15.04.2011 - 21.04.2011 34 °C
Reminiscent of our Bolivia Peru border crossing, we arrived at the Costa Rican border to find that it had been blockaded by protesters. However, foot traffic was still permitted and the four of us were able to walk past the long lines of waiting vehicles without any fuss and get our passports stamped.
While in Panama we had given thought to our itinerary in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, as we have a couple of deadlines coming up. We need to be in the Bay Islands in Honduras by 10 April to meet Jess's sister for diving and then in Guatemala by 21 April to meet Michael's sister.
We decided that with limited time we would visit only a couple of places in Costa Rica, which we had heard was relatively more expensive and overly touristy, and would then try to do Nicaragua properly, seeing most of the key sites.
Our first Costa Rican stop was Puerto Viajo, a gringo beach mecca on the Carribbean coast. It was a total change from Bocas del Toro, the atmosphere was more tropical, the people more laid back, the tour operators less pushy and the food significantly better. All in all Costa Rica was certainly shaping up pretty well.
It was also not as expensive as we had been dreading, at least if you avoid the organised tours which seemed overpriced relative to elsewhere. On our first day we hired four push bikes and slowly meandered down a 14km coastal road, past a succession of beaches and reefs, swimming, sun-bathing or snorkeling at our leisure - the sun was shining and the weather was sweeeeet, yeeeah.
However, the highlight of the day was probably the discovery of an extremely photogenic sloth, who, in what I suppose is typical fashion for a sloth, was happy to remain motionless, only centimeters away and let us take photos galore.
The hostel had an outside charcoal grill that guests could use and we bought prawns, fresh tuna and sea bass, wrapped it all in tin foil and had a huge cook-up. It was one of the few home cooked meals we have had on our trip and so delicious that we cooked the same thing again the next night.
After a couple of days of relaxing repetition, our Polish friends decided to head up the coast to Tortugero, a well known nesting site for Sea Turtles ,while Jess and I decided to stay another day in Puerto Viajo before moving into the Costa Rican interior. Unfortunately, the weather didn't co-operate for our final day and forced us to spend it inside sheltering from the rain.
Early the next morning we jumped on the first bus to San Jose. Destination, La Fortuna, a touristy town in central Costa Rica at the foot of a large, conical and sometimes active volcano. However, a spanner was thrown in the works when we arrived in San Jose to find that the last connecting bus had left at 11:45am and we would need to stay a night before catching another bus the following morning.
The following day we arrived in La Fortuna to find the Volcan Arenal covered in clouds, apparently a typical situation and one that would persist for our entire time here. However, volcano gazing isn't the only thing to do in town, as all the thermal activity in the area means there are hot springs galore, many of which have been developed into high end thermal resorts for visiting tourists – think swim-up bars and water slides. Although expensive, it was something to do and Jess and I headed off to check out one of the resorts for the afternoon. On arrival it turned out that a thermal resort in Costa Rica bears striking resemblance to an American Retirement home and it felt like we were stepping onto the set of Cocoon. Still, it was a good afternoon and I was able to soak in the thermal pools while Jess got a blue rinse.
The next day we woke up and found that our Polish friends Kuba and Marzena had also arrived in La Fortuna and unwittingly booked into the same hostel, just a couple of rooms down the corridor. Tortugero had apparently been somewhat of a flop, as the turtle conservation group running the tours had failed to or not yet obtained the required permissions to visit the beach this year and so it was not possible to see the turtles.
That evening, after spending the day at a nearby waterfall and swimming hole, the general consensus among the four of us was that we should head straight to Nicaragua, a five to six hour bus ride away. This meant that we would miss pacific coast of Costa Rica which is apparently excellent, however, we thought that the pacific beaches in Nicaragua would probably be equally as nice and have the plus of being cheaper and less developed. The next update will be from there.