Costa Rica Road Trip Pt. 1: Monteverde

When Jeff suggested we rent a car and road trip through Costa Rica, I was thrilled. I’ve been to Costa Rica once before (albeit only to Manuel Antonio), so I was eager to see the country from a different angle. Plus, I needed a break from the mystifying bus schedules and roundabout routes that we have become accustomed to in Central America. And if I’m being *completely* honest here, all I could think about was air conditioning. Air conditioning. Such beautiful words.

After a harrowing trip across the Nicaraguan border on foot (I’ll skip this story for the sake of brevity, but the whole ordeal took three hours, was INCREDIBLY confusing, and reaffirmed how grateful I am that Jeff speaks Spanish), we were peeling out of the Alamo parking lot in our very own car. What our little Corolla — nicknamed “Camino Jenkins” — lacked in size, she made up for in grit, which we learned very quickly as we began to ascend into the Costa Rican mountains.

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Jerry & Camino Jenkins

 

For our first destination, we set our sites on Monteverde, a cloud forest in northwestern Costa Rica. I think the decision was made over a late lunch outside Liberia, which is important because I don’t think we quite realized what the drive would be like at night. A couple hours into our journey, it was pitch dark and we were navigating winding, bumpy dirt roads and steep inclines on our way to Santa Elena, where we had booked a hotel. I don’t want to be a traitor to Camino Jenkins, because she (and Jeff) definitely came through for us, but damn those Corolla headlights are bad.

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Monteverde, Costa Rica

When we finally made it to our hotel, Rustico Lodge, we were hungry and exhausted. Ernesto, the guy at the front desk, recommended we pop down the hill to a neighborhood restaurant called Sabor Tico, which was SO GOOD you guys. Or maybe I was just happy to be alive so the food tasted extra delicious. Jeff aptly pointed out that of all the restaurants we have visited in Central America, this was the only one where we had to wait for a table. In many of the towns we have visited thus far, restaurant staff will do anything short of lasso-ing passersby to lure them into their establishment. We felt delightfully un-special at Sabor Tico.

On to Monteverde itself: it’s about 4,600 feet above sea level, so it’s much cooler than the rest of the country. I think the average temperature was around 65 degrees while we were there, which was a welcome reprieve from the previous 3 weeks of our trip. (My cousin Steve once used the expression “hotter than a pregnant fox in a forest fire,” which seemed random to me at the time, but now feels like the only way to accurately describe the unrelenting heat of Central America during the summer.)

And the wind! It’s super windy up in the mountains, which I loved because 1) it keeps the temperature comfortable and 2) it makes for great ambient noise at night. One thing I’ve come to miss about our DC apartment is a white noise machine that Jeff’s mom, Patty, gave him. With the push of a button you can listen to a variety of nature sounds, including wind, which is really nice to go to sleep to. I have missed that little machine every time loud partying, street traffic, or, most often, the cockle-doodle-dooooo of a rooster interrupts our sleep (roosters are big in Central America). Anyway, I digress…what I’m trying to say is that the constant and sometimes very loud wind in Monteverde was a welcome change from the norm.

On the first full day, we ventured into the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the region’s main attraction. We initially balked at the $20 entrance fee, but after about 10 minutes of walking through the forest we knew it was worth every penny. (We also later learned that 100% of the entrance fees are designated to preservation and research programs. So, you know, we’ll let go of twenty bucks.) The diversity of lush green flora is breathtaking: huge trees, vines, flowers and mosses cover every square inch of the reserve. The 3.5-mile hike we chose took us about 3 hours to complete because we were stopping every few yards to stare in disbelief.

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Found the waterfall in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve!

The Reserve is located IN the clouds — it is windy and quite foggy at points. One of the highlights of our hike was standing on a platform at the Continental Divide: a line running through the Americas that separates the river systems which drain into the Atlantic vs. those that drain into the Pacific. (And yes, I just Googled that.)

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View from the Continental Divide

We also had a close encounter with a coatimundi, which looks kind of like a cross between a monkey and a racoon.

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On our second day in Monteverde, we visited Selvatura Park, a privately owned park that we agreed felt like a cheesy, nature-meets-Disneyland attraction. I wanted to check out a series of eight massive hanging bridges overlooking the forest canopy within the park. All told, the hanging bridge “tour” took us less than an hour to complete and was FAR less spectacular than the previous day’s adventure. The bridges were pretty cool, but at $30 per ticket, it’s probably skippable if you’re planning to go to the cloud reserve. Though we did see a very cute mother & baby monkey pair towards the end (unfortunately we couldn’t get our cameras out fast enough)!

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On a hanging bridge in Selvatura Park
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