“There’s just so much to see!” Jon had been researching for weeks, and compiled a bountiful list of hikes and options for day excursions during our stay in Costa Rica. Little did I know we had invited a tour guide as well as friends on our trip. I was only too happy to indulge his wanderlust and inability to sit still. Something about that resonated with me! While Rich indulged his birding options, Jon, Beth and I explored the countryside.
Jon had his heart set on visiting a chocolate farm, so we detoured en route to La Carolina Lodge to find the Tree Chocolate Tour. We were met by Axel and joined by one family for a very personalized tour of the farm. He introduced us to far more than the cacao trees, the grafting process and nature of hand harvesting required at just the right time. Axel cut up a ripe coconut for us so we could drink the milk and sample the fresh flesh inside. We tasted peppercorns right off the vine (hot!) and learned about the tropical plants throughout the grounds.
Down by the river we were dwarfed by trees hundreds of years old, their trunks the size of small cottages. Rain poured down on us and eventually penetrated the thick canopy, but we assured Axel we didn’t care. We were in the rainforest, after all. Getting wet when it’s 88-degrees and humid isn’t so bad.
Returning to the farm center, Axel’s enthusiasm and pride in the operation swelled as he led us through the steps to process the cacao into paste, powder and liquor, each piece of vintage machinery operated by hand. We left with ample purchases of hand-crafted dark chocolate and a greater appreciation for its origins.
Rio Celeste Waterfall was next on Jon’s itinerary. The touristy trailhead and rapidly filling parking lot at Tenorio Volcano National Park immediately alerted us to the popularity of this hike. It wasn’t going to be a secluded trek, but on the plus side the trail was easy to traverse and impossible to make a wrong turn. The density of the tropical trees and plants provided welcome shade and kept us constantly intrigued with the enormous leaves and colorful flowers.
Reaching the viewpoint for the falls requires a side-trail that zigzags down about 300 steps with a fake but sturdy Adirondack-style railing. We snaked our way down behind dozens of other sightseers, gradually drawing near the bottom platform where we too could take pictures with the tall stream plummeting into turquoise waters. The color was just as advertised, and the experience worth sharing with the masses of humanity.
Beyond the falls the trail involved more elevation and attention to rocks and roots underfoot, but it was well worth continuing on to see the burbling hot springs, blue lagoon, and the source of the river’s unique color. At the point where two rivers converge, the sources contribute just the right conditions for particles of a whitish mineral known as aluminosilicate in the water to be large enough to reflect the blue color in sunlight – an optical illusion, not a chemical one.
My Garmin recorded 4.2 miles for the round trip with 575 ft of elevation, which we drew out to a leisurely 3-hour hike.
At Heliconias Rainforest Lodge a 2-mile walk took us across three treetop suspension footbridges. Rich had preceded us there, in search of certain birds reported in the area, and he assured me the bridges would not challenge my queasiness with heights. He was right – the solid engineering behind them was apparent, and the high side rails with dense mesh fencing gave me plenty of confidence to cross with ease. My personal favorite was the bridge with a tree in the center.
We lingered to watch salamanders, a brilliant blue butterfly with a deceptive “eye” on the outside of its wing, and unusual flowers that trapped rainwater. We even looked for Rich’s elusive bird, without success.
For our finale, we hiked in search of yet another waterfall. This was in Rincón de la Vieja National Park, and was our most challenging venture. The round-trip hike to La Cangreja Waterfall registered about 7.5 miles with 1,300 ft in elevation. We started out under good shade, and were delighted to watch a group of energetic white-faced monkeys cavorting in the treetops above us. Well aware of our presence, they seemed to be performing for us – chasing one another, pushing trees to make them sway, even eating bananas directly overhead.
Super tall trees with viny roots and enormous root structures delighted us.
The closer we got to the waterfall, the more difficult the terrain. Looking for footholds among boulders as we progressed downhill was more challenging than clambering up them on ascents. The final rocky patch, however, delivered us to the pool at the foot of the waterfall – paydirt!
This one claimed to have aqua-blue water, but we glimpsed that only at the very foot of the falls. However, the bonus was having the site nearly to ourselves for a good period of time, and we were free to roam around the pool and sit on rocks to take in the scene.
When other hikers caught up to us, we decided it was time to move on. By then the sun had climbed high in the sky and the temperature soared. We had crossed open highlands on the way there, and on the return trip while traversing the shade-less dry land we baked in the relentless sunshine. Seeking out all shade-breaks to cool down and drink water, we made it back to the monkeys who restored our good spirits with their antics, in a nice shady spot.
We didn’t come close to exhausting Jon’s list, but relished the adventures we did have in Costa Rica. We will just have to go back for the rest of them.