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A nice place to go for a honeymoon


Helen and I recently got married.  In this part of the Northern hemisphere, getting married in late June is nice - the weather isn't too hot and travel prices aren't insane.  So what do you do for a honeymoon?  A few of my friends have done the all inclusive thing, but Helen and I aren't really that kind of people.  A few friends recommended Costa Rica so we decided to go for it!

San Jose

Your plane (assuming you don't arrive by cruise ship) will land in San Jose.  There are no short cheap flight destinations from Vancouver, so invariably we arrive after a long day of flying.  I booked us into the hotel Grano de Oro and both Helen and I were really impressed.

Stairway EntranceInterior Restaurant

The hotel is based on a converted old home that now has 40 rooms and a good sized restaurant.  Just wandering around the old home with all it's wings and courtyards was fun. 

Standard Room


Markets

I don't know why, but I just like markets.  The more local the better.  The guide books seem a little down on San Jose as a destination, but as a first day in the country, I found a wander around the markets to be a fun experience.  These markets a pretty similar to the Granville Island, the market I like to shop in - a mix of produce, meat and bakeries as well as a large selection of restaurants.  We came before any lunch rush so it we didn't have much hindrance to just walking around.

Produce StandScales In Produce AreaSmall Street Side Stand

Star FruitVarous Mixes And SpicesStools Around ASoda
  Produce And SpicesLarger Produce StandSmaller Stands In Market

Veggie Burger Costa Rica Style
For lunch we found a local Soda and we about to point and order from the cabinets when the waitress presented us with English menus.  We don't speak any Spanish, but we didn't find much problem communicating in San Jose (probably something to do with being in the tourist places).

Filled Cones

So what else is there to do?  There is a nice walking street down the middle of town which is lined with stores.  (There was a good supermarket for picking gifty items like coffee and alcohol without as much mark up). 

Inside Of Teatro Nacional
We stopped by the Teatro Nacional - a nice old building with a spiffy interior.  I was impressed with the coffee machine in the cafe - it looked like a high end Italian model.

Front Of Teatro NacionalSide Of Teatro Nacional

Larger Piece
We stopped by the gold museum.  They have a nice collection of small pieces from precolonization.  There are some "period" setups showing what villages might have been like.  I was impressed with there display on how the made the gold and the pieces using very little technology. 

Small Gold PiecesVarious Bird Forms

And after that?  Well, maybe there isn't much to do San Jose.  The next morning we got out of bed and drove out of town to Poas Volcano.

Fog Rolling InHelen In Front Of Crater
So the guide book says "be there before 10am when the clouds roll in".  We weren't exactly slow getting up there, but we did arrive at the crater at 9:45am.  When we got there, there was an ominous fog bank on the left side of the crater.  I took a few shorts and suddenly the fog bank broke free and obscured the crater.  I looked at Helen's watch - it was 9:58am.  The guide book really wasn't kidding.

Steaming Crater

Arenal

Our next destination was the hot spring area around the Arenal Volcano (the closest town is La Fortuna).  The rain started coming down really hard so we skipped a visit to a waterfall garden (with the fog, we couldn't see a thing), and just drove straight though.  We arrived at our hotel and walked down to the hot spring complex.

The hot spring complex is one of the most impressive hot springs I've seen.  It's more of a river than spring and it comes out hot - 41+ degrees Celsius.  The whole area has been sculpted into bathing pools (at various temperatures) and selected waterfalls to help pound out those sore shoulders.  To top it all off, the negative space is filled with paths and gardens.  The whole experience is quite impressive.

Hot Water FallsHot Spring And Palm TreesLarge Red Flower

But you can't spend all day in a hot spring.  We decided to go for a walk up to the Volcano.  Down a bit of a dirt road there is a national park and it hosts a trail that allows you to walk around the perimeter of the volcano for a few km.  You a few signs that remind you this volcano is active, but your goal is a lava field from the 1960 that wiped out a long trail of life.  As we were walking along the trail, we heard a fantastic rumble (like prolonged thunder) and looked up to see a huge ash cloud emerging from the volcano.  We walked a little faster.

Ash Plume Out Of VolcanoHelen On Lava FieldHelen And John In Front Of Volcano

Fire Star Orchid
When we finally got the lava field, I was impressed how life was colonizing the rocky field.  Just a few meters up from where we had lunch, there was an orchid blowing in the wind.


As far as the resort is concerned, nothing in this area happens without a "tour".  On our afternoon hike, we scouted out good volcano viewing points and that night we decided to return to see if it was clear enough to see the volcano and perhaps some glow.  The biggest glow was all of the car lights trying to find a place to park.  After a wave of cars settles down, you watch the volcano for a while hoping to see an eruption without clouds in the way, and then a bunch of car lights go on as people leave.  It's frustrating, but there are moments of reward.

Dripping Glowing VolcanoGlowing VolcanoWide Angle Volcano

Rara Avis

Rara Avis is totally hyped by my guide book.  It's a park in the mountains next to a national park.  You ride up in this trailer without suspension (hint: take the horses - you will hurt less after) and then stay a few nights in a hotel without power with no way to dry off - the humidity is just too high.

Tractor And Trailer For Rara AvisLand Now Farm Land

Double Waterfall
The ride up and walk to the hotel was punishing - we took a well deserved nap that afternoon.  The meals are provided and everyone eats together "family style" so you get a chance to talk to the other guests about what they saw both here and in Costa Rica.  The food was hardy and quite good. 

Hotel Building
 
Common Bromeliad
It really was the plants that I noticed first.  This place is thick with plants and plants growing on plants.   While most of the area around Rara Avis is second growth (apparently cut down between 20 and 30 years ago), the forest seems well established. 

Flowering BromeliadCurled Up Fern
Red Frond Of Fern Velvety Brown Leaf

The diversity of shapes and designs really startled me.  Probably 99% of the plants in a BC forest can be sited in a reasonably small book - the biodiversity of the rain forest was by comparison off the scale.  Just little details, how a plant has specialized to stand out to pollinators or avoid competition really eye catching.


Dark Green FoliageHairy LeavesBright Pink Fungus

Walking Stick Bug
Insect life was also interesting to see.  By comparison, BC insect life is solitary and slow - our ants don't move as fast or mass in such numbers.  Are butterflies and dragon flies leisurely take breaks.  Our non-winged insects just blend into the background.  Again, I was impressed.


Dead Blue MorphoSCurve Of TermitesLeaf Cutter Ants
 


Frog On Mossy Leaf
While walking, I think everyone was secretly looking for frogs.  Because the rain forest is so moist, they really can show up anywhere.  Costa Rica has plenty of colourful frogs, but the plainer frogs are still nice to find.  There were no shortage of snakes either and unlike BC, several were seriously poisonous.

Frog On LeafSnake On The Ground
 
Collared Aracari On Fence
Bird life is present, but with the canopy it was hard to spot birds, let alone get a good picture of them.  Similar for larger animals - we did spot a sloth, but it was so high up and wrapped in a tree limb they disappear into the leaves.  Around the camp you could often hear hummingbirds, but  I think they had an unusual density because of the feeders setup around the dining area.


White-necked Jacobin HummingbirdGreen Thorntail Hummingbird (Female)Green Hummingbird Sticking Tongue Out

The hummingbirds were cool, but night brought bats and they were cooler still.  Bats drink out of the same feeder (and often from the same flowers in the jungle), but they are faster than hummingbirds.  It takes some convincing to believe that really is an animal flying and not some error in your perception.  While the hummingbirds did a good job drinking liquid, the bats finished the feeders every night.

Two days was a good visit, but we spent some of that time just recovering from the rough ride up.  Had we made more of our time, we may have been able to see more.

Puerto Viejo  
Helen On ALog
Next destination - the Caribbean coast.  With such a short trip, we knew we could do only one coast and I hoped the Caribbean would be more different from our BC coastline.   When Helen found out there was lobster on the Caribbean side but not on the pacific side, our fate was sealed. We drove from Rara Avis on a pretty good highway and arrived around 9pm.  Driving at night wasn't as bad as I thought it might be.


We picked a small resort just south of Puerto Viejo (quiet) and the next morning set off to explore town.  There is quite a stunning black beach just North of town and it made the already warm day that much hotter.

Barge With A TreeBlack Sand With Bubbly WaterBlack Sand Beach
 
It appears that most of the town economy is driven by tourism.  Most retail is restaurants, tour offices and and souvenir shops.  There is a decent grocery store and a hardware store (I believe a expats live in the area).  Prices were pretty good by Canadian standards and the quality of goods seemed high.

Beach Side CafeIce Cream Fruit Salad
 
Pina Colada
We drove down the coast to near the panama boarder and had dinner at a well reviewed restaurant - I think Helen enjoyed the lobster but the Caribbean lobster doesn't have the large claws that our Atlantic do so pace yourself accordingly.

The Local Lobster Dish

Small Land Crab
The next day we took a short boat trip out to Parque Nacional Cahuita to go for some snorkeling and a walk in the forest.  The snorkeling was rough (I lost my underwater camera), but the walk in the forest was nice.  The Park is combination marine reserve and point of land that sticks out into the Caribbean Sea.  We heard howler monkeys but had no luck getting close enough to see them.


Slender AnoleWhiptail In Forest ClutterTree Snake

 
Small HeronBasiliskGreen Heron

When we stopped in at the park entrance, they have a photo book of wildlife seen in the park.  I was quite surprised to see someone had taken a picture of a ocelot in the park.
 
 
Us On Tropical Beach

As much fun as it is to pay $65 a person for a walk in the forest, the next day we decided to go for a walk reserva Nacional De Vida Silvestre Gandoc-Manzanillo.  The trail wasn't as good as Parque Nacional Cahuita, but there were more nice look outs and we had no problem spotting reptiles and snakes.  (In fact it was a bit too easy to spot snakes - kind of worrying.)


Three Toed Sloth And BabyThree Toed Sloth Climbing

  Funny enough, the best wild life sighting was coming back from hiking - a three toed slot and it's baby were climbing up a tree near to the road.  They don't move very fast, so they had attracted quite a crowd watching them. 
 



 
 
  Savory Yellow Fruit

Our last day was a drive back to San Jose and a bit of time in town.  I saw the perfect fruit stand on the highway but didn't stop for it, hoping another good one would come along.  Sadly the best fruit stand was the first.  We stopped at this one out of frustration and discovered most of what they sold was foreign and way too big for us to eat.  It was a nice stop though.

Road Side Fruit StandSpikey Fruit

We drove back to San Jose (you get better understanding of how high up San Jose is by driving straight from the Ocean), checked back into our hotel and did the last of out souvenir shopping (coffee for home, a book, some snacks).  Overall, I was really impressed with Costa Rica.  If the opportunity came up, I would certainly consider it again as a destination.


Flowering Bromeliad
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Fog Rolling In
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Whiptail In Forest Clutter
Green Hummingbird Sticking Tongue Out
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Snake On The Ground
Ice Cream Fruit Salad
Person: Helen
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Produce And Spices
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Spikey Fruit
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Velvety Brown Leaf
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Frog On Mossy Leaf
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Beach Side Cafe
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Walking Stick Bug
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Small Gold Pieces
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Leaf Cutter Ants
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Helen On Lava Field
Person: Helen
Fire Star Orchid
Species: Epidendrum radicans (Fire Star Orchid)
Tags: Costa Rica, flower
Curled Up Fern
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Small Heron
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Front Of Teatro Nacional
Altitude: 1180m (3871 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: architectural decoration, Costa Rica
Veggie Burger Costa Rica Style
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Filled Cones
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Red Frond Of Fern
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Various Bird Forms
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Double Waterfall
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Tractor And Trailer For Rara Avis
Altitude: 79m (259 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: farm
Frog On Leaf
Tags: amphibian, Costa Rica
White-necked Jacobin Hummingbird
Species: Florisuga mellivora (White-necked Jacobin)
Tags: bird, bird feeder, Costa Rica
Collared Aracari On Fence
Species: Pteroglossus torquatus (Collared Aracari)
Tags: bird, Costa Rica, fence
Small Street Side Stand
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The Local Lobster Dish
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Small Land Crab
Species: Gecarcinus lateralis (blackback land crab)
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Common Bromeliad
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Us On Tropical Beach
Person: Helen, John
Altitude: 28m (91 feet)
Location: Go To...
Glowing Volcano
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Wide Angle Volcano
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Barge With A Tree
Altitude: 10m (32 feet)
Location: Go To...
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Stairway Entrance
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Dead Blue Morpho
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Inside Of Teatro Nacional
Stools Around ASoda
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Helen On ALog
Person: Helen
Larger Piece
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Ash Plume Out Of Volcano
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Helen And John In Front Of Volcano
Person: Helen, John
Pina Colada
Hot Water Falls
Altitude: 501m (1643 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: Costa Rica, hot spring, waterfall
Savory Yellow Fruit
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Black Sand Beach
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Basilisk
Hairy Leaves
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Slender Anole
Steaming Crater
Altitude: 2584m (8477 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: Costa Rica, volcanism
Green Thorntail Hummingbird (Female)
Species: Discosura conversii (Green Thorntail)
Tags: bird, bird feeder, Costa Rica
Scales In Produce Area
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Large Red Flower
Altitude: 505m (1656 feet)
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Varous Mixes And Spices
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Interior Restaurant
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Standard Room
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Hotel Building
Altitude: 733m (2404 feet)
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Larger Produce Stand
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Tree Snake
Green Heron
Species: Butorides virescens (Green Heron)
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Land Now Farm Land
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Three Toed Sloth Climbing
Species: Bradypus variegatus (Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth)
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Black Sand With Bubbly Water
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Smaller Stands In Market
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Dark Green Foliage
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Produce Stand
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Bright Pink Fungus
Star Fruit
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Road Side Fruit Stand
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Side Of Teatro Nacional
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Helen In Front Of Crater
Person: Helen
Altitude: 2583m (8474 feet)
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Tags: Costa Rica, volcanism
SCurve Of Termites
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Dripping Glowing Volcano
Tags: Costa Rica, long exposure, volcanism
Hot Spring And Palm Trees
Altitude: 505m (1656 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: Costa Rica, hot spring, palm, waterfall
Three Toed Sloth And Baby
Species: Bradypus variegatus (Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth)
Tags: baby, Costa Rica, tree
Tags: Costa Rica(62), market(8), volcanism(7), bird(6), produce(5), plant(5)
People: Helen(6), John(2)
From: John Harvey Photo > Costa Rica
From: John Harvey Photo > Trips out of the Country > Costa Rica
From: John Harvey Photo > Blogs for 2016 to 2005 > Costa Rica

Hi John, i just was to say how much I enjoy your pictures pf Costa Rica. Our sons sent us on a 25th Anniversary surprise trip to Costa Rica and let me tell you for not doing much traveling, my husband and I had a great time. We drove from one side to the other and stayed in several places. At first my husband wasn't into driving in a new location but believe me I wasn't about to let this stop me from not seeing everything i could. It was one of the most exciting trips I ever went on. Next time I will drive and sedate my husband or maybe leave him home(ha-ha) We saw the beautiful butterflies, the Britt Plantation high in the mountains, many beautiful falls and the ocean with the black sand beaches. Most of all I loved our Tour to their National Park, Manuael of C.R., our tour guide was outstanding. We saw the Jesus Christ, water walking (top) lizard(several) the holar monkeys', the bats wrapped into the large tree leaves,while peaking out an us. and last but not least the three toed sloth; which just took my breath away. I watched them for several minutes and was astound by their appearance and behavior. I have several pictures and many beautiful memories. I also have a beautiful Kodak gallery album, that our son had made up for us as a gift. PS., hoping to go back there with my sons and family some day.
bettyj
Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 at 07:35:21

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