Today we moved on from the heights and cool temperatures of Monteverde to the coastal town of Jaco (pronounced Hacko). Situated on the pacific coast of Costa Rica, for some well earned relaxation after visiting Monteverde’s parks. Jaco is labelled as a party town because it’s just around a two hour drive from San Jose the capital.
Once again we opted to take a shared shuttle bus from Monteverde as our journey which was around three and a half hours in a car that is, would have involved two buses with a long wait in between and a much longer journey time. We found a local company in Monteverde who came highly recommended, called Faro travel . Their service was excellent, they kept us updated all the way from booking until pickup. So when Andreas our driver turned up in a 4×4 suv we were pleasantly surprised. I guess that their were not any other customers wanting to do the same journey. Andreas was very informative on the journey with all things Costa Rican. He told us that the Pan American highway we were travelling on is the longest highway in the world, stretching from Alaska to Patagonia, a distance of 48000 km, wow. We stopped at what the locals call Crocodile bridge, which was about two and a half hours into our journey, to take a break and stretch our legs. Now we had seen images of Crocodile bridge during our research back in the Uk. With pictures of the river below the bridge showing vast numbers of Crocodiles lazing around on the river banks below. But alas for us as the river was pretty high and flowing fast we only saw one, but we did see one rather large iguana lazing in the sun on a tree branch, he or she looked like they did not have a care in the world. Except not to get to close to the river as they may become dinner for a Crocodile.
Now we were not sure what to expect of Jaco, as it is billed as a party town. Now we don’t mind a good night out on the town but we like to walk to the nightlife, rather than being situated in the middle of it. So we were rather apprehensive about the location of our choice of hotel, but we were pleasantly surprised. Our accommodation the Hotel Ibiza was down a nice quiet street on the edge of town and just a few minutes from the beach. A really lovely clean nicely decorated place where the staff were all so lovely and friendly. Just perfect.
We booked just four nights at Hotel Ibiza. With hindsight we should have stayed there for the duration of our nine nights in Jaco, but we thought that to save the cost of eating out every night we should maybe book an apartment for the other five nights. So we opted for the La Paloma Blanca apartments the other end of town. Now the complex the apartment was on was beautiful, all low rise, three lovely pools, also we seemed to have the whole place to ourselves. The apartment itself was very spacious but was well used as a rental property so it was a bit jaded around the edges. Our apartment B3 was on the third floor with nice views over the pool and the sea. We had booked through booking.com but it turned out the booking was handled by an agent call Vacasa. The price on booking.com was one thing but the extras that was charged but the letting agent was eye watering. 13% tax 18% service charge 9% location fee and $69 dollars cleaning fee. As the booking was non refundable we were well and truly stuck. Oh well you live and learn. But we did have a lovely stay there, with the added bonus of watching the colourful Scarlet Macaws who must have had a nest in a close by tree.
One other reason was to visit the Parque Nacional Carara (we can’t get enough of them). Situated near to crocodile bridge it’s another park run by Sinac which is government run. Entrance fee $11 dollars. There is no guided tour available, just self guided. The paths are all easy except at one point there is a climb up and down some rather badly maintained steps. Now I don’t know whether it’s just bad luck, or the wrong time of day but there was not much in the way of wildlife, except lots of lizards. Oh I nearly forgot also a couple of strikingly coloured poison dart frogs. We also were able to recognise the forest above a forest which we learned on our guided tour of the Santa Elena park. Besides that just to be walking through the jungle is something that we both would never tire off and never experienced before our trip to Central America.
In my opinion Reserva Bosque Nuboso is the jewel in the crown of the Monteverde area. This government run reserve has no zip lines, bungee jumping or anything else to disturb the wildlife. It’s just a pure untouched cloud forest. We decided to take a guided walk, and at $33 pp this turned out to be excellent value. Our guide who’s name I forgot “I have a real mental block when it comes to names” was so informative during our walk. We learned so much, not just about the wildlife but the plant life too, also the cloud forest itself. It was fascinating to learn how the plants and trees grow and work in harmony together. How some trees grow around others and sadly strangling the unfortunate recipient. Also one amazing fact that there is a forest above a forest. When the guide pointed it out you could clearly see a huge dense area above the trees with long strands of thin routes reaching down to the forest below. He also showed us a tree who’s berries when broken open, smelt like citronella or sherbet. Along the way the guide stopped and shone his torch into a whole in a bank and pointed out a large tarantula, which I got a great shot with my iPhone. He also pointed out some fascinating insects along the way. When we arrived back at the entrance, another guide pointed out to him something in a nearby tree. What we saw was incredible which without a guide we would never have spotted, even with the guide it took a while to see what he was pointing to. The most amazing insect I have ever seen it really looked like part of the tree, incredible.
So far on our trip one bird that we were hoping to see is the elusive Resplendent Quetzal. Whilst we were having a coffee in the cafe the guide came running in as he had spotted one. I managed to get a photo but just of his or hers body and tail. Oh well hopefully we will get to see another further along on our trip.
When we were planning our trip to Costa Rica, and after reading about the Monteverde area, one thing that caught our attention was the cloud bridges through the rainforest. Whilst in Monteverde we looked into it further and it appears that a company has bought a huge area of the rainforest and erected zip lines throughout, a bungee jumping platform a sky tram and a tree climbing experience. Which goes against all that we believe in. How on earth can a huge area of rainforest be allowed to be purchased, by some big conglomerate whose only intention is to make lots of money, allowing thousands of people a year shouting and screaming along zip wires upsetting nature. So our dilemma was do we go or not.
Unfortunately as this was our only option to see the rainforest from above so we booked a ticket which was just walking the bridges. Priced at $41 each. With reluctance I have to say we throughly enjoyed. It was so good to see the forest from above. We were able to see many hummingbird’s collecting the pollen from the flowers. We also saw a group of howler monkeys sitting in the middle of one of the bridges. We stood with a group of people who were all respectful towards them. We all proceeded very slowly as to not disturb them too much, and with some trepidation. They all then climbed into the adjacent trees and gave us a fantastic view. The camera shutters were furiously clicking away.
I have to say the experience was really good and thankfully we did not hear too many screaming people flying along the zip lines. As a bonus and whilst we were waiting for the bus back to town, sitting in the ticket hall when a Coati wandered in, tipped over the bin, prised the lid off and run off with some contents. They are so naughty they are our second favourites of naughtiness next to monkeys.
Today we visited the Arenal Volcano National Park . There are a few other places imitating the national park but this the official government run one. There are five routes to choose from varying in distance. We did route’s 3, 4, and 5. The paths are easy to walk as they are comprised of crushed volcanic lava. As we had arrived by taxi, we came to a halt at the back of the queue of cars to get in. So we got out of the taxi and took the short walk to the entrance. A wise move as we just walked up the kiosk and paid our money. Cost of entry is $15 plus tax, totalling $33.90 for the two of us. Rather than walking up the road and following the cars to the car park, we took route 3 to start with. Which according to the sign is 600m. This route takes you through some dense jungle on a muddy path, although thankfully it was not that muddy on this day. Although we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife life on this trail, it was great to walk along, through some very tall and dense bamboo “ it’s such a lovely plant”. We then reached route 4 which we followed until the end, to the viewpoint overlooking the Arenal Volcano. The path is quite easy to walk along as it’s mainly crushed lava rock. But there are some small to medium rocks to catch you out, which I came the victim of along the way. When you reach the viewpoint, you have to first climb a steel staircase, then a small walk along a steel walkway. You then reach the lava flow from the 1992 eruption. Climbing over the boulders I really struggled. What with my unsteady legs, my weak knees, the heat, and the fact then we had been walking about an hour already. But I made it. It was worth it as the volcano was in full view. Normally the top section is shrouded by cloud. Also a great view of Largo Arenal “ which we will be crossing. More on that in my next post”. I stumbled my way back down, with the help of Jackie and some other kind people, and I was back on the nice flat path. We walked back on ourselves until we got to path 5 to view the enormous Ceibo tree. It’s 400 years old and climbs to a height of 30m or 98 feet. It’s an amazing sight. Also the root structure at the bottom is a sight to see.
We finally got back to where we started, thoroughly exhausted but with a good sense of achievement, especially me. Unfortunately we did not see much in the way wildlife, just the odd bird and plenty of lizards and leaf cutter ants going about their day, but it was great all the same. We both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Tomorrow we are off to Monteverde high up in the cloud forest.
Today we went on our trip to the Canó Negro Wildlife Reserve which is near a town called Los Chiles, close to the border with Nicaragua. We booked our trip through Red Lava Tours which I mentioned in my previous post. The cost of the tour was $65 each, and like I said in my previous post much cheaper than trying to do it on our own.
We were picked up from our hotel at 08:15 and we took the two hour journey to the reserve. Along with some other traveler’s. On the way our guide Joshua pointed out the various things growing in the fields ie sugar cane, pineapples etc. along the journey we had to cross a bridge whereby Joshua pointed out some very large iguanas lounging in the sun on the tree branches. They are cold blooded animals and need the warmth like us. We arrived at the reserve and had 15 minutes to grab a drink and use the toilet. We boarded the boat, and as there was only eight of us everyone had an outside seat. We had just left the dock and got to the other river bank when Joshua pointed out a Howler Monkey who unfortunately have a disease making them turn light brown or almost blond (they are normally black). Research has show that the monkeys have a difference in the type of melanin, which is the pigment that colours hair and skin in mammals. Scientists have concluded that this is due to the high levels of pesticides used in Costa Rica. For a interesting article about the subject Click Here.
On our journey along the river we managed to see quite a lot of wildlife. Plenty of bird species, we even saw apparently a rare American Pygmy Kingfisher “I have to say I am no ornithologist”. It was so tiny and so beautifully coloured. We also saw some very tiny cute bats lined up on a tree branch, plus Caimans (a smaller version of an alligator) turtles White faced capuchin monkeys, plenty of different types of kingfisher
I have to tell you about the lucky escape that one iguana had. Now some Primates are omnivores (they eat both vegetation and also meat). We had just stopped the boat because Joshua was pointing out some white faced capuchin Monkeys in a tree, when one of them lurched towards the unsuspecting iguana. But fortunately for him or her he jumped out of the tree he was lounging in and landed on a fallen tree in the river right in front of us. You could almost see the look of “Phew that was close on his face”
We cruised along the river for a couple of hours, our guide Joshua was brilliant, so informative. When we docked we had a very nice lunch, (all included in the price) after which we moved on just down the road for a display on how they extract the liquid sugar from the cane and then to turn it into the solid form. Also the process in making coffee from the beans and the chocolate from the cacao plant. So interesting. We even got to try the Vesou or Rhum agricole which is made from fermenting the sugar cane juice. The result is 70° proof illegal to sell in the shops as the highest poof of the spirits they can sell is 45°. Like the stupid Englishmen I am, I downed it in one go. After coughing and spluttering, and to the amusement of others I lived to tell this tale. I swear I could run my car on the stuff. A truly fantastic day.