Costa Rica 11/12

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Rain forests, zip lines & hot springs...

Catarata Waterfall at Arenal hanging bridges

Disparate events intersected in November opening up an opportunity to do an eight day father-son trip with my older son Ben overlapping his 26th birthday - so off we flew to Costa Rica. More succinctly, "when the going gets tough, the tough go on vacation". Costa Rica is easy to like - US dollars are accepted all over, it's just a 3 hour flight from Houston and it's very safe. This was my third trip there, having visited in 2004 solo and in 2006 with my younger son Craig. It was warm - 70s and 80s įF, but despite November usually ushering in the end of the rainy season, we got rained on a bunch throughout the trip. Driving myself for the first time on this trip made a GPS with good Costa Rica maps indispensable. I used the Garmin South America city navigator.

Friday & Saturday November 23rd & 24th

 

We flew from LA to Houston on the evening of the 23rd (day after Thanksgiving) on one of United's new 787s (wonderful plane). After an overnight in Houston we caught a morning flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. A quick taxi ride took us the hacienda-like San Jose Marriott, which in my opinion is one of their best properties (first picture below - our poolside room circled). We had a long, excellent dinner at their La Isabela Tapas & Wine Cellar, which I'd visited on both prior trips. We stuck to Bordeaux wines, paired over small plates of Iberian ham, eggplant rolls, squid rolls, lamb ribs and roasted garlic.

TabacÚn Hot Springs

San Jose - room with a view

LaPaz Butterfly Garden

LaPaz Sarchi style oxcart

LaPaz Escondida falls

 

Sunday November 25th - San Jose area

 

After breakfast at the lounge, I had some difficulty renting a car at the on-site National Car Rental spot. It turns out they don't honor any reservations made on the US National Car website. On the road finally at 11:30am, prepared for bad roads and rain in our 4x4 SUV, we drove to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. It was raining hard and foggy when we arrived at 2pm. Undaunted, we put raincovers on the camera bags and armed ourselves with umbrellas to start the hike through the park. After the bird sanctuary, our second stop was at the covered butterfly garden (second picture above). Heading down the path to the falls we passed a couple of locals pulling an oxcart painted in the elaborate Sarchi style (third picture above). La Paz has a series of waterfalls along the trail that were flowing at a tremendous rate in the rainstorm. The challenge was to get the camera out quickly for a shot without soaking it or us. The fourth picture above and the first two pictures below were my best efforts. Leaving the park around 3:30pm we decided that driving further to the Poas volcano would be a waste of time because of the thickening fog. Back at the hotel, we had drinks and dinner at the bar, including great guaro-based Caipirinhas and a sweet homemade ketchup dipping sauce for hors d'oeuvres. We finished the evening with drinks in the hotel's hot tub.

 

Singin in the rain

LaPaz Magia Blanca falls

Sarchi's colorful town square

Zarcero's topiary town square

 

Monday November 26th - The drive north to Arenal

 

After breakfast at the lounge, we drove the scenic route north to the Arenal Volcano region through Sarchi (third picture above) and Zarcero (fourth picture above). We grabbed a late lunch in Cuidad Quesada before arriving at TabacÚn. Our room had a distant view of Arenal Volcano and a natural deck area (first picture below). I had visited TabacÚn on both of my prior trips to Costa Rica, but had stayed at other area hotels. Staying at the property allowed us to use the hot springs without limitations, which turned out to be on all three days. They run a free shuttle up and down the hill from the hotel to the hot springs, which was very efficient. We ate dinner at the swim-up bar at the springs while the rain poured down. The hot springs are all natural, gravity fed by three volcanic surface streams cascading down a series of at least a dozen pools (second and third pictures below). The flow is strong - 80 liters per second total (fourth picture below). Unlike on my prior trips, Arenal Volcano was not erupting, so the lava show after dark from the hot springs was missed. Although it rained hard all evening, the only challenges we faced at the hot springs were finding a dry spot to stow our towels and finding our way on the barely lit pathways.

 

TabacÚn room with a view

TabacÚn hot springs bridge

TabacÚn hot springs lower pool

Hot springs surface view

Tuesday November 27th - Hot springs and hanging bridges

 

As we left our hotel room we met some local characters in the parking lot (first picture below) that we later found out were Coati, a friendly raccoon-like animal that roamed all over the property. We drove 15 minutes into Fortuna town for breakfast at a place called "Just Good Food". After exploring the town and buying some souvenirs, we drove back to the hotel for a quick turnaround before driving north across the Arenal Lake dam to the Arenal Hanging Bridges. The rain let up for a while for our 2 mile trek through the 16 bridges ranging in length from 8 meters to 98 meters. The views looking down and across the rainforest were excellent (second through fourth pictures below). Back at the hotel, we did a late afternoon hot springs visit for a couple hours before driving to Fortuna for an excellent dinner at Don Rufino's including local ceviche, gazpacho and what they call "grandma's chicken".

 

TabacÚn hotel lot with Coati

Arenal hanging bridge

Posing at Catarata Waterfall

 

Arenal hanging bridge

 

Wednesday November 28th - Zip lines over the rainforest canopy

 

Again we drove into Fortuna for breakfast, this time at Gecko Gourmet Deli, located diagonal across the main street from the central church. Back at the hotel after breakfast, we got ready for our zipline adventure. I had made reservations before the trip for 11:30am at EcoGlide. The EcoGlide people are very professional and safety conscious and they are the only zipline tour that has redundant lines, one over the other (first picture below). Although the experience seems more like an amusement ride than a rainforest tour, it was nonetheless an adrenaline rush and a lot of fun (second and third pictures below). Anyone under 70 in reasonable shape could do it. The canopy consists of 13 cables and 15 platforms which are divided into three sections that are found mostly in the trees. The first section has 8 cables and 9 platforms, with lengths from 10 meters up to 110 meters. The second section has 5 cables and 6 platforms, with lengths from 100 meters up to 430 meters. Added since the last time that I did the ziplines was the "Tarzan swing" after the second section, which Ben did solo (fourth picture below). For a sense of how it feels to zip line, hit play on the video player below. There are four videos, so you'll have to press play four times to see them all.

 

After returning to the hotel, we headed down to the hot springs for our final visit. We had a late lunch at the swim up bar as the rain came pouring down hard. Veterans now of navigating rainy hot springs, we knew the dry towel spots and right where to go for the best pools. The rain was so hard that we decided to eat dinner at the hotel instead of driving into Fortuna, which turned out to be a great choice. Los Tucanes is an open-air formal restaurant with excellent service. Ben got a happy birthday truffle and serenade from the waitresses accompanied by an oboe player.

 

Ready for the zip lines

Wayne zippin over the canopy

Ben zippin through the rainforest

Ben on the Tarzan swing

Press play (four times total) for EcoGlide zip line and Tarzan swing videos

Thursday November 29th - Costa Rica to California wine country

 

We checked out of the hotel around 9am and drove into Fortuna for breakfast at the Rainforest Cafe (not the American chain), which was very good. We then headed south connecting with the Pan American Highway for the two-hour drive into San Jose. After dropping the car off at SJO, we endured Costa Rica's always-insane immigration and security system. So here's what they took from me to ensure the friendly skies remain safe: a 1oz bottle of mosquito spray, a 2" allen wrench I use for my tripod heads, a 100% plastic corkscrew, two wire coat hangers and a plastic nail clipper. Then they reopened and checked all carry-on luggage at the gate before boarding. I sure feel safer, don't you? I've experienced similar idiocy on both of my two prior Costa Rica trips. We had a long layover at IAH before arriving at SFO after 1am. Greeted by yet another rainstorm, this one cold, we drove north to Santa Rosa to meet up the next morning with two friends for wine-tasting.

 

Friday November 30th - Napa and Sonoma

We met our friends around 10am and walked into Santa Rosa's Railroad Square for breakfast at Omlette Express. We headed north around 11am into the Russian River Valley. There were some flooded roads, but nothing slowed us down much. In fact, it kept the crowds far away. Our stops on the circular route north through Sonoma then south through Napa were mostly familiar favorites: Porter Creek, Rochioli, Seghasio, lunch at the Jimtown Cafe, Hanna, Duckhorn and finally Alpha Omega. Once again it was Alpha Omega that blew us all away - outstanding! We ate dinner at a pub in Santa Rosa before retiring for the night.

On Saturday December 1st we drove south to LA - the end of a great eight day father-son adventure, hopefully with more to come in the future.

Home Up Aruba 5/14 Aruba 7/13 Aruba 4/09 Aruba 10/04 Cancun 5/07 Costa Rica 4/06 Costa Rica 7/04 Costa Rica 11/12 Curacao 2/05 Grand Cayman 12/00 Jamaica 7/07 Panama 12/13 Puerto Rico coasts 7 & 9/14 Puerto Rico & Vieques 12/08 Puerto Rico & Vieques 9/08 Puerto Rico 12/07 Saint Kitts 2/06 Virgin Islands 12/03

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