We had started crossing the border at 3pm, so it was 5pm Panama time (4pm Costa Rica time) when we have finished. Not a lot of time left to look for a campspot. A quick flick through our paperwork & we see that friends stayed at a coffee finca up in the hills. Now that sounds like a good idea, it would be lovely to have a nice cool night. So we head north to San Vito & find the gorgeous Finca Cantaros just on dusk. We baulk a little at the $21 price tag, but it is getting late. We have our own spot in an amazing botanical garden with our own BBQ area, hot shower & wifi. We stay well into the next day before continuing our drive through the mountains. The road is narrow & winding, but there is a new sealed surface. Finally we reach the Interamerican highway (merely a bumpy road) & head to Palmar Norte, where we turn off onto the coastal route. The owner of the Finca has recommended this route – it has recently been resealed. We had wondered where all the trucks had gone. We find them here – obviously they find this a better route too. We have also found the rain.
We find a campspot near the beach at the entry to Park National Manuel Ballena. The next morning the sky is blue, so we head to the beach ($6 each) & watch the tourists head out on boats to watch the dolphins. There is snorkeling at low tide on the whales tail – where waves meet, so we putter around, waiting for the tide to go down. Not any coral, but lots of pretty coloured fish.
Finally we continue along the coast, passing many huge palm plantations & lots of lovely beaches including the surfie destination of Dominical. Our destination is Park National Manuel Antonio (hyped as Central America’s top destination) we camp right on Playa Espadilla just before a torrential downpour. With so much water the frog’s croke madly all night. They are much louder than the waves crashing on the beach. The next morning we head to the park at 7am ($10 each) – it is Saturday & we want to beat the crowds. It pays off with most of the walks to ourselves & a lovely swim on a near empty stunning beach. We had practically given up on seeing monkeys, when we spy 3 little capuchins. They are so gorgeous we watch as they swing in the branches & eat fruit. Another beach & another swim before we head back to GR2. Our parking area is now full of cars & the lady attendant tries to charge us twice what we were quoted last night. She didn’t succeed!
Back at Quepo we stop for lunch at a “Soda” restaurant for a set meal – beans/rice/meat/banana/taco& a glass of freshly squeezed pineapple & orange juice. Phew! We won’t need much dinner tonight. And so along the coast we continue. More palms, more palm oil processing plants, more long stretches of surf & then more stormy rain. As we turn to head inland we cross a huge river & stop to look at the massive crocodiles below. These guys would give our crocs a run for their money.
Our final destination for today is the city of San Jose the capital of Costa Rica. We have found GPS points for a trailer park in a blog – so we plan to head there. On our way into the city we spy a Radio Shack & stop for a computer lead. Then I am tempted by the modern supermarket. By the time we have filled up with a very expensive trolley full of groceries, it is getting late. Our GPS points take us to a brand new supermarket – the park has long gone. Oh no…in the city at night. Think! The airport! Bummer. There is an underground carpark. I try begging at a large, nearly empty carpark, but no go. So we start heading out of town, until I spy a hotel. We drive in. The guard asks “Do you have a reservation?” My reply “Si, si!” (Forgive me) and we are in & head into the carpark surrounded by trees. Normally we would ask permission & offer to pay, but we don’t want to be told “no”, so we risk it. We even pick up Wifi. Needless to say we leave before 7am.
So much for visiting San Jose – we do a drive by & head on up to the mountains through some gorgeous cultivated countryside to Volcan Irazu at 3450 metres. We want to be there early before the clouds roll in. We head up with dozens of lycra clad cyclists on their Sunday ride. By the time we walk to the crater (again $10 each) we have a bare 10 minutes before cloud rolls in. We head back down through cloud, the bikes flying past us now.
Instead of returning to San Jose, we head across the mountains towards the Caribbean, following the old windy route to Turrialba & Puerto Veijo de Sarapiqui. By now the cloud has turned to rain. Guess that’s why it is so lush & tropical & there are lots of lovely rivers. Finally we turn & head back into the mountains – camping beside a river.
We head off early the next morning to catch the next volcanic crater at Volcan Poas (again $10 each). This time we miss it by 10 minutes. We wait, but no, the thick mist just thickens. At least there is an info centre showing a video of it. Again as we head back down the mist turns into rain. At the bottom it stops. On through more flatlands to Cuidad Quesada & the very touristy town of Fortuna in the shadow of the active Volcan Arenal. We camp right in a river bed with the volcano towering behind us. There is no lava flow tonight!
The next morning we wind our way around the lake & return to the hot dry plains of the Interamerican highway. Our next destination is Llanos de Cortes, stopping on the way at a few towns & Las Pumas animal shelter. We finally get up close & personal with a puma, jaguar & ocelot, albeit safely behind fences.
Llanos de Cortes is a gorgeous waterfall with a lovely sandy beach for swimming. Very popular with tourists, as it is only just off the main road. We camp there the night in a huge carpark, all to ourselves & the next morning go down for a swim with only the howler monkeys for company. We decide to give the last volcano a miss & head on to the border. Just before the border we use our last few Colones (the local currency) on some diesel. Our first fuel purchase in this expensive country. It is Central America with Australian price tags. As usual, the border is a chaotic place with massive queues of trucks. But it only takes an hour & a half…….hola Nicaragua!