That’s right. A Rambling Family first… just adults on a trip.
It was our 16th wedding anniversary this year, and we decided it was about time we did something special just the two of us. Previous anniversaries have ranged from a one-nighter at a B and B or a nice dinner up N’Seoul Tower, to “no gifts this year” and breakfast at Denny’s.
So, Costa Rica upped the class level quite dramatically.
We started with a rental car from Wild Rider, who brought the car to our late-night-flight hotel in Alajuela near the airport.
The drive up into the mountains around Monteverde was spectacular. We stopped along the way at the black sand beach in the tiny town of Caldera. It was our only interaction with the Pacific Ocean. Being October, the weather forecast on the west coast was stormy.
The drive up up up the mountains was spectacular, and we soon found ourselves stopping at every pull-off for pictures. The main route into Monteverde, route 606, is not paved for sections and never has a guardrail to obstruct the views out to the ocean.
Our time in the Monteverde area was incredible. We stayed at the Green Tree BnB just outside the main village of Santa Elena. We really enjoyed our time there, and saw more wild animals at the BnB than we did in any of the preserves! In fact, the Green Tree resides within a privately owned preserve called the Area De Conservación Don Rodolfo. It is named after the family patriarch who’s descendants still run the preserve, a night walks company, and the BnB.
We absolutely loved our own walks around the BnB grounds. There was forest, banana farm, and open field land to appreciate. Our favorite, though, was the band of coati’s. One even spent some time right on our treehouse porch! The treehouse was a stilted little cabin with an entire wall of windows, huge comfy bed, and little sitting area, plus a nice bathroom with hot water (not always a given in these parts). The best start to our days, though, was the delicious tico breakfast of beans and rice, eggs, and fruit, plus insanely strong (for me) coffee.
We did go to the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve and explored the longest, farthest hike we could. Uniquely, the trails were stabilized with diamond-shaped stone blocks which made for awkward gawking up. It was dripping wet, and up in a cloud, as promised! Plus, we got some pictures on the treetop bridge.
The price, however, was a bit steep at $25 / each since we are foreigners. But, if I consider that most is a donation to maintain a pristine cloud forest, then it money well spent. I would caution other visitors on tight budgets to skip it, however, in favor of a zipline at Selvatura Adventure park (see below)
We spent only a couple hours and then enjoyed a stroll and dinner in Santa Elena, daydreaming about buying our own little finca in the clouds. (didn’t happen)
On a separate day, we visited the Selvatura Adventure park. And, really, this is money well spent. We purchased tickets downtown Santa Elena at the Selvatura office, then transported ourselves. If you have a decent off-road rental, I recommend just driving yourself instead of arranging for their (free) bus; it freed us up to stop at some stands and views along the way.
For $55, we each did the Canopy Tour. It lasted a few amazing hours. We ziplined with a group through cloud forests and treetops, sometimes without any idea how far up we were. Other times, the clouds would shift and we could see the incredible height! Along the way, we got to hike along more diamond-shaped block-supported trails through forests just as beautiful as those at the preserve. We saw birds and small critters, too! Both of us did the tarzan swing as well, which was an exciting few seconds.
A highlight of the entire trip!
Sadly, our time in Monteverde had to end, but Costa Rica offered up a gorgeous alternative.
We drove from Monteverde to Arenal via the back-roads… continuing on 606 down the backside of the mountain range into steep mixed-use farm land, and then around Lake Arenal via route 142. It took all day, and we were so glad of it, stopping often for views and animal spotting. Do not attempt without a four wheel drive.
The highlight of the day, however, was our visit to Viento Fresco Waterfalls. This out-of-the-way attraction is family owned and perfect. There is a tiny cafe sitting atop an open fielded ridgeline where we paid our fee. Then, we were instructed to drive down the road, which looks like a cart path, on the opposite side of the ridge. Lo, and behold, a parking area and trailhead were halfway down the very steep hill.
The trail has four huge waterfalls, the largest being rainbow falls. So named for the pretty arcs you can easily see in the mist. We stopped here, changed into swimsuits at the little bathrooms, and took a dip in the freezing water in the lower lagoon.
The water was so strong! Rainbow falls is 75 meters high. The best part: we were alone. Completely. All day. When we finally had enough of our swim and picnic, we hiked out and saw some other folks just beginning to hike down.
Arenal became our luxury stop for a few days. We stayed at the Baldi Hot Springs resort; I had uncovered a great shoulder-season deal on rooms via their website. Their service and hospitality was impeccable; I even changed dates a few times without issue. The breakfast buffet was so varied and delicious, and to have access to the hot springs at our leisure anytime was so nice.
There are 25 hot spring pools at Baldi, plus a play area with some slides…. an especially painful toilet-bowl style one was fun, and made me miss the kids (a bit) (briefly). The spring pools are all fed at the highest point on the hill Baldi rests on, then filter and pool into each other on the way day. It’s a gorgeous effect and gives the whole place a feel of discovery. That could also have been because we seemed to be one of three groups staying during the off-season.
During our days in the Arenal area we spent some time wandering the town of La Fortuna for cheap eats, and going for some very wet hikes in the Arenal Volcano National Park. $15 entry each.
We also spent a super-squelchy time in the Sector Vulcan making a lollipop hike out of all three of the trails. It was ideal to hike in sandals! The trails were either mud or inches-deep pools since it was actively raining. Wet feet are better when they can breathe a bit, so skip the boots or shoes if you go in the rainy season. We got to see the lava flow, the cloud view of the caldera, and the 400 year old ciebo tree. It was certainly wet, but warm and fun.
Later we went to the Sector Peninsula. The rain held off, and the clouds even started to show some of the gigantic Arenal volcano! The trails in this part of the park are paved, and there is a very cool lookout tower where we had our first T-Mobile signal in days. Again, we hiked all the trails making a lollipop out to the end of the peninsula and back via the steep forest walk.
The third part of our trip was spent at the beach! Bryan loves the mountains. Kat loves the beach. So, Costa Rica was a perfect blend.
We needed to drive to the east coast and visit the Caribbean beaches since rainy season weather was coming in from the west coast, and I wanted sun! So, Cahuita was calling.
Cahuita is a tiny town on a spit of land between two beaches: the north one is sparkly volcanic black sand and the south one is powdery white sand. The south side is hemmed in by the Cahuita National Park and Shore.
The town itself has a bit of a scruffy feel to it with real people living their lives, and lots of places to sit and eat and listen to reggae. I loved it.
We stayed at the Bungalows Ache in a round wooden beach cabin with a hammock, mosquito net, and mini fridge. It was ideal for lounging, and the location was perfect just a block-ish away from the beaches. It is family owned, and we certainly felt like family. Plus, there were lots of animals roaming through.
One day, we arranged with the owner of the Bungalows to go out on a boat trip along the coast for some snorkeling. We walked through town, got out his little boat and motored into the snorkeling areas off the coast. It is required to go with a guide to these areas as they are in the national park.
He also introduced us to the different varieties of pineapple grown here. We passed lots and lots of banana farms on the way, but I never knew there was such a difference in pineapple. Absolutely delicious. It was such a good time!
Most of our time spent in Cahuita was on the beach. We walked the length of the national park looking for sloths (and had luck!), picnicking on the beach (and trying to prevent a mama racoon from stealing our food), and reading under the trees. It was blissful and calm. I would love to return.
The day before our flight out, we got an early start on a drive back to San Jose. We took the long way around, through the central highlands where most of the coffee is grown. We drove along super steep hills with fields of coffee, and past two volcanoes in the distance; Turrialba and Irazu.
Then, the coffee was calling. We had seen many signs for coffee farm tours, and finally pulled into the next one. It was such a treat! Cafe Vinas is family owned and loved. Their place is like a boutique for coffee aficionados.
We walked around the farm learning about coffee planting, picking, drying, roasting. All still done by hand. Then we sat on the balcony, high above the steep fields and enjoyed our own cup. I’m still sad we used up all the beans we bought.
Costa Rica did not disappoint. It was the best anniversary Bryan and I have ever had. I’m not sure I even want to top it. I certainly missed the kids. I missed having them along, and seeing their joy in new experiences. But, I’m glad we got to leave them at home with my parents. It was so nice to reconnect as a couple.