We managed to avoid all of the touristy things on our first pass through Costa Rica. But on our second pass, we dropped colones like it is fake money on hotels, eating-out, and all manner of adrenaline-pumping activities. In short, we are acting like we are on vacation, not a budget.
On the one hand, I wonder why we didn’t do all of these things in other countries where I am sure they cost less. But, on the other hand, I’m okay with going to the ATM for more cash every day because Coconut hasn’t been this excited to participate in family things since we started the trip and went to Busch Gardens.
While we were in the green hills surrounding Santa Elena and Monteverde and stumped as to which zip line tour to choose because they all sounded pretty fantastic, she made the choice easy by saying, “I’d like to say that I’ve been on the longest zip-line in Latin America.” Done. We went with 100% Aventura.
When faced with how to spend our next $100, she suggested the Arboreal Park – rock-climbing on trees. I like heights as much as I like Justin Bieber, but I did it anyway because when else will we have the chance for a family photo wearing rock climbing harnesses.
In addition to zip lines and tree climbs, there are dozens of other ways to spend time in Costa Rica – guided hikes, surfing, night walks, canopy tours, sport-fishing, aerial trams, whale watching, coffee tours, bar crawls – and from what we have seen, most of these tours are run to a very high standard of safety and professionalism. This, combined with the reputation of Costa Rica as safe, has made it one of the more popular destinations for U.S. vacationers. And it seems to have embraced this role – as the prostitute of the West. Signs are in English, everything is for sale to the next expat, and for the most part, streets are wide, paved, and clean. It’s almost like being at home and this familiarity is why Costa Rica is perhaps our least favorite Central American country.
Nevertheless, we are making the best of it. We spent our first two days in Uvita, a Pacific Coast village, where we practiced falling off a surfboard. I am getting so good at it that many times I fall before even attempting to stand up. Though, R won this round by managing to get hit in the face by the board. J, in his attempts to keep up with us, stands on more than half of his waves. We may have to get him lessons.
The Pan-American climbs into the mountains in Costa Rica and then through the capital of San Jose. We wanted to avoid any elevation because it is such slow, windy driving. However, Coconut has made it clear she hates sand, so is unhappy with beach places. On the bright side, all the beach places we have stayed have given her the time to get closer to her goal of reading 100 books this year.
We stuck to the coast road after Uvita, but the heat finally overtook R and she diverted me to a windy, mountain road leading to Santa Elena and Monteverde. This lush, mountain region, reachable by driving nearly vertical angles in first gear over 40 kilometers of the worst road in all of Central America, is home to cloud forest, cool temperatures, and many adventure companies. It’s one of the most popular gringo destinations in Costa Rica and after avoiding it on our previous two visits to the country, R and I finally made it. No knock on it, because it delivers what it promises.
Besides enjoying the stunning views and opportunity it provides to wear long pants, we liked it a lot because you can actually walk around the town without breaking into a dripping sweat after two steps. We did some of that, but the highlight was our zipline tour, where we were attached to two “superman” lines – suspended at our shoulders and waist to fly 1000 meters while looking down on the forest canopy. I think the idea is to look for interesting birds and wildlife, but I was looking for a soft place to land.
As if that wasn’t heart stopping enough, it is followed by a “Mega Tarzan Swing” – a 45 meter high (so, roughly, 150′) platform which you step off and free fall for the longest two seconds of your life, before swinging out over the canopy in bungee cord like fashion. After experiencing this drop, I know I will never purposefully step out of a building window to end things. Just the thought of the drop will be enough to give me a heart attack.
The next day we went tree climbing, which was challenging in its own way, but not nearly as scary.
We then pulled out of Santa Elena to bounce 20 kilometers down the road to a pretty spot we read about on our iOverlander App. It’s called Hummingbird View, a homestead owned by a local couple with views stretching all the way to the Pacific. They’ve got chickens, and cows, and cats, and a dog, and there’s not much else around except the view and a wild turtle, and all kinds of birds – including hummingbirds and flocks of noisy parrots.
We stayed two nights and spent a lazy day playing cards, doing some light maintenance on Wesley, and drinking the free coffee. In the evening, while we were watching a movie in the van, one of the cows that J made friends with during the day by feeding it avocados and carrots startled us by peering into the open hatch and taking a pee that sounded like a running river.
Despite the lack of cow etiquette, Costa Rica is very civilized. However, we heard from two separate locals of their disenchantment with the government. Both mentioned that Costa Rica has many areas of isolated coast where drug runners transporting Colombian cocaine to the U.S. in small lanchas (boats) can put in safely to rest up or avoid detection by the U.S. Coast Guard which patrols the coast in the absence of Costa Rica having a navy. This is apparently done with the knowledge of the Costa Rican government, and has created a culture of prostitution and addiction in certain strata of society. It’s a seedy side of Costa Rica that many visitors won’t see but validates the adage that the grass is not always greener – except where the cow pee.