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Visiting Nature in Costa Rica (#4)

Great and not-so-great spots to experience Costa Rican nature and wildlife

By Richard SoullierePublished 4 months ago 6 min read
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A photo I took in Tenorio Volcano National Park.

A staple when soaking up nature in Costa Rican is a hike part way up an active volcano to see gorgeous waterfalls. Paraiso Volcano Lodge, the lodge we stayed at I described in the previous article, was nestled in between two volcanos with a third a reasonable drive away. There is Miravelles, which we skipped but would have loved if we had a whole day to dedicate; then there is Rincon de la Vieja, which I had originally aimed for since it has natural hot springs nearby; and then there is Tenorio, which we did.

What influenced our decision was being able to do multiple things in a day with ample time to pause and enjoy. That said, no matter which of these three beautiful hiking trails you would like to do, you will need to book at least one day in advance via the government's online registration system. As of writing this article, you have to use this system and pay with a credit card; payments at the entrance were not accepted. It's easy and it's bilingual.

The one we picked was Tenorio, which has the Rio Celeste waterfall. It's a moderate three-hour round-trip hike and viewing-only access to the waterfall is a long, intricate wooden staircase. Technically you can do this hike in running shoes, but waterproof hiking shoes will guarantee a comfortable walk in case it rains and generates mud or just to cross the wide stream cutting the path at one point that has stones barely sticking out of the water. (That was my favourite part of the hike.) Short sleeve tops are fine, but bring a rain jacket (not poncho) just in case. Shorts, jeans, hiking pants...take your pick for bottoms.

A photo I took of us walking down the stairs to the waterfalls. Many people stop at this point so as to reduce the hike back up the stairs to the trail.

In terms of logistics, you will need to use the washroom at the entrance since there are none on the trail. You cannot bring any canned drinks or bottles that are single-use, ditto for plastic rain ponchos. Refillable bottles with special tops are fine to bring. For food, you cannot bring anything unpeeled or packaged. There are some fruit vendors near the entrance selling fruit at reasonable prices and if you tell them you are going on a hike, they will peel them, cut them, and put them in a zip lock bag for you, which is fine to bring. All bags are checked at the entrance without exception. Finally, don't count on getting a wifi or cell signal in this area.

So where does la pura vida come into play? It wasn't the gorgeous scenery, split-colour river, or breath-taking waterfall. It was something a guide from some other tour group said as my wife and I passed by. "Please stay on the path, otherwise you will destroy nature," he said pointing to tree roots becoming exposed due to foot traffic in one spot. It was said in an entirely genuine tone completely void of any nuance of complaint and without any sense of him being prescribed to say that by management. That was where we experienced raw pura vida on our hike at Tenorio Volcano National Park.

When done the hike you have a selection of good restaurants nearby and we found all of them charged about 1 USD per plate more than restaurants elsewhere. There is also a swimming pool a short walk up the road.

In the nearby town of Bijagua (bee-haw-gwah), there is actually a fair bit to see, do, and eat. Sure there was a gas station and supermarkets, but let's talk food. The one restaurant we tried was la Gigantona. Absolutely amazing view and the food was really good!

A photo I took from a large table inside la Gigantona restaurant. (The clouds were not volcanic.)

For activities, there are a couple of sloth tours as well as one cacao-coffee-sloth tour in Bijagua. If you want a very over-priced superficial tour where you see sloths from a distance, maybe some monkeys, take a short walk along a stream, mash some cacao beans, and then get charged exorbitant prices for coffee and chocolate, you can check out the place across the street from la Gigantona. Not recommended otherwise. The staff there are friendly and encouraging, though.

At the northeast end of town, there are two sloth tour areas and the one we picked was Spring Paradise. We could not have picked better. The delightful young lady on the other end of WhatsApp was prompt and courteous with all replies, was positive and engaging when we arrived, and clear. And that was just the start!

Our English-speaking guide was well-educated and very knowledgeable about the trees and wildlife, not just the sloths that we saw. In fact, we found bees making rare, medicinal honey; saw trees from two different regions of the country; munched on some tangerines we were allowed to pick; and saw a tiger snake, which eats all other snakes including poisonous ones! I think my wife secretly wants one as a pet, but won't admit it since she is not a fan of snakes.... We learned and saw a lot on that tour and really felt immersed in the Costa Rican wilderness and our guide knew some neat ways on taking close-up shots with a smartphone. Highly recommended.

My wife did experience two disappointments related to coffee you should know about. One, coffee plantations are mostly east of Lake Arenal, which was a five-hour round-trip from where we were staying. Two, almost all coffee is sold ground not whole bean both in tourist places and at supermarkets, I mean, if everyone drinks it fresh regularly, why trouble people with needing a grinder in their homes? It was funny that the widest selection of Costa Rican coffees (in whole bean or ground format) we saw (and at very reasonable prices) was at the Liberia airport. However, if you go to the coffee plantation area of the country you may have better luck. Still, Jorge had several rows of coffee trees in his back yard and bags of whole beans from a Costa Rican mountain plantation for sale at a great price....

To close the distance between you and wildlife, there are two animal rescue centers in the vicinity. One is near Guayabo, which we sadly did not have a chance to see. We did, however, see the Puma Rescue Center - which has a whole lot more than pumas. (Advanced booking in both places is required and tours are offered in English or Spanish.) In fact, iguanas go on their own tours of the Puma Rescue Center as they are free to roam around!

This is a photo my wife took of an iguana at the hot springs that was very similar to the one that came within one foot (30 cm) of me while I was walking on the concrete path at the Puma Rescue Center.

The delightfully pleasant and professional tour guides at the Puma Rescue Center will take you through the sanctuaries for the monkeys, birds, and wild cats that they rescue and, when they can, release back into the wild. All the animals are all very neat to see and did you know that Toucans have such large beaks in order to vent heat (kind of like how dogs pant or people sweat)? An incredible tour in English, mostly in the shade, and you will learn about where the animals come from and how they are managed at the center. Note that the wild cats are nocturnal so they are active after 2pm, although it is really neat to see the positions wild cats sleep in!

A photo I took of my favourite wild cat of the ones we saw, an ocelot, sleeping on a branch.

What's more, the Puma Rescue Center is right off of highway 1, so it is very easy to get to. Since tours were an hour, we visited there en route back to the airport on the day of our return flight. That turned out to be even better because they have tip jars, so we donated the colonnes we still had but wouldn't need outside of Costa Rica.

Our honeymoon would not have been complete without a day at the beach, so in my next article I will describe some notable beaches close to Liberia including the one we visited. Continue the journey by clicking here.

A photo I took of a mural of the founders of the Puma Rescue Center.

To check out articles I have written on Vocal Media on this and other topics, click here.

family traveltravel tipstravel advicereviewnatureguidediycentral americaactivities
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About the Creator

Richard Soulliere

Bursting with ideas, honing them to peek your interest.

Enjoyes blending non-fiction into whatever I am writing.

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