After a pretty easy and nice flight from El Salvador to Costa Rica, we landed in San Jose airport. Immigration was quick and easy which was a nice added bonus. After hearing about the prices for bus shuttles in Costa Rica and the very long public bus rides for relatively short distances, we decided we would rent a car for our time here. This isn’t cheap and made what was going to be an already expensive month into an even more expensive one, however it meant we had complete freedom on what to do and we were also able to see more of the country. Anyway, outside arrivals the rental company picked us up, drove us to the depot, gave us our car and off we went. First stop, Walmart. Second stop, Monteverde.
Monteverde is about a 4h30 drive from San Jose airport. The majority of the roads were well made and safe. The last 20km or so however were dirt tracks going up and down hills. It certainly made the drive adventurous. We decided to book 3 nights in Monteverde as there is so much to do. A lot of the hostels in Monteverde were extremely expensive so we went for one of the cheapest options called Mi Casa Tica. Here we had a private room for 12 pounds per night. It was small and very basic but it had everything we needed: cooking facilities, hot showers and a bed. Booking a private room here was over 50% cheaper than dorm beds in the big hostels.
That evening we cooked a big chili which would last us all 3 nights. Despite us cooking everything, our food shop was very expensive. We paid 40 pounds for chili ingredients, cereal bars, 2 tins of tuna, 2 of sweetcorn, a box of wine, some sweets and some fruit. This came as a shock. That evening we planned our itinerary for Monteverde and met up with some friends from Guatemala for a few beers. Needless to say ‘a few beers’ tuned into many and we were slightly hungover.
After waking up just in time for our free breakfast at the hostel at 8:30 (pancakes and banana) we decided that in the morning we would do one of the rare free things to do; Cerro Amigo. We foolishly thought this was a nice easy walk up a small hill with amazing views at the top. Well we got one thing right, the amazing views, howeer the rest not quite as accurate. We started climbing the path to the top just after 10am, the path is mud, rocks and quite steep. But you know we thought it would be done and dusted within 30 minutes. In the end it took us 1h30 to climb to the top which was around 4.5km from where we started. It is a relatively hard trek on a good day so never mind on a hangover day. Even so, the rewards at the top made it worthwhile. From the top we could see all the way to the Colorado Gulf between the Nicoya peninsula and the mainland where we were. We could also see all the way back down to Monteverde town and see just how far we had walked. On the other side there was heavy cloud coming in so we couldn’t see too far out but we could still see the jungle below. After taking in the views we walked back down to the hostel for some lunch.
In the afternoon we decided to go to the Orchid Garden in the town centre. They have over 400 variations of orchids and 120 in flower on the day we went. Geared up with our magnifying glasses we were guided around their garden with two others. The guide explained the structure of the plant and then stopped at the most interesting orchids explaining their natural habitat, their smells, the pollination process and their other names. The first orchid we stopped at we were made to smell as it had a distinct smell of cow manure, the guide told us that this was because the plant is pollinated by flies – it really did smell of manure. A lot of the orchids we looked at had nicknames such as the ghost orchid or Casper – also known as Dendrophylax lindenii – which as you can see by the picture looks similar to a ghost. Another orchid we looked at was covered by a larger leaf which we learnt was to protect it from the rain – see picture below. After walking around for 40 minutes taking in all the information and smells it was time to leave as Stu could no longer breath through his nose from bad hay fever, maybe not the best idea in hindsight but worth it.
For our 2nd day we went on a forest canopy tour in the morning. There were many parks in the area to choose from but in the end we decided to go with Extremo Park. Entrance was $50 each which included transport there and back. There were 13 zip lines, 2 superman zip lines and 1 tarzan swing -it was epic. All the lines either went between trees or over the big valley. The majority of the lines you did alone, but with some of them you would go together. With the superman lines you were strapped by your chest and legs which made you feel like you were flying. The Tarzan swing that only Stu completed was incredible and ridiculously scary. You jump off a high ledge and you are freefalling for a few seconds before the swing kicks in and takes you up a good 40m high into the trees. The adrenaline really kicks in at this point. We had a great morning doing all of this and was entirely worth the money.
Taking full advantage of having a car and instead of having to leave early in the morning to go to La Fortuna, we drove out to the Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve on our final day for a 3h trek. We debated between this reserve and the Santa Elena reserve as lots of reviews mentioned the Monteverde one gets completely overcrowded. This may well be the case in high season, luckily for us it is low season and we had the park more or less to ourselves which only added to the experience.
Upon arrival we headed to reception to buy our tickets , $20 for Stu and $12 for Niamh with her student card. The man on reception asked how long we would like to walk and gave a recommended trail for us which he said would take 3h30. The path took us through jungle, to waterfalls, over suspension bridges and to some amazing viewpoints. It was quite hard to spot wildlife and the guides who were doing tours had binoculars for this, however as we just walked on our own we did not get the privilege of using them. We did see some amazing birds such as some ‘Black Guan’ which are very big black birds with blue beaks and ‘Collared Redstart’ which are bright yellow and grey small birds with an orange dot on their heads. We saw many more birds but we aren’t the best birdwatchers so names escape us. It was an incredible trek and one that words nor photos will do it justice. This was the end of Monteverde so we got back into the car and made our way to La Fortuna.