Imo, Cahuita National Park is a must-see in Costa Rica. It’s an absolutely beautiful little park, full of wildlife, nestled against the ocean just north of Puerto Viejo on the Carribbean coast.  Before anything else, though, we had the most epic of breakfasts at ‘Bread & Chocolate’, in town.  Oh my god.  Have scrambled eggs ever been so delicious?!?!  Though I could barely walk afterwards…

We headed to Cahuita at a fairly leisurely 9am, catching the local bus straight there from Puerto Viejo.  After being dropped off in town, we stopped to buy an exceptional amount of nappy rash cream, because between being the sweatiest human imaginable and the vicissitudes of bike riding the day before, I had no thighs left to speak of.  At least, not thighs with skin on them.  We also tasted some kind of dragonfruit-looking thing which tasted a bit like grapes and peaches.

Next it was on to the national park, where we paid a donation fee, then got to walking.  We walked quickly at first, wanting to outpace the dawdling tourists, and one of the guides took us to task, saying “go! Go with your stress!”.  Forgive us if we’d rather listen to the sounds of the jungle than to inane chatter.

The trail follows the curve of the beach around the coast, and we stopped for a dip before it came down the eastern side of the promontory.  It was such a lovely walk–we saw hermit crabs, big dark pelicans, a real-life wild raccoon, some very noisey howler monkeys, lots of butterflies, including those gigantic blue ones (speaking of which, one thing I forgot to mention in my Monteverde post was seeing the most amazing butterfly–its wings were entirely transparent, like glass, with just a rim of brilliant yellow and scarlet outlining their edges.  It was gorgeous.  And kind of impossible.).  We ALSO saw a SLOTH!!!  A SLOTH!!!  Given I’d been walking along with my face pointed to the sky looking for one, I feel like we more than deserved it.  And what a cutie!

Post-swim, we continued to follow the trail, then switching to the road along the coastline.  It definitely wasn’t the right way to go, but we had some spectacular views of dark abandoned beaches.  A park ranger drove past us and clearly went ‘wtf are these white girls doing’, and then started following us in his car from a distance, I guess making sure we weren’t attacking ocelots or anything.

Near the exit to the park, where the bus stop would be, there was the entrance to a long wooden walkway, through land that was more swamp-esque than that we’d encountered in the park until then.  We started along it, listening to the sounds of the birds, looking at spiders, and being party to a big argument between a few groups of howler monkeys.  They’re so loud!  It sounds like there are gorillas in the trees, something huge and meaty, rather than these tiny little fluffbuckets.  And what angry fluffbuckets they were.

Finally leaving the park, we made it back to Puerto Viejo, and weren’t capable of much before sleep.  Again, though, Cahuita was gorgeous, accessible, and an absolute must-see.

Puerto Viejo

After our long standing bus arrived in Puerto Viejo (and I had been indoctrinated into the local radio stations), things went rather quickly downhill.  Walking to our hostel, people were looking at us appraisingly–and not in the ‘check out the gringas’ kind of way, but more in the ‘we could definitely rob these chics’ kind of way.  We made it to our hostel, however, that wasn’t any better at all.  We were greeted by a guy who gave off the weirdest vibe, who led us around the hostel before disappearing once more. The living area of the hostel was nice, but the rooms were gross–my bed was literally a mattress on the floor in the doorway, and in the path of water leaving the shower. Also, while it had a mosquito net, it didn’t actually reach the mattress, which kind of defies the point.  The whole place felt unsafe, so the moment I had the WiFi password, I started looking for somewhere else to stay.

After a brief and over-priced dinner at Koki Beach, which is full of rainbow-coloured rocking chairs and similarly-hued beverages, it was more than bed-time.

First thing in the morning, it was time to check out the town: in large part because I’d somehow forgotten to bring a bikini!  After a humungous breakfast, I finally found one, while Anouk managed to buy 2-3 sets and a new wardrobe.  We also checked out a couple of prospective places to stay, including one I’d spotted the night before, called Veronica’s Place.  It was run by a friendly family and full of cute little coloured cabinas, so it was clearly the place for us :).  Newly equipped with bikinis, and with our room available, we grabbed our stuff, hired some bikes, and headed for the beach.

Playa 506 is a hostel located at Playa Cocles, which I’d seen advertised while trying to find somewhere to stay.  It was too expensive (USD20 for a dorm bed, wtf), but reviews had said the restaurant was nice, so we stopped for a snack (a delicious Greek salad!!) and a drink before carrying on.  Our next step was Punta Uva Arrecife, which had a cute little beach for some proper swimming.  As always, Anouk went in the water first, as once I get in, there’s no getting me out!  Though in this case, I pretty much crawled out and went straight to sleep in the sun for an hour.  It’s lucky the UV index seems to be so low here.

Under the shadows of raucous toucans, we then cycled back to Puerto Viejo properly, finding somewhere with drinks and WiFi so Anouk could message her boyfriend, and then bed.

Tamarindo and the Pacific coast

After another night at Hostel Dodero in Liberia, it was time to get our butts into gear. We decided to start the day off by heading to Llanos del Cortes, around 20 minutes by public bus east of the city (with the word ‘city’ used reasonably loosely). After being dropped more or less in the middle of nowhere, we traipsed into a park, following a rocky then muddy path, and found ourselves at a beautiful waterfall surrounded by rainforest. The water was absolutely divine, and what’s more, you could climb out just near the base of the waterfall and go behind it. I love going behind waterfalls, it makes me feel like i’m in an Enid Blighton ‘adventure’ novel. No pirates or dead smugglers on this occasion, however. Prior to leaving the hostel, the manager had asked whether we’d taken a photo of the map to the ‘hidden’ waterfall in the park, which on reflection, wasn’t that hidden—but we’d not have found it. Basically we crossed a stream and went around the western side of the main fall, shortly finding ourselves at a secluded pool full of fish, and avowedly with a bat cave nearby. It was tranquil; divine. We then continued the trail around and over the top of the waterfall, for some not entirely bad views.

We next headed back to Liberia, because it was time to get our butts on the road. I had a brief nap on a hammock (okay, so getting-our-butts-on-the-road was fairly lax), then we went to catch the bus for our next destination: Tamarindo, on the Pacific Coast. My friend Guillermo had recommended it and the beaches near it, and the ocean is always a win–though it’s a bit funny to be looking back across the Pacific.

The bus ride itself was supposed to take 1.5 hours, so let’s call it 1.5 hours of Costa Rican time. It was hot, sweaty, absolutely packed, and we spent the first half an hour in a traffic jam (Liberia’s population is only something like 60k according to the taxi driver from the first night, but with the festival, there were lots of horses being ridden around the streets). In total, it took ~3 hours to reach the coast–so more like 1.5 units of Costa Rican time, rather than 1.5 hours. Either way, despite the heat and grossness, I quite enjoyed the trip–I kept half nodding off, but then every time I opened my eyes again, I’d see something awesome: beautiful vistas, hills, stunning skies, and a freaking monkey walking along a tree. Yay for monkeys!!!

Arriving in Tamarindo, we walked to our (super) hostel Blue Trailz, just by the beach. It had friendly staff, air con, and hot water in the showers (which the Dutchie is particularly keen on…!). On the way, there was a lot of hassling. I think my favourite hassle-age in Tamarindo was a guy who goes, “verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-rrrrrr-rrrrrrrrrrrrrr-yyyyyyyyy beautiful,” then poking himself aggressively in the chest and stressing, “BOYFRIEND!”. Then again, there was another time that some guys were going past in their car, say “hola ladies, how are you?”. Anouk replied with “great, thanks,” while I went for “eat a dick”. I guess people handle things differently. Having people hit on your (and/or offer a taxi) every few metres down the length of the street is somewhat annoying, at times…

The following morning, we went on an estuary tour, which was fine. Overpriced tbh. We saw some herons, some mangroves (but I mean, i’ve done mangroves, in NZ, Darwin, Brunei…), some tiny crocodiles (by Australian standards), some sleepy howler monkeys, and termites. All the same, it was nice to be on the water, at least. By this point the Dutchie had a headache, so we went to get her curative sushi before heading to the beach for a quick dip. That night we went out for dinner (it was my bday), and I was crashing sooooooooooooooooooo haaaaaaaaard. Given it was ladies’ night at a couple of the bars, we forced ourselves to at least go out for one drink, incidentally ending up at a bar where we were literally the only girls. Then again, it is a surf town, and at least we had a swing by the beach.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Tamarindo. It’s a bit of an American enclave, with the predators that match that, the prices that match that, and not that much to do affordably. If you had a car so could visit the nearby beaches, or if you’re a keen surfer, then maybe. Or, I guess, if you want to go party to Western music with in a veritable cock-fest of American guys. But pass.

On that note, when we were asking the lady in the hostel for help with directions, she looks at us and goes, “oh you two look like you want to meet people, I mean maybe,”—seems she’d mistaken us for trashpackers. Once we assured her that we were more on the anti-gross trashiness and pro-nature as it’s probably possible to be, there was a bit of backtracking!

Our Tamarindo adventure was done, and the next day we would be heading west to Monteverde.