Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Costa Rica - 2014

Summary Version

  • Costa Rica is NOT a cheaper place to travel.  The prices are high.  It is like almost travelling in USA.
  • Going from one place to the other takes a long time by public transport.  Domestic flights are expensive too.
  • Very nice beaches and awesome sunset.
  • Spent time in Corcovado National Park.  Don't expect anything like African safari but the nature is very beautiful and spotting the animals is difficult.
  • You can experience non-touristy cloud forest for less money near San Jose (less than 2 hrs by bus) - San Gerrado.  Bird watchers paradise.
You can travel with us in Costa Rica by reading the following sections.

Why and Where

Costa Rica was part of the two week Central American trip that included Nicaragua and Panama City.  I decided to spend more time in the Corcovado National Park which is the densest bio-diverse place in the world to enjoy the remote corner that's hard to get to and a few days in a cloud forest.  We took the beach out of our itinerary and also decided not to go to Arenal because the volcano is not active.

Getting Ready for the Remoteness

After checking into our hotel that is very close to the San Jose International Airport, I repacked the bags into three sets - 1. bags to carry on the 7 hour hike to the Corcovado NP, 2. bags to leave with hotel in Puerto Jimenez and 3. things that we don't need & can be left with the hotel in San Jose. By the time I repacked the bags and left a few bags with the concierge, it was about mid-night and we had to wake up at 430 am to catch our 6 am flight to Puerto Jimenez.

Almost a Personal Flight

The flight from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez was in a very small 12 seater flight and we all got weighed with our luggage before getting our boarding passes.  The view from the flight was good, after a brief stop in Golfito, we landed in Puerto Jimenez @ 730 am and the flight trip comfortable except when the flight was landing.  There is no airport except grass fields for the flight to land in Golfito and Puerto Jimenez.  Enrique, our guide for the hike to Corcovado, picked us up from the airport then we picked up Patty, who was hiking with us, from her hotel.

Hike to Sirena

After picking up the groceries for the camping, we forgot about getting the breakfast in the hurry to start the hike ;-(  but we were able to get some cheese empanadas in Carate and started the hike in the hot-humid weather @9 am.  On the way to our first stop at the La Leona Ranger Station, we saw a number of vultures eating a huge turtle on the beach and macaws on the trees.  Walking on the beach with a lot of weight is not fun and we needed to cross a section of the beach before 1230 pm to avoid the high tide, so we took a brief break at the La Leona ranger station.

We hiked in the forest crossing some streams for the next two hours before reaching the section of beach to find out it's already high tide.  Enrique was asking our opinion whether to walk across the water or not instead of giving us the guidance.  Patty didn't feel comfortable crossing the water and also we were thinking what the heck we were going to do after reaching the park, so decided to relax in the beach 'til 2pm with the hope that the tide lowers.  After having lunch in the beach and sleeping, we were ready to cross the beach at 2 pm but the tide was still high but we didn't have an option.  Everyone crossed the section of the beach without getting wet except me.

Reaching the Campsite

Reached the entrance of the Sirena ranger station, where we were camping for the next three nights, at about 530 pm after walking in the long beach section of the hike that was horrible because there was no shade and it was hot.  We were all tired and seeing the entrance to the ranger station just before it started to get dark was a relief.  Five minutes after we reached at the ranger station, there's another group of local guys, who are from San Jose, arrived from the other longer and strenuous hiking trail and they were hiking without the guide but with the GPS.  They lost their way at one section of the trail because there's no view of the satellite and they were panicked a bit.  So it is possible to hike to the Sirena ranger station without the guide but risky.

Remoteness Disappointment (in a funny way)

The Sirena ranger station does not allow the campers to cook food there so we had to carry food for the next three days that could be consumed without cooking.  Also, to get to this place you have hike at least 7 hours or take a boat and then hike for 30 minutes or come by a small plane that lands in the grass fields.  We were thinking that it was very remote, even though it is very remote, you believe it or not, there is WiFi, electricity (by solar panels) for charging your phone/cameras available 24 hrs a day and lights powered from 6pm-8pm. ;-)

Camping Food

We didn't reserve the meals in the ranger station well advance, so we couldn't eat in their dining facilities (each breakfast is $20 and lunch/dinner is $25).  The whole area is maintained very clean and we were surprised to learn that the whole ranger station is maintained by just two people.  Since people were not allowed to cook in the ranger station, the place was very clean and nothing stinking in that area.

Enrique had an electric water heater that we used to heat the water to make coffee and to heat up the tasty bites Indian pre-cooked food (originally we were planning to eat it without heating them up).  In addition to the Indian food, we had fajitas, re-fried beans in a packet that we got from Nicaragua, avocados, tomatoes and cereal (that we were eating without milk/hot water).  We were using the fajita
s for the Indian food as well as to make the burritos.  A number of people were buying the water bottles from the ranger station but we decided to test our guts by drinking the tap water and survived ;-)

After dinner, I was having conversation with the Costa Ricans who arrived late about their hike and what they do.  There're a lot of call center jobs moving to Costa Rica now instead of going to India or to any other Asian countries because of the cost.  Couple of guys in that group were working for the call center based out of San Jose.

Encounter with Tapir

We reached the Sirena river head at 5 am, waiting with the other hikers for some excitement but that day we could see only a couple of crocodiles in the water and a lot of birds.  We waited for an hour for the sightings of puma or Tapir in that area before started to walking back to the ranger station for the breakfast.  Enrique took a detour into a trail and there we spotted a tapir resting in the mud not worried about the people.  There's another tour group joined us watching the tapir and a lady in that group got closer to the tapir to take pictures but their tour guide didn't stop from getting close by until Enrique asked him to get that lady back.  Within two minutes after that lady got back to high grounds, the tapir woke up, started charging towards us before stopping just 20 feet away, it was where that lady was.  Then the tapir just gave a look at us and went back to lie down.  The lady who was trying to take the closeup shot was in a shock and I made her feel even worse by asking whether she wants to get closer to take pictures again ;-)

Monkey Defense

We saw tapirs, family of raccoons, birds, mountain chicken and howler monkeys on the way to the Sirena station to have breakfast, after that we planned to go to a river to swim and have lunch.  On the way to the river we saw a large group of spider monkeys having fun in the tree and one of the monkeys in the gang peed on a guy who was standing right under the monkey.  Enrique mentioned that it is the common defensive mechanism for these monkeys to pee and push dry branches on the people.  After swimming in the river for an hour, we had burrito lunch before returning back to the camp.

Solo Walk

I decided to go for a solo walk to the beach that is 800 meters from the ranger station and asked Enrique about it, he mentioned that the animals won't attack but asked me to be careful of snakes.  If bitten by poisonous snakes in the day time, after the first aid, th
ey will bring the plane to take you to the hospital but if bitten after dark, there's nothing much can be done because the planes won't be able to land at night.  So while going for the walk, I was little worried about pumas and snakes but I was safe there all the time.  While sitting in the beach enjoying the sunset, there's no human being in the half mile radius and the feel of being alone in the forest was an amazing feeling.

Meeting People

While having dinner, we were talking to a guide,Michael Dublin - according to him he's the only foreign guide in the Puerto Jimenez and he moved from Ireland to Costa Rica about 18 years back.  His story is interesting one:  he was born in Pakistan, studied Chemistry and then studied to be a biologist in Ireland.  After working in Africa for a few years, he moved to Argentina first and then to Costa Rica as a biologist for a lodge.  Now he's running his own tour operations with his friend.  He never gone back to Ireland in the last 18 years.

We went to the same river head again in the morning to watch the animals but we didn't find anything interesting and returned for breakfast.  After breakfast we met a German couple (Martina&Janek) who arrived by the plane from Puerto Jimenez for one day visit to the park and they wanted to come with us for the hikes because they didn't have a guide.  This couple spent a couple of weeks in Southern Panama, traveling north and Janek makes documentary film, one of the filmss that he produced related to "Egyptian Street Music".  Martina's family speaks Aramaic language (Jesus language) and it was cool to meet with someone who could understand Jesus ;-)  They kept the whole trip interesting by exchanging their travel stories and cultural differences, etc.

Naked Indian

The "Naked Indian" tree
We were waiting in the Sirena river head in the afternoon after the hike through the primary forest learning a lot about the plants like "naked Indian," that sheds its bark all the time to avoid other plans living on them and looks reddish color, "ficus tree" that have roots like walls and watching small insects like cool dragon fly that looked like a helicopter.  We saw the tide rising in the Sirena river head slowly while waiting for the sharks to show up but only a couple of crocodiles and rain showed up ;-(  But we were lucky enough to see a couple of tapirs, raccoons and tasted some termites.  Also, Enrique split two coconuts, sliced the inner shell into nice pieces for us to eat and the delicious coconut served as a good lunch that day.

Where is the Puma ?

While we were having lunch, we heard the howler monkeys making huge noise which was different from the regular howling they make and all of the guides were rushing towards the trails stating that there's a puma around.  But after running around for about 15 minutes, no one could spot a puma and came back to take rest.  One of the couples mentioned that their guide tracked a mother sloth killed by a puma in the nearby area where we were looking for the puma.

Snoring People

We went for a short hike in the evening in which we spotted a family of white faced monkeys and took it easy to save our energy to hike back to Carate the next day.  But the plan to have a good night sleep was spoiled by a couple of guys from Israel - I never thought that someone could snore that loud, and having ear plugs couldn't stop their snoring noise.  I didn't have any problem sleeping with the horrible snoring noise but Patty couldn't handle them because her tent was right next to them.

Getting back to Civilization

We woke up at 4 am to pack our tents, had our breakfast and ready by 5 am but Enrique was no where found and finally he showed up at 530 am for the hike back to the civilization.   Walking in the long beach at the start of the trail which was horrible when we were getting to Sirena was easy now with no sun and no weight.  We spotted the puma foot prints on the trail that we followed for some time in the trail but no spotting of the puma, and we also spotted the foot prints of tapir on the beach.

We spotted a lot of white faced monkeys near the La Leona ranger station and after that the walk on the beach to Carate was quick.  Alex picked us up in Carate to take us to our Backpackers hostel, Patty was staying outside the town (she tried to change her accommodation to stay in town but no availability), Janek and we decided to meet up for dinner.

Puerto Jimenez

Backpackers Hostel, is in the main part of the city very close to the restaurants and the bus station.  The town, Puerto Jimenez, is small town with some good places to eat but the public beach in town is very small and no waves.  It is a good place to soak in the water and the sunset is awesome .  After the dinner with the Janek and Martina, we walked around the town at night for about a kilometer without any worries.

The next day, we slept late before going for the breakfast and after that came back to the room to sleep some more instead of going to Uvita for a day.  We left to the beach around 3 pm to swim and then enjoyed the most beautiful sunset we had seen in the Central America.  Collected the laundry and had dinner in the Pizza place, which was really good.

Standing Only Bus

Our final destination was a cabin near San Gerrado, to reach this place we had to take the bus to San Isdro General first, then get off at the KM80 in the bus to San Jose and then walk/taxi 4KM to a restaurant to collect the keys for our cabin.  We were thinking that the bus would stop in the bus stop at 5 am but I noticed a bunch of people little further in the street, I was glad that I checked them because there's a bus stand not in the view.  When we asked for the ticket to San Isdro General at the bus stand, the guy at the counter mentioned that the bus is full and we could get the tickets in the next bus at 9 am without giving any options.  But we didn't want to hang around in the bus stand or in our room for another four hours, he sold us the tickets after I asked him whether we could travel standing in the bus.

Fifteen Year Old Detective

We got in the bus and occupied a few empty seats for the next 30 minutes before someone with the seat assignment kicked out my kids but I was lucky to have to seat for the whole trip.  My kids were sitting on the empty space on the bus, allocated for the wheel chair, and having conversation with a fifteen year boy.  The boy is a local kid traveling to San Jose who got attracted to Shabina, trying to impress her by lending his PS3 for her to play and trying to have non-stop conversation..;-)  He told me that my daughters were good kids and Shabina was beautiful.  After sometime, my daughters wanted to escape him and they got a perfect opportunity when the bus stopped in a rest area.

When the journey continued after twenty minute break, I sacrificed my seat for my kids and I sat down with the kid.  The assistant to bus driver came looking for me and asking the person who was sitting next to me in the seat where I was, because he didn't find me in my seat he was concerned.  I was so happy that the bus operators cared for me :-)  Now the kid started to converse with me, his English was decent enough for me to follow and he was using the translator in his phone to communicate with me (his English is much better than my Spanish).  He mentioned that he wanted to be in CIA, currently he was working as a detective for the Costa Rican government informing on the drugs, thugs and helping tourists to travel safely.  Because his dad was working in this field for a long time, he was able to join the force when he's ten years old ;-)  I was not sure whether he was trying to impress me but there was no bad intentions so I didn't care.  As we got closer to San Isdro General, he shared his email and invited us to visit his home.

Road to See Quetzal

We had to change a bus in San Isdro General to take another bus to San Jose, which pretty easy and
everyone was helpful.  We got dropped off at the KM-80 after an hour of going up in the mountains at the speed of not more than 30 miles an hour.  Luckily, there was Carlos, the only taxi guy in the San Gerrado area, waiting to take us to go to the Miriam Cafe, where we had to pick up the keys to our cabin.  The road from KM-80 to San Gerrado is a steep very windy unpaved road and there's only private vehicles go in this road.  Lilian took us to the cabin (which is about 400 meters from the Miriams restaurant) which located at above the 8000 ft level.

The view from the restaurant was great and also a number of birds visit their back porches of their place.  Lilian mentioned that there'd be quetzals that visit the avocado tree in the private trail at 6 am and 3 pm and sure enough, we spotted a beautiful quetzal when we hiked down their private trail.  What I was told that people come from all over the place to see this bird and sometimes it is hard to spot them.  But we were able to see the quetzal within an hour of arriving at the cloud forest ;-)


We met Peter, who owns the Quetzal Valley Cabin, and his wife Maria in the private trail.  They are very nice couple who live in San Jose and initially bought this property for their private use but later built the cabins that are simple and rustic.  Maria was telling us the stories about her visits to USA and scary motorcycle ride to the Yosemite park.  We spent the evening talking to Maria, watching the quetzal (my kids were least bothered about quetzals) and hiked down the trail to the stream.

Hitchhiking to Hike

We had the option of walking down 8 kilometers or hiring a taxi to go down the hill to the San Gerado valley to hike the beautiful trails.  While having the breakfast at Miriams, Lilian mentioned that we could walk down easily while enjoying the scenery and could get a taxi to come back, but I decided to hitchhike the very first vehicle that we saw on the road and it was success.  The couple, who gave us ride from our cabin area to the San Gerado de Dota, was visiting this place from San Jose for the weekend and we talked about their kids who are studying & working in USA.  The drive was very beautiful and I was not looking forward to walking up the mountain to our cabin on our return trip.

It is a well maintained trail with the very beautiful views of the streams and the mountains.  After spending about two hours in the trail, we were started to walk uphill, I requested for the ride from the first car that I saw on the road after walking about a kilometer and it was Carlos, the taxi driver who was driving the car.  He gave us the ride to our cabin and no money asked or paid ;-)

Back to San Jose

There are only few buses stop at KM-80 to pick up the people to go to San Jose and we took the early morning bus @630 and arriving at San Jose around 9 am.  After spending a couple of hours in the central market, we took the bus to the airport and walked to the hotel from the airport.  When we asked the cops at the airport how to get to the hotel from the airport, they advised us to take the taxi but the taxi guys told us not to waste money on them and asked us to walk.  It took us less than 10 minutes to the hotel by foot and nothing complicated other than running across the busy road..;-)  On the way to the hotel, we stopped over in the Wal*Mart and ended up not buying anything because everything is expensive there.


  1. The public bus system is good but not frequent.  Takes forever to go from one place to other.  You should buy tickets in advance for long distance travel to get a comfortable seat.
  2. Most people speak English but speaking Spanish helps you a lot
  3. Corcovado National Park is good but spending 3 nights was too much.  If I had to do all over again, I would go into from Drake Bay and get out to Carate staying maximum of two nights.
  4. Get a guide if you are planning to go to Corcovado.

No comments:

Post a Comment