We spent a day in San Jose figuring out where we would go on our road trip and how many days we would be using the rental car and buying our necessities for the trip. We are very much into nature and Costa Rica is pretty big on natural places so we based our decisions on the money we had available and our personal interests.Much to our surprise, this country is a bit expensive. Being from Mexico and starting out our travels in Central America, we expected to be dealing with lower prices for food, beer, and just general expenses. Even though it doesn’t come close to prices you would see in the United States or Europe, you do have to take into account that Costa Rica is considered a destination for first world countries trying to accommodate themselves in the “Latin American lifestyle”. So we decided to rent the car for 5 days where we would do a circuit of the central part and west coast of the country. Since it is pretty small, you can get around fairly quickly from place to place, but winding roads, one lane highways, and intermittent rain will slow you down quite a bit.
La Fortuna waterfall and natural thermal river
Our first stop was this amazing waterfall by the small town of La Fortuna. It’s surrounded by exuberant vegetation and loads of tourists. The entrance fee was about 15 USD and we arrived early enough to avoid 3 buses filled with Asian and American people going to visit this amazing site. Anyway, this waterfall was so amazing, the current was very strong so you have to be very careful on where you’re swimming, I was carried away a couple of times and could only grab on to huge rocks trying not to hurt myself and regain balance. The water isn’t warm but it’s very refreshing and a really beautiful shade of aqua. There is a lifeguard on duty just watching over in the case of emergency. We stayed for about 2 hours until a big storm came along, which was an everyday routine in Costa Rica. Afterward we continued our day on the road. We had seen that there’s this place where you can go in a natural thermal river for free! So we definitely had to try it. It is located very close to the resorts and luxury thermal springs and spa, (yeah, places we don’t have money for), specifically right in front of the Tabacon Resort. This spot seems to be pretty famous because there were quite a few people there, but luckily there is enough space so it doesn’t seem too crowded. The warm water feels so nice, and to be in this completely natural place without even having to pay for it was unbelievable! Of course, it started raining again and we could only stay a while longer until the rain got a bit more intense.
La Fortuna Waterfall
Free Natural Hot Springs River
Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio and Río Celeste
At some point during that evening we stopped at a small town and had ourselves the typical dish: Casado, which is a combination of rice, beans, cabbage salad and a choice of meat, so it was a very good and hearty meal for about 6 USD. Later we drove to a camping spot called Posada Rural Rio Celeste where we spent the night in our own tent for 5 USD. They have nice little rooms on a very well kept property with lots of space for camping and even a communal kitchen under a roof to protect you from the rain. This place is a ten-minute drive from the National Park Volcan Tenorio where you can walk through the rainforest and by the Rio Celeste contemplating its beautiful bright turquoise waters, where its name comes from. There are a few lookout points at a waterfall and other nice views. The water gains its distinctive color due to a physical phenomenon known as Mie scattering. Celeste River is fed by two colorless rivers, one of them carries aluminosilicate particles which have an alcaline pH, and the other has an acidic pH due to volcanic activity. When these two streams mix to form Celeste River, the pH difference causes particles to go in suspension and aggregate, which causes the bright turquoise color. (Wikisource: Rio Celeste). We did a short hike (around 3 hours both ways) along the river through a muddy trail. When we finished our hike we went back to the entrance and took advantage of the free WiFi at the office (since Wifi can be kind of hard to find during a trip :p).
Since it was still pretty early we headed out to the west coast of the country. We stopped to get some food, water, and snacks a couple of times and just did one longer stop to watch the sunset at Punta Arenas. The tide was crazy with waves crashing on the cement walls on the pier. That night we arrived at the small town of Manuel Antonio. This place is amazing; a winding road takes you up to an upscale beach town made mostly for tourists. Luckily we had arranged ourselves to stay with a local on Couchsurfing. This guy, Ricardo, welcomed us with fellow couchsurfers and other local friends to have something to eat and some drinks. We made friends with an Italian couple, another Italian girl working at El Salvador and some other “ticos” (what Costa Rica people call themselves). Right below Manuel Antonio, there is a more authentic town, called Quepos, with not so many accommodations for tourists. But there are great restaurants for cheaper prices, a big grocery store, and a local vibe that Manuel Antonio isn’t able to offer. What Manuel Antonio does have, is some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, an amazing national park, and some pretty cool aquatic activities I wasn’t able to be a part of. There is also a few more elegant hotels and beach houses.
Wait for Part II for more details and photos of Manuel Antonio!