I'm beginning to wonder whether every time we have a great day a bad day will follow. It seems to be an unfortunate pattern that we're in. After a splendid time at the beach on Bocas del Toro we were due to leave Panama the next day, with limited time we couldn't afford to hang around anywhere longer than absolutely necessary. Unsure of the border crossing we agreed to pay $30 each to transfer from Bocas del Toro to San José in Costa Rica with an end goal of reaching La Fortuna. Annoyingly the journey was fairly straightforward and meant that we could easily have saved our money and done the trip ourselves. We were dropped in a dodgy part of San José and told that no buses would be running to La Fortuna from that station. After a brief conversation with a grumpy woman behind a counter we were pointed to another bus station up the road. Taxi drivers tried their best to take us miles to another bus station at a price but we stuck to our guns and hoped we could make it to our destination in one day. We found the bus station walking through a slightly intimidating area and found a bus taking us closer to La Fortuna but our money was running low and we couldn't find a cash point. Arriving at dark we still couldn't get any cash and when we asked a bus driver if he was going to La Fortuna he completely ignored us. We didn't even get any kind of acknowledgement that he'd heard us so Craig asked again, louder and more exasperated. After a wait we boarded the bus and were actually a few pennies short but were allowed on anyway. Eventually we made it to La Fortuna in the late evening after an arduous days travelling and walked to a hostel where luckily there was space despite our turning up unannounced. Never have we dealt with such unfriendly people on our travels, as polite travellers we were gobsmacked by the level of rudeness we encountered in our first few hours in Costa Rica alone and were happy to fall into our dorm beds for a sleep.
We awoke in the huge characterless dormitory and set about our days activity. I had chosen La Fortuna to stay in as close by I'd read there is a national park with a trail that follows a solidified lava flow. When we went to enquire we learned that to get to the national park you either needed to take a local bus which went once a day there and once a day back at very odd times or an organised tour which was $50 each. $50 was already well over our daily budget and that didn't include the dorm bed and meals. We decided to save our money and instead enjoy a quiet day in La Fortuna. Arenal Volcano sits watching over the quaint town, imposingly large and one of the worlds most active. We strolled into town photographing the volcano from the wide streets and bought groceries from the local shop. An afternoon was whiled away blissfully on the pretty and plant filled hostel terrace with a delicious lunch. I found time to write in my journal and after weeks of discussion we had both made a decision regarding our Central American itinerary. We had heard wonderful things about Cuba and also about how quickly it is changing. We had been umming and ahhing for a long time about whether to squeeze in a trip to Havana and finally decided to go for it. We booked return flights from Cancún to Havana for a five night stay to experience a taste of Cuban culture. The only thing was that now we had even less time to get to Cancún, as if the time we'd given ourselves originally wasn't already stretched!
The next day we decided to move on to Monteverde. As we'd saved a fair chunk of money in La Fortuna we took the 'jeep-boat-jeep' option of getting there to save the huge and uncomfortable journey all through the Costa Rican mountains. We boarded a minibus from our hostel and drove to Arenal Lake where the volcano looked particularly impressive. Backpacks in tow we stepped onto the boat and enjoyed a lovely 30 minute crossing across the water stopping to photograph the volcano and birds. Once docked we climbed up a steep bank which with huge backpacks and daypacks wasn't easy and boarded another minibus to drive along dusty tracks to Monteverde and our hostel. Our hostel was advertised as being a 5 minute walk from town but seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Our room was a little dingy but at least it was private and we asked about booking a second night so that we could have a full day in the cloud forest. The owner gave the price for a second night which was hugely inflated, evidentially we'd got a good deal when we booked online. Despite there being only about 2 other guests at the hostel he wouldn't budge on the price and so we decided to rush off to the cloud forest and leave the next day. Online the hostel said it offered a 'shuttle service' into town but there had been no mention of that and we were really pushed for time. The road was unsealed, dusty and not flat. I was dripping with sweat and red in the face from being so out of breath. After our mad dash we made it to the bus stop and boarded a local bus to the forest.
We walked along the peaceful trail and as it was a sunny and bright day the sun dappled light through the trees, this did mean that there was no cloud in the cloud forest which put paid to my atmospheric misty photographs that I was planning to take. We only had around two hours to explore so we made the most of our time and followed a set route to a red suspension bridge and then on to a waterfall. The path twisted up and around trees and was laid with concrete slabs to keep the mud at bay. Vines dangled down and roots had burst through the earth creating a tangled web of branches and leaves. The red suspension bridge shook as we crossed but was deserted and allowed us time to peacefully look out over the canopy and the forest floor below. We doubled back and found the path again to the waterfall which made an ideal spot for a picnic. Luckily two hours had been ample time to explore and we wandered back to the entrance office and read information plaques about the local wildlife until the last bus of the day arrived to take us and many staff members back to town.
Annoyingly the only way to move on to Nicaragua from Monteverde was to take an early bus towards San José, jump off at a petrol station and board a different bus north to the border. We woke before 6am to catch a taxi to the bus station to begin our journey. I don't think we've ever experienced this kind of inconvenience while travelling anywhere. Usually there's always an option geared towards backpackers but Costa Rica seems to be the exception, judging by the amount of American holiday makers we've seen (and heard) I think the country is more of a rich tourist destination aimed towards those with bigger budgets and a willingness to part with money easily.
With just a few nights spent in Costa Rica we didn't experience all that the country had to offer but were happy to at least have a taste of the volcanic landscape and rich biodiversity.
🎥 Central America video:
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