Shortly after crossing the border from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, we immediately notice three things: 1.) all the garbage on the side of the road and elsewhere has disappeared 2.) the nature is even more colorful, lush and paradisiacal than before and 3.) the people on the street are deeply relaxed, friendly and always laughing.
At the guest finca of a Swiss emigrant we meet another overlander couple from Germany with their big Mercedes truck – Bernhard and Anja. We enjoy the perfectly signposted hiking trails (which in their structured set up could only have come from a Swiss or a German😉) and see ours first sloth. Unfortunately, the price level is again almost at North American or European levels.
Costa Rica has been recognized several times as the country with the happiest people in the world, the army was abolished in 1949 and the money saved was invested in health and school systems, democracy has been stable for many decades and the overall level of security is very high – no comparison to other Central American “banana republics” we have traveled to so far. However, parts of the country are also very touristy and commercialized: there is no waterfall that doesn’t cost at least 10 to 15 USD to enter, every second restaurant has a zip line in the garden, and some national parks can only be visited with guides. Unfortunately, that is the downside of this paradise.
The Rincon de la Vieja National Park surprises us with its thermal activity: it bubbles and steams almost as much as the Yellowstone N.P., and there are also longer and untouristy hiking trails to great waterfalls. The Nicoya Peninsula, on the other hand, is very touristy in the north… holiday planes from North America and sometimes even Europe land non-stop at Liberia’s international airport… almost like on Mallorca 😉. Further down in the south the peninsula becomes more pristine and the gravel coastal road winds along the tropical coast. Each beach is different: some are bright white like the well-known Playa Conchal or Playa Carrillo, some are anthracite-black (the nearby volcanoes say hello) like Playa Negro. Overall, the peninsula is the country’s yoga mecca, which is why it is Karin’s thing. But unfortunately, you have to book yourself into every hotel or retreat in advance. With drop-in yoga classes it is almost impossible. Maybe at some later point in time.
It is very hot with temperatures up to 38 degrees and corresponding humidity. And so we are happy that we have nice temperatures again in the mountain cloud forest of Monteverde at 1,600 meters. We use our Quad Shujoo to drive to the national park entrance (and are the first at the gate at 7 am before the tourist crowds arrive). Immediately, before we are even ready to take a photo, a nose bear calmly runs over our feet. Otherwise, as in any jungle, spotting animals is difficult, but the dense mountain cloud forest also has a very special atmosphere. The slightly lower hilly landscape is covered with wild hydrangeas, bougainvillea and other flowers… a feast for the eyes and we enjoy driving along the small mountain roads with Shujoo and letting our eyes wander to the Pacific on the horizon.
The weather is changing at Lago Arenal and its associated volcano… here the influence of the Caribbean side, which is more humid wetter than the Pacific side, can be felt. We find refreshment in the nearby “German Bakery”: a white sausage meal with Oettinger wheat beer… for just under €20, but still very tasty! In the Arenal Volcano National Park we see the pretty, very poisonous yellow lance viper… Otherwise, as before lots of great jungle sounds, but other than a few monkeys and birds we don’t see much else. One of the country’s most famous waterfalls at La Fortuna is indeed spectacular and surprisingly uncrowded at midday.
Then we drive along an extremely winding route to the Poas volcano… we’ve rarely had such steep ascents and descents and Shujaa has to work really hard. Due to a lack of alternatives and in order to be in pole position for the planned visit to the volcano the next morning, we park directly in the middle of the grassy roundabout in front of the national park, which is closed in the evening/night. At an altitude of 2,600 meters it really cools down at night! The next morning, we are lucky: the visibility is good and – equipped with the protective helmets that have been mandatory for safety reasons since the last eruption in 2017 – we see the steaming and bubbling caldera. Every volcano in Central America is different has its own charm.
We drive past the very congested capital of San José to the Ujarras ruins at Lago de Cachi. Here, in a fertile valley in the middle of a beautifully landscaped park, the ruins of an old church can be visited (free of charge!). Like in many other places, people laugh, ask politely if they can take photos of Shujaa and everyone thinks it’s “Pura Vida”.