The Rainforest, Volcano and Beach

This past week, I was lucky to play host and tour guide to a very dear friend. I wanted to show him a good time and a variety of microclimates during his short visit.

We started at La Paz Catarata Waterfall Gardens, a place I visited for the first time with my niece Jen. It has mini-zoos with butterflies, monkeys, birds, snakes and wildcats. It ends with a long winding walk during which one can see several waterfalls. Just beautiful.

A weird note here: The last time I went, I dropped and broke my cell phone (for the first time ever). The problem was that it is impossible to navigate around Costa Rica without WAZE, the GPS software, since everywhere you go requires driving on larger routes and roads as small as alleys. Luckily, I had a second cellphone in the car. This time, the phone didn’t break, but WAZE stopped working; it said there was no signal, which was odd since it had brought us to the site with adequate signal. We were lucky in that there was only one road for several kilometers; but the time we had to change roads, the signal was strong and WAZE came back on.

From the Waterfall Gardens, we headed northwest to Arenal, a beautiful town with a famous volcano and lake. I’d been to Nuevo Arenal (New Arenal), which was built after the volcano erupted several years ago and buried much of the original town. This time, we went to the Arenal Paraiso, a lovely hotel with hot springs on its property. Our cabin had a straight-on view of the volcano and all the amenities one could want.

After a couple of nights there, we moved on to Tamarindo, a beautiful beach town on the Pacific in the province of Guanacaste. (Costa Rica has beaches on the west coast (Pacific) and east coast (Caribbean). Most tourists and expats prefer the Pacific coast, which has better beaches and surfing.

We stayed at the Capitan Suizo, so-named for the island it faces (La Capitan) and the Swiss owners who built what is considered on of the top resorts in Central America. The water is warm and the sand soft; and all public areas, from the restaurant to the spa, are open-air. The first day was humid, as are both coasts, but very comfortable. Day two was hotter, and I spent much of it in our suite. The whole place is designed as eco-friendly, and the staff is incredibly kind and helpful.

During breakfast, we were visited by exotic birds, one of which stole my friend’s pancake, and a rather large iguana, who seemed unfazed by the gringos taking his (her?) picture.

The trip back to Escazu was long—about four and a quarter hours—and windy (as in lots of turns). Climbing up the mountain was hard on the rental; I regretted not getting a 4X4. Driving in CR always includes a combination of one-lane and two-land highways, with unexpected bus stops, and local streets and alleys which meet at odd angles and have no street signs. There are also ditches along all the roads, which handle the heavy rains but have no guardrails. Travelers alternate between enjoying the natural beauty and praying not to end up sideways in a ditch.

However, aside from the stressful half-hour with no WAZE and a kilometer stretch of unpaved and very bumpy road, the ride was enjoyable and always interesting. Another five days in paradise.