My Take on Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano

I may be one of few who is not overwhelmed with Costa Rica. I did not dislike the beautiful country. The beaches are grand. The people are delightful. The food is good. But, I have been to too many other places that are more “me.” I had hopes of sighting interesting critters in the jungle on “safari” treks. I spotted few.

Beach near Manuel Antonio park

The critters are there. I suspect too many tourists have been tromping through the jungle, following guides with telescopes, sending the animals deep into the bush in search of peace and quiet.

While husband Bob spent two weeks with his daughter Kellie who has a holiday home in Costa Rica, I toured – on my own but with pre-arranged transportation between destinations. I joined guided tours through parks and to noteworthy sights during my visit last January

Too many tourists ?

The Manuel Antonio National Park is Costa Rica’s most popular national park and where I joined my first guided hike. Groups like ours, all dutifully following a guide with a large telescope on a tripod, crowded the trails. Word spread quickly of a sighting. Instantly more guides, telescopes and tourists appeared.

Souvenir cell phone photo thanks to guide’s telescope.

Excitement was high at the sighting of a sloth hidden high in dense tree foliage. With the naked eye it was impossible to see anything but leaves. Those with gigantic zoom lenses (there were many) did manage to spot the creature. The rest of us relied on the guide’s telescope. Yet, even with high powered vision, all I could see was a tuft of fur.

This ritual was repeated time after time. The guide, with trained eyes and jungle experience, would spot a creature– various kinds of birds, lizards, sloths – camouflaged in the dense growth. Each of her followers then had a turn for a telescope view. And then, a keepsake photo with their cell phone camera which the guide placed, one by one, on the telescope.

Find the sloth.

It was steamy humid. I grew impatient and bored. I kept thinking of Africa where majestic creatures are often easy to spot. The tour ended on a beach where hundreds of monkeys frolicked. Monkeys may not be exotic, but they are fun and easy to see. I loved them.

More monkeys, iguanas, a rare lizard, all kind of birds, a deer – I saw them all on the grounds of the Posada Jungle Hotel adjacent to Manuel Antonio park where I spent four nights.  This was better than a guided safari, and at my doorstep.   The beach near the hotel was fabulous, for swimming and sunset viewing.  I spent several evenings aiming for the perfect sunset shot while sipping a mojito.  

Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano is a stunning sight. I was lucky. It is often hidden in clouds, but I saw it in all its glory. There have been no regular volcano eruptions since 2010. The surrounding region is popular for hiking and all sorts of rugged,extreme adventure. I opted for gentle adventure, a hanging bridge hike and another hike near the volcano.

Hanging bridges are common in the Costa Rican jungle. I was intrigued. It is exciting, even a tinge scary,  to walk high above gorges  on these structures which gently sway as you cross.

After the near-the-volcano hike, we set off to the Tobacon Hot Springs, a jungle wonderland of hot springs, pools, waterfalls, streams – all a bit kitschy, but crazy fun.

 

Rio Frio near the Nicaraguan border

Birds were the star attraction during my relaxing boat tour of the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge near the Nicaraguan border. The guide entertained us with interesting facts about Costa Rica, as well as river wildlife, as we

drifted past lush rainforest and wetlands. In addition to the birds, we saw bats, a few crocodiles, a lizard… but nothing that thrilled me.  I am spoiled.  It’s  hard to beat being up close and personal with mountain gorillas. (See previous post, “Gorillas in our Mist” Dec. 2015)

I was underwhelmed – and freezing – on the Monteverde Cloud Forest guided hike. This time it was cold and rainy. We learned a lot about various kinds of trees and vines, but – even with the telescope – spotted no exciting wildlife.

The van rides from one destination on my itinerary to the next were often long. The scenery, sometimes spectacular, and chatting with other passengers made the trips interesting. I met folks from the US, Canada, Scotland, England and Israel, including several young female backpackers en route to yoga retreats. Costa Rica is big with the yoga set. There were serious hikers and surfers. Costa Rica is also popular with surfers.

However, I did not come to Costa Rica to surf, nor to soothe my soul during a yoga retreat. Unfortunately I am too old for zip lining and canyoning. Spotting an illusive creature through a telescope did not thrill me. Granted, the beaches are super, but I do not need to travel so far for a fabulous beach

So, Costa Rica does not rank among my favorites, yet I am glad I experienced the country. And, tasted Costa Rican ceviche – a memorable culinary delight. Kellie shared her recipe. Click on photo top right.

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See below for  more Costa Rica.

Church at La Fortuna with cloud-covered Arenal.
This sloth was spotted in a roadside tree by a van driver. We stopped for photos.

24 thoughts on “My Take on Costa Rica”

  1. Beautiful photos. We were in CR as well, and decided not to live there because it is so overrun with tourists and expats living in gated communities. It is a beautiful country, but as you said, there are other beautiful places. Ecuador is gorgeous, but has its problems, and it is also now a haven for foreigners. Of course I am a foreigner too ;). Are you looking for a place abroad to settle?

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    1. Hi and thanks for your input. We are already settled abroad . We lived and worked in Germany for many years, then moved to southern France. We had a house in the countryside about an hour north of Aix, then sold and moved to the coast near Menton and the Italian border.
      There are Lots of foreigners from everywhere here. And, too many tourists in the summer. It is beautiful, however. No place is perfect. My husband thinks we should have moved to Italy, but it is too late for that now. The French here are not that friendly.

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      1. Ah! We ended up in France as well – further south, in Occitanie, in a village near Pézenas. Quite a few foreigners in this area as well, but living in with the locals. It’s called the ‘poor man’s Provence’ so not as glamorous and richy. We like it here and the village people are friendly. Still, the French in general are not as open and cheery as other latin folks. We’ve also lived abroad in various (developing) countries because of my husband’s career. We did a lot of looking around to see where we wanted to end up. We love Italy, but it has its problems too. Like you said, no place is perfect. Do wish French were a little easier to learn!

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      2. I don’t know that part of France, but wish we had explored more before settling here. However, we will probably stay put. I don’t have the energy for another move now. I speak French — one reason we moved to France. And, I now have dual citizenship. Enjoy life in Occitanie and thanks for following talesandtravel.

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  2. Thank you, Leah, for your intriguing insights and gorgeous photos…I’ve long wanted to visit Costa Rica, but haven’t made it yet…with so much to see on this side of the pond, I’m guessing it’ll be a while…even then, not sure about those swaying walkways! Gayle

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  3. Costa Rica is a small country that has been overrun by tourism. In fact, tourism is the biggest threat to the country’s remaining biodiversity. Many places are now American enclaves. The first time I went to Manuel Antonio in the early 1980s I was completely alone on the beach, and damn near died because I was unaware of the powerful currents. When I went to Manuel Antonio a couple of years ago there were many people. The one saving grace is that the majority of them were in fact, Costa Ricans enjoying the beauty of their country. Sadly, none of them were practicing yoga. Costa Rica is unique for its distinct biomes or environments including the Caribbean coast, the dry interior of Guanacaste, the Pacific, the Monteverde cloud forest and volcanoes and the nearly impenetrable Osa Peninsula.

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    1. Thank you for your take, and pointing out the unique environments of CR. I think some of these parts of the country are less popular, and hopefully will stay that way, Except for the cloud forest, I did not visit them. And, had I been more interested in vegetation, and not freezing cold and soaked, I certainly would have appreciated this amazing forest.

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  4. Hi
    I have to Agee . Way too crowded.
    My friends built a house there and were contiually ripped off when not there, even though it was a gated community. They were taxed for bringing in their own tools.
    More interesting places to see elsewhere.
    Elizabeth

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  5. We were lucky that the leader of our group tour was a bird enthusiast and each morning before breakfast led optional bird watching hikes. Often there were only a few of us and this made our presence much less intrusive, and often magical. Alas, the popularity of ecotourism is degrading the experience for all.

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  6. Sorry you didn’t like our hemisphere, Leah. You sound a bit jaded. Unfortunatey, with the narco-trafficking in Central America, there are a lot of beautiful places off-limits. Maybe that’s why CR is overrun.

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    1. Yes, I think I am jaded. We have been to so many exciting, fascinating places, Perhaps you are right about the narco-trafficking. CR is also safe, close and easily accessible for those from the US.

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  7. Yep, you’ve definitely confirmed what I feel about so-called “eco-tourism” and long-distance bucket list trips. Now that air travel has been democratized (with the cost of a huge carbon footprint), there are just too many people tromping around through what-used-to-be pristine ecosystems in search of selfies and Instagram posts to impress others or to feed their own sense of self. And not just in Costa Rica. That being said, your post was actually quite positive and definitely objective, enriching and insightful, as always. I enjoyed your photos and descriptions, but with absolutely no desire to go there myself. Thanks to you, I can become, like Giono, and “armchair voyager”! So you’re doing your part to save our planet. 🙂

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    1. I fear Costa Rica, like so many other wonderful places (Venice, Barcelona, Machu Picchu, the Galapagos etc) is over-touristed. It is a pity. I am glad to do my part to save the planet.

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    1. Different strokes,,, I understand why many from the US love CR. The beaches, ambiance, food, folks etc are grand — and it is not so far. I like off-the-beaten track destinations, but they are harder and harder to find.

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  8. Our favourite memory was 2008. We drove around to prearranged lodges, semi DIY. At one eco lodge there was a very old rarely used zip line. Climbing involved, not at all like a Disneyland zipline. There were 4 of us. 3 guides attended. One guy had a machete and went ahead to ID and scare off poisonous snakes from the platforms. Yow. It was our first zipline and fun. But the platforms were quite small and we were in the middle of the jungle, no turning back. Memorable. Saw monkeys there and a quatamundi (?). Lots of spiders etc. Good trip. No fabulous jaguar sighting though.

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    1. Thank you for sharing that memory, Helen. That was a true extreme adventure. Bob and I ziplined once years ago in Chile. It was fun, but not the thrilling experience you described.

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