Costa Rica 4/06

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Spring break rainforests, hot springs and volcanoes...

Zip-lining across the rainforest canopy

Spring break 2006 was upon us, so Craig and I took off for a five day jaunt through Costa Rica. We experienced rainforests close-up via zip-lines over the canopy and in a guided half-day hike. We got next to two active volcanoes (Arenal and Poas) then relaxed in volcano-fed natural hot springs. We toured a coffee farm, butterfly gardens, waterfalls and took a wildlife-spotting boat trip along the Sarapiqui river in the northeast near Nicaragua. I visited Costa Rica once before in July 2004. The weather was ideal throughout with daytime highs in the upper 70s F and almost no rain.

Saturday April 8th

Our flight arrived from DFW at 1pm CST (no daylight savings time in Costa Rica). After almost two hours clearing immigration and customs (Costa Rica's Juan Santamaria International Airport continues to be one of the worst in the world), we headed outside where we were met by our driver ($109 US, hired through www.arenal.net, a very useful site) for the three hour drive north to the Arenal area and our hotel, the Arenal Springs Resort. This hotel is a new all-suites property with a few problems yet to work out, but overall was good (view from our room in the first picture below). We grabbed dinner there and prepared for our busy next day.

 

Craig and Wayne at TabacÚn Hot Springs

Sunday April 9th

We awoke late, grabbed breakfast at the hotel's buffet and were picked up for the short trip over to the rainforest canopy tour at 10am. The zip-lines over the canopy seem less like a rainforest experience than an amusement park ride, but it was still exhilarating and worthwhile to do (large picture top of page left and second picture above). We were fitted with the right safety gear, trained and then sent marching up the hill to the first platform. Each zip-line carried us several hundred feet over and across the rainforest (the "gigantous valleys of death", as Craig more colorfully put it) to the next treetop platform.

After returning to our hotel for lunch and a break, we taxied off in the late afternoon to TabacÚn Hot Springs, a famous spa with a series of about a dozen volcano-fed hot spring pools in a picturesque setting (third picture above). We ate dinner there at the swim-up bar and spent over four hours in the various pools (large picture top of page right). It was incredibly relaxing and enjoyable for both of us, although an entire evening soaking in 105˚F rushing waters takes a bit of energy out of you. Craig snapped the fourth picture above towards the end of the evening when I was completely relaxed leaning back under a hot waterfall. One trick we discovered to pace the heat was that there are cooler (~100˚F) river pools near the top and just off to the right of the hottest springs.

Monday April 10th & Tuesday April 11th

We awoke early on Monday, grabbed breakfast again at the hotel's buffet and were picked up around 8am for the ten mile drive around Volcano Arenal for a three-hour guided rainforest hike along a two mile path and a series of 14 metal hanging and fixed bridges. This was very authentic and worthwhile, giving us a chance to experience the rainforest up-close and allowing Craig an opportunity to practice his Spanish with our bilingual guide (first picture above, along the trail). We got the rare experience of watching a family of spider monkeys cross just above us (second picture above) as well as seeing a variety of plant life and beautiful river valleys (third and fourth pictures above).

After returning to our hotel around 11am we packed, ate lunch and met our driver for the 3 hour trek down to the San Jose Marriott, one of my favorite hotels in the world, stopping along the way in Zarcero (first picture below of Evangelisco Blanco's topiary garden in the town square) and in Sarchi, center of Costa Rica's furniture and crafts industry. We finished the day with dinner at the always excellent wine and tapas bar at the Marriott - La Isabela, which captures the flavor of a small Andalusian tablao. All day on Tuesday we relaxed around the Marriott, hiking, taking in the pools and hot tub, even attempting our first ever visit to a golf driving range (second picture below).

Wednesday April 12th & Thursday April 13th

We got up early on Wednesday for a 12 hour tour. The tour bus picked us up at 7am and we headed north stopping for a brief walk through a coffee plantation (third picture above). After breakfast along the way, we entered the Poas Volcano Park. Poas had been dormant for a long time but sprang to life just a few weeks earlier. The park had been closed for most of that time. The tour guide's advice as we hiked up the road (fourth picture above) to the crater was simple - if the park rangers say "run", then run. Craig made sure I knew the Spanish word for 'run' as well. Notice the brown umbrella plants in the fourth picture above. That happened to them just two weeks before due to the highly acidic air blowing down the path from the crater. Poas is often shrouded in clouds and fog and the morning we visited was no exception. The difference now that it is active was that you could hear boiling water sounds below you even when you couldn't see the crater. Every so often the wind blew the clouds away and some good views appeared (first picture below). We were told that the small lake visible in the mile-wide crater had a ph well below 1 (highly acidic) and had heated up from 40˚C to 80˚C in the course of one month.

From Poas we headed east to the LaPaz Waterfall Gardens where we walked through butterfly and hummingbird gardens, ate lunch and then walked down a pathway next to several waterfalls (second picture below). LaPaz is very touristy, but worth a stop. Heading northeast for about two hours toward Nicaragua and the Caribbean coast, we arrived at Puerto Viejo along the Sarapiqui River, where we took a 90 minute boat tour concentrating on spotting wildlife that lives along the banks (third picture below). We saw several groups of howler monkeys, bats, iguanas, exotic birds and even a lazy crocodile sunning himself (fourth picture below). The two hour return drive to San Jose took us through the always rainy Braulio Carrillo National Park. Late Wednesday night we got our airport departure tax stamps at the hotel to avoid the airport lines, then Thursday morning we finished packing and headed to the airport for our return home via DFW. All in all, a very enjoyable father-son spring break experience.

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