Costa Rica: A Journey through Forests

For the Christmas/New Year break of 2016, we took a 5-day vacation to Costa Rica, claimed the happiest and greenest country in the world. We got to experience many things we hoped for, such as getting close to the laziest animal on earth, even though there were some surprises in the process. Our biggest surprise was the climate: It changed drastically throughout our stay, starting wet in the rainforest of Arenal, getting quite chilly in the cloud forest of Monteverde, and ending sunny and warm in the dry forest of Manuel Antonio.

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After going through immigration, car rental and several hundred kilometers of curvy mountain roads at night (Ticos are seriously crazy drivers!), we finally made it to our hotel, only to face an unpleasant surprise: they were overbooked! The owners were quite apologetic about it and moved us to this eco-lodge instead, which turned out to be pretty nice actually.
(Arenal Oasis Eco Lodge and Wildlife Refuge, La Fortuna)
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They were feeding birds in the morning, providing us with an opportunity to photograph them in action.
(Arenal Oasis Eco Lodge and Wildlife Refuge, La Fortuna)
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An agouti on the trails of Arenal Volcano National Park. It is a large rodent commonly found in Central America.
(1968 Trail, Arenal Volcano National Park)
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One of the viewpoints in the park, with a backdrop of Arenal Lake.
(1968 Trail, Arenal Volcano National Park)
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High up on a tree, an anteater showed up in formal attire: white shirt and black vest. 🙂
(1968 Trail, Arenal Volcano National Park)
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Attempting a climb over a gigantic ceiba tree that made it through hundreds of years on the skirts of a volcanic mountain, surviving the 1968 eruptions.
(1968 Trail, Arenal Volcano National Park)
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This is the clearest view of the volcano we could get on this rainy gray day.
(Mistico Hanging Bridges Park)
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It was fun to cross 40+ hanging bridges of various types and see the forest fauna from a higher viewpoint.
(Mistico Hanging Bridges Park)
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Walking straight on the bridge is harder than it seems!
(Mistico Hanging Bridges Park)
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After a long day of hiking, a well-deserved retreat at the natural hot springs!
(Paradise Hot Springs, La Fortuna)
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Breakfast next morning was accompanied by this cute parrot (“Amazona autumnalis”).
(Tifakara Boutique Hotel, La Fortuna)
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Getting to the base of La Fortuna waterfall take hundreds of steps but it’s a beautiful scene.
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From the rain forest of Arenal, we drove the scenic (and bumpy!) route around the lake toward the cloud forest of Monteverde, passing through little villages that are home to many expats enjoying the Tico life. We stopped by this cafe that specializes in macadamia nuts.
(Cafe & Macadamia, Lago Arenal)
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Baby monkey crossing!
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Monteverde is a tiny town that has not been spoiled by tourism as much as Arenal. It feels less artificial as a result, but that also means fewer attractions. Due to high altitude, it was quite chilly here, and there was always some combination of rain, wind, and fog. However, we were also able to catch this beautiful rainbow…
(Camino Verde B&B, Monteverde)
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During our night walk around Monteverde, we finally got a chance to see one of my favorite animals: This two-toed sloth came down from the tree to poop right in front of us — what an honor! 😛
(Night Walk Santamaria’s, Monteverde)
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This is supposed to be a toucan (an emerald toucanet) but it was sleeping, so we didn’t get to see its beak, unfortunately.(Night Walk Santamarias, Monteverde)
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Next morning we went out to explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest. I can tell that this tree went down with a smile! 🙂
(Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve)
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Quetzal is the national bird and name of the currency of Guatemala. They are known for their beautiful long tail and colorful feathers.
(Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve)
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It was neither the season nor the best place for quetzals but we lucked out and spotted two of them.
(Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve)
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This mountain range marks the transition from cloud forest to dry forest. It also marks the continental divide between the Pacific and the Atlantic. As you can see, just a few minutes of driving away from Monteverde, and there’s no sign left of the chilly mountain weather.
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In fact, it wasn’t long until we find ourselves devouring fresh fish and sipping drinks with a view of the Pacific Ocean.
(El Hicaco, Jaco)
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Sunny and warm!!
(Playa Jaco)
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Credits to Elif for catching a pair of stunning macaws airborne. The colors are out of this world!
(Costanera Sur, between Jaco and Manuel Antonio)
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We followed the macaws for a while and finally figured out their destination: a tropical fruit bar!
(Costanera Sur, between Jaco and Manuel Antonio)
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Finishing off the day with a lovely sunset…
(Manuel Antonio)
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Next day was reserved for exploring Manuel Antonio National Park, the tiniest and most popular one in Costa Rica. To beat the crowds, we arrived early. Blue-and-red crabs were hanging out in peace when we got there…
(Manuel Antonio National Park)
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Traversing the beaches of Manuel Antonio…
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Coati, a relative of the raccoon, was enjoying a secluded spot in the woods.
(Manuel Antonio National Park)
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A gang of raccoons, on the other hand, were busy terrorizing people on the beach.
(Manuel Antonio National Park)
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Capuchin monkeys are considered the smartest monkeys in the world. We watched this one repeatedly fool humans and manage to steal their food, despite countless warnings from park rangers to not fall for their tactics. 🙂
(Manuel Antonio National Park)
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A thirsty iguana licking water on the beach…
(Manuel Antonio National Park)
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One of the highlights of our trip: As we were leaving the park, we stumbled upon this adorable scene of a mama three-toed sloth and her baby, napping on a palm tree.
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Before we reached our hotel, we saw yet another baby sloth hugging her mama while she was (slowly) trying to move out of people’s way.
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Final morning in Manuel Antonio was spent relaxing on the beach and people watching. Pelicans were roaming the skies…
(Playa Biesanz, Quepos)
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We decided to dedicate an evening to San Jose, the not-so-popular capital city. It ended up being quite underwhelming, with very little to do and empty streets even during high season.(National Theater, San Jose)
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An open-air market is always fun to see, but the items were too touristy.
(Mercado Nacional de Artesanias, San Jose)
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Before heading to the airport, we took another shot at coming eye to eye with a volcano. After a “long and winding road” to the top of Poas, the ranger told us there was nothing to see (!). We went in anyways… 50 shades of gray was all we could get — very disappointing!
(Poas Volcano National Park)
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At least we had the “umbrella plant” to stay dry! 😉
(Poas Volcano National Park)

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