Our last stop on the pacific coast of Costa Rica, before we cross the border back into Panama is the town of Golfito. The town is situated along a narrow strip along Golfito bay, backed against steep green hills covered by rain forest. Golfito was once a major port town on the South Pacific Coast in the days when there was little else in the area except huge banana plantations.
We decided to go to Golfito firstly as it looked a good place to chill for a few days. Also it’s not far from the next leg of the trip, crossing the border at Paso Canoas, back into Panama. We found a nice little apartment on Airbnb overlooking the bay which is reasonably priced and is very nice, with great views of the bay.
Golfito town was built by the United fruit company to house the thousands of workers who came to the area to work on the banana plantations. A railroad was also built to transport the bananas from the plantations to the docks. The railroad is long gone now. There are just a couple of old steam engines left as a reminder of the past.
The town was built in three separate areas
Zona Americana Or the white zone. It was here that the professionals and senior executives lived in large white painted homes built in the British colonial style, with the best of amenities
Zona Amarilla Or yellow zone where the middle management, foreman and supervisors lived. Not as well appointed as the white zone, but still comfortable and well made. Access to both white and yellow zone’s were strictly controlled by guardhouses and security.
Zona Gris The grey zone where the labourers and dock workers lived. In cramped conditions and much fewer amenities, which amounted to just basic living. Often resulting in violent disputes within the community.
Now all that has gone, thankfully, but there are still plenty of reminders from the past. Many of the timber constructed buildings are still standing, some are renovated and some are in quite bad disrepair. Now the town has a quite noticeable American and Canadian expat community, and has had a major revamp in some areas. Like it’s two marinas, where expensive yachts and sports fishing boats are moored, it also has a small airport.
As I said in my previous post I felt the only way to describe how amazing our mangrove and night hike tours were was to cover it in a separate post completely .
All through our journey through Costa Rica we had wanted to do a night hike to see the elusive Red eye tree frog, or any frog to be honest. We have heard plenty of them when visiting the National parks, but despite hearing the amazing chorus of all the frogs calling out we never actually got to see any. It seemed every time we did our research on the different companies offering night frog tours or hikes the reviews were never great. A lot of the night walk tours are on private reserves where a man made frog pond is built just to get the tourists in and to make a whole lot of money in the process, something we definitely do not subscribe to. It seemed we were never going to find a good company or tour that would satisfy our ethical way of thinking. It was not until Jackie was browsing the net that she stumbled upon Sierpe Frogs on trip advisor, which is strange it’s a platform we hardly use as we have found that most of the review posts on there are years out of date. But in this case the majority of the reviews were up to date and were excellent, and there were none rated below good. So our decision was made. When we arrive at Sierpe we will contact Raby Nuñez the proprietor and book our tour.
We met Raby at 5:30pm at the dock, as we had to cross the Sierpe river to start our walk. Raby was a really lovely guy and spoke perfect English so we were off to a good start. Raby’s friend, Jeffrey who was training as a guide came along too. We disembarked the small boat and started our walk. We walked for about 25 minutes, up hill for the most part. All along our journey to the start of the trail Raby was explaining about the many types of different plants and trees and how they help and supply food for the wildlife. His knowledge was excellent. We reached a bend in the road when Raby pointed out a huge ants nest. We were astounded when he told us the nest can be up to six metres deep “ wow “. Eventually we got to where the walk started. I could describe it as a path but it was far from that, it was a real trek through the jungle and in places very slippery under foot, which did not impress me as on more than one occasion my worn out knees have given way causing me to fall “I’ve got two grazed knees to prove it”. It was a good job we brought out very good Brasher walking boots with us because in places the track was very muddy and wet. Whilst we were walking along to get to the path Raby asked us if we minded him picking up the frogs to show us or just point them out. We asked him if by picking them up would they get harmed in any way, but he reassured us it wouldn’t . Incidentally he told us he doesn’t even use insect repellent whilst handling the frogs so that no harmful chemicals can be transferred. So we were happy to say we were okay with it. Raby’s knowledge on all types of frog species was excellent. He is really passionate about the little fellows. Raby’s passion for frogs and lizards, started as a small child, so it is great that he can now turn his love of nature and wildlife into his job. We learned so much about the species and every frog he picked up was placed on a leaf for us to admire and look at and for me to photograph them. Raby or Jeffery then placed them meticulously back in the same place he found them. Another highlight was seeing a Wedge billed wood creeper fast asleep in the nook. An absolutely amazing and unforgettable night. Apart from where I was stung by a huge wasp, which somehow managed to get up my shirt sleeve. Boy did it sting. Oh and also being thoroughly exhausted by the experience, but so so worth it. Apart from the bee sting that is.
As we had such an amazing time on the night hike we also booked a mangrove tour with Raby. Once again we were not disappointed. The trip lasted three hours and once again saw plenty of wildlife. Howler Monkeys, white faced capuchin monkeys, and for the first time on our trip the adorable squirrel monkeys. We also saw a Boa snake curled up in a tree. Plenty of iguanas enjoying the sun, a toucan crocodiles,oh and a raccoon perched on a branch high up in a tree. I had no idea that’s where they live and sleep during the day, being nocturnal. We would never have spotted all this amazing wildlife without our guide. Another amazing Costa Rican experience. All made possible by Raby, Jeffrey and Sierpe Frogs. Who I cannot recommend highly enough
Our last but one stop before leaving glorious Costa Rica. We are visiting the small town of Sierpe. Our journey was to be taxi to the bus station, then a direct bus to Sierpe with the Tracopa bus company. We asked the waiter in La French café where we were having breakfast if he would kindly call us a taxi, when a very kind Canadian who also was having breakfast and who now lives in Costa Rica offered us a lift, a very nice gesture indeed. The bus company we used Tracopa, are recommended in the guide books, they have a fleet of large coaches which serve most large and small towns in Costa Rica. Along with another company called Ticabus. The journey took about two hours and cost 14,000 CRC which is about £16.
We came to Sierpe to do a couple of things, one was to take a night hike in the jungle and also take a tour of the extensive mangroves here. We also considered visiting the Corcovado National Park, but after quite a bit of research we gave it a miss. Which is kind of sad as the park is billed as the jewel in the crown of Costa Rica’s national parks. Our reasons were firstly you can only enter the park with an authorised guide “ which isn’t a problem in itself “ but the only way to get there from Sierpe was to take a boat along the river to where you will eventually go out to sea, all this is before you reach the San Pedrillo ranger station. This journey takes around one and a half hours. After which you will disembark for your hike. There are other ways of getting to the park, (click here, to find out more). It’s also recommended you stay overnight in basic accommodation or to camp to get the best experience. As we had visited quite a few National parks on our trip we have learnt that you need to be in the parks early to get the best possibility of sighting wildlife. Taking the tour as above you would not arrive until possibly 10am, that’s if sea conditions are good. Another factor was the cost. At around $120 to $130 dollars per person, and the fact that it’s getting towards the end of our trip, and the budget was getting a little tight we did not go.
After viewing google maps of Sierpe we decided to stay for five nights, as there looked like there was plenty to do. Unfortunately Google hasn’t got around to or are not allowed to perform their street view imagery, (That goes for the whole of Costa Rica) so we could not have a good look as to what Sierpe is really like. When we arrived, the bus stopped outside a hotel called Oleaje Sereno, which also has a restaurant called Le Perla attached . There were a load of people waiting at the dock, either for their tour to Corcovado or going onto their accommodation at drake bay. So we thought the town seems lively enough so we would be okay with our five nights. It wasn’t until everyone had gone and just left me and Jackie alone in this large restaurant we noticed the town was deserted, apart from a few stray dogs and tumbleweed rolling down the street (not really) and the fact that the restaurant we were in, was one of only two in town, we looked at each other and said what on earth were we going to do for five nights?
We called the owner of the apartment we had booked, to arrange access. She told us to wait there and somebody would meet us. A lovely little Costa Rican woman greeted us and showed us around. It was quite nice but a lot darker than the photos on Booking.com but it was okay. We were still wondering what we were going to do for the next four days, but we need not have worried . Just read my next post, as I feel it needs a separate entry on the blog to do it justice. It was just amazing.
Continuing down the pacific coast towards the Panamanian border we are now at a town called Uvita. Well hardly a town just a few restaurants, and places to stay strung out along the road leading to the Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, which is the reason we are here. We are staying at a lovely little apartment we found on Airbnb behind a very nice complex called Plaza Bahia Moana, with a great little cafe restaurant called Le French Cafe who serve lovely food and has really lovely staff.
Marino Ballena Park, (Ballena is Spanish for whale) was created to provide a safe haven for the migrating humpback whales who come to breed in the warmer tropical waters just off the coast. The whales migrate down from the west coast of America and southern British Columbia which is where they feed. Unfortunately for us the best time to see them is between June and November so we were out of luck. In a way though we are quite glad, because as well as the restaurants and accommodation along the road there are quite a few places where you can book a whale spotting tour, with lots of dormant boats by the side waiting for the season to start. I can only presume in the height of the whale spotting season there will be lots of these boats out on the water, full of tourists chasing the whales around just to get a photo. Which is something we both don’t agree with. We declined to do this in Sri Lanka because of the same reason.
I have to mention how friendly and helpful the Costa Rican people are, everyone we have met have been lovely. When we walked down to the park entrance to see where we had to go for our visit, a local man who was selling his driftwood carvings called us over and and took us to the edge of a small stream and pointed out a female Caiman and her babies. He didn’t want any money he was just pleased to show them to us.
Uncannily the park is shaped like a whale tail, which can be seen at low tide (See Photo) which I didn’t take incidentally. This is caused by two converging currents that when meet, push the sand up and create a walkway to another sand bar that runs across like the letter T, hence the name whale tail. The picture will explain a lot better than I can.
The whale tail can only be seen at low tide, so it’s best to check out tide times for the day of you visit. Entrance fee to the park is $6 dollars per person and you can come and go as many times as you like on the same day.
The walk to the viewing point of the whale tale involves crossing a water inlet which when we crossed to get to the viewpoint it was just over ankle deep. Once at the whale tail there is a path which goes off into a mangrove where hopefully you will spot some wildlife (we didn’t incidentally). Also there were a few signs warning you of crocodiles, slightly worrying. All the same it was a nice walk but extremely hot and humid. The path exits where we had previously crossed the inlet, but the river was much wider and the water was much deeper as the tide was coming in. We watched where other people were crossing and followed them. Hanging on to each other we gingerly crossed, the water was much deeper than previously. We had no alternative but to carry on as we had to cross to exit the park, this is when I managed to find a deep hole and went over and nearly under. With my rucksack full of expensive cameras and equipment and my iPhone in my pocket I thought the worse. Thankfully my iPhone being the latest model is advertised as being waterproof up to 6 metres for 30 minutes. Thankfully I did not descend 6 metres and I wasn’t under for 30 minutes, but a quick dunk for about 10 seconds and all was well. Also thanks to my good quality Osprey rucksack my cameras and lenses were fine. Panic over.
We are now gradually working our way down the pacific coast to eventually cross the border back into Panama. We have moved on from Jaco to the town of Quepos (pronounced Kepos) mainly to visit the Manual Antonio National Park. We booked a small room on the fringes of the town, at a place call Casa Del Arbol. Sounds better than it is. The apartment is much cheaper than Jaco, also a bit of a comedown from our nice apartment there. It’s quite dark inside but at least it has air-con and it’s clean, but as usual the photos look far better than reality, but we are only here for four nights so it will do.
Quepos is a nice little town laid out in grid form and is the place where most people stay when visiting Manual Antonio Park. There is not much to do in town except eat and drink but there are plenty of choices. There is a promenade with lovely views over the ocean, but is not very well kept and has quite a litter problem. Still walking along it we saw lots of our lovely iguanas spread out on the rocks taking in the sunshine, for which they need as they are cold blooded reptiles. At the end of the promenade their is a nice marina with a good choice of upmarket restaurants, which are surprisingly good value considering their location. The marina itself is full of what Americans call sports boats, used mainly for big game fishing, Marlin sharks etc, with posters advertising competitions throughout the year, if that’s your thing.
Our visit to the Manual Antonio park nearly never was. You see we had planned to visit on Tuesday, as the Lonely Planet guide book stated it is closed on Mondays. It was only by chance on checking the parks website on Sunday night, to download a map of the park we discovered it’s actually closed on a Tuesday but open on Monday. Also we found out you can only purchase tickets online on the official website. Click here. entrance fee is $15 dollars pp. At time of writing you could not buy them at the gate only online.
Top Tip beware of other websites advertising online tickets, buy from the official site from the link above. Also beware of anyone trying to sell you tickets at the entrance, they will probably only be buying them online, which you can do yourself and charge you a fee.
Getting to the park is easy from town, there is a dedicated bus to the park from the bus station and runs roughly every 15 minutes or so. The fare is less than a £1 for two people. We opted to take an Uber from our apartment, as it saved walking to the bus station, the cost was roughly £2.50. As it turned out it was a good move as we avoided running the gauntlet of souvenir venders, unofficial tour guides and people trying to sell you tickets. If you are thinking of taking a guided tour only book them on the official site, as although the ones plying there trade outside, may look official they are not and more than likely you will get a substandard tour.
The morning of our visit to the park we were awoken by the most horrendous sound of rainfall hammering on the tin roof, nearly all the properties out here have them. Believe me when it rains out here boy does it rain. As this was the only day for us to visit the park and the fact we had booked our tickets we had no choice but to brave it. Luckily we had brought good walking clothes and boots with us also a packable rain coat. Although wearing the raincoat you get equally as wet inside as you do out because of the heat and humidity. For about the first hour of our walk the rain did not let up. Oh well what do you expect when you visit a country renowned for its rain forests.
The first part of the walk was easy, just a small incline up a gravel track. We had not long entered the park when out of the jungle on our left a couple of raccoons wandered across our path just a few feet in front of us. Brilliant . Unfortunately my cameras were packed away in my rucksack, for obvious reasons, and I could not operate my phone because of my wet hands, still it was exciting anyway as it was our first time in seeing raccoons in the wild. We continued up the path to be greeted by a cafe come souvenir shop. This made us quite angry as at the entrance you’re bags are searched for plastic, “which is good to avoid littering the park” and for food as it’s not allowed in the park. Only to discover that you could buy plastic bottles of water, fizzy drinks and food at the cafe.
From this point we took the trail to the viewpoint, this is where it started getting tough. Wooden flights of stairs after stairs we reached the first one and because of the weather you can imagine the view wasn’t great. There was a guide taking someone at this point and we asked him how much further is the next point. When he said about another half an hour we threw in the towel. So it was back down to the shop where the climb started to start the next trail, called Punta Catedral (Cathedral point). The walk started alongside the beautiful white sand beach, it was not long before we started to climb up some very dilapidated not very well kept steps. Up and up we climbed with it getting harder and harder. We did not know whether to turn back or carry on. We were exhausted. We trudged on when finally we started to descend. It was equally as tough going down as up because the steps were in such a bad state of repair. At one point there what was once a bridge totally broken down and rusted away which crossed a small stream, so we had to walk through the stream to get across it was a good job we had our walking boots on. We finally reached the bottom and was back on the beach where we started, absolutely worn out. I’m not going to lie it was very difficult for me. also we did not see any wildlife along the way probably because we were to busy tying to stay upright. I have to say it was not a pleasurable experience but I did it. We walked a total of 4.26 miles. Climbed 1640 feet which took us just under 4 hours. I’m sure I will suffer tomorrow.