be blue at all, but we decided to risk it. It's a three hour drive from our accommodation, so we wanted to leave by around 7am. There are restrictions on how many people are let into the park, both at one time and per day. The best reference site for information is the Costa Rican Parks site, but it's all in Spanish. Nothing a translate button can't handle, I'm sure.

Pretty spider

Stunning bloom!

Taking in the amazing colour

River changing colour
We managed to time it perfectly, as we missed most of the rain and several tour busses full of school students who were entering just as we were leaving. We did have to drive through a torrential downpour reminiscent of some drives out to Maple Ridge for family gatherings. Considering that this is a tropical country, we thought we'd come across more of that, but so far, we've been lucky. (It's currently raining as I type this, though.)

A little blue butterfly
The money shot...quite amazing!
My green flying bug - he has orange wings!
Yellow bamboo amongst the greenery
As we drove out of the park, we were graced by the appearance of a band of coatis (white nosed coatis, to be specific), around 15 or so, crossing the road with all their babies, kit and kin. All I have is a bit of blurry video (darn you cell phone!), but it was such a lovely surprise. The video is just the tail end of their mad dash to safety.

They actually look like this (there were more babies, though):
So, I think it's safe to say that Costa Rica has a little something for everyone.

Next up, beaches and other adventures!