The last few years, my attention has turned towards travel in Central America. Given the week off during Thanksgiving, I decided to take advantage of this precious window of free time and head to the countries of Costa Rica (CR) and Nicaragua (NI). It was a full day of flight to get to San Jose, CR from Denver by way of Atlanta. I bunked in for the night at a hotel near the airport and then promptly headed off to the small city of Liberia, in the northwest part of the country, early the next morning. I was in a very small plane for the short one-hour jaunt but enjoyed the 360 views of the vast expanses of hills and lush tropical rainforest.
In Liberia, I stayed at a small hotel on the outskirts of town (Hotel Javy) that was run by a very nice family. I was treated very nicely and fed a big, homemade breakfast every morning. The hotel was within walking distance of downtown so I spent a lot of time wandering around the city. If you are looking to bring America with you on your travels or you like to stay in swanky beach resorts, then Liberia will not be for you. I appreciated the city’s authenticity and the friendliness of its people. My favorite part was the park near the town square next to an old Catholic church where many of the locals congregated late into the night.
The first day in Liberia took me south for roughly an hour to Palo Verde National Park to float the Tempisque River. This was a leisurely float for about 2 hours along the brown waters through a tropical dry forest. There were many different types of interesting birds along the banks. Occasionally, crocodiles would slowly rise up out of the water. A group of white-faced monkeys made a guest appearance at the boat, hoping for a handout of banana.
On Sunday, I went to Rincon de La Vieja National Park for a leisurely day-hike around the area. This park is home to a couple of volcanos (which I would love to climb one day). There were a lot of cool geological features such as mud pots and hot springs, much as you would see in Yellowstone National Park, and you could also see and hear howler monkeys in the tree canopy. If you like hiking, then you will certainly enjoy this park.
As a fitting end to the day, I walked to the stadium in downtown Liberia to attend a soccer match between the team from Liberia and popular rival from San Jose. If you want to witness true passion, then I encourage you to go see a major soccer match in any country in Central or South America!
The next day brought a visit to a true “cloud forest” called Tenorio Volcano National Park. The hike was along a wonderfully beautiful, blue river called Rio Celeste. Being in the rain forest, it was a gloomy day with drizzle but I kept my eyes open hoping to catch sight of a tapir and taking in the sights along the river. On this day, I also got to see several different types of multicolored frogs, bats, sloths, etc. On the way back to Liberia, I had a chance to do a small hike to Llanos de Cortez Waterfall, where several people were lounging about and swimming. Very cool!
On Tuesday, I went to probably what might be one of the most famous landmarks in CR; that is, the active Arenal Volcano. The driver Eithel and I first stopped at Arenal Hanging Bridges. If you want to see a wild coatimundi, then this is the place. This is a park where the trail includes several very long suspension walking bridges strung through the canopy. Don’t look down if you don’t like heights 🙂 We then went to a stunning 70-meter waterfall called La Fortuna. It’s a steep, long descent down many stairs to see it but it is completely worth the effort.
Finally, I headed out to NI the next day at 5 AM on a bus with several other tourists. It was a long, long day but was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. First, it was two hours to the border and then an hour of checkpoints and waiting to get across. Once that was out of the way, we made several pitstops along the drive to see Lake Nicaragua and to shop at some local markets, where I loaded up on coffee beans. The showstopper was a trip to Masaya Volcano National Park, almost near Managua, the capitol of NI. It is one of those memories that will forever be etched in my mind — gazing across the chasm of the crater, with steam and gas bellowing in a column towards the sky, and lava percolating below. Awesome. We then went into the old city of Granada for a short boat ride into Lake Nicaragua and to browse around the city square. Reversing course, by the time I made it back into Liberia, it was pushing midnight before my head hit the pillow.
Thanksgiving found me back in San Jose eating a dinner of beans, rice, and fried plantains, waiting until the morning to catch my flight to Los Angeles. I gave thanks for having the time, health, and a few dollars in my pocket to be able to take this most memorable trip. And more memories are yet to come …