Costa Rica - Coast 2 Coast, Pacific 2 Caribbean

The last evening at Junquillal’s Beach. Us – a beer on its way to the stomach while lamenting the hardness of life.

Junquillal 2 Cahuita

Samara Beach, 23rd January

The next morning we’re on our way to famous Samara Beach. A dusty gravel road thru a rather boring landscape. It’s true, the interior of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula would definitely not win any beauty contest. Quite some traffic. As it’s a Sunday, mainly Ticos escaping the heat of the lowland.

On the way a few of these developments where obviously US money led to an accumulation of big houses and expensive shops in the middle of traditional villages with rather miserable houses of local inhabitants. Well, typically the places where you park your car in one of the huge potholes on main street, go to the French Bakery, and buy a croissant American style for 5$. 

Nevertheless, these places are said to be surfer’s paradise. Sorry guys, no idea – we’re not surfing.

Then we’re in Samara. A pretty large cluster of hostels, hotels, apartments, surf shops, watering holes, eateries’n’bakeries along the beach. It’s early afternoon, all looks a bit deserted.

No wonder. The temperature is still around 38 degrees, the sand is definitely not as black as in Junquillal. But still hot enough to roast a chicken within minutes.

Only at sunset, the beach fills up. Looks like quite a number of poor tourists have recovered by then from the incredible heat during the daytime.

Whatever, south of California we never found a beach at the Pacific coast with cool temperatures.

Time for a beer, then to an eatery on the beachfront.

In the evening, once the temperature is less than 32 degrees it’s a quite reasonable, lively place.

Nevertheless, we plan to drive back to the mountains, to cooler places.

Vara Blanca, 26th January

We’re on our way to Atenas. On a small and winding road going southwards along the sea, then crossing the hills of Nicoya Peninsula, …

… crossing the Taiwan Amistad Bridge to the mainland, …

… a few km on this terrible highway (under eternal construction) connecting Liberia and San José. Definitely a road for enthusiasts of old’n’slow trucks and a nightmare for all others.

Finally, thru the hills to Atenas.  A town said to have the best climate in Costa Rica. Probably just to compensate for its absolutely nondescript character.

The next morning we’re on our way to Vara Blanca. A tiny village at an altitude of 2000m, just a few km north of San José. During the week a place to enjoy fresh air, hike in the hills, and the jump-off point to Costa Rica’s famous Volcán Poás. During weekends it’s a nightmare with every inhabitant of the Central Valley trying to escape the heat.

Time for a stroll on a farm on the slopes of Volcán Poás.

Then in the evening, a special pleasure: Costa Rica’s National Park Authority considers Poás an especially dangerous place to visit. Consequently, the guys have to take special care of each’n’every visitor approaching this hazardous place.

To start with, you have to buy the entrance ticket online. Of course, in this special case, you cannot simply shift 15$ pp + VAT to their pockets. No, you also need to fill in an endless form to give them all essential information to ensure that you may eventually return safe’n’sound: passport number, your grannie’s 2nd name, including the surname of her 1st boyfriend. Just in case they need to be informed should you be a victim of a major eruption of the volcano. All that – no problem. We tell them everything they need to know. But could they not at least prepare their website a slight little bit more professionally? Maybe just to make it function, or at least provide the necessary capacity that more than 2 people may use it at the same time. Please, dear Almighty Authorities of the National Parks avoid that each potential visitor needs at least 2h to inform you in all details about grannie’s adventures with her 1st boyfriend.  

Well, we need 2h to get the confirmation of our booking. Of course for that, we also need a couple of beers and from time to time a look at Vara Blanca’s mystical sunset.

Being the proud owners of 2 online tickets to Volcán Poás, we drive up to the crater. A nice road winds up to nearly 2600m. Great views over Costa Rica’s Central Valley and San José with its not really impressive skyline. Driving up you already feel how well organized the national park guys are. Every few km there are signboards informing you that you may not visit the volcano without your online ticket.

Then the ticket booth. No problem, just show your smartphone with the booking. Pay the hell a lot for the parking and drive on. 2 guys indicate pretty clearly where to park, despite the obvious fact, that there are nearly no other cars parked. You walk a few meters to the entrance. Of course, with a mask – even if you’re the only 1s. There you’re asked to wash your hands to avoid any coronies hiding under your fingernails. Then you get a plastic helmet. The kind of protection used on construction sites. But by now to protect you from the volcano’s eruption – probably to protect you in case some burning hot lava accidentally falls on your head. 

Well, their strategy is that not more than 50 visitors should be barbequed at the edge of the volcano in case of a major eruption. Hence, they organize groups of not more than 50 people. They can recognize them easily by the color of their helmet. So far ok. We’re the green helmet group. After that a movie everybody has to enjoy. They tell you exactly the same boring stuff again.

After all these preparations, we’re asked to walk the 500m up to the edge of the crater. To admire everything for 20’ and then to sneak back immediately. Of course, we have to wear constantly our masks against the coronies and the helmets against the burning hot lava. Easy, isn’t it? And you feel so safe.

Finally, we arrive at the edge of the crater. There are a number of concrete platforms, a station constantly measuring the volcanic activities and a number of rescue shelters in case your helmet should start melting during a major eruption.

But no worries, you’ll forget all these strange security measures, once you have had a look at the crater and its pale blue lake.

Of course, you share this experience with some 50 other visitors in green helmets. A part of them interested in admiring the landscape and taking pictures probably nobody will ever look at, …

… while others are rather fond of incredible selfies everybody will hate to look at.

The 20′ have gone. Time for the green helmets to sneak back to the headquarters.

And that’s it. There are some more interesting trails nearby. Unfortunately, they’re all closed. Maybe they’re too dangerous to hike, maybe the National Park Authority is just too lazy to maintain them. Who knows.

After this short visit, we have some time left for a spa for Prado. Mainly for the interior. Visibly there are some corners that have been forgotten for the last 5 years.

A little later –  a beer.

Verbena Norte, 28th January

We leave beautiful’n’cool Vara Blanca. We’re on the way to the next volcano: Irazú. 1 of the highest ones in Costa Rica and with the incredible advantage that you may drive up.

A last glimpse of Volcán Poás – maybe not very impressive from the distance – …

… then on a small’n’winding road thru endless villages, a lot of trucks, a lot of traffic jams. It’s a road high above Costa Rica’s proud capital San José. Definitely not exactly the overlander’s dream.

On the way many opportunities to study Costa Rica’s architecture. Probably not among the world leaders. Rather an example of worst third-world architecture, probably even uglier than the worst examples in Thailand. Nevertheless, it seems nobody cares about it. And probably the reason why you never see a tourist in any Costa Rican town. 

After 3h we made the 75km to Cartago.

Early next morning the great test for Prado if it still drives up to 3400m without complaining. Well, to make it short – not a single problem on the 25km to the top of Irazú. Thus, we can concentrate on the magnificent view and sometimes on the road.

Then we’re up,  find a nice parking for Prado – to recover from this terrific effort – and we’re on the way to see Volcán Irazú

All with our online tickets – no improvement, again it took 2 hours to book them.

Astonishingly, there are very few visitors here. 

A short stroll to the crater. And here’s the view. Just a small drawback – the crater lake has dried up. Whatever, we’re happy to have no clouds, no fog, and no rain. That’s what poor tourists normally complain about.

Anyway, we’re quite happy that it’s clearly indicated where we should stop sneaking any further to the crater.

Yeah, you can even drive a few meters higher, to the very highest point of the volcano. On the top, you find another example of Costa Rica’s outstanding architecture. Supposedly, the architect got immediately eliminated after the inauguration of this beauty.

In the background, Volcán Turrialba exhausting constantly a cloud of steam. Initially, we planned to climb this hill. Unfortunately, the volcano got active again 2 weeks ago and thus, the whole area is strictly out off-limits to all tourists sneaking around.

We’re on the way to another sector of the National Park: Prusia. At a slightly lower elevation; famous for its forest.

Then we’re ready to move on. Only Prado sees it slightly differently. No way to start the engine. Of course, we know it’s this alarm we had built in some 20 years ago. So, we just have to find out what’s wrong with it. 1h later we definitely know, that we don’t understand how to outsmart this damned system. We even don’t find the central unit. With us a number of other visitors to Prusia and the whole staff of the national park. Everyone acts somehow as a wannabe mechanic and expert in alarm systems. Nothing helps.  Finally, we call a professional. A little later the mechanic starts searching. Finally, the central unit is found – and without doing anything, the engine starts again – either a wonder or a contact problem. Soon later, he finds a broken wire – that’s all. It’s getting repaired, the contacts cleaned, we pay a few bucks to this really helpful guy and we’re on the road again.

By now it’s getting pretty late in the afternoon. We need a sleepery. Of course, we quickly find a beautiful accommodation. They call it an eco-lodge. Thus, only solar power – at least in the bungalows. Well, arriving there we receive 2 of these rechargeable emergency lights you find in any Chinese junk shop. The ones that give you some light for 10 minutes.

At least their eatery only closes at 7 pm. So, time for a beer before returning to the dark bungalow. 

Nevertheless, we should not complain too much – where else are you the only guests in an eco-lodge? In a lodge with such an ecological awareness, that you even don’t get warm water in the cold morning.

Whatever excellent offer the guy of Wagelia Espino Blanco Lodge makes to you, just refuse it. It’s definitely not worth a single $. 

The next morning, after an ice-cold shower and a lousy breakfast we quickly move on to the Caribbean coast.

Cahuita, 31st January

Some 180km to Cahuita. Mostly on a road full of huge trucks transporting containers from the Caribbean port of Moin to the rest of the country. Definitely a lot of stop’n’go.

Nevertheless, the Caribbean Sea is calling. We’re still pretty optimistic to find in Cahuita a kind of paradise. Well, after our experience on the Pacific coast, we try not to overestimate Caribbean beach life. So, we limit our expectations to temperatures below 35 degrees, some sand of any color, some water in the sea, and a few lazy, stoned Rastas falling asleep while dancing to the eternal sound of Bob Marley.

Then expectations become reality. Temperature, not more than 32 degrees, there’s sand at the beach. Black, but not hot enough to broil a rooster sneaking to the water. The sea – not really for swimming. Still too many rip currents. Neither for surfing. Not enough waves.

In the evening a couple of beers at the Reggae Bar and Chaos. They have beer and a few drunk wannabes, but no stoned Bob-Marley-Rastas. Nevertheless, the beer is cold, the fish ok.

The next morning a stroll in the Cahuita National Park. The 1st Costa Rican Park without discrimination against poor tourists. Instead of paying 10 times more for being a foreigner, you simply make your donation of 1000 Colones – the very same for everybody.

It’s a hike of nearly 10km along the beach and thru the jungle. By now even a beach with white sand.

And despite quite a number of visitors sneaking around or lazing at the beach, there’s quite a number of wildlife – mostly in search of some food left by visitors. Or, they serve as models for tourists in urgent need of a boring picture for their Instagram account.

As usual, there are numerous incredible dangers in Costa Rica’s national parks. While they may warn you of certain uncomfy situations, others you better handle by your own in your own subtle way.

Back to Cahuita. It’s our last evening in Costa Rica. Time for our last visit to the Reggae Bar and Chaos.

Tomorrow we’ll be on our way to Panama.

This story you’ll get in our next post.

In the meantime, cheeeers to all


Costa Rica -The Odd Tourist's Jungle Trails
Panama - Snorkeling and Sneaking