An Eco Tourism dream destination.
Flight into Liberia
Arrival and star gazing
A few notes up front about our trip that took us a while to research that I can distill for you right away.
- Costa Rica is very drive-able. Some roads are a little sketchier than others, but many of the roads are in great shape and with a small engine SUV are no problem.
- If you drive, I strongly encourage you to download the area's around where you will be staying from google maps offline. This proved invaluable to us on our journey, without it, we would have gotten lost, because the primary reason people say not to drive in Costa Rica is because signage is relatively lacking. Well, google maps pings from Waze which is crowd-sourced from local Costa Rican's. The directions were flawless.
- The weather is unpredictable because of the proximity to the ocean and Volcano's, bring a solid rain jacket.
- Flying into Liberia is typically cheaper than San Jose but is fairly remote.
Your first activity in Costa Rica is driving to Hacienda Guachiplen, this is about one and a half hours from the airport and it was already late. One of the under-estimated features of this part of Costa Rica is that it tends to stay drier. As a result star gazing is phenomenal in this area. There is almost no light pollution and clear skies are likely. Take stock that night and embrace our wondrous universe.
We chose to fly into Liberia because tickets were cheaper than flying into San Jose. Tickets to Liberia put you in Liberia pretty late, around 8:00 or 9:00 PM. Many of the car rental agencies close down at 5:00 P.M. local time. If you are resourceful, you can call/or E-mail ahead and request they leave some staff on sight to meet you for your late arrival and still pick up your car. I can not say enough nice things about Budget car rentals for being so customer friendly to us. Finally, if you rent a car and take the shuttle they offer, be aware you will be mobbed by taxi drivers who say there is no other way to get around. Just wait them out and you will find your shuttle driver inside the airport. Where as the taxi folks hang out outside.
Day in Rincon
Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park
Today is all about exploring the park. There is a lot to explore. You may want to consider a guide as the park is huge and some parts of the park may be temporarily closed as they renovate trails that have been damaged by either wash outs or volcanic activity. We did a combination horseback/guided walking tour located here. This takes about half the day, which is important because you need to hop in the car and drive to Monteverde!
Drive to Monte Verde
This is a wonderful drive. The first half of the drive is on a major highway that is well maintained. When you finally turn off Route One onto 142 in the city of Canas you will start heading up to Monte Verde. This is the beautiful part of the drive. You will ascent relatively quickly, but most of the area is remote local villages. You will see wide open fields with wind mills and small mountain lakes. You also will get to see part of the coastline as you get closer and closer to the mountain. Some length of the road is unpaved towards the end. We stopped several times during the drive to take in the views and marvel at it's beauty. All of this within a less than three hour drive.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
This is one of the highlights of the trip. You want to get up quite early in the morning to beat the crowd. We entered the park as it opened at 7:30 AM and it was awesome. For most of our half day hike we were by ourselves with no human in sight. The only thing that kept us company were the clouds. There is a small entrance fee of $20 per person.
The Arenal Observatory and Lodge
This was a fantastic stay. How cool is it being able to say you stayed in an former observatory? Sitting nestled up to the Arenal volcano is really something special. You can spend hours just relaxing/reading sitting on the almost wrap around patio of the main lodge building taking in the hulking volcano as clouds roll over it's shoulder. Or, you can watch the exotic birds eat on the fruit that the lodge places in strategic locations. If you are really lucky, perhaps Arenal is active and you can see red hot lava rolling down it's gentle slopes.
Outside of the epic distraction that is Arenal Volcano, the lodge themselves are quaint. The lodge has a wonderful restaurant on premise which serves the best food we had in Costa Rica (outside Coconut water from a street vendor)! In addition, the lodge has many amenities. These include a pool, hot tub, Spa, and many wonderful hiking trails with a range of difficulties. Finally, you will probably see a wonderful array of wildlife, from exotic birds to Coati.
Room prices range from about $80 per night to $170 per night depending on how fancy you want to get.
During the night, you should find the frog pond at night. It is a short hike away from the main grounds of the lodge, but let's you see these majestic animals.
This was my favorite day of the whole trip. The goal for the day is to hike Cerra Chato. Breakfast in the morning provided at the hotel is excellent, the best we had the whole trip, and will power you for this challenging hike. There are several hikes on the Arenal Observatory Lodge grounds, but I highly recommend doing Cerro Chato.
It took us about 4 hours and 30 minutes to complete this hike. For those in less than excellent shape, I still recommend the hike, just go slow and pace yourself. You hike a natural stair case of roots and fallen trees to the top of an inactive volcano to reach crater lake. Crater lake is an emerald lake that just calls you to jump in, especially after you just hiked your ass off.
This was a magical experience for us. When we reached the top of the hike, it was extremely overcast and we could not see crater lake. A Canadian couple hiking at the same time who had a guide, ended up missing the view because they did not hang around for a few minutes. As with many things in Costa Rica the weather can change quickly. To kill time we hiked down to the water's edge of the crater lake. It was still overcast as we hung out when some other hikers joined us on the shore line. As we were distracted by them the clouds parted and the beautiful emerald lake revealed itself to us in slow motion, allowing us to see all the way around the lakes edges. We spent some time visiting a cuati and then rushed up to catch the view from atop the hike again. Seeing the cloudless view after having seen the overcast view was like solving a natural mystery in real time. This is a permanent memory we will carry with us forever.
After a strenuous hike I strongly recommend enjoying Arenal's hot tubs.
Drive to San Jose
Heading down from Arenal to San Jose is bitter sweet. You are coming down from the remote natural beauty of your trip so far into the lively city of San Jose. The nice thing is you are heading against any potential traffic. Most folks are coming out of San Jose into their destination. It is also fun to see all of the tourist trap resorts you could have stayed at instead of Mount Arenal Observatory. You will be reminded how well you chose going past these destinations. Coming in at just under 4 hours depending on traffic, this is your longest drive of the trip. Necessary to get to the bus stop to catch your bus ride to the Pacuare river for white water rafting.
Pacuare White Water
White Water Rafting
A few notes before hand.
- We used Rio Tropical for our rafting company. This seemed to be one of the better reviewed outfits on Tripadvisor. We were not disappointed.
- It is $100 bucks per head to go on the full day trip.
- Breakfast and lunch are provided by the company. Breakfast is quite good. Lunch leaves a little to be desired.
- As you are planning your trip, be mindful of the weather and rainfall leading up to it. We went and the water level was quite low. Rafting was still awesome, but the more rain the better experience you will have. Less wriggling around in the raft to nudge yourself off rocks.
We were up at 5:30 AM to catch the bus with our fellow rafters. Because you are being bussed to the main launch site onto the Pacuare you will need to prepare to get up relatively early. Don't worry, it's worth it!
The main event is the trip down the water. It is a fairly long trip. Expect around 6 hours in the water. During that six hours you will be amazed. You pass down through a variety of canyons that are almost untouched by human hands. Most of the land you pass is protected. There are actually still several aboriginal peoples on the lands and you may see them or footprints of theirs.
My favorite part were seeing the wild banana trees compared to some of the banana plantations you have seen so far on your trip. The forest density shows you mother nature still has a leg up on humans.
Other highlights were fish minnows swimming up stream blanketing a rock for almost the full stretch of the water. The crystal clear water and teal blue color. In addition, seeing the damn markings that were supposed to occur was fun, since you find out that almost all rivers in Costa Rica have been damned for Hydro power.
I have been white water rafting on some of the best rivers in the world for rapids. This is not that. This is a low key rafting trip that exemplifies natural beauty, with bouts of excitement and class 3 and baby class 4's.
Enjoy the trip.