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With Nicaragua behind us we practically sprinted into Costa Rica…full of excitement for all the eco-adventures that awaited us. We’d planned to take multi-day whitewater kayak trips and spend the better part of a week learning to wind and kitesurf. We allocated just over two weeks for the fun of Costa Rica, hoping against hope that we’d have enough time to do it all.
Our first target upon arrival were the cloud forests of Monteverde in Santa Elena to take a canopy tour. While the name “Canopy Tour” might conjure images of a breezy nature walk through a forest, this could not be further from the truth. A canopy tour is actually a series of zip lines (metal cables strung through the forest that when harnessed in send you flying through to the other end of the line), some of which are as long as 700 meters and cross high above a ravine. This is a thrill ride to the first degree and something we had to do before allowing ourselves the more simple pleasures of Monteverde such as a guided night hike (to see the wild animals of the night…including bats and tarantulas) and a hike through the world renowned Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
While in Monteverde we got a bad taste in our mouth. This country has changed since I was here last. In our opinion it has been overrun by tourism. In many parts of the country, little seems to be left of native culture. Expensive restaurants have replaced family run sodas. It seems the largest difference between the people of Costa Rica and Miami is that here people actually speak English. Don’t get me wrong, the landscape is incredible and the biodiversity unmatched, but through promoting tourism at the expense of all other pursuits I believe the government here has thrown away some of the country’s magic. Indeed, much of the pura vida culture I’d experienced 6 years ago has been replaced with condos, timeshares, and greedy tour guides. We arrived excited at the opportunities that awaited us but now that we are here many of those opportunities seem to have lost their luster. Costa Rica is by far a on the beaten track tourist destination, a great place for a relaxing vacation, but not a good place for independent adventure seeking travelers, especially those on a budget.
Having said all that, we realized we needed to readjust our plans. Rather than paying for expensive ($17 pp just to walk through a park, unguided, for a few hours) tours and visits we moved on from Monteverde with the a few new friends we’d made and headed over dirt roads and big lakes to the city of La Fortuna, home of the mighty Volcan Arenal. Regular readers of this blog are well aware that we’ve had our share of volcano encounters and as powerful as Arenal is we’ve already seen volcanos, hiked their peaks, and felt the heat of their lava. While in Xela we also enjoyed hot springs and were a bit dismayed when we discovered the $60 pp option here in Fortuna; a little bit of looking paid off and before long we found the “local” watering hole for 1/10th (that’s $6) of the price. We relaxed, played cards, soaked in the spas, swam in the pools, ate food that was bad for us, and drank a few beers while we were at it too.
We left La Fortuna much much happier than when we arrived. It seems we will be unable to kayak any rivers here in Costa Rica…mostly because we’ve yet to find an outfitter that has any kayaks for a reasonable price. Surf lessons-be it regular, wind, or kite-all cost here as much as they do in the USA so that is also out of the cards. We have a few more tricks up our sleeves to get the most we can out of Costa Rica and then we’ll be heading to Panama to get that whitewater kayaking in and maybe see some sort of “big ditch” (I hear they call it a canal.)