Writing about: Family Travel, kids, places, food…

Category: Costa Rica (Page 1 of 5)

Carara National Park

This was a new park to us and it didn’t disappoint. Located just before you get to Jaco, it took us about 30 minutes from Atenas (morning with no traffic). We followed suggestions and got there early and there were guides waiting for hire. We chose not to because we don’t like to follow a guide (too independent) plus they cost $60 for a couple of hours and we had read they weren’t fully necessary.

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The first loop is an all access one and would be fine for wheelchairs or strollers. It’s close to the road and we didn’t see much there but it’s a pleasant 30-45 minute loop. From it you head off on two others that, while good trails, would not be wheel friendly. Toddlers or preschoolers would do fine though. However it is hot and sticky and there is no water for sale in the park so bring plenty. We did use bug spray but didn’t see mosquitoes. The foliage is pretty dense so there is little wind to cool you off. It is comprised of both dry and tropical rainforest so mixes it up a bit and supposedly they have 45% of all the species of Costa Rica’s wildlife living in it. Entrance fee is $10 for adults and $5 for children.

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We were lucky enough to see a nesting pair of scarlet macaws, two types of monkeys, boa constrictor (slithered right in front of us on the path which made us jump), gorgeous green poison dart frogs, various types of lizards, leaf cutter ants, multiple brightly colored birds, and a range of weird insects.

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Costa Rica Revisited

Well it’s been eight years and we were excited to come back. This time we decided to stay in a house on the opposite side of the central valley than Santa Barbara where we were last time. We chose Atenas because it was rated by National Geographic as having the best climate in the world. Sadly I think that was before Al Gore’s projections on global warming are coming true; Atenas is hot and sticky so having a house with no air conditioning is less than amazing. But thankfully it does cool off at night and we have a pool during the day. Trips to the mountains and volcanoes also mean cooler times.

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We visited Zoo Ave again and it’s still a sweet little zoo with lovely foliage to walk through. Expensive visit though at $20 per person for about an hour and a half. After the Merida, Mexico zoo visit was free this is hard to fund!

The Poas Volcano and park are pretty neat to see. They are doing work on the park so all the hiking trails and picnic area are closed but we got to see the crater before the clouds rolled in. No lower prices for the park even though most of it is closed — $15 a person.


I love this picture as when I see the ones from 8 years ago it reminds me how big the youngest are now!

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Another day saw us at La Paz Waterfall Gardens. This really is a great place. They have a lovely butterfly garden that is filled with all types but we love the blue morphos the best. The toucans are fun to see and the jaguars impressive.

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After visiting the various animals and traditional house there is about an hour’s walk down through the forest where you can see various waterfalls. Lots of steps but good handrails and pretty easy to navigate (although we were a bit out of breath toward the end) and this time was much easier not having a 2.5 year old to carry! This place is not cheap either at $40 for adults and $24 for children.

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We did the requisite coffee planation tour but this time skipped Britt and did the Doka Estate one. I think this was less cheesy than Britt and a bit cheaper ($22 for adults but hey free unlimited coffee – kids were a bit shaky after it).


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Tried to go to Inbio Parque again but sadly we drove 90 minutes to discover it has just recently closed due to new management/bankruptcy. Nothing mentioned on the website though which was a tad frustrating.


One new spot was Freddo Adventura Rural which is actually a lovely farm up on the slopes of the volcano. We spent the afternoon milking cows, watching calves play, riding in a wagon around the farm, walking in a cloud forest, and learning how they make cheese there (and sampling much of it plus the strawberries they grow). The kids were a bit uneasy at drinking the milk fresh from the cow but Grandma and I enjoyed it. Frothy and warm and full on cream as these were Jersey cows!

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Another day saw us at Jaco Beach. While we love our beach time, this one is not a favorite given the black sand. It’s not volcanic black as in Hawaii but rather dirt from the many rivers that run into the ocean so it sticks to you like dirt from the garden mixed with sand. But it was wide open and pretty from a distance!


Jaco Beach


We also visited Heredia and Alajuela. Sadly after loving the town squares in Mexico, we found Costa Rica’s to be lacking. Just not a cafe culture so no outdoor cafes or places to eat at.


Heredia Church



I just wanted to post this about the earthquake that hit Costa Rica two days ago. This was very close to where we were staying and we hope everyone is doing OK. We heard from the person we rented from that his house and friends are fine. It is the very poor who suffer as their houses are usually much more susceptible to damage.


Death toll from quake put at 15
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(Posted at 3:25 p.m.)

An explosion ripped through a storage room at the national emergency commission building this afternoon, and the entire structure was reported in flames with large columns of black smoke rising from the site.

Meanwhile, the official death toll for Thursday’s earthquake has risen to 15.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez was on the scene when the explosion took place after having finished a tour of areas affected by the earthquake. But he was unhurt, and there were no injuries as a result of the blast and subsequent fire, according to the emergency commission chief.

The storage unit belongs to what is called the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias. This is the agency in charge of dealing with the results of the earthquake and whatever other national disasters would take place. It is located at the San Jose’s secondary
airport, Tobias Bolaños, in the western suburb of Pavas. The storage unit is a separate building.

The airport is used heavily by local flights, including those for tourists. The fire and smoke are expected to hamper air operations.

Daniel Gallardo, emergency commission chief, said the storage building fire was caused by a welder whose sparks ignited a foam mattress. The sprawling building is full of such mattresses that are used in emergency operations.

Gallardo also confirmed the number of dead from the quake without giving details.

He also said that with 50 helicopter flights into and out of the areas most affected by the earthquake, all who wanted to leave have been airlifted. He said that included the injured and many tourists who were trapped when landslides closed access roads. Many were in the vicinity of the La Paz Waterfalls Gardens which is in Vara Blanca, north of Heredia and Alajuela centros.

Quake reveals itself as a major national disaster
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas,
Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What appeared at first to be another routine earthquake has fast become a national emergency.

The Cruz Roja said Thursday night that more than 300 persons have been injured and that eight persons have died. Individuals remain trapped in workplaces, vehicles, buses and hotels, and some will have to be airlifted to safety this morning.
More stories and photos . . . HERE!
Yesterday’s story . . . HERE!
Some 18 persons, mostly U.S. tourists, were taken by air Thursday afternoon from the Vara Blanca area near the quake epicenter. Some suffered fractures. Many more tourists are believed trapped at hotels because landslides have blocked access.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez will tour the most hard hit area today. Meanwhile, U.S. aircraft from a base in Honduras are expected today to help with the transportation of the injured and the trapped.

Janina Del Vecchio, the security minister, ordered 600 Fuerza Pública officers, including cadets, into special duty in affected parts of the country. The Unidad de Zapadores of the Fuerza Pública was ordered to San Pedro de Poás, at the presumed epicenter. These are the sapper officers who are skilled in excavation, mountain rescues and other difficult tasks.

Police were reinforced at Fraijanes, Vara Blanca, Toro Amarillo, San Carlos, Sarapiquí as well as Cartago, where several homes have collapsed.

The 1:21 p.m. quake has been assessed at 6.2 magnitude. Because the location is close to the Volcán Poás, some residents are worried about a major volcanic eruption even though geological experts say that there is no connection. The area where the quake struck, northeast of the city of Alajuela and northwest of Heredia centro, has suffered sharp quakes in the past.

Much of the damage came from homes tumbling down a slope after the ground gave way. Highways, too, were affected by a number of landslides. The San José-Guápiles Ruta 32 is closed and some motorists are having to spend the night in their vehicles because they are hemmed in by landslides. A Caribbean bus with 40 passengers also was trapped there. A security airplane crew reported it saw a bus halfway down a slope but was unable to provide help.

Daniel Gallardo, head of the national emergency commission, said that two girls, 4 and 7, died near Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui some distance from the epicenter. They were caught in a landslide.

It was in Carrizal de Alajuela, north and slightly west of the epicenter where a 14-year-old girl, identified as Anamaría Rodríguez Picado, died as her home tumbled down a slope and was reduced to a pile of lumber and tin.

Late Thursday night the Cruz Roja in Heredia reported that five persons, including four members of the same family, died when homes collapsed in El Roble de Santa Bárbara de Heredia.

The La Paz Waterfalls Gardens is in Vara Blanca, which is why so many tourists were affected by
the quake. Gallardo said that about 200 were
epicenter of quake
A.M. Costa Rica graphic
Epicenter is near the major population centers

trapped in the Hotel La Paz because slides had destroyed the roads. In Cariblanco, 10 persons
were trapped in a the cafeteria of a food factory because the access roads had collapsed, the Cruz Roja said, adding that perhaps as many as 1,000 persons were similarly cut off all over the country.

Some areas near the quake lost electrical, water and telephone service. Elsewhere the phone lines were saturated by worried callers all afternoon and evening.

Fear was a dominate factor as more than 250 felt aftershocks rolled through the country. In the immediate area of the quake, residents were planning on staying out of their homes overnight because of the aftershocks which were assessed as high as 4.0 magnitude. Victor González, director of the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica, said the aftershocks could continue for a week or more.

Fear was not confined to rural Heredia and Alajuela provinces near the epicenter. Office workers and store employees in San José and other Central Valley towns filled the streets after the quake hit. Most stayed outside, enjoying a sunny day. Stores closed and most offices never reopened.

In some cases there was good reason. Centro Colón on Paseo Colón in downtown San José may have suffered serious structural damage to some upper floors. Hospital México had almost all of its first floor windows blown out by the quake, and there was damage on other floors. On the third floor there were leaks of oxygen and gas. A team from the hospital and firemen were assessing the damage Thursday afternoon. The hospital was involved in what administrators called internal evacuation, that is moving patients and staff to secure locations within the building.

There were reports of some damage to structures in The Forum office park in Santa Ana. A building on the pedestrian boulevard in downtown San José was roped off by police, and streets were closed for several blocks on either side of the walkway. A crack appeared in the side of an Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad building in the downtown. By 5 p.m. the city had more than 90 percent of its offices and businesses closed.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias reported it has no estimate of total damage, but the amount is likely to be significant. Some bridges have collapsed and a number of roadways have either slide downhill or have been covered with slides from above.

Finally good food

After all these weeks we actually found two really good restaurants within about three days of each other and I have a new type of food I love. I’m sorry to say that Costa Rica is not a foodie vacation spot as the food here is, well, bad – sorry CR!

There is basically one main “typical” dish that is on every menu and this consists of black beans, rice, fried plantains, sometimes a fried egg, and may include fried white cheese or chicken. Some versions of this are quite nice but after our 10th restaurant where this is the primary food we have become somewhat disillusioned with black beans! There is fish available — one type — corvina (sea bass) and this is done in about 5 different ways at just about every restaurant and served with fries and if lucky, a slice of tomato and lettuce leaf. But on to better things.

When leaving Irazu Volcano the other day (will post about that soon) we saw a sign marked Volcano Museum and Restaurant so pulled in. The place was empty except for three gamboling Labradors and a sweet youngish couple. We sat in a covered patio outside (it is chilly up there but warm with the sun hitting the patio roof) and there was a large children’s play area and swings etc. The little ones loved it and the dogs turned out to be big softies who mooched politely with huge brown eyes gazing at our food. We were forced to share tidbits and the dogs rolled, leaned against us, and allowed children’s hugs and loves. And the food was really good. Excellent soups and salads and a fried cornmeal pancake thing with locally made soft cheese that was very rich but delicious. The vegetables were all supposed to be locally grown which was nice and believable given the surrounding mountain sides are all fields of various crops.

Max with one of the restaurant labs:


So then the next discovery actually came from two restaurants, both having Peruvian food. I am searching for a cook book with these recipes as we had the most delicious food. Potatoes figure prominently and are often paired with seafood, which given I’m British and love my fish and chips, seems like a natural connection!

A couple of dishes: sauteed baby octopus in various spices over mashed potatoes with loads of crunchy fried garlic pieces; mixed shellfish with a roasted red pepper sauce over garlic mashed potatoes, flash fried (like a fajita pan) potatoes, peppers and squid; slightly spice seafood soups with different (and delicious) spices that I’m going to have to look up, steak with cheese and mushrooms (actually much nicer than it sounds), and ceviche with mixed seafood and sweet potatoes, corn and red onions.

Usually I can identify ingredients and spices in the types of food I eat often such as Indian/Thai/Italian… but this had new things that were really good and have me wanting to explore recipes. So if anyone knows a good cook book for Peruvian food or a restaurant in the US please let me know!

Slopes of Irazu that are filled with fields of crops:




Posted to Costa Rica by KateG on July 18, 2008 12:44 AM


Had another fun outing the other day to the National Biodiversity Institute – INBioparque.



This was our second trip as we had enjoyed it the first time and wanted to take Grandma back. The park is a research institute that has opened sections up to the public as a “theme” park. It actually is comprised of a lake with fish and alligators, butterfly garden, small aquarium, maze, snakes, spiders, children’s playground (two of them that had grass underneath instead of the usual concrete), and a great farm area. In the farm this time they had a big petting zoo area with a very exuberant man running it. He leaped around dressing us up in Costa Rican hats and aprons for Charlotte and I and then kept pushing animals into our arms and even chicks onto shoulders; parrot style.


He gave the little ones a bottle of milk to feed the baby kids and lambs and the animals went at it with gusto. Ben enjoyed holding the rabbits and keeps saying he thinks we should get a couple of them (he has forgotten the damage our previous bunnies did around our house to curtains, electrical cords and even chewing all the buttons off a remote control!).


Max and Charlotte rode a horse and enjoyed that. And the cow there is a big softy and moans loudly to be petted and have its ears rubbed. So the children had a lovely time and we enjoyed the good weather and wandering around a nice park. Oh and we also found this one area that we hadn’t been in last time that was an exhibit about all the medicines the institute has produced from rain forest herbs and “granny” folk remedies. They actually have created medication in pill form for all kinds of illnesses and these are available in the pharmacies here.


Charlotte’s Web:



One of the largest cities in Costa Rica, after San Jose, is Heredia. Actually it is hard to determine where one leaves off and the other starts as the towns run into each other in this area.


Heredia has a big university and is a busy place. It has a lovely square complete with church, fountains and pigeons. One of the children’s favorite things is to buy bags of corn and feed the pigeons and to eat the shave ice from the carts there. We have learned to limit the leche on the shave ice as they liberally pour powdered milk, condensed milk and syrup over ice. It’s delicious for the first few bites but the sugar rush leaves you shaking for hours!

Pictures here of Heredia church:





Parque Diversiones

Today we headed off again and took the children to Parque Diversions which is on the way to San Jose and just off the highway. It is a big amusement park we accidentally heard about last week and really wish it had been more widely published or even in one of the many guidebooks we read! Not a word in any of the books that I can see. Oh well.

Unfortunately it is the local school’s mid-term holiday and so the place was packed – no tourists here (probably as it isn’t in the darn books). There were quite a lot of large rides as well as the smaller, kid ones that Charlotte and Max enjoyed. Ben and his dad took off to ride roller coasters but given the crowds only managed two rides in 2.5 hours so were a bit discouraged. The rains came as they do everyday and we waited out under umbrellas and thick trees so were fine. It was too crowded to go inside the food areas with wall-to-wall people so we made do with popcorn, ice cream and the wonderful unripe mango strips that are sold here. We love these. It’s like a big cup of shaved pieces of green mango and then you choose toppings which usually include lemon/lime, salt and pepper, vinegar and hot chillis. Given how much we all love normal, sweet mangos (and those are delicious here too) it’s funny how we have also developed a taste for these too. Even the kids happily chomp thru cups of pickly mango. Yum.


Within the park there is an older, traditional town square with buildings that were dated from mid 1800s. There were dancing exhibitions and Charlotte was mesmerized by the swirling outfits of the Costa Rican dancers.


So it was a nice day but if we had a chance to do it again I would certainly NOT go when schools are not in session if possible. Crowds and the extreme noise and wait times on rides were not pleasant.

A beautiful tiled mural in the traditional town square at the park:


La Paz Waterfall gardens

We spent the day yesterday at the Waterfall Gardens and we all thought it one of the best days out we have had here. The waterfalls are about one hour from Santa Barbara on the upper slopes of Poaz Volcano.


We spent some time wandering around the grounds looking at hummingbirds, butterflies, monkeys, and in the aviary. These huge exhibits you walked around in were really lovely and filled with wildlife and beautiful trees and flowers. The butterfly exhibit currently “only” had about 2000 butterflies in it and sometimes they have up to 5000 (honestly 2000 was enough to keep you wanting to swat them away from your face – smile).

Beautiful Grounds


The morphos were really docile and landed on us easily. Plus the exhibits of caterpillars and cocoons were amazing and very well marked. We saw loads of them in various stages of forming cocoons or coming out. Neat and I have to say they had more exhibits than did the actual Butterfly Farm.


The birds were neat and Ben even had parrots land on his head as he was wearing a bright red baseball hat and they seemed interested in it. There were quite a few toucans and one of them decided the path was off limits to people. It pecked nastily at feet (not mine as I have to say I’m no bird lover and thus waved my umbrella at him before he got a run at me). Mark got bitten on the leg so let us hope they don’t carry some kind of nasty avian flu or rabies.

Max on the way down to a waterfall.

Snakes, frogs, monkeys, and tons of hummingbirds were all easily seen and we even got to ride in an ox-cart. The driver said the children and I should stand in it for pictures and suddenly decided we should also have a ride and took off. Tricky holding on as it tilted backwards and there was no back to the cart. Then both oxen of course had to produce copious amounts of dung just a foot or so from our line of vision to the front. But despite that it was quite fun and the children enjoyed it despite the smell.


So after all that we hit the falls. There are steep steps and paths that lead down into the valley and you walk down and along the river and falls. It’s very narrow and wet and slippery but there is a good handrail the whole way. Charlotte did pretty well but Mark carried her down most of it. Grandma and I did alright but were very tired at the end. It didn’t help that we were trying to hold the huge umbrellas over our heads as we walked. I thought at first it was raining but we realized that it was actually a cloud that we were walking into. The falls are at about 4200 to 5200 feet and it gets a little chilly there; more so when you are wet. Of course we didn’t have all the snazzy hiking gear and fancy rain jackets that lots of the numerous American visitors there did. We actually looked more like the Costa Ricans who seemed dressed as casually as we were. And it was just fine. Little damp but we dried quickly and the samples of hot coffee at the ending gift shop were very welcome.


We also ate lunch there at the buffet and it was pretty good (but then we were very hungry and tired so may have had jaded taste buds). They had a nice fireplace in the restaurant and it was lovely to sit looking at that and then over the valley at the rolling clouds/fog that had the place socked in.
Oh and at the end of the trail we were sitting waiting for the shuttle bus to take us back to our car and there were lots of coatimundis and a lone racoon wandering around the hillside and eating bananas. The mothers had a few babies each and they were really sweet. Our children were delighted.


Posted to Costa Rica by KateG on July 11, 2008 3:37 AM

Birds up on Poaz Volcano


Ben shot some nice bird pictures yesterday when we were up at La Paz Waterfalls on the side of Poaz Volcano.


This toucan was a little crazy. It sat on the ground and attacked our feet when we were trying to get past. It really went after Mark and bit him on the leg!



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