We had low expectations for San Jose; everything you read says it’s nothing spectacular. And it wasn’t!
Starting life as a coffee trading outpost, San Jose is struggling with rapid urbanisation and migration.
Native Costa Ricans and increasingly Nicaraguans are seeking a better life in the countries capital – not always successfully.
On first impression San Jose appears dirty, chaotic and charmless.
But, I think it’s the sort of place you need to spend time in, to uncover it’s secrets and charms.
Our stay was made all the nicer at Casa Abierta, a place I found on AirBNB. A lovely urban oasis, well located within walking distance to the city centre, with a range of restaurants to choose from just a few streets away.
Our host, Darrylle was delightful. Stories of his adventurous life that led him to Costa Rica provides for great conversation, along with his passion for travel and outlook on life.
Don found a barber at the nearby mall and for COL$4,000 (AUS$8) he is once again sporting a crew cut.
On our last night we randomly pick a place called PRAIA Seafood & Raw Bar, for dinner. Eric, chef and owner, explains they had just opened and he warmly welcomed two Australians for dinner.
A complimentary plate of Octopus Ceviche was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Don followed up with grilled Octopus, I the seafood risotto.
I hope they do well, it was the best meal we had in San Jose.
Finca Luna Nueva is set in the Central Highlands of Costa Rica, on the edge of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest.
Steven Farrell, moved from the US and established a small organic Turmeric and Ginger farm in 1994.
Today he has over 200 acres of bio-dynamic farming, including one of the worlds largest medicinal herb gardens.
On a tour of the farm Steve encourages us to try plant leaves that taste like peanuts, followed by berries that magically turn sour things sweet.
He points out a hive of Melapona (stingless) bees, this breed apparently provides greater nutritional/health benefits than regular bees – a ‘superfood’.
I’m going to take a little detour here.
I thought I should check on the definition of a ‘superfood’, since I’m guilty as many are of throwing it around in conversation.
Superfood, I discover, is simply a marketing term.
It broadly covers a food item with health benefits….would that not cover a lot of things? Isn’t just eating fresh, natural food generally healthy?
There is no scientific or legal definition of a ‘superfood’ and, interestingly, the EU banned the use of the term in 2007, unless the product has supporting evidence.
I couldn’t find any product that has produced the supporting evidence.
So, back to the farm. Our cabin is set in amongst the lush jungle greenery. Each morning we wake to natures orchestra; the tweeting of birds, chirping of grasshoppers and cicadas, oh and we are never far from a roster crowing (well before sunrise).
The volume peaks again at sunset when the jungle orchestra farewells the day. We sit on our balcony, red wine in hand, and just listen.
We’ve spent the Easter weekend in the mountains, wanting to avoid the coastal crush that apparently occurs.
Heading for the coast, we travel via Santa Elena. The road is renowned for its bad conditions, like much of Costa Rica.
However, this area has a reputation; it was an article in 1983 from National Geographic that put Monteverde/Santa Elena on the tourist map and in an attempt to discouage tourists, the residents have lobbyed against paving of the road.
I don’t think it worked; Monteverde is described as “Costa Rican’s Disneyland in Birkenstocks”. Santa Elena is a bit more laid back, because it’s a bit more difficult to get to.
Having done our homework, we rented a 4WD and when we hit the turn off to Santa Elena, we know why. Unsealed, uneven and deep pot holes make for a slow trip.
Just outside Santa Elena is Selvatura Adventure Park where we take the 3km Canopy walk through the Cloud Forest.
What’s a cloud forest? The main difference between a cloud forest and a rainforest is elevation. Cloud forests are at higher altidues, hence the name. Though they can still be quiet humid.
The main road in Costa Rica is the Pan American Highway, although I’m not sure how a single lane road gets to be called a highway? Maybe, just being a paved road warrants the term highway in Costa Rica?
The traffic is bumper to bumper for kilometers – in the opposite direction. This is the Easter traffic heading home.
Our first destination is Playa Grande; two nights at the Playa Grande Surf Camp. No, we are not taking up surfing, it just happens to be close to the beach and has a swimming pool.
Our accommodation is a basic little A-frame with a rattly air conditioner. It’s so hot and humid, you couldn’t sleep without it.
Out comes the duct tape (an essential travel item) – I tape down parts of the air-con to reduce the rattle – it works.
Playa Grande is a laid back surfie-oriented town. It has a beautiful long stretch of beach, perfect for surfing.
The area is a protected leatherback sea turtle nesting spot and as such, there is no infastrucutre allowed on the beaches.
Whilst the beach was lovely, there was no shade and we need shade.
20 kilometers up the road from Playa Grande is Las Catalinas, where we spend a day lazing in a hammock. It’s a designer beach town, the dream of two Americans with a lot of money!
The dream town was launched in 2007, just as the global financial crises hit and development has been slow.
Heading south along the coast, we find ourselves at Playa Samara. It’s the perfect spot: beautiful beach and there’s shade!
For US$50 a night (cash of course) we find a room at the beachfront property Locanda, with its own sunlounges.
The room is spacious, the bathroom not so much. You need to step into the shower to shut the door. I don’t think the shower ever got hot, but that didn’t worry us.
We quickly establish our routine: wake-up, drop towel on preferred sun lounge, early morning stroll/swim, return to selected sun lounge, order coffee and settle in for the day.
Have you ever heard a Howler Monkey? I thought there was an old Rottweiler with a hoarse throat outside.
The deep gutteral cry is from six or more Howler Monkeys hanging in the trees outside our room.
Located on the southwestern corner of the peninsula, access to Santa Teresa is a rough ride. Again, the 4WD earns it’s keep.
Santa Teresa is another surfers haven. It’s easy access from San Jose makes it a popular destination and it has a reputation for being a bit of an expat escape.
We spend two nights here before taking the ferry back to across to Puntarenas, staying on the edge of San Jose, ready for our departure to Panama.