Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pictures from Costa Rica

Pictures from Costa Rica are up! 245 of them (yea there's a lot). They are all mine except for the night shot, which is borrowed since I couldn't get one. But that's basically what we saw around midnight.

Click on the link, then "View Album" then "Play Slideshow"

Pictures HERE!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Costa Rica, Post 4 - Manual Antonio

Lastly, we headed to Manual Antonio. What a beautiful town. We stayed all 4 nights at The Falls Resort. It's a small boutique hotel (24 rooms), with the most amazing service I've ever had in my life. From day 1 they knew our names and who we were and were so helpful with everything, explaining tours, booking tours, etc. It was a beautiful hotel, great breakfast, and the bartender was cool too. He made some great cocktails. While in manual antonio we went open sea kayaking, snorkeling, white water rafting (awesome!), took a guided hike through manual antonio park, and took a vanilla/spice tour. I loved the white water rafting the best. And, I didn't fall out of the boat! We did the 1/2 day class 3/4 on the Naranjo River with Iguana Tours. The manual antonio park guided hike was good because the guide pointed out all these wonderful animals that I would have never seen without them. Sloths, monkeys, owls, snakes, bats, toucans, lizards, turtles, etc... If you're there definitely get the guided hike (we used Los Tucanes). The vanilla/spice tour was pretty neat but I think it was a little expensive for what you got. I don't know that I would recommend it unless you're really into spices and plants, etc. Though it was kinda cool. The beaches there were very pretty, especially in the park. It was really beautiful to see the teal waters come hit the beautiful white beach and the brown rocks, then hit the green rain forest. It was amazing. Mostly everywhere you could walk to, but walking was only recommended during the day. The road was winding and people drove very fast. Plus there were basically no sidewalks. Usually we walked down the big hill and took a cab up. In the town of Manual Antonio there are a bunch of local street merchants selling their goods. I got a few cool skirt wraps. We also ate a bunch of great food. The BBQ Cantina had great ribs and beef tenderloin and Costa Verde had the best Mahi Mahi sandwich ever! Auga Azul and Barba Roja had great views of the sunset. Bambo Jam had great live music and we went dancing there one night. But it got really crowded so we left around 10:30pm (which was really late for us!). The fancy restaurant, Kapi Kapi, was okay, but I think a little too expensive for what you got.

Overall we had the most incredible vacation. It was fun and relaxing and interesting. I was sad to leave, but I am definitely looking forward to going back.

Costa Rica, Post 3 - Montezuma

After Arenal Volcano we went to Montezuma Beach. When we got there I was feeling pretty sick, so we picked a place we had looked at online, Los Mangos. Again small cute little cabins, but there was no A/C. Also, these were REALLY small. The first night I took a bunch of Tylenol and zicam and just passed out for like 16 hours. Poor Jeremy had to go into town and eat alone. The next day I was feeling better, so we took a boat tour to Tortuga Island. The boat trip was nice, and the snorkeling was okay, but the water was pretty murky so it was hard to see. Also, if you go snorkeling in costa rica, just realize that there are no coral reefs in costa rica. You'll see lots of fish, but no beautiful bright colors. Also, we were dismayed to find that the hiking on Tortuga Island was closed and you had to pay a dollar to use the bathrooms. So the tour was okay, but I wouldn't really recommend it. Basically it's a boat ride and a nice beach, oh and lunch, which was pretty good. After that we decided we NEEDED a/c (and maybe a cleaner more spacious place), so we left Los Mangos a day early and headed to Amor de Mar. If I wasn't so sick, we would have looked at this place more closely the first day, but man were we glad to be here now. It was beautiful! The room we decided on had a/c and was bigger than the cabin and was cheaper! Plus they had a beautiful garden, lots of hammocks, and a tide pool in the ocean. And... it didn't smell like rotting mangoes. Los Mangos had plenty of monkeys, which were fun to watch, but the monkeys throw down mangoes and the mangoes rot since there are no grounds keepers to pick them up (or maybe just bad ones). Either way we were glad to be at Amor de Mar with a/c, this place really livened up our perspective of Montezuma. That night we ate at this wonderful place called Ylang Ylang. You have to walk to the beach to get there (beautiful walk no cars allowed), and it was by far our best meal of the trip. The next day we hiked to the waterfalls. Right away we met this local hanging out a little way up the trail. He had been there guiding some folks earlier and nicely showed us to the first waterfall. Even though the internet calls it a trail, that trail disappears quickly. We were so happy that we hired him to show us the other waterfalls. It was the best/cheapest tour ever. And totally random. Plus he took lots of great pictures for us and showed us where it was deep enough to jump in. While the water in the falls was clean, it was brown looking. This is because it had just rained and only clears up when the rain has stopped for a few days. Besides the waterfalls, we just hung out for the rest of the day and lounged. We also ate at this great little place Palmatis (again, someone's deck on their house, but what great homemade food).

Costa Rica, Post 2 - Arenal Volcano

After Monteverde it was off to Arenal Volcano. It's about a 3 hour trip by car which is about 1/2 paved and 1/2 dirt road (with pot holes), but again, not that bad. That being said, we did rent a 4 wheel drive car and if it would have been raining we probably would have needed it. Also, I should mention here a few things about driving in Costa Rica. 1. people will walk in the middle of roads. As well as dogs, chickens, and whatever else pleases. 2. The street signs/speed limits are more of guidelines. If you're not going fast enough, people will just pass you. You can pass anywhere and everywhere you think you can make it. 3. There are "man holes" on some of the dirt roads. So usually going about 20kph is recommended and is about all you can do. But the road to Arenal wasn't that bad, so we could go a little faster. Also, along the roads you'll pass a bunch of small restranuants. The tico's (locals) call them Soda's and they have the BEST food, even though they look fairly sketchy. Apparently the only requirement for a restrauant in Costa Rica is that you have a porch, a sign, and at least two tables. Anyway, back to Arenal.

We decided to stay one night at the Observatory Lodge. This is a lodge right near the volcano (the closest you can get) that was origionally built for scientists. It's also on the side where the lava flow is currently. It was fairly cloudy when we arrived (we stopped along the road to watch our first sighting of monkeys playing in the trees), so we couldn't see the lava, but we could hear the volcano rumbling. After eating, we settled into the room and around midnight were awakenened by the sounds of the volcano. We rolled over and looked out our big bay windown to see lava flowing down the volcano. It was awesome to lye in bed and just watch the show. We lasted about an hour before falling back to sleep. The next morning we did a guided hike at the Lodge (which was included in the price) and saw some cool animals and a nice waterfall. The best was that we got to see two tucans! After the hike we moved to the other side of the volcano. At this point the west side is where the lava is flowing, but the east side is where all the hotels and activities have sprung up. We stayed the next three nights at Arenal Volcano Inn. Again we had our own little cabin with a view of the volcano. The weather proved to be very nice so we could see the volcano most days and the clouds even parted enough that we could see the top at times. This place was pretty cool, and breakfast was included. I'd give it a 4/5. While in Arenal we took a horseback ride to the La Fortuna waterfall and then hiked down (and up) 480 steps to swim in it, which was awesome. I would recommend this tour, but ask for a fast horse, mine didn't seem to want to gallop too much, unless the guy yelled at it. We also hiked the Arenal National Park, and spent a few hours at the Tabacon Hot Springs one night (awesome!!!). The food was mostly good and we did drive about 10km outside of town to find a small little Soda with a great view. The town near the volcano, La Fortuna, is an okay town, but nothing to really write home about. Next it was off to Montezuma Beach.

Costa Rica, Post 1 - Monteverde

We're back from Costa Rica! It was such a WONDERFUL trip. Since we hit about 4 cities, and there's so much to tell about each, I decided to break up the trip into 4 posts. So here's the first...

First a general statement of Costa Rica in June. June is considered the "rainy" season. That means that everything is a beautiful green, but there is a chance of rain each afternoon. Usually beautiful in the mornings then a 2-3 hour shower (but which the sun is still out) and then clear at night. We found the weather BEAUTIFUL. It only rained hard 3 days of the trip and only for 2-3 hours each time. There were 2 or 3 sprinkle days but everytime it rained the sun was always still out and it was nice. Also because it was the "off" season there were many less people, cooler temps (esp by the beach), and much cheaper hotels (they have 'dry' and 'wet' season prices). I would totally recommend going in June, plus, it's much easier to book tours at the last minute because of the fewer crowds. Usually 24 hrs. in advance is perfect, but the day of is often fine too.

We arrived in San Jose (the capital city) on Sunday May 31st. We picked up our rental car (Dollar) and drove straight to Monteverde. It was about a 3 hour drive north, and the roads so far weren't that bad. The last hour of the drive was off the "highway" (a paved road, but without any lines or "rules"), and onto a dirt road. But really, the driving even on these roads was not as bad as I had envisioned it. Monteverde is in the cloud forest and is very close (walkable) to its sister city, Santa Elena. We stayed about half way between these two areas at a place called Cabinas Los Pinos. They were AWESOME little cabins, with plenty of space, a small kitchen, but no A/C. Which in Monteverde is very common and A/C was totally not necessary when we were there. In fact some nights were a little chilly. Los Pinos is also a small family run hotel, so the service was great and it was very well maintained. We stayed 2 1/2 days in Monteverde and did many things. The first, and by far the best, thing we did was a zip line canopy tour through the cloud forest (think rain forest). There were 16 platforms and it was AWESOME! We used a company called Salvetura and we also did a hanging bridges tour, where you walk through the cloud forest on this series of suspension bridges. We also did a coffee plantation tour (Don Juan), a cheese factory tour (Monteverde Cheese Factory), Climbed a hugh hollowed out fig tree (you'll have to see pictures to understand), and did a night walking tour to find lots of night creatures (our first, but not last, sighting of a sloth). A few quick notes about the tours, I would recommend everything we did in the Monteverde region (/santa elena), it was all wonderful. The cheese factory was actually established by quakers who moved to costa rica from alabama after having served 366 days in prison for not registered for the draft. Military service was against their religino, so they moved to costa rica because it was (and still is) a military free country. And the hollowed out fig tree that we climbed was very cool. It's called a strangler tree, and what happens is that after eating the fruits from a fig tree, the squirls deposit the seeds on top of other trees. If there is enough light, the seed will sprout into another ficus tree, and actually start growing on top of the host tree. The roots of the new ficus grow downward toward the ground and the branches upward. Eventually the host tree is strangled and it's food and nutrients are cut off and it dies. About 50-60 years later the host tree completely rots away and you're left with a hollow lattice work structure that you can go in and climb up. But you have to know the super secret place to find this tree, since there are no tours to it (thankfully). As far as the food in Monteverde, almost all of it was wondeful. If you go, I would recommend Restaurante De Lucia, Stella's bakery, Chimera, and the Tree House for dessert, but I would not recommend Morpho's Cafe. After Monteverde, it was off to Arenal Volcano.