Costa Rica the birthplace of mass marketed eco-tourism, the two-week vacationers’ cloud forest dream, the overlander’s nightmare. After a week and half here, we are still unsure how we feel about the tourist beast that is Costa Rica.
Reluctantly tearing ourselves away from the luxury of Rancho Santana and our fellow overlanders, we made our way across the tedious border at Penas Blancas spending our first night in the very uninspiring town of Liberia. Our first few days in Costa Rica were spent nailing down the procedure for parking the car in San Jose. We then escaped to the Orosi Valley and cool mountain breezes. Here we found the beauty of Costa Rica in its lush green mountains blanketed with rolling fog, crowned with narrow, windy roads. As we made our way through San Jose and Cartago to Orosi, we felt as if we were in any city USA with a McDonald’s on every other corner, manicured lawns, well-maintained houses, and hordes of bicyclists and runners lining the road. Seriously, Costa Ricans love to exercise! It wasn’t until we pulled into Flutterbye Hostel in Uvita on the Pacific Coast that we remembered we were still in Latin America surrounded by 10 feet high concrete walls topped with razor wire.
From the incredible heat and humidity in Uvita we high-tailed back into the mountains and to one of our top ten campsites of the trip, Truchas Selva Madre. We enjoyed the cool mountain temperatures parked next to the babbling brook and shire-esque picnic shelters. Forgive the cliches, but they are applicable to this place.
The coolest temperatures we had experienced thus far on the trip prompted us to head back to the beaches and heat, to the Caribbean coast and the town of Cahuita. Up and over two mountain ranges through coffee fields, the land flattened out into miles up on miles of banana plantations. Since it was my birthday we splurged on a hotel, La Piscina Natural, complete with some of the most beautiful, lush gardens we have seen to date and a natural pool filled by tidal fluctuations.
The next day we joined the crowds of Tico’s in Parque Nacional Cahuita meandering down the seaside trail spotting thousands of hermit crabs and a few monkeys. We had intended to through hike the 7 km trail, but tales and picture evidence of a very large, very yellow, reported deadly snake on the trail ahead and my subsequent hyperventilation prevented us from finishing.
Instead we played in palm trees and soaked in clear Caribbean water.
We still have a week left in Costa Rica and continue to be unsure of how we feel about the country. It is a place of profound natural beauty, mobs of gringo tourists, and overpriced amenities, yet it is still possible to get off the beaten path. Costa Rica lacks the authenticity that we loved in Mexico and Guatemala. It feels as if the Tica culture here has become so tied to tourism that it has lost touch with its roots, but along the windy mountain roads we have driven we still spotted gauchos on horseback, farmers tilling fields with handmade hoes, and tiny roadside stands selling the 20 melons grown on their family plot. The roots are still there, you just might have to dig a bit deeper to see them.