Travelling to Costa Rica after back-packing around other parts of Central America is a bit of a shock to the system. The prices shoot up by 300%, the roads are saturated by white Turismo shuttle buses and nearly everyone speaks English. Arriving at the airport in San Jose is so insanely shiney and modern having flown from Managua that i felt like licking the floor.
There are many many reasons why so many people want to visit this beautiful country. You only have to open your eyes for a split second to be inundated with colours and crazy creatures of all shapes and sizes. As an animal lover, I have been in heaven as my animal photo diary begins to show (there is still much more to come!). I can’t really complain or moan about being lucky enough to have spent a month in this fabulous place BUT for me it’s missing some of the more peaceful moments that i have found elsewhere in the slightly more obscure places I have visited. It became my mission to find quiet times, with no tour groups where I could feel like it was just me and Costa Rica hanging out together. These were my favourite tranquilo moments:
1. Monteverde early morning walk
Monteverde is a kind of hippy beach town, for surfing, meditation and yoga. It’s not as busy as other places, but there are always people around in the town and shaded areas on the beach are often full. However, it was so hot there that I found myself waking up really early and i discovered that a 6am walk along the beautiful long beach was a perfect way to escape the crowds and have moments to myself to think. I walked for 3 hours along the sand and across rocks and barely encountered anyone except a few pelicans and a monkey. I meditated next to the sea and it was the best bit of mind space i had in my month in CR and definitly beat the yoga class (that cost $40 and the relaxation part was done to the sound of large 4×4 cars trying to pass up the slender dirt track road!)
2. Monteverde – walk, no bus
So, actually I missed the bus up to the National Park because I was impatient waiting and thought I might as well walk to the next bus stop when it came passed me in between stops (an error I consistently make in London). So I had no choice but to walk, yet I’m so glad I did and I don’t understand why more people don’t. It’s not that far, it took about 90 minutes walking slowly and I passed so many things you may not even see if you were just on the bus. This included, Bosqie Eterno de los Niños, El Jardín de las Mariposas and a strange man who invited me to see his garden (but at least it was a coversation in Spanish). My favourite moment was on a bridge when a beautiful brightly coloured bird came and sat on a branch next to me. We stared at each other for about 10 minutes before he flew away. He lived in a hole in a tree with his lady friend. I’m not really a twitcher but Monteverde is all about birds and wildlife in the cloud forest. It was beautiful in the national park and lovely to see a couple of Quetzals, (while dodging standing on other peoples feet), but the moment on the bridge felt much more special to me. And I think the other twitchers would have gone crazy for my sighting, but of course he wouldn’t have been there if they were.
3. Tortuguero afternoon private canoe tour
Tortuguero national park is all about tourism, with guides approaching all the way from San Jose on the public bus. It is stunning, and I paid to go into the park twice because i’m such an animal nut. I think the best tour I did was the lonely planet recommended, Daryl Loth’s super silent boat at 5.45am because the guide was really knowledgeable and I spent the whole trip feeling smug that we were on the best boat because it was so quiet and not overflowing with people (some of the canoes at that time looked like they were about to sink they were so crammed). But we had to queue for an hour in our boat to get into the park and the trip included a british bloke who was terrified that Caiman were about to storm the boat and eat him and kept shouting the same (he was so irrational that i’m fairly sure he would have fed them his wife to save himself!). Anyway, a much more tranquila way to see the park was by canoe at 2.30pm. The guide was really shocked I wanted to go then as it was the hot part of the day, but actually most of the tour was in the shade anyway, so it didn’t bother me. We were the ONLY people in the park and it was bliss. In theory the animals might have been asleep but I saw more in the afternoon than in the morning, including a close up encounter with a tiger heron. I had a bit too much time in Tortuguero than it needed (3 days and definitly needed 2 max, if not 1.5), so two trips was excessive really but I really loved the silence in the park that afternoon especially as it was my final encounter with Costa Rica really (on this trip) and it was nice to find another tourist-free moment in this time.