Costa Rica is a great little country that seduces you with its nature. One of the fabulous treasures of this incredible environment is the mystery of its volcanoes and the wellness of its hot springs. To explore Costa Rica’s national parks which are abundant causes you to enter into a world of surprises and adventures. This is an invitation to enjoy five nights in Costa Rica. A country where the body relaxes and the soul floats in certain mysticism emanated from feeling great.
First night: The Arenal
As we landed at the airport, we headed straight to the Arenal region, crossing mountains covered with a dense jungle. The scenery was magnificent, with lust vegetation that almost covered the road. We finally reached the Arenal Nayara Hotel & Spa (www.arenalnayara.com). We stayed in one of the 50 cottages hidden in the jungle, near the town of La Fortuna.
From our terrace and from our private hot tub, we had a spectacular view of the Arenal volcano. This volcano is always active and has an altitude of 1.633 meters. After freshening up we took a walk over the suspension bridges which allowed us to visit the rainforest reserve at the foot of the volcano where we discovered a great variety of birds and animals. We crossed nine fixed and 6 suspension bridges during the course of 3 Km which lasted 4 hours. We found red frogs with blue feet, watched some badgers, some parrots and some sloths.
Back at the hotel and after enjoying the fabulous pool and a massage treatment with volcanic mud and plants at the spa, we settled at Sushi Love, a romantic restaurant overlooking the volcano, ready to sample the fusion cuisine. The night was clear and we could see the incandescent lava creating a sky with all tones of red. Sleeping in the jungle means to enjoy its intriguing sounds, a true mystery that holds this green abyss and becomes a paradise from the elegant retreat of the cottages.
Second night: The Arenal
After a fabulous breakfast with view of the volcano, we headed to Tenorio National Park where we started an 8 km walk (4 hours) to reach the “Teñideros” from the Celeste River. There two sparkling streams merge, creating celestial blue waters.
We returned through a beautiful jungle trail and reached “Las Ollas”. These are holes in the ground where we dug therapeutic mud and took a mud bath; we then dove into the hot springs of the Tenorio volcano. We found fumaroles expelling extremely hot gases and discovered the superb turquoise waterfall from the Celeste River, where we enjoyed a healthy lunch.
Returning from that trip we stopped at Star Trek, where we could fly on top of the trees by cable cars: 8 sections of cables that offer a 2.8 Km ride among very tall trees. We noted some toucans and, at a distance, the ever present volcano.
We arrived to the hotel exhausted where we discovered a cozy wine bar “Nostalgia”. We tasted excellent harvests from Latin America, while recuperating and lounging in the luxurious leather sofas while enjoying some delicious hors d’ouvres. We continued through the evening with a refined dinner at Altamira, being surrounded by exotic plants.
Third night: The Arenal
It was a clear morning. From the terrace of the restaurant with a wonderful view of the volcano, we enjoyed an exceptional breakfast. We also enjoyed horseback riding at the hotel’s ranch until we reached the river La Fortuna through an untamed and powerful jungle.
We forded the river at a safe passage to reach the waterfall. Went down to its base, where we could swim in amazement of its surroundings. We returned to the hotel to relax before eating, lost in the joy sustained by its wonderful gardens.
In the afternoon we visited the western slope of the volcano. We started our hike down the trail” Los Tucanes”, through the rain forest. We crossed a large lava flow which dates from 1992. We were amazed to observe the plants and wildlife and from the top of the road, a spectacular view of Lake Arenal.
We reached a point where we could witness the fury of the blazing lava flowing down the volcano. We then ended the tour with a dip in the hot springs. A romantic dinner awaited us at the Sushi Amor Restaurant where we sampled the rolls and ceviche. It was our last night at the Arenal Nayara Hotel & Spa and we were enjoying the most varied sounds from the rainforest. Rain cooled the atmosphere and from the Jacuzzi on the terrace, we enjoyed this unique atmosphere, which was downright surreal.
Fourth night: San Jose
It was hard to leave this tropical paradise where peace reunites with the mind, something we should never forget. On our way to San Jose, we visited the Natural Spa Tabacon (www.tabacon.com ), where we saw hot springs flow down the volcano, creating a warm river where steam pools and you can swim or just relax body and spirit in the beneficial waters.
It is a beautiful exotic location amidst a garden which could be described as Eden. The mystical location where it seems like the forbidden fruit has never arisen and time has been captured in a wonderful setting: A real paradise.
We headed for the Sarapiqui River, located between the Virgin and Chilamate, where we began our exciting rafting tour. The water was enraged, going down with full force, making the river a level III or even IV.
We launched to the conquest in our raft, mounted in giant waves with hidden stones that we had to dodge; with the adrenaline surging in our pores.
The scenery was sublime; we enjoyed a forest of nearly 10 km in a sparsely inhabited area, sailing on crystal clear water and no pollution whatsoever. We stopped at various places where the waters were calm and clear to relax from the strong emotions we experienced in challenging rapids with such names as “Pina Colada”, the “Devil’s Elbow”, “Gringo Hollow”, “Confusion” and “Air Force” .We ended the expedition sailing in beautiful calm water flowing through cannon before reaching the camp, where we could change into dry clothes and enjoy a good hot meal.
Finally, at 4 PM we arrived at San Jose. It is a quiet town that slips over the hills in the middle of the rainforest, a point of interest; it is also the country’s capital since 1838. Walking through downtown, we discovered the beautiful National Theater, located in Plaza Juan Mora Fernández, within the heart of the city. It was built in the late nineteenth century. They used woods, marble, gold and French glass for its construction, which lasted seven years and was inaugurated on October 21, 1897 with Gounod’s opera “Faust”.
Upon entering this culture precinct, we discovered a Renaissance architecture of the purest neoclassical style. The construction uses marble brought from Italy and has murals portraying scenes from the recollection of coffee and bananas. It has some perfect Pompeian columns made out of Carrara marble and a metal dome made in Belgium.
The facade is crowned with sculptures by Pietro Bulgarelli representing dance, music and fame. Its main staircase is monumental. It is composed of glass lamps which adorn the interior. From there, we discovered sculptures of Calderon de la Barca and Beethoven made by the Italian Adriatico Froli, another sculpture of the Costa Rican flutist Jorge Jimenez Deredia and others of Juan Ramon Bonilla and the Genoese Pietro Capurro.
We also visited the Cathedral. It is located opposite to a park where the birds settled to sleep and where we enjoyed the quiet life drinking coffee on the terrace of the “Balcon de Europa”. The entire city smells like coffee and the surrounding volcanoes are faithful guardians of its beautiful setting.
It’s a very small capital that one can appreciate quite a bit when unveiled. We stayed at the Aurola Holiday Inn hotel, so as to be in the downtown area. (Mozán Park, Ph. 506-2523-1000, (www.aurolahotels.com ) We wanted to be downtown so we could have dinner at Le Monastere (www.monastere-restaurant.com ), which is located in a hill where the city can be seen in a panoramic view. It was the former residence of a wealthy family. Built in the early twentieth century and converted into a monastery it is served by waiters dressed as monks. It is now recognized as the best restaurant in San Jose. We tasted their Bourgogne snails, deer flambéed in port wine and duck in blackberry sauce , all served with fine wines, and ending with refined desserts.
Fifth night: The Volcanoes
Just over 1 hour from San Jose, we reached the Irazu volcano which rises to 3.432 meters. A road allows us reach its craters, where the travelling clouds drop their cold air. The most impressive view opens over the crater where a jade colored lagoon sits surrounded by gray and ocher earth. It’s a dormant giant which was awakened in 1963, when it poured its ashes over the central valley for two years. Its skirt is a mysterious rain forest and farmland with a privileged earth.
The Poas Volcano, which is 37 km from the airport and Alajuelas, it extents to an altitude of 2.704 m. We reached the summit along the road that winds through a forest cleared for coffee plantations and orange groves rippling along the hillsides. We passed by towns that are animated in the evening with the rainbows forming between the clouded mountains and valleys. It is a beautiful road dotted with countryside restaurants, which took us to the crater and its jade lagoon
The Burva volcano dominates San Jose and the fabulous Braulio Carrillo National Park, where we went through sophisticated ways to explore the jungle. One can see blown up bridges, cable cars suspended over the cliffs and in the tops of the giant trees
Back in San Jose, the enchanted city, we visited its museums: the Pre-Columbian Gold, the Jade Museum with stunning pieces and the National Museum of Costa Rica, which is located in the old Bellavista Barracks, and constructed in 1917. Here, we discovered objects from the pre-Columbian era, indigenous gold pieces, rooms with scenes of national history, the representation of a colonial house, the old cells of the barracks and the Commanders House.
We ended the day having dinner at El Mirador (www.aurolahotels.com ), located on the 17th floor of the Aurola hotel, where we tasted a true gourmet kitchen and enjoyed a spectacular view of the capital.
San Jose began its life as a poor village called Villa Nueva de la Boca del Monte. Since 1737 when the coffee boom flourished in the mid-19th century, and when landowners began to build big mansions. Today, it is converted into a green city. Extensive and very nice with luxurious malls and the proverbial friendliness of the “Ticos”.
Last day: Cartago and the Orosi Valley
Before our flight that night, we visited Cartago, which was Costa Rica’s capital until 1823. It has suffered several earthquakes and yet, also symbolic is the impressive Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels, which hosts the Virgin called “La Negrita”, patron saint of the country. In nearby Orosi Valley, is produced the best coffee of the country and by many, best coffee of the world. Here, we visited its beautiful colonial church, very representative and well preserved, and the ruins of the oldest church in the country: Our Lady of the Limpia, in Ujarrás. It is an enchanting journey which submerges us into the history of the country, its culture and its coffee plantations. It is less than an hour drive from San Jose.
We did not have enough time to visit the Rincon de la Vieja volcano, the Monte Verde Biological Reserve, which offers the opportunity to view quetzals and toucans, also morpho butterflies with blue wings, and to live an adventure “Indiana Jones” style. Additionally, we would have visited the National Monument Guayabo, located on the slopes of the Turrialba volcano. This is the most important archaeological site in Costa Rica, where there are mounds, stairways, walkways, open aqueducts, water storage tanks, tombs, petroglyphs, monoliths and sculptures which reveal the high development of the Pre-Hispanic culture. It is an ideal place to observe orchids and bromeliads, insects, toucans, orioles, trogons and monkeys. On the west coast, on the Papagayo Peninsula, there is a paradise: the lavish Four Seasons Resort (www.fourseasons.com/costarica/ ), where you can enjoy the beaches and play golf.
Our adventure came to a close when the plane took off. We mentally wandered through the jungle, the rivers, the churches, the theater and the unique landscapes, but especially Costa Rica’s beautiful people, the Ticos. Costa Rica is a wonderful destination so close and yet so different. It is a truly ecological and cultural treasure. We will go back to relive the magic of its forests, its coastline and its culture, bursting with color.
Text: Patrick Monney ± Photo: Patrick Monney / Turismo en Fotos / Naca Seven / Neme 6