Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
San Carlos, Nicaragua to Los Chiles, Costa Rica by boat
To arrive in Costa Rica we took the border crossing boat from San Carlos to Los Chiles (230cords/$9.20ea). This was roughly a 40 passenger tour boat that we took down a narrow river and is a fantastic way to cross a border. The river was very scenic and beautiful with lots of wildlife, even spotting a few monkeys along the way. However, we noticed that the minute we arrived in Costa Rica there was a huge difference in what we had been used to. The deck hand changed the flag from the Nicaragua flag to the Costa Rica when we crossed the border and immediately after this we noticed the tourist boats coming from the other direction. We passed 4 tourist boats full of foreigners all taking photos of us in our boat. We knew there were going to be more tourists in Costa Rica but we didn’t think it was going to happen quite so soon or so suddenly. Wow what a change!
The long bus to Fortuna
We had the simple border formalities to deal with, paying a 600Colone/$1.10 tax for using the river. We then walked about 10 minutes to the bus station to head south and then connect onto another bus to Fortuna costing about $6 each and taking about 4 hours. These buses are actually quite comfortable and similar to a regular greyhound bus you would find in North America. You get your own fairly comfortable reclining chair and rarely are the aisles packed with people standing.
We stayed at “Gringo Pete’s Too” $7pp/pn in a private room with private bathroom including hot water (luxury stuff). The hostel is really nice; however, they didn’t seem to have their finances completely in order while we were there. First time was paying for the Rio Celeste tour ($25ea) which they said we hadn’t paid all day. Then they said we’d only paid our first night and not our second night. It was a lesson for us in trying to be more diligent in remembering, but it’s difficult when you are rarely given a receipt.
This was the highlight of our visit to Fortuna and one of the main reasons we’d come in this direction in the first place. This is a bright blue river with waterfall and lagoon that is absolutely amazing in photos.
We got fairly lucky that other people at our hostel wanted to visit this also, because transport and tours can get quite expensive. We paid $25 each for a private shuttle to take us there and back. Going with public transport would not be possible in 1 day and would need an overnight stay at a town nearer to the river. The shuttle also stopped at a 600+ year old tree that was quite impressive. The added benefit of the shuttle is that it dropped as at what is currently a free entrance (March 2014). We were told that this would soon be changing, so you will need to check on this information. The cost at the paid entrance is $10 per person.
We hiked for about 30 minutes and arrived at the main waterfall. The hike was a little tricky at times and you will want some good shoes to enjoy the trail. We continued along the main path towards the blue lagoon. Along the way we spotted a ranged of reptiles and birds. The lagoon really is breathtaking. We really wanted to go for a swim, but we’d been told that swimming was prohibited and no one else was doing it.
On the way back to Fortuna, we asked the driver if he knew somewhere we could go for a cool down swim. He seemed quite excited by the idea and drove us to a section of river where tubing normally occurs. He joined us in the river for a swim and a jump off the tarzan rope that Toby also jumped from. It was a great ending to a perfect day.
Our next day trip was to the nearby Arenal volcano. We should say at the start that we don’t recommend visiting as it’s not worth the effort or money in our opinion. To get here via public transport there is only a couple of buses a day there and back (the bus you want goes to the town of Tilaran). The bus driver will know where to drop you off and then you have a 2km hike up a dirt road to get to the entrance. The entry fee to the park is $10 per person, like it is for most of Costa Rica’s parks. There’s really only 1 trail here and it’s quite easy and flat and takes about an hour and a half out to a viewpoint and back. On the way to the view point, even though there were lots of tourists, we were lucky to see some interesting large birds which made a really weird grunting noise. The view point in the middle of the trail offers panoramic views of the lake and of a lava flow from the volcano that occurred in 1992. As the volcano is still quite active, the trail only goes next to the volcano rather than up the volcano. Overall, we didn’t think it was worth the $10 entrance fee as the views were similar to free views from the side of the road. It could be because we were spoiled with amazing volcanoes in Nicaragua.
Hot Spring River
On the way back towards Fortuna, we walked to the hot spring river. We found it a little tricky to find as our directions were a little vague. It was maybe a 30-40 minute walk from the Volcano entrance. There’s a bridge over the highway and parking spots on the side along with a bus stop. The river water looks like it will be cold as it’s flowing quite fast. As soon as you touch the water you realise the water is at a near perfect temperature. It was amazing and free, so definitely worth checking out! This is also where locals normally visit because it is free. There are many other developed hotels and spas that have hot springs if you’re into that, but be ready for a $20+ entrance fee. We were lucky enough to meet some locals in the hot springs who offered us a lift back into town. That saved a lot of time in waiting for the next bus.
Fortuna to Quepos for Manuel Antonio Park
We’d made the decision to skip over certain parts of Costa Rica as it was repeating things we’d done before and Costa Rica is really quite expensive to spend time in. This meant we had a long road day ahead with a bus to San Ramon (2hrs), a bus to Puntarenas (1hr) and a bus to Quepos (3hrs) plus some layover between each bus. All up it cost about $11 each, so not the cheapest day of transport either.
We stayed at the Wide Mouth Frog hostel, a less than 5 minute walk from the bus station. We got a private room, shared bathroom (cold water) for $30 per night total. Not exactly a cheap place to spend time, but it did have a nice kitchen area and a very refreshing pool to relax in. There is a Pali supermarket only a 5 minute walk away with most of the daily essentials, but not a good selection of Fruit and Vegetables. 1 litre of Imperial beer cost 1200 Colones / $2.20.
Manuel Antonio Park
The tip for this park is to get there early. We took a local bus (285colones/$0.52ea) that departs every 20-30 minutes and takes about 20 minutes to get to the park entrance. The park opens at 8am and we were there 10 minutes before opening. The entry to this park is also $10 per person. The idea is to try and beat the tourist rush that will scare away most of the animals. We didn’t have much luck on our way in. We did find this Agouti (Dasyprocta punctata) who was fairly secretive and not really wanting its photo to be taken.
Rodora was having fun with the hermit crabs and asked for a photo while holding one. She didn’t quite realise how sharp or painful their bites can be and this guy was quickly dropped after the photo with mumbles of danger and no longer liking them.
The beaches and water are really wonderful here. It feels more like a vacation spot than a national park. Most of the trails were closed on the day we were there, so it took under 2 hours to cover the trails that we could actually access. At this point in time with it being hot, we decided it was time to relax on the beach and have a swim.
We found a shady spot to enjoy the beach and have some lunch. At this point we realized the animals were much closer than we had realised. We found a very curious raccoon and a number of Ctenosaurs (that look like Iguanas). At a couple of points in time while Rodora was napping, she awoke to several tourists nearby taking photos of animals that were closely approaching her probably in hopes of finding food.
As the sun started dipping towards the horizon, we decided it was time to leave and got the bus back to our hostel to call it a day and plan our next days.
A secret waterfall near Quepos – El Salto
Budget travelling is often about trying to get off the beaten track and doing things not on an organised tour. We’d read other reviews of a “secret waterfall” near Quepos with no need for a guide or paying an entry fee. Take a bus from town heading towards Manuel Antonio and get off at Amigos del Rio. Continue walking past Amigos del Rio and turn left onto the street named Valle Pura Vida. Go to the end of this street (maximum 10 minute walk) where you will reach Rancho Manuel Antonio. See the photo below and continue on the trail to the left. This will follow the creek that feeds the waterfall.
It was dry season when we were there and sadly the waterfall was quite dry. It actually meant we could walk in and through the creek more easily, but there is a rough trail the zig zags on either side. The bonus of all this was we saw no one in the hour or two we were there. Not one other tourist. This also meant we got to see some awesome wildlife up close. It took maybe another 20 minutes of walking to get to the actual waterfall by which time we were hot, sweaty and hungry. Sitting on top of the waterfall, this is when we noticed something running across the water. Yes, these were Basilisk (Jesus Christ Lizards), so called because they can run on water for lengths of up to 20 metres.
It was really a rewarding experience as we found a range of animals we hadn’t seen up close in Costa Rica. This included the Green and Black poison dart frog and another group of really miniature frogs that posed just long enough for a closeup.
International tourists in Costa Rica
A little research on “visitcostarica.com” shows a report for 2012 and international tourists linked here. Roughly 2.3 million international tourist arrivals and 921,000 were from the United States. I think the total figure might be a little inflated since 474,000 were coming from Nicaragua. This is almost certainly a vast majority of people crossing the border to update their visas as you must stay out of the country for 72 hours.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/