Costa Rica: Road Trippin, Hiking Volcanoes, White Water Tubing

Tuesday 17 March to Monday 23 March 2015

travellingross rating = 8/10

I didn’t need to be at the Panama City airport until 4:30 pm so I had most of the day to relax and final minute explore. Being St Patrick’s Day I went to the Irish Pub a couple of blocks from my hotel for lunch only to find it closed. Huh. I arrived at the airport to hunt down Madison, my friend who I met in Ghana during that Project and together again in Suriname. She is from Nevada and another reason for my tainted accent and un-Australian words. And also the reason for my now relaxed approach to travel, not booking everything, not over-planning as much. Pre-Madison I would never roll into a town without booking something, but that’s pretty much how this whole trip went.

Madison had flown in from Suriname and waiting in Panama City to connect with me for the 1.5 hr flight north to San Jose, Costa Rica. This capital city does not have good reviews, but I found it better than expectations and while busy, slightly dirty and chaotic, it had many shops and facilities that were enough for me. Nothing globally amazing from a touristic perspective though. We overnighted here and then got an afternoon tourist shuttle bus for $50 USD each 4 hours north to the tourist epicentre of La Fortuna.

La Fortuna was great. Right on the edge of the Arenal Volcano Park with many things to do. In hindsight we should’ve stayed here longer than the 2 nights we allocated. Our full day was a morning hike up a dormant volcano that has a green lagoon at the summit looking up to Arenal. A crazy steep and rough ‘path’ takes you to the top which would be very slippery in the wet. It was good to explore this though as Costa Rica is not as forested as I previously thought and this national park showcases some of their best. Which after being in Suriname is not as good. We had lunch at the waterfall nearby and then taxi’d to the Baldi Hot Springs which were awesome. Not a natural representation of hot springs, but swim up bars in 30C plus water with 28 pools and some that are insanely hot. Aside from the 150 kids on a school trip, it was bliss. We both dislike kids (especially teens laughing and taking up our barman’s time for soft drinks) so this was annoying. It was not until dark that we found the “sin ninos” pools (no kids!). The drinks were more expensive but worth it for the peace and higher quality hotter pools. We rode some slides too. One that you’re meant to only go down the slide, go around once and then drop out the bottom. For some reason I kept going round and round like 4 times before I forced myself to drop out. I badly bruised my tailbone in the process and a slight rip in my brand new board-shorts right on the bum. The food made up for this with an excellent buffet. I would go back in an instant.

After discussing transport options with our awesome hotel reception guy, we rented a car and hit the road to our only pre-arranged part of the trip. Meeting up with some Suriname work mates at Blue River. This drive took 4 hours to get 150 km. Terrible roads made from sharp rocks and plenty of potholes to dodge; tested my driving skill a bit. We got to the resort and I seriously thought our GPS had navigated us incorrectly. It didn’t look at all like the website. But it was the right place. We glanced at each other with the same ‘what have we got ourselves into’ look and checked in. The rooms were huge and comfortable, except for the lack of bar fridge for our champagne and the poor water pressure. The resort is not what I would call a resort. Run down and lacking in features so it was disappointing since it was the most expensive and hard to get to accommodation of our trip together. Very weak internet was only at reception which is a 300m walk so that sucks for people who have yet to book their next destination. Not much of this place made sense to me. There wasn’t even a view. The Blue River is impressive – volcanic minerals reacting together to create bright blue water. The only activity we did (aside from cover ourselves in mud, stand in the green hot springs) was tubing. Now, my understanding of tubing is gentle floating down a river with beer in hand sitting in an inflated tube. This was far from that. White water tubing that should be done in a raft. Knee and elbow pads, helmet, life vest, shoes. It was an hour that made me feel like I was in a washing machine. My body aint cut out for that and I ended up hitting rocks with my butt and constantly trying to navigate away from rocks.

We left early morning to head towards Liberia where everywhere in the city had lost internet. So without a plan we made a snap decision based on a conversation I had with 2 girls in Blue River to head to Playa del Coco on the coast. As we drove in, it was apparently a tourist haven but maybe the wrong time of year as the landscape looked like a fire had been through or so tinder dry that one spark would set off a wildfire. It was HOT. And the beach was black sand and not very appealing to swim. But a good spot to be.

Next day I dropped Madison at another beach town – more crappy roads to get there since I selected the ‘scenic route’ on Google maps. I then drove 4 hours back to San Jose on decent highways but without overtaking lanes which was frustrating. Saw many monkeys in the trees above the road. And some very scenic landscapes. Didn’t stop once and rolled into the hotel at nightfall with the fuel light flashing and ‘estimated km remaining of 0’. Perfect. Only took one wrong turn on a roundabout and stayed on my right side of the road the whole time. Checked in and laying on the bed checking my messages when the phone rang. Reception asking how everything was. And “Sir, I am sorry to tell you that your vehicle has a flat tyre”. WHAT. We drove on terrible roads and I get a flat in the middle of the city. And it’s the only part of the road-side assistance that the rental car company doesn’t cover. I can change a tyre, but it was the last thing I felt like doing after the long day. So I ate at Denny’s across the road and then got my hands dirty. My last tyre change experience in Perth was not so great, so this time I was impressed with myself and restored faith in my abilities. With that, I spent my last night in Costa Rica.

Websites and Tips to Make this Trip

Stayed at:

  • San Jose – Holiday Inn city for USD $92/night; then Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton at Airport for USD $150. Both good and great locations for what you need.
  • La Fortuna – Hotel Monte Real for USD $86/night. Highly recommend.
  • Blue River – Blue River Resort & Hot Springs for USD $128/night. Not worth it and too isolated. I’m sure there are better places to stay to visit Blue River. Or day trip in from Liberia.
  • Playa del Coco – M&M Hotel for $50/night. Cheap and simple with shared kitchen. Includes breakfast.

Rental car through www.adobecar.com

Baldi Hot Springs was USD $68 per person and discounted when booking from hotel. Included buffet dinner and you can run a bar tab and pay on credit card at end. www.baldihotsprings.cr

Don’t pay for tours of the green lagoon or waterfall. Just get a cab and do it yourself.

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