Alyssa’s Costa Rica Adventure: Manuel Antonio

I can’t believe it’s already been a month since I got back from Costa Rica — take me back! I’ve especially missed the lush, tropical country as I’ve been stircrazy the past week since I’ve been stuck inside fighting the flu. (Yeah, I have rotten luck – I got over a cold and immediately got the flu. Yay!) Anyways, part one of our vacation was in Fortuna Arenal, part two was in Monteverde, and now we’re to part three: the beach! I knew after a few days of intense adventuring, we’d be ready to spend the final days of our vacation with toes in the sand.

On the way to Manuel Antonio, we stopped in Jaco Beach for lunch. Jaco is a famous surfing spot, and it seemed to be a popular beach town, especially with young international travelers. Isn’t it pretty?

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We arrived late into Manuel Antonio, so we pretty much headed to bed for some shut eye. The next morning, the boys went ziplining while I explored the public beach. I had an awesome time reading Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar while I dug my toes into the sand.

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When the guys got back and were thoroughly hopped on adrenaline, we headed into the private beach, which is a national park. This beach was stunning, as you can see above. There were monkeys and iguanas all around, and the water was about 75 degrees. The best part was you had to hike in to get to the beach, maybe about a mile, and that meant there were no cars, very little trash, no city sounds, and unspoiled nature as far as the eye could see.

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After the beach, we popped into the hotel pool where I flew down the water slide at an alarming speed. Then, we headed up to the rooftop bar to grab a drink before dinner. I enjoyed my pina colada as the sun sank into the horizon. Paradise.

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The next morning, Matt and I went to the hotel lobby at 6:15 A.M. (ugh!) so we could go on a mangrove boat tour. Because the mangrove swamp changes depth based on the tides (the pull of the moon), we had to go super early to avoid getting stranded in the swamp. Mangroves are really cool, complex species — they’re a self-filtering tree that live only in brackish water (half salt, half fresh).

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It was cool being out in nature that early for a relaxing boat ride, and we ended up being the only two people on the tour. Our guide actually had spent a few years living in San Jose, so we had fun talking about the differences between California and Costa Rica (actually, more similarities than differences)! I told him one of my goals was to see a crocodile, and we ended up seeing three! This tour was a really peaceful way to see one of the special ecosystems of Costa Rica.

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Sadly after our tour, it was time to head back toward San Jose to fly home the next day. We made one last pit stop at the famous Tarcoles River bridge, because we knew there was a spectacle below… CROCODILES! Nobody really knows exactly why there are so many crocodiles at this spot, but at any given time you can expect to see more than 20 crocs. We counted 42 in just the few minutes we were there. We didn’t dillydally too long in this spot, because even though we were up on a bridge, I didn’t particularly need to spend much longer near these massive scaly beasts.

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Costa Rica far surpassed what I had hoped for in a good vacation. The people of Costa Rica were so welcoming and kind, and genuinely shared a love for the natural treasures of their country. I couldn’t take a single bad picture being surrounded by such vivid beauty, and at every turn, there was exotic wildlife. I loved getting to see the rain forest and cloud forest, and I can’t wait to go back. In a week we covered so much of Costa Rica (and ended up putting over 700 miles on our rental car!), but I already know the next time I go I’ll want to see even more. If you’re thinking about going, GO! Getting to Costa Rica is relatively inexpensive (about $500 round trip from LAX), as is the lodging. While things like the rental car and food were pricier than anticipated, it all evened out with the valuable deals on really top notch accommodation for around $90-$100 a night. If you have any questions about Costa Rica, leave a comment or shoot me an email and I’ll be glad to tell you what I learned. As the people of Costa Rica say… Pura Vida!

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Alyssa’s Costa Rica Adventure: Monteverde

We last left off in the scenic volcano town of Arenal, and after a lovely two days and two nights exploring hanging bridges, spotting wild frogs, and hanging in a waterfall hot tub, we headed to Monteverde. I knew I wanted to see Monteverde because it’s a cloud forest, and these rare ecosystems are only 1% of planet earth. The drive to Monteverde started with a beautiful drive around Lake Arenal. For about 20 miles, we kept seeing funny, hand-painted signs with sayings like “Face it, you’re stopping at Toad Hall” or “World’s best pit stop – Toad Hall”. We decided after seeing the Michigan J. Frog painted on a sign that we would stop to check out this clever little place. We pulled up to Toad Hall and were greeted by the very friendly owner, who invited us to take a look at all of the hotel rooms.

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This hotel was nestled on the edge of the mountain, overlooking an incredibly lush jungle. My father in law was admiring the view when he noticed a toucan perched in the tree. I ran up towards him and started snapping photos, feeling so lucky to catch this beauty of a bird mid-flight.

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We got back on the road feeling excited about the awesome toucan sighting we’d had, just in time for that adrenaline to get us through the very bumpy car ride up to Monteverde. Quakers created Monteverde and they opted not to pave the roads to maintain the simpicity and purity of the environment. The roads are still unpaved today, and up steep, winding roads etched into mountains. As you get closer to Monteverde, the air becomes dense and wet as you essentially enter the clouds. On our way up we stopped to view a magnificient rainbow that was so close to us, we could touch it. (I looked for a pot of gold, but saw nothing!) We arrived at our hotel and immediately enjoyed the constant chatter of jungle birds and gasped at the cold, wet mist that was constantly on our faces.

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We walked around downtown Monteverde, where we had a drink in the treehouse bar, followed by an awesome dinner at Morphos. Then, it was back into our cozy beds, listening to the clouds hug the building, leaving behind only misty, wet kisses against the glass.

Raw Coffee Beans and Shells

Raw Coffee Beans and Shells

The next day, we checked out the El Traipiche Coffee, Sugar Cane, and Cocoa tour. We learned about the life cycle of the coffee plant, from sprout to roasted bean, as well as how to make sugar cane candy and cocoa. The highlight of the tour for me was grinding fermented cocoa beans to see how it is transformed from cocoa into actual chocolate (the trick? sugar and milk.) Real cocoa has such a rich, luxurious taste.

Standing in front of Sugar Cane

Standing in front of Sugar Cane

Making Sugar Cane Candy

Making Sugar Cane Candy

Raw Cocoa before adding sugar

Raw Cocoa before adding sugar

Before entering the Cocoa Bean Factory

Before entering the Cocoa Bean Factory

When our bellies were full of coffee and cocoa, we got back on the road to head towards our next destination — Manuel Antonio, the coast of Costa Rica. Departing Monteverde was full of breath-taking views like the one below… and breathtaking adventures, like having a tractor re-build you a small piece of road so you can pass. Imagine looking down at the side of the moving car to a ten foot trench right below you. Whew! Adventure all abounds in Costa Rica! Stay tuned for part 3 🙂

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Alyssa’s Costa Rica Adventure: Arenal

Oh, Double Chinners, how sad I am to be back in the Estados Unidos! I just had an amazing vacation in Costa Rica. My husband turned 30 this year, so we decided to celebrate the milestone with an awesome vacation. Airfare to Costa Rica was a steal, so we snatched it up and jetted off to CR. My father-in-law came along, and together, we zigzagged around the country, up unpaved roads, down muddy canyons, and across many, many, giant mountains, breathing in the beauty of the rain forest. I’ll split these posts into a few as there are just way too many things to tell you about. I’ll start with Arenal, a picturesque town at the base of a giant, dormant volcano (though active until five years ago).

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We stayed at Mountain Paradise Hotel, and Trip Advisor definitely didn’t lead me astray on this one. Each room was its own private bungalow, with a stunning waterfall rock shower, private patio with outdoor bath tub, and two rocking chairs for admiring the flora and fauna. Can you believe this room was about $89 a night? Yeah, me neither. They even knew to send me a tabby! (Just kidding:this little kitty found her way to me after discovering we were eating sandwiches. So, I named her Torta.)

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On our second day in Costa Rica, we decided to explore the Arenal Hanging Bridges. While these bridges wobble and sway a little bit, they’re no Indiana Jones bridges. They’re reinforced steel with plenty of hand rails. We hired a local guide, and climbed two miles into the rain forest. We saw two kinds of monkeys, Howler and Squirrel, tarantula holes and eventually, a tarantula, all kinds of birds, and the prize of the trip: a sloth! Had it not been for the guide, I would have never known that this tiny, brown ball of matted fur was a sloth. We used his telescope to zoom in and catch a peep of his blinking brown eyes. Did you know the Spanish word for sloth is Perezoso, which literally means lazy? Also that the sloth only comes down from the tree tops once a week, to poop, because if he pooped right from the tree, predators would easily sniff him out, climb up the tree, and enjoy a sloth dinner.

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We climbed varying degrees of distances before we got to an amazing waterfall. It was pretty much paradise to see this tumbling, picture-perfect waterfall nestled in hills of lush, green vines and blooming plants. We posed for a couple quick photos before climbing the hill to the final and highest hanging bridge. No words can do this view justice, so I’ll just show you.

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See? It’s been a bucket list item of mine that I can now cross off my list to see the rain forest. Especially as our natural resources disappear, it’s important to take in their beauty while you can. The beauty was endless in Costa Rica. We were all pretty thoroughly impressed, and headed back to our room for a brief rest before our night hike into the jungle.

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With a guide from Arenal Oasis tour, we set out into the rain forest with flashlights and our rain jackets in search of frogs. Though it took awhile to spot our first one, I had fun bantering with the guide, who spoke a universal language in which I am fluent: sarcasm. We spotted a few toads, millipedes, and stick bugs, and then, he asked us all to turn off our flashlights for a minute. Holy crikey, the rain forest is DARK in the jungle. Total immersion of darkness plus humidity plus the sounds of singing birds, chirping frogs, crackling leaves? Super cool. He pointed out a type of fungus that glows in the dark, and sure enough, as we looked around we could see blue fungus glistening in the darkness, like magical mushrooms. In the light they looked just like another ordinary stick on the ground, but in the darkness, oh how they shine.

We spotted two poisonous pit vipers, which are actually fairly small snakes (or at least the ones we saw, were).

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Then, we all looked around aimlessly trying to find the red eyed tree frog. This frog is the image of Costa Rica, and I have no doubt you’ve seen his image every where. Finally, the guide called us over and we spotted this lovely specimen lounging in a banana leaf. He kindly posed long enough for me to snap two of my favorite photos of the whole vacation, and then he scurried up the banana tree and back to his safe shell of darkness.

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How frickin cool is that, right? We headed back to our hotel, where we enjoyed frosty libations in the waterfall pool before tucking in for the night, lulled to sleep by the sweet croaking and crooning of exotic frogs and the occasional warbled “meow” at our screen door. The next day we were off to Monteverde… one of the few cloud forests in the world. Stay tuned !

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