Costa Rica: May 2006

2006.05.07 039.riotororiver

In 2006, we took a break from the Caribbean to travel to adventurous Costa Rica in Central America. Costa Rica has a unique blend of offerings, from the volcano in La Fortuna, beaches on both the Pacific and the Caribbean, and lush rainforsests in the Osa Peninsula. We''d sample some of each, starting with the Arenal Volcano, then a few days on the beaches of Manuel Antonio before wrapping up the trip with a stop in the Osa Peninsula.

We started our trip by flying into San Juan and taking the a bus ride along the bumpy rural roads to La Fortuna, where we stayed at the Palo Verde Resort. Our room at the resort had an incredible view of the volcano. We''d spend each night watching the small explosions and lava flows. During the days, it was one excursion after another.

We started our explorations with the LaFortuna Falls, just minutes from our hotel. Home to the impressive Rio Toro Waterfall, the falls provided scenic views and steep hiking. It''s a long steep hike down to the base of the falls - and even longer back up - but the hike was definitely worth it. (There are scenic views of the falls from Mirador Viewpoint if you aren''t up for the hike.) We recuperated that night at the Tabacon Hot Springs, thermal springs warmed by the heat from the volcano. Tabacon is considered one of the more "luxurious" springs, and certainly the most expensive. There are other thermal springs in the area that we''ve heard are just as good.

We spent the following day white water rafting along the Rio Toro River. The Rio Toro boasts 45 continious Class 3-4 rapids and was an unforgettable experience. The trip was arranged by the folks at Desafio Adventure Company and they were quite the hosts. We highly recommend them.

On our final day at Palo Verde the Arenal finally emerged from cloud cover, allowing us to take in the entire volcano. For much of the year, and all of our visit up to this point, the Arenal is under heavy cloud cover and not entirely visible. It was definitely a site to see and we felt fortunate to view it.

The next leg of the trip took us to Manuel Antonio National Park, where we''d stay at the Tulemar Bungalows. The octagonal design of the bungalows gave us great opportunities for monkey-watching or just to enjoy the scenic views of the Pacific. At the national park, we took a guided nature tour arranged by our hotel. The guide was essential, as I''m pretty sure we''d have never noticed many of the bats, sloths, monkeys, and other creatures he spotted high up in the trees. With the guide you also get the telephoto lenses for viewing the treetops, so we found our guide pretty indispensable.

Manuel Antonio also offered one of the most unique restaurants we''ve ever eaten at: the El Avion. The restaurant is partially constructed from the remnants of a cargo plane involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. The El Avion''s website (see link in the Best Eats section) gives a detailed history of how they ended up with the plane. El Avion''s food was not our favorite, but the old cargo plane makes it a must-see if your in the area.

From Manuel Antonio it was off to the Osa Peninsula for the final, and most memorable, portion of our trip. We stayed at the Marenco Lodge, a place truly like no other. To get there, we flew from Manuel Antonio to the town of Palmar Sur, where we hopped on a small boat for a ride down the Sierpe River into the mouth of the Pacific. Once in the Pacific, it was a short ride around the coast to the beach landing at Marenco. This was the only way in or out - there are no roads in the Osa Peninsula.

Marenco is, for lack of a better word, all-inclusive. But don''t expect anything like Sandals. The all-inclusivity stems from the fact that it''s very difficult to get anywhere else without a boat or a helicopter. The on-site restaurant was good, and served up a nice variety of dishes for each meal. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served sharply each day. So it was show or go hungry.

Marenco took a little bit of getting used to - spraying down with Off! constantly, battling the bugs for your food, sparse use of electricity, no air conditioning. It was quite the change from our time in Manuel Antonio. Once we got settled in to the surroundings, it was one of the most unforgettable experiences we''ve had.

There were monkeys everywhere at Marenco. From being awoken first thing in the morning to the sounds of monkeys jumping down on your roof to lying down at night to the screams of howler monkeys in the trees outside, the days were filled with the sounds and sights of Mother Nature.

We took a snorkeling excursion, arranged through the hotel, to Cano Island. The snorkeling was extremely good. The water and the coral weren''t the most appealing in the world, but we saw more sealife than we''ve seen anywhere. We saw snakes, rays, turtles, and even a glimpse of a reef shark.

The remainder of our time at Marenco was spent hiking and interacting with monkeys. They mostly just threw fruit at us! We were quickly befriended by a local dog, who we nick-named "Ricoh". Ricoh proved to be quite the trail guide and was by our side almost our entire stay. It was a sad goodbye when it came time to leave.

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Category: Stabler Vacations
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