“The Rich Coast,”
as Christopher Columbus supposedly called it, is a unique place that is often overlooked in the news and history books because so much went right. Tico’s did what very few nations have ever done.
They avoided the bloodshed, repression and discatorships of the 18th and 19th centuries and were the first democracy in Latin and South america. Costa Rica was one of the first to recognize the economic value of environmentally sustainable tourism and they built a middle class without heavy industrialization and it’s negative consequences.
Yes, there are still poor in Costa Rica (one in five) and there are places in the world that are now surpassing Costa Rican environmental preservation. But this place deserves credit for being one of most well managed countries in the history of the Earth.
Costa Rica practically invented modern adventure travel. The earth can (sustainably) be a tourist amusement park. Costa Rica is packed with stuff; ziplines, canyoneering, canopy tours, volcano trekking, hotsprings, world-class surfing, and Corcovado National Park – the ‘most biologically intense place on earth’ according to National Geographic. And of course, Cocos Islands for scuba diving, one of the greatest pelagic and large animal dive spots in the world.
If there is anything bad about Costa Rica adventure travel, it’s that the secret is out. Prices are high and it can get very packed. It also, according to some, lacks the mystery of exotic destinations because it’s so well developed for tourists.
We’re going off the beaten path, in part to capture some of that exotic mystery, but also to skip the crowds that will swarm costa rica during Easter Week. (Or Holy week, or what ever. See this post for clarification from an expert.)
I found it surprisingly hard to plan for Costa Rica. It has about 8-10 good major destinations, and none are obviously better than the rest. It took quite a bit of research to figure out exactly what would fit our style and expectations. Here are the main areas we considered:
- Arenal: Central North Costa Rica, this is the biggest tourist area in CR, with tons of hotels of every type, hot springs, ziplines, caves, rafting and just about everything you might want to do (except the beach)
- Monteverde: This quaker area is famous for it’s cloud forest, cheese and a growing number of activities.
- Manuel Antonio: The prime beach spot, with nearby jungle and great tourist facilities.
- Tortuguero:Sea turtles and black sand beaches and miles of mangroves in an untouched national park.
- Puerto Viejo: Challenging waves, good scuba diving and a likable low-key beach town on the Atlantic coast.
- Osa Penninsula: The most remote area with Corcovado (jungle), Pavones (surfing), and Drake’s Bay (undeveloped beach) – it’s a must see for adventure travel.
- Nicoya Penninsula: A long coastline of big and small surf towns that offer just about anything you might want out of a beach vacation.
- Central Costa Rica: Coffee plantations, rafting and peaks from which you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on a clear day.
- North Central: Guanacaste mountain range is relatively unexplored with lots of new eco-restorts, the untouched bird sanctuary Cano Negro, great river rafting and remoteness are attractive characteristics.
- Cocos Island: One of the top scuba destinations in the world.
See the problem? Which one are you going to pick?
As usual, my primary sources of information were Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet. The Costa Rica Trip Advisor forums are saturated with a few posters that are trying to promote their own places and services. I found it less helpful compared to other countries. For instance, on three seperate occasions I posted about family accommodation in Uvita. Each time the same bot-poster would recommend an adult-only place nearby.
This trip took over 250 emails to Tico proprietors, 40 posts on Trip Advisor, and a thorough reading of Lonely Planet Costa Rica. I did not need a spreadsheet for 11 days.
After considering many, many different itineraries, I chose to focus on 3 main areas:
- Arenal for it’s great activities, resorts, lodges and hot springs.
- Uvita for the uninhabited beaches, beginner surfing and snorkeling and
- Corcovado National Park for the densest biological diversity in the western hemisphere.
We’re taking this one a lot slower than our other trips. We only have 5 hotels in 11 days. (In Peru we had 9.) But that doesn’t mean we will be taking it easy. Every day is packed with activities.
As always, we will be live blogging – sending daily updates to everyone on facebook and this blog. We are going completely off the grid in Corcovado though, so we’ll catch up afterward.
Day One – Five Surfing and adventuring in Uvita
We spend our first night in San Jose. Costa Rican roads are bad, and driving at night – even with a driver- is discouraged. So we’ll stay overnight at http://www.adventure-inn.com/, and inexpensive and helpful hotel that is accustomed to handling travelers in and out of Costa Rica.
Uvita is one of the last places in Costa Rica that has undeveloped shoreline, although with the new highway that will not remain pristine for long. Nearby Dominical is famous for hardcore surfing, but we will spend time in the little sibling city down the road where the waves are better for beginners.
Our nights will be spent at La Cusinga Lodge, an ecotourist hotel with food grown on the premises and families of monkeys on the grounds.
Afternoons will be spent surfing at Bodhi Surf School where they will give two hours of daily lessons in 85F sea water and gentle waves.
In the mornings we’ll be doing a variety of adventure sports:
- ATV tour:
- ZipLines at Osa Canopy Tours
- Boat snorkeling at the whale tail (above) Ballena National Park.
Day Six -Eight Corcovado, Osa Penninsula
The heart of our trip is a two night camping trip in one of the densest and untouched rain forests on earth. Corcovado National Park is one of the largest remaining lowland rainforests on earth, most of the others have been logged reducing the biodiversity. Corcovado is a chance to see the Latin America looked like hundreds of years ago.
Here is a paragraph from wikipedia on the animal diversiry.
Corcovado is home to a sizable population of the endangered Baird’s Tapir and even a small population of the very rare Harpy Eagle. The park’s rivers and lagoons are home to large populations of both the American crocodile and Spectacled Caiman, along with Bull sharks. Corcovado is also one of the final strongholds of the Jaguar within Central America and several other felines are also present, including Ocelot, Margay, Jaguarundi, and Puma. All four Costa Rican monkey species can be seen within the park, including the endangered Central American Squirrel Monkey, White-faced Capuchin, Mantled Howler, and Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey. Other mammals present include Two-toed andThree-toed Sloth, Collared Peccary, Northern Tamandua and Silky Anteater. Poison dart frogs and several species of snake (including the venomous Fer-de-Lance and Bushmaster) are also common within the park.
Awesome right? Ecological preservation has a cost though – it’s really tough to get here. There aren’t any roads to speak of – you have to hike or boat in. You must have a guide, and there are only limited admissions. We are going with a guide Ken, from http://www.corcovadoinfocenter.com/.
Day Nine – Twelve Arenal and La Fortuna area
We end our Costa Rica trip in the Arenal area, which is a busy tourist destination with a semi-active volcano, canopy tours, hot springs and lots of hotels.
We’ll stay at the top-rated Leaves and Lizards rainforest lodge in our own cabin. In Arenal we’ll be doing lots of activities during the day:
- Rafting on the Rio Balsa river:
- Hiking up the Rio Celeste
- A hot air balloon ride over the Costa Rica canopy
- Rapelling and Ziplining
- Horsebacking and waterfall tour
And in the evenings we’ll visit one of the local hot springs resorts each night Tabacon, The springs, and Ecotermales for a meal and swimming, relaxing in pools and natural hot springs.
On our final day we drive back to San Jose, and head back home with great memories.