Private encounter with a leatherback turtle

Costa Rica is a destination for observation of turtles, both laying eggs and hatching. Most people experience it in Tortuguero, but since we were outside of the season, we had given up on the idea. However, when we were in Corcovado, a Spanish couple told us that they had just seen a leatherback turtle laying eggs in Playa Grande. So we did some research and decided to take a detour on the way from Rio Celeste to Monteverde… a long detour on an already long day.

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Waterfalls of Celeste color

We started the day very early, as it was going to be a long one. Most people go from Arenal to Monteverde, or vice versa, but we had decided to take a detour to hike in Rio Celeste. The drive from La Fortuna (Arenal volcano) to Rio Celeste is ~3 hours (don’t believe Google), on a very bad road, through San Rafael de Guatuso. It gets even worse if you continue further, towards Monteverde, so it should definitely only be attempted with a 4WD.

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The hidden Arenal volcano

We woke up in the outskirts of San Jose, where we had crushed the night before after picking up our rental car. We drove a couple more hours to La Fortuna, on a very good road (the best we would see in Costa Rica, by far), taking in the tranquil surroundings. After finding a hostel in the center of the town, we went in the car again and drove up to the Arenal Volcano National Park. It was very cloudy, and we already knew that we would most likely not get to see the famous, perfect cone of the volcano (usually it’s visible from town). Still decided to do a short hike to the lava flows, some really old and gigantic trees and enjoy the rainforest overall. Also piggy-bagged on some tourist groups whose guides spotted animals, but after Corcovado, we were very hard to impress :S

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Pure nature in Corcovado

Just 8 hours after landing in San Jose, and definitely short on sleep, Elena and I got on a Naturair aircraft to Puerto Jimenez. The flight is short and offers great views of the country, and it’s the best way to include the Osa Peninsula in your trip if you’re short on time, since the roads are bad.

We landed around 9am, and saw our guide Nito waiting for us at the tiny ‘airport’. We had hired him for the next two days based on raving reviews on several blogs (since then, he seems to be doing great: www.surcostours.com). They weren’t kidding; he’s knowledgeable, easy going and super passionate about animals, even though he’s probably seen them hundreds of times. Because we landed after the colectivo (a shared truck) had left, we had to hire our own taxi. He drove us to buy food and then ~1 hr to Carate and Playa Madrigal, where our hike would start. After about half hour walk, we hit La Leona, the official entrance of Corcovado National Park.

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Party in Cienfuegos

On the bus back from Trinidad to Havana, I met two Argentinian guys, and we decided to make a stop in Cienfuegos. The city was founded by the French and is supposed to have very interesting urban planning, particularly in the downtown area of Pueblo Nuevo… But I don’t remember any of this, just a lot of cheap good food at a state-run restaurant, even more delicious rum and non-stop son, rumba and trova 😉

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Beach time and local experiences in Ancon

This year I had worked really hard, so I decided to spend 5 days on the beach relaxing. I chose the Ancon peninsula because it was way less touristy than other spots like Varadero, and probably more beautiful. And for the same reason, I decided to stay in La Boca, a small seaside village, ~5km from Trinidad and ~7km from Ancon beach, instead of the hotels on the actual beach.

When I arrived at La Boca, I quickly learnt that all the official homestays, the only ones authorized to host tourists, were fully booked. So I hang out with my backpack at the small town beach and by the “paladar” (small private restaurant), chatting with all the neighbors. A middle age woman named Manuela offered me lunch and to help me figure out where to stay. She shared some rice with beans, and explained to me how much food each Cuban gets through the ration cards (Short version: not a lot). Then she walked me to meet some young neighbors, Jose and his wife, who agreed to let me stay in the “bohio” (a wooden structure with dry palm tree roof) in the back of their house, for a few dollars. The only condition was I had to be careful getting in and out and not tell anyone where I was staying. The place was as basic as it looks in the picture, but would definitely do.

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Trinidad, the Cuban jewel

Travelling around Cuba wasn’t as easy as I expected. Most tourists are on some sort of organized tour, managed by a joint venture between the government and a foreign company, while local buses are all sold out (it’s Christmas holidays after all!). After a couple of days in Havana and a lot of asking around, I got a seat in a bus to Trinidad, ~4 hours west. On the road, we passed Bahia de Cochinos, infamous for the CIA-sponsored attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro in 1961.

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