- Posted August 27, 2011 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Costa Rica: Zip among the treetops
10 Days In Costa Rica
- nsaidi, CNN iReport producer
Ten Days In Costa Rica
Day 1: It's the 1st of May as I land in San Jose on a hot and humid morning. The $250 round-trip flight from Washington, D.C., cheaper than a trip to the west coast, was only six hours with a short layover in Houston. As I exit the airport I am submerged in a sea of aggressive taxi drivers all wanting my business. A mild culture shock envelopes me as I recheck the name of the hotel I booked. Ten dollars later I find myself in a beat up car driving through some slums. All the buildings have windows smothered in bars, and barbed wire is ubiquitous; this is supposed to be the safe part of town. I arrive at Alajuela Backbackers, which is very nice. It looks new, the employees speak English and it even has a rooftop bar overlooking the city. I meet up with my friend and get a suite for around $20 each.
Day 2: It's time to grab a quick flight to Manuel Antonio. Nature Air has a 25-minute flight for $60 opposed to a five hour bus ride ($40). The flight is empty on this tiny 8 person plane. Suddenly, we have our own private jet. This is a good start.
We land in Manuel Antonio and the humidity is a slap in the face. Jeans were a bad idea. This trip is completely improvised with nothing but the aforementioned flight and hotel in Alajuela booked ahead of time. The airport, which consists of a small outdoor wooden canopy and a tiny bar is quiet to say the least.
We jump on a bus and ask the driver where an affordable hotel is. The ride is along winding coastal roads hugged by many posh, exclusive resorts. Near the end of the road he pulls over to a small hotel with "$35/night" painted poorly on the side of the entrance. Before we can decide if this is a good idea or not, the driver is gone, his car speeding off in the distance as if he were escaping some kind of danger. We walk up to this deserted hotel holding overstuffed luggage and uncertainty on our faces. The only sound is from the millions of creatures that inhabit the jungle around us. I'm not going to lie, this is starting to feel like the beginning of one of those horror films. All we need next is a sinister hotel owner with an eye patch or a hook for a hand. It turns out to be a sweet lady originally from Korea; not so scary after all. Her accent is all over the place. How do you describe a Korean accent influenced by 20 years or so of speaking Spanish while trying to communicate in English? You don't. We get our room for $17.50 per person. The room is basic but definitely great for the price. There isn't a television but that's a good thing.
Day 3: I wake up dehydrated and hungover. The previous night consisted of sampling every kind of alcohol in the country it seems. Tequila must have been my last drink...yuck. I end up drinking the water from the faucet, which worries me. I've heard mixed things but so far so good. We walk down to the beach and buy a mango. These mangoes are on another level. They are so fresh that the juices pour out like rain while you eat them. It's very messy so the perfect place to eat is in the ocean. This is a postcard situation; eating mangoes in refreshing, warm pacific waters surrounded by limestone monoliths spiking out of the surface.
We walk into the national park and find a family of monkeys playing in trees by the ocean. They are used to people. I manage to take a few pictures of one up close, about a foot away from me.
Day 4: We book a catamaran tour for $60 each. It's not that much of a stretch with our modest budgets. In four days we have each paid around $70 for accommodation, $40 on food, and $100 on drinks. The catamaran tour also offers unlimited drinks and dinner. While on the water we spot dolphins, a sea turtle and flying fish. You get a great view of the coastline and the sunset into the ocean. The fish kabobs were pretty good, too.
Day 5: We decide it's time to explore more of the country. We book a $40 Interbus ride to a place called Monteverde. The 5 hour ride consists of an hour or so on rough, rocky roads along the mountains. I have to focus on the horizon to keep from getting sick. When we arrive, it's a drastic change in scenery. That morning we had been in a tropical jungle by the ocean and now we were high in the mountains in a cool, misty cloud forest.
Monteverde is a lot smaller and low key than Manuel Antonio. It's a tourist town but doesn't have that feel; it has more of a soul. Once again we ask the bus driver for a good place to stay and end up at this small hotel off the beaten path.
The very nice and welcoming hotel owners don't speak a word of English so communication consists of a lot of pointing and making random noises. The result is comical or slightly insulting, I'm not exactly sure. The room is small but very cozy and is only $10 per person. It is very windy here but comfortable. At night the wind blowing through the trees resembles the ocean. It's the best night of sleep I've gotten in a long time.
Day 6: We book coffee and zip-line tours today. The coffee tour is about $20 each and the zip-lines are $40. Zip-lining through the cloud forest is surreal. At times it's hard not to feel like Indiana Jones, which is a common occurrence in Costa Rica. At the end of the zip-lines is an optional tarzan swing where you have to jump off a ledge that's about 300 feet high. I have a crippling fear of heights but know I have to do it. After it's said and done I'm ecstatic. There's something about conquering your fears that gives you an unimaginable high.
Later that day we take the coffee tour, which is a nice way to unwind after free falling hours earlier. The coffee here is so strong and tastes great. One cup is equivalent to three back at home. We end the day with some surprising decent sushi back in town.
Day 7: For $25, we book a three hour bus/boat/bus ride to the next destination, La Fortuna. The boat ride across Lake Arenal is an excursion in itself. The sun ripples off the calm waters while a volcano stands in the distance. When we arrive in La Fortuna, we find ourselves again without a room so we wander around and eventually find a great place with a balcony view of the volcano. We splurge on this nice little place - $27.50 each a night.
At this point in the trip we have eluded any kind of rain but today our luck ran out. Tropical rain pours as we get set up in the room. We decide to go out and get some food since the weather eliminates any hiking. Since arriving in Costa Rica we had been sampling as much ceviche as we could get our hands on. Down the street is a locals spot that does not disappoint. They don't speak English but we communicate with phrases like, "Ceviche, por favor" and "Mas Cerveza"; really the only two things we've said on this entire trip.
Day 8: The rain seems like it is here to stay. They say that the rainy season begins sometime in May and it looks like it has begun. We decide to catch a cab to the nearby La Fortuna waterfall. The rain is coming down harder than the falls but that doesn't deter us. We swim in this little pocket of water nestled in the lush mountains for a few hours. The torrential rain actually adds to the cinematic value. No wonder they shot Jurassic Park here.
That night we visit the famous Baldi Hot Springs. The rain has let up at this point. They have about a dozen hot springs with even one that is about 150 degrees. I find that out the hard way after I walk in...briefly.
Day 9: The trip is winding down. After a morning massage we jump on a bus back to San Jose. The thing that people might not realize when setting up their itinerary is that these bus rides are very scenic and should be treated like excursions. You really get a feel for the country on these drives. I liked Manuel Antonio but the trip would have suffered if we had have stayed there the entire time. Travel is for discovery and it's not going to happen if you're cemented in a resort the entire time. Although none of the places we stayed at were luxurious, they had their charm and character. Yes, I found a few bugs in the room in Manuel Antonio, and there was no hot water in Montevede but I'll take that over HD television and an experience I could have back at home any day.
That night we drink beers and watch a thunderstorm roll in from the rooftop bar. The lightning stretches over the land, illuminating the entire sky. This is a perfect last night.
Day 10: It's time to leave now unfortunately. 10 days ago I was nervous when I was fresh off the plane but now I feel completely acclimated. I'm even picking up some Spanish. After I come to terms with the inevitable, we grab a quick coffee and jump into an airport shuttle. We board the plane and fly back home. Later that night I look through my photos and find it hard to believe that we had done so much in 10 days. I know I'll go through a reverse culture shock being back home and like most travelers, I'm already starting to plan the next adventure. This backpacking style of travel is so much more rewarding than the old way I used to travel. If you search out the adventure, it will find you.
I listed a lot of the prices to show people that you can travel to Costa Rica without breaking the bank. In fact, we would have probably spent triple if we had have traveled somewhere in the United States. Also, although we hadn't planned anything, I wouldn't recommend doing that if you travel during the peak season as it gets pretty crowded I hear. It gets more expensive during Christmas as well but if you go in the off-season you will get great deals.