Costa Rica – Nicaragua

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please find here our first masterpiece by director Jakub! 🙂

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Green, greener, Monteverde!

    Spontaneously, we decided to not go to Puntarenas, as it was our initial plan but to see a little bit more of the Mountains in Costa Rica and drove to Monteverde. The way there was, as most of the time when we drive somewhere very adventurous! 🙂 Not only did we have a 30km bumpy and stony road, we also went uphill as high as 1.400m – stunning views of bright green mountain hills awaited us.

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Our hostel of choice was “Chillout Hostal”, a cozy and sweet place in Santa Elena (close to Monteverde), where we were welcomed friendly and got a first introduction to all the fun tours we could do around the area. For the next day we decided to go on a hike in the “Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, with an entrance fee of 14$ p.p.it was one of the cheapest options around here. 😉 You can choose between 4 different trails, the longest takes approx. 3,5hs. We decided to combine 2 trails to have 3hs in total. The forest was really amazing, as it was humid and mossy an additionally very green. On our trail we passed a viewpoint on which we went up and saw the volcano “El Arenal”, which we knew from La Fortuna. Again, as we got to know it, the volcano hid in the clouds. 🙂 While we hiked further, it started to rain…and then it poured! We got soaking wet and tried to leave the area as fast as we could to not get more wet. Well, too late – once we arrived at the hostel our clothes, shoes and backpacks were completely wet! On our way home we were additionally surrounded by a lot of fog, crazy weather conditions!                                                                                           IMG_0531

El Arenal

For the next day, our plan was to see a chocolate & coffee tour offered by “Don Juan” – it was great! Not only did we learn a lot about the long and extensive process of coffee making, we could also try the differently roasted beans and taste the difference between good and very good coffee. 🙂 From now on we will enjoy every cup of coffee even more! Moreover, we got to taste very delicious chocolate. Our guide Junior took some chocolate beans, rasped them and added some secret ingredients (one of them, he told us was monkey pee, but we assume it was vanilla flavor ;)) and let us taste it. So good! This tour we would really recommend to do, since it is not only interesting for the coffee junkies.

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In the afternoon, we followed the advice of our hostel owner and went to see the hollow Fikus tree. Surprisingly, no one charged us for seeing it, which is a pretty rare thing in Costa Rica. 😉 We heard that the biggest of these trees is so hollow that we could even climb up on it! And the rumors didn’t lie – we were stunned. But how is that even possible and what happened to the tree!? The explanation is called “Strangler Fig Tree”:

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“[…] Beginning life as a sticky seed left on a high tree branch by an animal such as a bird, bat, or monkey, the young strangler lives on the tree’s surface (see epiphyte). As it grows, long roots develop and descend along the trunk of the host tree, eventually reaching the ground and entering the soil. Several roots usually do this, and they become grafted together, enclosing their host’s trunk in a strangling latticework, ultimately creating a nearly complete sheath around the trunk. The host tree’s canopy becomes shaded by the thick fig foliage, its trunk constricted by the surrounding root sheath, and its own root system forced to compete with that of the strangling fig. This process can kill the host; if not, the host tree, being much older than the strangler, still dies eventually and rots away and a magnificent fig “tree” is left behind whose apparent “trunk” is actually a gigantic cylinder of roots. […]” (https://www.britannica.com/plant/strangler-fig-tree)

So much for the biology lesson today. 😉
Back on the road the next day we made our way to San Jose, where we needed to return our rental car (surprisingly, it was still  in a good condition!) and got some sleep, since we were picked up the nex day at 6am to drive to Panamá!

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50 Beaches Of Pacific Coast Costa Rica – Guanacaste

Pura Vida Costa Rica, we’re back!

After spending one week in Nicaragua and attending the local celebration in the City of Liberia, we decided to rent a car and discover the pacific coast of Costa Rica – the region Guanacaste. What we had ahead of us? Sun every day and beautiful chilled, surfing beaches and so it was 😉

As our first stop, we chose the small, relaxed village Playa Hermosa and dropped our still heavy luggages at „Iguana Inn cabines“ (really nice place for a good price). Only the owner’s dog called ‚Tornado‘ was a pretty strange creature, you never knew if he wants to be your friend or bite a bit of your leg for dinner. 😉

Playa Hermosa itself is really small, only crossed by the main village street, having a really calm and cool beach with some private spots, some restaurants and hotels. We chilled a lot, I (Jakub) did my every morning running and snorkeling session while Ellen was still dreaming or reading her book. Snorkeling on the Playa Hermosa is great during the high tide on the very right corner of the beach (facing the ocean) and there it happened: snorcheling around the reef, observing tropical fish, when all of a sudden something caught my attention – big shade on my left side – DAMN…all crazy scenarios were running through my head (white shark attack, sting ray?!) when I eventually realized that it is a sea turtle! First, I got scared of her, she got scared of me….after a couple of seconds we luckily both calmed down and exchanged some warm eye contact. 😉 After a while she decided to leave and headed into deeper waters where I couldn‘t see her anymore….byeee my first sea turtle, what a great encounter! 😉

North from playa Hermosa is Playa Panama, with it’s „no wave“ sea and beautiful view and emptyness highly recommended also for chilling and families 😉IMG_0396

The opposit of playa Panama, a few km south of Hermosa you can visit Playa del Coco, seems to be pretty vivid beach and village with nice surf beach and some cool bars/restaurant, most oft hem appeared very American.

Playa Tamarindo – second stop 

As soon as we arrived at our next hostel which we booked through Airbnb we were welcomed by our new neighboors, howler monkeys! One just climbed on the electricity cables to steal some mangos from the tree on the opposit side of the street, while a big ass lizzard crossed the side street and took some sun on the heated concrete – that‘s Costa Rica. The second morning at 6am, we realized that there was a whole monkey family living on the tree 3m next to our balcony and had the chance to observe them in their morning disscussion 😉 Oh, and btw: did you know that these kind of monkeys are known for their loud howling, especially in the morning…? Well…. JIMG_0441

The center oft he town is a vivid place with great surfing spots and couple of secret beaches around. Tamarindo also offers lot of activities from Zipplining, Squads renting, Snorcheling, fishing and of course surf courses. Top secret recommendations for this Area is Playa Mina (great for snorcheling and chilling alone, we have spoted big sting ray and sea snake which we were pretty scared of!) and Playa Bahia de los Pirates which both are just North of Tamarindo. To reach these beaches it is recommended to drive with a 4WD, especially during the rainy season. Luckily, we made it safe to the beach with our rented Toyota Yaris  😉

After Tamarindo, we decided to use a coastal road to get to the next towns, after checking google maps we were almost sure that the road Nr. 160 will be a normal concrete road which, suitable also for our not 4WD Toyota.

Don’t always trust google maps – yellow main road doesn‘t always mean that the road is good, there are concrete roads which are not even visible on the maps at first glance 😀

Guess what? The opposit happened, when after a couple of kilometers the concrete road ended and we were again on a bumpy, stony road driving 30km/h avarage 😉 Nevertheless, the coast line reminded us on the beauty of this part of Costa Rica and showed us abandoned beaches such as Playa Pitahaya, Local beach actually with two beaches in one – San Juanillo and many, many others…Continuing on the bumpy road, we finally got to the last 5km of our way to Sámara, already a little bit exhausted from the road and looking forrward to arrive. And the „unexpected“ happened: we arrived at the point where no further driving was possible for us – a river crossed the road due to the rainy season, there was no bridge, the water 1m high and our Toyota Yaris faced a huge challenge 😀 😀 Luckily, in the very moment when Ellen almost started crying, a huge 4WD truck passed the river from the other side, stopped next to us, the driver let down his window looking down on us and saying „Guys…nope…no crossing with your Toyota.“ J As exhausted as we were, we had to turn and drive back a couple of kilometers to ask locals for another way, which did exist! Our lesson learned: always always always ask locals for the best road as they know best what is possible and maybe impossible. J

Finally in Playa Samara, we found a beautiful place to stay, since we hadn’t booked anything in advance. Marlene from Phoenix, Arizona owns a wonderful B&B called La Mansion, right on the second street from the beach. Together with her husband they run the hotel – we guess she must be around 78 years old, but she was welcoming us so sweetly that we felt at home. We really enjoyed our stay here, especially Marlene‘s hospitality, relaxing atmosphere and her awesome breakfest, which gave us enough power to discovered the surrounding and Playa Samara for a couple of days.

Playa Ostional – Olive ridley sea turtle ‚Arribada‘

At the end of our stay in Sámara, we decided to book a tour for early morning to playa Ostional. Our goal was to watch the ‚Arribada‘, the mass arriving of turtles at the beach to lie their eggs. Excited we got up at 03:30am, ready for our pickup at 04:00am.

As we arrived at Playa Ostional at around 05:30am, we realized that we we were a little bit naiv thinking we’d be only a few people on the beach in these morning hours…absolutely not! It wasn’t a secret spot, only our group and turtles on the beach, it was a mass tourist event with many buses and cars in the small village road and people everywhere. The beach was already colored with day light and we realized that the beach is full of tourists. We could only enter the beach with local guides, so we expected a good educational explanation….no explanations, no education. Actually, we ran on the beach and felt like we disturb the turtles by lying their eggs, along with at least 120 other people there. WHAT? Too many people around these turtles, taking picture at close distance, sometimes even disturbing them from finding their way back to the water…WHERE ARE THE GUIDES TO SAY SOMETHING? Oh sure, they took pictures by themselves…

But the worst part happened right after the turtles lay their eggs. We were wondering what all these other people do on the beach, who sat there digging out the eggs the turtle just lay and putting them in big white bags. First thought? Oh, so nice of them, they put the eggs in a hatchery and take care of them. SO wrong. The local village citizens are allowed to collect the first eggs from the turtles and sell them for consumption. Yes, they sell the eggs and eat them. We were shocked. As we asked our driver (who served as a guide), he explained that the first eggs layed by turtles would be destroyed by the next turtles, because they dig new holes. So they have a legal license to dig them out and sell or eat the eggs! To us, that was something we just couldn’t get over with. We’re no biologist or experts on turtle nesting, but there is really no other way to safe those eggs (hatcheries)? How do they even control how many eggs are being collected and when?? And yes, it is also a cultural thing – these people have been eaten these eggs probably ever since, which one has to respect. But for our European way of thinking it was terrible. We learn at school and everywhere that these vulnerable animals need to be protected and are threatened by extinction.

To us, there was no respect in treatment of these wonderful animals doing their most important thing in life, and we watched this from distance, not able to express what we felt in that moment…

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Definitely time to move! 😉 next stop Monteverde

 

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La Fortuna, North-West Costa Rica

Wow, what a long day of travelling! In the afternoon, after a long day we arrived in La Fortuna. For the first time, we haven’t booked any hostel in advance, so our first big task was to go search an accommodation for the next days.

The first thing we noticed on La Fortuna was the wondeful climate there. It was way different to the cities at the coast line; fresher and easier to breathe. Of course, the most impressive characteristic was the big volcano „El Arenal“, which was visible even from the city center! Mostly the top of it hid behind clouds, only in the morning at around 6am we could see a little bit of it…

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Our search for a hostel was tricky, since the prices were pretty high (very touristic spot we noticed). Luckily, we searched in advance for some places to stay online and remembered one cheap hostel close by – that was the one we decided for in the end. It was the best hostel we had so far with great welcoming people and a big room (“Hotel Dorothy”). What did we learn? Better book something in advance, because prices might be even better online. 🙂

The next day we got up early to walk to the waterfall „La Catarata“. It was approx. 5km from the city center and when we finally got there, we couldn’t wait to take a dive in the 20 degrees cold water – so amazing! After the Waterfall we did a small stop in spot which locals know as ‘El Salto’ – local kids jump in the water from a roap or just from the stone from approx. 10m. Of course we tried it, too and it was a lot of fun to jump into the clear waters of El Arenal river  🙂  Even more stunning was the following day, on which we hiked up the „Cerro Chato“ volcano. The hike up was really challenging at some spots and after reaching the summit of the volcano we decided to climb down and swim in the green volcano lake; pure nature in the clouds, it was worth the bumpy hike up with roots aggravating it. 😉

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For our last day in La Fortuna we booked an afternoon tour to do Ziplining. We had so much fun flying through the jungle! To end this day, we enjoyed the hot springs close to a hotel complex – the water comes right from the volcano and is wonderful warm. Great day and so much fun stuff to do in La Fortuna. 🙂

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So Pura Vida la Fortuna and see you soon Nicaragua 😉

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Tortuguero, Caribbean Coast

Off we went to Tortuguero, the Turtle Park! Getting there was somehow a big myth to us, since there’s only one way: by boat. 🙂 For everyone who is interested in travelling there, here are our advices.

From Puerto Viejo, the easiest way is to get to Limón by bus, then take a taxi to the docks of Moín and board a boat there. Fortunately, we found this page, showing us a telephone number of one of the guys driving to Tortuguero. We called him one day before our departure, which was really important! The boat leaves at 10am and takes approx. 4 hours – and it was fully booked. 🙂 To sum it up:

Puerto Viejo to Tortuguero

  1. Bus from Puerto Viejo to Limón: 1hr, 3600 CRC for 2 (7$)
  2. Taxi Limón to Moín: 20min, 5000 CRC for 2 (10$)
  3. Boat to Tortuguero: 4hs, 38500 CRC for 2 (70$), book one day ahead
Boarding the boat to Tortuguero

Boarding the boat to Tortuguero

The ride with the boat was an amazing river trip  – our Capitano stopped a lot of times, showing us the diversified nature and animals living close by or in the river in Tortuguero national park and on the way there. We probably drove through 5 different rivers, we saw birds, lizards, monkeys, sloths and even crocodiles ;). Before we boarded the boat we had the idea to swim in the river later  – after seeing the 3.5 m long Croco NOOOOOT anymore 😀

Crocodile

Crocodile

Once we arrived in Tortuguero, we were already awaited by one guide who brought us to the information center to book some tours and also showed us the way to our hostel. We booked a night turtle watch to see what we came for: turtles coming to the beach in the night to lay their eggs, exciting. Unfortunately, we were very disappointed by this tour. We gathered in a group of 18 people at around 10pm to go together to the beach, where 50 people more already waited for one turtle to see! We literally stood in line to “watch” the turle laying eggs; one could barely see anything…who to blame, more turtles just didn’t want to come to the beach 😉

All together the Tortuguero village is a sweet,  small piece of land in between  the river and Caribbean sea. The village consists mostly of hotels/ hostels and restaurants/ sodas. As you can find this everywhere on the internet, it is one of the most famous Costa Rica tourist attractions. Because of this, expect to pay some money for every single step and trip which you do here (entrance to national park 15$; Turtle Tour 25$; Canyoning 20$…). Be aware that there is no ATM in Tortuguero. 

The biggest organizational effort was needed to finding out how to leave Tortuguero. 😉 At the information desk right at the harbor, the guides told us we have to take a private shuttle to La Fortuna, which costs 60$ per person and takes approx. 5 hours. That price was just too much for us. As we asked for a cheaper way, they told us we could go by boat to La Pavona and take several buses via San Jose, where we would have to stay a night and then arrive in La Fortuna the other day. Honestly, we didn’t really feel well informed but rather messed around by these guys only trying to sell expensive tickets.

Luckily, as we strolled down the main street right sided from the harbor, we saw this sign mentioning Rafa’s tours:

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And seriously, Rafa saved us from spending too much money on a transport which you can have so much cheaper – muchísimas gracias, Rafa! 🙂 He sent us to one of the local boat owners, who reserved us seats for the boat to La Pavona early the next morning at 5am. If you have time for travelling, this option is seriously the best for you. It is necessary to take one boat and four buses to arrive in La Fortuna, the duration is approx. 8,5 hs. Details:

Tortuguero to La Fortuna

  1. Boat from Tortuguero to La Pavona, 1hr, 4000 CRC for 2 (8$)
  2. Taxi from La Pavona to Cariari, 45 min, 4000 CRC for 2 (8$)
  3. Bus from Cariari to Guapiles, 45min, 960 CRC for 2 (2$)
  4. Bus from Guapiles to Puerto Viejo, 1hr, 3000 CRC for 2 (6$)
  5. Bus from Puerto Viejo to Ciudad Quesada (Bus shows direction San Carlos!) , 2hrs, 3000 CRC for 2 (6$)
  6. Bus from Ciudad Quesada to La Fortuna, 1,5hrs, 2640 CRC for 2 (5$)

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Bus Schedule Guapiles to Puerto Viejo in July 2016

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Bus Schedule Puerto Viejo to Ciudad Quesada in July 2016

All in all, we managed to get every following bus right on time, except for the one in Guapiles – bathroom break was necessary and the driver wouldn’t wait. 😉 Instead at 8am we left at 9am and could use the time for a small breakfast break…and of course the bathroom.  To sum it up,  the longer ride was 35$ against 120$ (2 Persons), but 8 hours against 5 hours. So If you have enough time, now you know how to get to Arenal cheaper 😉 And you know how to get to see all the beauty of the landscape Costa Rica offers.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Caribbean Coast

We have finally arrived at our first destination in Costa Rica! It was planned to be here already one day earlier, but what can we say? Condor airlines screwed up our time schedule. 🙂 The problem was a not functioning toilet in the airplane which could not be repaired before 11pm – and that was the time the night curfew began, so no allowance for airplanes to take off.  All 253 passengers needed to leave the airplane again (without our luggage, that would have taken too much time and additionally, all aiport workers were already at home ;)), meet at the gate to go through immigration again, get some shuttle buses to the next hotel close by to fly off the next day at 2pm. What a thrilling start for our trip. 😉

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At some point we luckily arrived in San Jose, taking a taxi to our hostel and try to get some sleep. Of course we woke up super early, being in the middle of our jetlag! 🙂 We left the hostel to walk to the bus station “Atlantico Norte” in San Jose to catch the 10am bus to Puerto Viejo. Since our experience with buses in other countries told us to be prepared for an AC close to minus temperatures, we boarded the bus with long pants and an extra long sleeve – big mistake! It was so hot in that bus with no AC that this was the first lesson learned: better don’t prepare for cold buses. 😉 Arriving in Puerto Viejo, we were fascinated by the village – easy going, hippies selling selfmade bracelets, rastas listening to reggae…so diversified! And the craziest thing: right in front of our hostel is the black beach – seriously, black sand….so amazing.

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Since Costa Rica is in the middle of the rainy season (May – Nov.), the rivers are full with water and everything is wonderful green. It can also mean that it rains all day long (what a luck that we invested in some rainjackets and rain covers for our backpacks) or you get up in the morning and the sun is shining for a nice day …every day a new surprise. 🙂

To see the beautiful beaches surrounding the area, we rented some bikes and drove around to the next villages along the coast.  We spend almost the whole  day on the beach – la pura vida! 🙂 Tomorrow we will be enjoying a nice hike in the area of Manzanillo.

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Costa Rica – Little Introduction

So here we are,  Costa Rica 🙂

First of all, a small introduction so that everyone knows a few facts about Costa Rica 🙂

The Republic of Costa Rica with approximately 4.5 milion habitants and 51.100 square km of land is one of the most developed countries of Latin America.

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The capital city  San Jose (appr.  310.000 habitants.) is one of the 7 regions in the country.  Costa Rica borders with Nicaragua on North and Panama on South  and is also known to be the first of only a few sovereign nations without a standing army.

There are 14 known volcanoes in Costa Rica, and six of them have been active in the last 75 years. Costa Rica has two coasts with total 1290 km of beauty,  divided in pacific and carribean side.

Costa Rica is known for its progressive environmental policies, being the only country to meet all five criteria established to measure environmental sustainability.

Costa Rica’s seasons are defined by how much rain falls during a particular period. The year can be split into two periods, the dry season known to the residents as summer, and the rainy season, known locally as winter.

In Costa Rica, the main language is spanish and you can pay either with USD or with CRC (Costa Rican Colon). So far, from our own experience it is better to pay with CRC, because the convertion between USD and CRC may vary.

[Information retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costa_Rica%5D

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