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dannygoesdiving This is a blog & photo journal of the trips that I (Danny) and Jo (wifey) have taken over the past few years.

Costa Rica - frogs, dogs and roosters

COSTA RICA | Thursday, 11 September 2014 | Views [605]

Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge

Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge

First opinion of Costa Rica - it rains alot; second opinion of Costa Rica - it rains alot; third opinion of Cocts Rica - it rains alot ! I'm sure you get the picture, mind you thats what happens when you visit a country during their rainy season :)

We had a pleasant surprise at Guatemala City airport as I had not realised we had business class seats, we took full advantage of the VIP lounge and enjoyed the better side of life on the plane itself. Arriving in San Jose we caught a taxi the mile or so journey to our hotel (www.belor.com), nothing fancy but at $50 it provided a room, WiFi, Cable, free transfers and had an onsite pizzeria which was all we needed for an overnighter. It started raining pretty much as soon as we landed and chucked it down all evening and night.

Another early start as we had a 07:00 AM internal flight to Liberia (flight 6 of 9), once there is was a 40 minute taxi ride and we were at Playas Del Coco. Along the way we crossed a river with crocodiles (none seen) and passed field after field of crops, including corn, sugar and rice - didn't even consider rice would be grown here, but its certainly wet enough !  We checked into Lauras B&B (www.laurashousecr.com), its abit run down but provides a place to lay your head (we later found out theres no hot water due to a power issue !). Our main reason for being here was for the diving, hopefully to get to see the bull sharks that hang out at the Bat Islands.

Wandered the town (one main street), which comprises of a large number of sports bars (happy hours from 11AM), a casino, a few dive centres, lots of awfully tacky souvenir shops and restaurants.  I struggle to see what entices people here other than the diving, but it appears to have become a party venue; with direct flights from Miami maybe thats not too suprising though.  The beach is nice enough in that its black sand, although the water was muddy brown as a couple of streams flow straight into the sea and with so much rain there was some serious runoff.  The bay is protected and full of boats; many were home to the numerous pelicans, it must be bedlum in the high season; the surrounding hills are lush and stunning.

We found a Lebanese food stand (le Coq) that served healthy, tasty and reasonably priced food, so ended up eating there at midday and in the evening (best meals in Playas and we would have eaten there every day if it had been open). The skies had opened up by about 2PM and it rained big time until the early hours, with amazing lightening shows.  The rain meant that you tried to sleep with the loud noises of bullfrogs outside the window, then dogs started barking in the early hours, and you guessed it, as dawn approached there was the continuous crowing of a cockeral.

We had hooked up with Summer Salt Divers (www.summer-salt.con) for 3 days of diving and our first dives the next morning were to be the Bat Islands, which meant a 6:30 AM meet at the dive centre due to the long boat ride to get out there (nearly 1.5 hours), there really is no rest for the wicked !

Still half asleep we waded into the water and climbed aboard a small boat which took us out to our dive boat. The sun was shinning and the seas were calm. During the journey out we got up close and personal to a female humpback and her calf, pods of dolphine, pilot whales and a number of olive ridley turtles mating at the surface - and we had'nt even got wet at this point.

Arriving at the Bats we kitted up and jumped in, the water wasn't too cold and the surface surge wasn't too challenging.

Dive 1: Bat Islands - Big Scare (gran susto)

This site is basically a cleaning station, the topography itself is pretty unispiring and there is no coral (typical of all our diving here), basically its a sandy bottom with rock formations. Visibility was about 40ft and there were significant thermoclines at about 70ft. Almost immediately we had a huge pacific manta ray (biggest species of manta ray in the world) and continued to see them throughout the dive - they were awesome; graceful and huge (no joke -20ft wingspan) and were not intimidated by divers, they kept circling in and out of view through the whole dive. Had a single sighting of a bull shark and saw a single bumphead parrotfish.  We wanted to see bullsharks and manta rays and thats what was delivered.

Dive 2: Bat Islands - Big Scare (gran susto)

Same, same. More great encounters with the mantas, just can't get your head around the size of them here and a couple of really good encounters with a bull shark - at one point I was swimming alongside a manta ray, whilst a big stocky bullshark was swimming underneath me - awesome.

Dive 3: Bat Islands - Bajo Negro (black rock)

The last 2 dives had been more about hanging and waiting for stuff to come to you, so it was now nice to do a dive, basically we swam around an underwater pinnacle. We had huge schools of fish of various kinds, lots of different coloured puffer fish, morays galore; basically too many and numerous species to list or even identify. The highlight was probably the squadron of 9 eagle rays.

We had had a great day, it rained most the way back and arriving back on dry land at a little after 3PM made for a long but rewardng day.

We elected to do local diving the next day as it meant an 8AM meet which is far more civilized. We headed to a nearby sportsbar where we had a couple of $3 margaritas and mojitos - believe me they must have been 50% alcohol and after 3 apiece we were half cut and decided to stay and have burgers and fries.

Staggered home in the rain (no suprise with the rain) and passed out within a few minutes of getting home.

More frogs croaking and more cockerals crowing, that said we awoke reasonably refreshed and managed a leisurely breakfast before heading back to the dive centre.

This time it was a mere 15 minute boat ride until we reached our first dive site.

Dive 4: Papagayo - Punto Argentino

There was a reasonable swell at the surface and significant surge below, all that movement meant not the best visibility in the world - maybe 20 - 30 ft, however, the marine life certainly didn't disappoint. We had 3 pretty large whitetip sharks resting at about 70ft, and a number of huge stingrays. Eagle rays were a constant sight throughout the dive and the schooling fish were incredible. My main memory is the diversity of moray eels on the dive. Overall a great dive.

Dive 5: Papagayo - Tortuga

By the second dive the surface swells were significant and visibility was even more reduced. We headed to a small wreck (maybe 50ft), there was a white tip shark free swimming around the wreck and a huge school of fish which parted to leave an almost perfect circle as Jo swam through them. Later in the dive we had an old turtle, covered in barnnicles and a juvenille white tip hiding in an overhang.

Once back on dry land we chilled over coffee and paninis, heading out later we first sheltered in a bar from the now familiar rain before having pizza.

Josie decided that 2 days of diving was enough and that a lie in was needed, opting to go to a yoga class later in the morning and another in the afternoon. I decided to head out for another day of diving, this time to the Catalina Islands, these are normally dived later in the year as its manta time, I think the decision to go there was based on a group of 3's request, I made up a 4th person for the trip.  It was about a half hour trip to the islands themselves, there was reasonable swells at the surface but nothing too ominous.

Dive 6: Catalina Islands - La Pared. (The Wall)

Visibility was good as we descended to the sea floor at about 65ft, following the wall on our right hand side we drifted with the current.  The topography was pretty dull and there was often nothing to see, interspaced with huge shoals of fish. There were a couple of shark sightings but I missed them both. Visibility deteriorated towards the end of the dive.  I think this is a typical cleaning station dive, if there is life is mind blowing, if there isn't its a bit dull.

Dive 7: Catalina Islands: La Viuda. (The Widow).

Dropped down to huge shoals of fish, stunning start to the dive. However as we moved around the pinnacle the surge was incredible, it was actually painful to hold onto rocks as you were sucked backwards, again visibility dropped to almost nothing. The marine life we saw though was pretty spectacular.

Dive 8: Catalina Islands

Final dive of Costa Rica, less surge and slightly better visibilty. Lots more fishlife at this sight, we also saw a nurse shark, turtle and a small squadron of cow nosed rays.

We headed back to base and Jo and I caught up back at the hotel. Being lazy we headed back to the sports bar for nachos, cerviche and margaritas.

It rained heavily all evening and night, it becomes a little oppressive after a while, everything has a dampness to it and nothing that gets wet drys - a small grumble :)

Our overall opinion of Playas Del Coco was its all about the diving, that makes it a worthwile visit, your limited on what can be done when you get back though and most of the excursions happen in the morning - distances and because of the afternoon rains.  I think we should have stayed a day less and hope this isn't something we regret later.

Oh joy, another early start ! I have never booked a 'package' before through a travel agency or anything similar, however, when investigating Monte Verde and La Fortune I came across a company that could create a custom package, including pickups, hotels, tours etc etc (www.desafiocostarica.com). I requested an itenary, got prompt responses and when comparing prices, reckoned they were only slightly more expensive than if I booked everything myself (12 different bookings required). Anyway I took the plunge, paid the money and hoped I would not live to regret the decision to be lazy ! Jumping ahead, the company turned out to be excellent and I can't rate them highly enough.

At dead on 07:00AM the private shuttle arrived for our pickup, the destination was Monteverde, about 3.5 hours away. It was a good start and only got better when the driver told us there was onboard WiFi (shows what a sheltered life we lead as I didn't even know this was possible). After an hour the scenery started to improve with lush rolling green hills and Volcan Arensal in the background. A short stop for the toilet coincided with trees of sqwarking macaws, which was a nice bonus. The last half hour provided the best scenery to date in Costa Rica, green mountainside and valleys, dotted with coffee plantations and a view of the pacific coast. Arriving at our hotel (www.monteverderusticlodge.com) we were please to find out we were expected (so far so good), checked in and wandered into Monte Verde for a bite to eat. Beware ...... Its an expensive place to eat, well your a real captive market as theres only a few eateries to choose from. We ate at the treehouse cafe (www.treehouse.cr) for the novely factor, it was kind of cute eating in a large treehouse.  After eating we wandered back to the hotel to await our first excurion - horse riding, something neither of us have done (and I have a fear of horses having been kicked by one as a child).

We were met promptly, and again I guess because its low season, we were the only 2 on the tour. We were introduced to our horses (whiskey and walker), shown how to mount them and also how to steer them :). Climbing aboard was not too much of an effort and they seemed inclined to follow each other so navigation issues were few and far between. We went along unpaved roads, trying to enjoy the scenery whilst not falling off ! The slow walk was OK, however, cantering left alot to be desired due to a lack of coordination between the horses movement and the bouncing of your body - there was no harmony between the movements which basically meant it was like repeatedly punching yourself in the balls (well for a guy) and Jo was fairing little better. Even trying to compensate by raising yourself slightly out the seat didn't really work too well. After trying to sort out some sort of coordination between horse amd human it was decided a slow walk was more than acceptable. This reduced the pain, removed the grimmace and allowed for a more enjoyable experience, both of being on a horse and the surrounding views. We passed fields of maize, cotton and sugar cane before stopping for a much needed break (and coffee). The skies briefly opened up, however we had been provided with ponchos which I have to say are one of Gods single greatest inventions.  We were a little braver on the return journey managing to more than canter, but less than gallop - as it turned out going slightly faster was much less painful, although it did increase the fear of falling off. All in all it was a good experience- the guide was very patient and helpful, the horses were very obviously well looked after and well behaved, and I had finally riden a horse - would I do it again - probably :)

That evening it was Jo's turn to face her fears, with a night bug hike.  Arriving at dusk we were divided into groups of 8 people, each group being assigned a guide.... and off we went, wandering the trails in search of bugs and beasties. We had a pretty successful couple of hours, inaddition to the numerous bugs that were pointed out, we also saw a tarantula, a couple of venonous green vipers (one in a tree and one on the ground) and a toucan; best of all though we spent 5 minutes watching a 2 toed sloth climbing down a tree.  There were fire flies everywhere, we got a brief glimse of a of kinkajou (monkey/cat type thing that lives in the trees) and some were lucky enough to see an armadillo (not us). The skies opened up towards the end of the tour and even with the protection of the canopy we got pretty wet.  The concenus from Jo ...... barely contained terror, not even worth the sighting of the sloth and an experience never to be repeated :)

We had to wander into town to eat and got so drenched in the downpour that I don't think we could have been much wetter if we'd just jumped in a swimming pool fully clothed. Shivering we ate pizza before heading back to the lodge for a much needed hot shower.

Early starts had now become the norm, this time we were off for a guided tour around the cloud forest, we had the luxury of a private pickup followed by our own guide, who was very knowledgable having spent 17 years working in the monteverde cloudforest; he was also well equipped with a very useful laser pointer, binoculars and a powerful telescope on a tripod. We hunted for the quetzal bird (the cloud forest is one of the best places to spot this rare and beautifil bird) but to no avail, we did however see a number of birds, an agouti which crossed the trail infront of us and howler monkeys high in the canopy.  The air was very crisp and there was a constant dripping of water, it felt like rain, however, it was simply the mositure from the clouds at this height. We learnt alot about the cloud forest and the flora and fauna that exists only at this location, saw many different orchids and ended the tour with time in the hummingbird gardens which was buzzing with hummingbirds taking advantage of the feeders located there. - one even landed on Josies hand !

A couple of hours of chilling and then we were off to Selvatura Park, for a combination of a self guided walk along canopy walkways (suspended bridges) followed by canopy ziplining. Again visiting in low season paid off as we saw noone else on the walkways and it was just the 2 of us for zip lining.

There were a series of 8 bridges spread over about a 3km walk, the bridges were between 50m - 170m long, and between 12m - 60m high. It was a nice change of perspective to look down on the canopy and the views were unbelievable, we saw little in the way of wildlife, although there were a couple of howler monkeys chilling in the canopy treetops.

From slow and relaxing to fast paced and adrenaline pumping - it was zip line time. There were a total of 15 ziplines, the last one being 1km long; once secured into your harness you were off, zipping above the canopies at breakneck speed, trusting that the automated braking system would work ! What a way to see the forest, providing you kept your eyes open of course, I think the best (and spookiest) were the higher zip lines as you just disappeared into a bank of mist and couldn't see in front or below you.  I also took the optional tarzan swing, when you just drop off a platform and then swing into the jungle (I suppose its a sort of cowards bungee but was more than enough for me), Jo declined !

So ended our final day in Monteverde. The next morning we headed to La Fortuna, using a bus-boat-bus combination. Sometimes the journey is better than the destination and that was certainly the case, the first part of the journey took us through a stunning stretch of countryside always with the view of volcan Arenal in the background. The boat journey was smooth, again with the volcano dominating the skyline and then it was just a short journey to our hotel in La Fortuna (www.hotelsanbosco.com).  La Fortuna exists solely for tourists, apparantly its the number one destination for visiting tourists. Its set around an attractive square and is the usual mix of hotels and hostels either named for the volcano (volcano lodge, hotel de lava) or the type of tourist that the place attracts (gringo petes/backpackers lodge etc); restaurants and bars; souvenir shops and tour operators. 

After wandering the square and a bite to eat we returned to our hotel to chill out before a tour to Volcan Arenal itself.  About an hour before the tour the skies simply opened up and the motherload of all rain descended from the heavens.  Whilst the tour still proceeded (well it is rainy season we were told), the tour was a total washout  - we got drenched to the skin and you could'nt see 40ft infront of you, let alone a volcano. We had arranged that after the tour we would go to one of the many hot springs that are in the area (www.baldihotsprings.cr) and so were duly dropped off - it was then we realised a lack of fore site as we had no dry clothes to change into. Having been to hot natural springs in Ecuador, Peru and Alaska I think we had a preconceived idea of what to expect - wrong - this place was better suited to Vegas than Costa Rica. There were 25 'themed pools' (roman baths theme etc) with loud disco music, flashing lights, bars and TV screens showing sports events. - Oh boy !  We did our best to unwind in the pools (thankfully the place was nearly empty), before eating a lackluster buffet and then heading back to the hotel. Not our most memorable day.

Next morning the weather looked more promising which was great as we were off for a boat trip to Caso Negro. We were picked up at 07:30 AM, met our other 8 fellow adventurers and were off. The journey took about 2.5 hours, which flew by with the help of an informative and engaging guide and beautiful scenery. We passed fields of rice, sugar, papaya, oranges, coffee etc etc. The driver spotted a 3 toes sloth eating in a tree which was a great photo opportunity, shortly afterwards whilst stopping for a quick leg stretch we were greeted with numerous very large iguanas chilling in the trees. The last 40 minutes of the drive were on non paved roads, there was marshland on either side which was home to far too many species of colourful birds to name, along with quite a number of caiman. Reaching our destination we exited the van to be greeted with a family of noisy howler monkeys in the trees and equally welcoming pancakes and coffee in the restaurant.

Boarding the boat we set off on a cruise down (and back) along the river. We encountered monkeys galore swinging from tree to tree (spider, howler and capuchin), caiman, turtles, jesus lizards and iguanas, as well as a wide number of birds. A great day trip and one of the best of the holidays.

That evening we had surprisingly good sushi (Kappa sushi) then packed our bags (yet again).

A 3 hour private shuttle took us to the airport, more beautiful scenery and another sloth ended our short but eventful time in Costa Rica.
Next stop......Panama.

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