Another travel day in Costa Rica meant another day on a boat. We were crossing the Lake Arenal which is surrounded by lush rolling hills and cliffs covered in vegetation. I wish I could share a 360 view once we were in the middle of the lake because it eventually came as no surprise when we learned that part of Jurassic Park was filmed in this area.
Once we got off the lake we had to take smaller buses that would fit on the winding, bumpy, steep and sometimes scary roads throughout Monteverde. We learned that despite the government offering several times throughout the years, the people in that area rejected the offer to have their roads paved because they preferred to discourage too many visitors from coming and they want to keep the area quiet and local. That being said, everyone we met was still very welcoming and friendly!
We stopped for lunch at Rancho Heliconia and were treated to a dance performance from some local children who were practicing for an upcoming festival in San Jose. Their dresses were so beautiful and it wasn’t long before they brought everyone to their feet to join in the fun.
Before we sat down for a fresh local lunch, the owner of the ranch told us we’d actually be helping with some of the reforestation efforts in the area. The winds in Monteverde can be incredibly strong so a few decades ago ranchers started planting non-native trees like Pines to help as a wind break. They were effective for that but the root systems for those types of trees were very rough on the soil. Recently there’s been an effort to plant native trees again to help out with that. Our whole group got to plant tiny baby trees and it was actually in an area next to where a former group did the same thing about five years ago. It was nice to see their trees growing up so hopefully our wimpy ones grow strong too!
After lunch and some traditional ‘pour-over’ coffee, our group was back on our way to our last hotel of the trip. The Establo Mountain Hotel was another stunning option which offered beautiful views of the region and (in the distance) the gulf leading to the Pacific Ocean.
We spent most of the rest of the day relaxing but opted for an extra excursion to do a night hike to look for nocturnal creatures. We were armed with flashlights and it took me about 5 minutes before I had to wear my jacket hood up after assuming that anything that touched me had to be a bug or spider crawling on my head, but it was still really fun.
Our local guide at the El Bosque Preserve was so knowledgeable and really sensitive towards the animals which I liked. Apparently there are certain rules with certain animals about when you can/cannot shine light at them at night as to not startle them. This pudgy sleeping parrot for instance, it was okay… until it woke up. Basically, some of the non-nocturnal animals can get freaked out, start flying away and smash into a tree because they can’t see where they’re going. It was nice to see that even if the guides have a group of tourists eager to see wildlife, the needs of the animals come first.
We saw quite a bit including some Coatis (animals that are similar to raccoons), a tarantula, highways of leafcutter ants and even a scorpion. They apparently glow under a black light. Who knew?
At the recommendation of our main tour guide, we had dinner that night at The Tree House. It’s literally a three story restaurant built around a giant tree. It was super unique and a great atmosphere with live music and good food.
The next morning our group made our way to The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. It was somewhere between misting and drizzling the entire time, as to be expected there, which made for such a relaxing, soothing and green walk through the forest floor.
We had a free afternoon into town before we tackled the sky walks. It was a few days leading up to Easter so many places were closed, but our new friends who spoke Spanish fluently where able to find a really cool, off the tourist stretch, local craft brew serving restaurant. If I was able to take the whole place home with me, The Monteverde Beer House would fit right into the hipster beer scene in Colorado. Then it was back to the Cloud Forest for a new perspective.
The Sky Walk bridges gradually get higher and higher as you’re walking through the forest. It was so amazing to look down on the forest floor, be eye level with plants that are hundreds of feet off the ground and then eventually be above the trees. Such an incredible experience!
Another Central America bucket list animal sighting was to spot the Quetzal bird. While we were walking around, a few of us found a bird spotter with a huge camera calling to the Quetzal, and even though you couldn’t see where it was, you could hear it talking back. It can be pretty rare to find one of them so we followed this guy around as he was trying to get it to come to him. Eventually we just had to move on and then at the last bridge before you start hiking down, a woman in our group randomly spotted it way off in the distance on a branch! We got so lucky!
At the base of The Cloud Forest were several hummingbird gardens. The birds would fly so fast right past your face to the point where you were certain they were going to crash into you. They were so cute and some would even land on your finger if you put it near the feeder. I had a blast testing out my new phone’s “Super Slo-Mo” setting.
Now, if you know me you know that I’m obsessed with Italian food. Typically, no matter where S and I travel, I request that we have at least one date night at an Italian food place. Even if we’re in Mexico or France, we’ve done it. So imagine my surprise when on the printed itinerary was a scheduled dinner at a local Italian place! Tramonti in Monteverde was exactly what I needed.
That night we had to pack up all our things because we’d be making the long trip back to San Jose where we all would be flying home from. While S was doing his scorpion check of the room (some of our friends found one in their room the first night) this little guy gave him a heart attack.
I was able to safely trap the little guy in a cup and let him loose outside. The next morning we started our long trek to San Jose. I think everyone was a little tired and maybe close to ready to head back home but the guides scheduled a few quick stops for us on the way. One was to a local coffee plantation co-operative in Naranjo.
I appreciated hearing about how personal coffee growing is to some of the people who work here. Every bean is picked by hand and all of the coffee farms and workers share their harvests to be able to compete better on a global scale. Even though in comparison to other major coffee grows, it’s a small operation at Espíritu Santo but they’re still able to do some business with Green Mountain Coffee, Whole Foods and Starbucks (if you’re interested in helping out these local farms!). We were able to really see the process from field to roasting and of course got to taste some fresh coffee at the end.
The other stop on the way was in Sarchi. It’s a historic ox cart factory. Ox carts are an important symbol to Costa Rica. It was one of the main forms of transportation for decades. Fabrica de Carretas Eloy Alfaro has been making ox carts for more than 120 years. This factory in particular is unique because it has the original operation that allowed it to function by harnessing the power of a water wheel. One the water from a nearby river is let in the wheel starts moving, forcing different pullies to move and then activating a table saw to cut the wood. It was so impressive. The ox carts are then intricately designed and painted. The factory also houses local artists and gives artisans in Sarchi a place to sell their crafts.
Following the final stretch of driving we made it into San Jose. We were supposed to take a tour of some important places in the capitol but it was the day before their presidential election. Technically, it was the day before their second presidential election. The results of the first one were close and not enough people voted for a clear majority so the country requires a second election. I didn’t get any pictures but there were hundreds of people walking in the streets and in their cars waving flags of red and yellow for one candidate, or blue and yellow for the other. While we basically had to cancel our tour around San Jose because everything was jammed up, it was a pretty unique experience to see so many citizens rallying together before an election. It was impossible not to notice the lack of aggression or confrontation between the two sides, at least from what I saw.
After 11 days of traveling, in a way I was ready to come back home but I’ve missed Costa Rica ever since we left! A huge thank you to Go Ahead Tours for creating such a memorable experience! Not only did we have an amazing group of people that we traveled with which made the whole trip that much more special, the country itself and the people there are unforgettable. While I was researching what to pack and what to expect, I saw so many blogs and articles about people who end up moving there after they’ve visited and now I completely understand why. I would absolutely recommend visiting Costa Rica at some point in your life if you can, and I can’t wait to go back some day!