Quepos

20170413_141329.jpgSo after La Fortuna we headed down to Quepos on the Pacific Coast. Since we didn’t have a lot of time, we decided to take a flight on Nature Air– a 25 minute flight to the Pacific Coast. The Arenal airport just outside of la Fortuna is super tiny – washrooms, a bar (that was closed when we were there) and two check-in desks for the two airlines that use the airport. Super easy to check-in and impossible to get lost. The 19-seat planes are as comfortable as you can expect – no a/c and not much airflow, but the air does get cooler the higher you are, so I didn’t find it too bad. (Fiancé may disagree)

Once in Quepos, we got a shared shuttle to Playa Espadilla, the beach area where our hotels (more on that in a minute) were located. Super each, about $20US total.

So, hotels. The hotel we wanted to stay in only had availability for the last three days of our planned stay, so we booked two nights at Vela Bar. Nice place, but we were a little taken aback by our room, which was one of the non-newly renovated rooms. (It turns out the room was great – although it didn’t lock very well, we had a small sitting room type area, with no a/c, and our bedroom, which did have a/c was up a short flight of stairs, a room large enough for a door to open, a double bed, and a night-stand.) The room had two patios – one off the bedroom at the back, and one at the front.

One evening, while having a beer on the front patio, reading our books, a small cat ran up the stairs and sat on the far end of the patio….viciously “playing” with a mouse. He came over for pets and cuddles afterwards. We didn’t realize that he wasn’t actually playing with the mouse, but having his dinner, until the next morning.

Our other hotel, La Posada, was right on the edge of Manuel Antonio Park. This room was much more modern, but larger so the a/c had to work to keep it cool and less humid. One of the bonuses of being on the edge of the park, besides easy access, was that occasionally wildlife would come to visit, like this deer that wandered around the fence.20170416_155039

Our first day we spent at the public beach – you can rent chairs and umbrellas for about $10US for a full day – you can leave your towels to go get food at one of the restaurants that line the street, and the people who rent the chairs will watch them for you. We arrived on a Friday (Good Friday in fact) and it was incredibly busy, the beach was packed. Lots of options of things to do – they had parasailing, surfing lessons, boogie boards to rent, or just play in the waves (our option). Lots of people hawking wares, but a simple “Non, gracias” and they would wander on to the next umbrella.

We decided to spend a day in Manuel Antonio Park, relaxing on one of the relatively secluded beaches in the park. After the security check point, where they look for contraband (such as alcohol and chips) we headed along the dirt road, past groups and guides. These guides, with their telescopes to spot hidden animals in the canopy, can be hired just outside the gates. We decided to verge off the dirt road and onto a wooden boardwalk that had been built through the forest, paralleling the road.20170416_085854

We decided not to hire a guide, as our focus was more on the beaches inside the park. We headed to Espadilla Sur. As you follow the path, you come across a long arc of a beach, that quickly fills up as people arrive. This is also prime monkey spotting territory, as the monkeys gather in the trees nearby. If you keep walking, however, you reach a slightly more secluded beach – which is where we decided to set up. The waves here are slightly larger and slightly more powerful, which was great for us.

While in the park, we did manage to catch glimpses of some wildlife – besides the lizards and monkeys, we also saw raccoons (who knew Costa Rica had raccoons?!?) and a coati-mundi. We found out afterwards that this is a great place for spotting sloths – it may well be worth it to hire a guide and wander through the trails to see the wildlife of Costa Rica.

The night walk we booked ended up being far better than the one we had done in La Fortuna. It ended up being just ourselves and another guy from Edmonton (Canadians unite!). We driven just outside of town, and along a bumpy road, then dropped off with our guide. We ended up finding quite an array of animals – a kinkajou running through the canopy, monkeys, opossums, scorpions, moths, spiders, and a wide variety of lizards. Incidentally, scorpions under UV lights are incredible. We walked for about 2 hours, at a fairly slow pace (obviously) stopping frequently to see whatever the guide had found. And yet, about 20 minutes in, we were all dripping in sweat. It was that humid.

Our last full day we signed up to do a catamaran tour. Which ok, I had to talk Fiancé into, because yeah it sounds boring. But! It included snorkelling time, which I thought would be well worth the boat cruise aspect of it.

So we headed out on the catamaran tour, with a brief stop at Manuel Antonio park (just off of Playa Espadilla Sur, where we had spent the day before), then off to find dolphins – watching them play in the waves at the bow of the boat. Then it was time to snorkel – we probably spent about a half hour to 45 minutes in the water, watching the fish swim around the rocks, and trying desperately not to be dashed upon them. (the current was a little bit strong).

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After our snorkelling excursion, it was back onto the boat for some lunch, and to terrify ourselves on the slide at the back. The slid had a near vertical drop, and you were instructed to put one hand on the back of your head, the other holding your nose, and to cross your legs….before they pushed you down, and you went skidding across the water like a human-sized, very heavy, pebble. We could also jump off the roof of the catamaran into the water below – this being only slightly less terrifying than the slide.

After our boating excursion, we had the driver drop us off at El Avion a restaurant/bar situated in and around a C-123 Fairchild cargo plane. The restaurant has an excellent view over the Pacific Ocean, and we had been planning to come for lunch or dinner during our stay. Somewhat unluckily it did end up raining while we were there, so our views weren’t as fantastic as they could have been, but the canopies hanging over the edge of the roof kept us dry, and the food wasn’t bad.

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Nature Lover’s Paradise – La Fortuna, Costa Rica

This Easter, after a not too terrible winter, we flew to Costa Rica for nearly 2 weeks of rest, relaxation….and some mildly strenuous activities.

We started off our trip in La Fortuna, a small town near the base of Arenal Volcano. Our hotel, Volcano Lodge and Springs, was about 6 km outside of town. We made the mistake on our second day of trying to walk into town – I suppose if the weather had been milder, it would have been fine, but as it was it was hot and the sun was merciless. There wasn’t near as much cover as we had planned on, so we arrived in town sore, sunburnt and exhausted. If you’re staying at any of the hotels along the road leading outside of town, definitely get a cab if you’re planning to visit the town itself.

Our first day we had booked a 3-in-1 tour with Anywhere.com– visiting a park with hanging bridges, a waterfall, as well as a volcano hike. (There is a 4-in-1 option that includes a soak at hot springs afterwards, but since our hotel had hot springs, we opted not to do that tour.) We were picked up on time (bonus!) and on the way to the Mistico Park our guide and driver suddenly stopped. There were two toucans on trees near the road, so we all trooped out of the van to peer through telescopes at the birds.

These telescopes are a routine sight in Costa Rica, as most guides carry them to help you see animals that may not be that close. Interestingly, most guides are also adept at lining up cellphone cameras with the lens of the telescope to take pictures!

Once at the park, we split into two groups – one with the families with kids, and one with the couples (a mixed group ranging in age from late 20s to late 40s). As we walked through the park, we would stop periodically to see various animals – snakes, frogs, sloths, monkeys. The park has 16 bridges, 6 of which as hanging bridges at various lengths and heights. As someone who’s nervous about heights, I did have a few moments on the first few bridges, but quickly adapted to them with no trouble.

After the nature walk at the park, we headed to the La Fortuna Waterfall. With 500 steps leading down to the waterfall, it’s not exactly accessible for people with limited mobility. (And climbing back up the steps is exhausting). At the bottom of the stairs is a small flat area with a few benches – on one side is a calm river where kids can splash around, on the other is a pool at the base of the waterfall, where those of sturdier fare can swim. The force of the water hitting the pool, plus any wind, does create a bit of a current that will try to push you towards the rocky shore. (I should note that at the entrance to the waterfall is a small shop, along with washrooms that you can get changed in.)

From there we headed back towards the volcano for a short hike up a small ridge to get a better view of the volcano. First we had a brief history of recent eruptions, and how the volcano came to the shape that it is today, and then we set off for a short 20 minute hike. The hike itself isn’t too strenuous, although there is one steep section near the top.

Our last day in La Fortuna we booked a stand-up paddle (SUP) boarding excursion on Arenal Lake. The company provided life jackets as well as the board, and drinks and fruit at the end of the paddling. We were guided around the edge of the lake, paddling for about one and half hours, before stopping and loading our boards onto the boat following us, getting to enjoy some fresh fruit and a beer, before heading back to the launching point.

That evening we went to the nearby nature reserve –Arenal Natura Ecological Park – for a night walk. While we didn’t see any mammals, or snakes, we did see a plethora of frogs, some caimans, and crocodiles. The tour itself was about 2 hours, and not very strenuous. We were in a small group with several children – I think I would have preferred if they had split up the group into families/non-families, as a lot of time was spent trying to get the kids to a) let everyone have a turn to see (insert animal here), b) keep their flashlights down and not in people’s eyes, and c) behind the guide and not out in front.