Part two of our vacation recap beings now…part one can be found here.
Heading into the weekend, we left the cushy resort and hopped in our rental car to explore some more of the country. With Jon behind the wheel (thank god) we headed South toward central Costa Rica and eventually began the treacherous climb up to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. We had read the drive was going to be difficult but it didn’t prepare us for exactly how difficult. We’re talking miles of hairpin turns up the mountains on a single lane road covered with golf ball, softball, and grapefruit sized rocks. It was crazy, took forever, but was totally worth it (although it may have aged Jon and the car a few years).
I did all of the planning for the second leg of our trip and have to say I was pretty nervous to see how it turned out, particularly the accommodations. The hotels in the more rural areas of Costa Rica barely give a glance of things at all on their websites (one has been significantly updated since we booked), and the glances they DO give are pretty average. We were so pleasantly surprised with what we found when we arrived at our first stop – Hotel Belmar. This place was beautiful. It’s set atop the Monteverde Cloud Forest and has view for miles and miles. The hotel has been run by the same family for many years and they truly care about their guests and property, which shows. The grounds were stunning, filled with flowers, and quiet with a welcomed serenity.I had never seen such unique woodwork before. The rooms and attention to detail were great, not to mention incredibly environmentally friendly. The family prides themselves on ‘being green’ and protecting the country and its natural environment and beauty.
The photo above shows the view of our bathroom from the outside. It seems a bit revealing, but the hotel grounds were so secluded and well thought out that you can enjoy the privacy of your room while enjoying wall to wall windows offering views of the countryside.
“Set atop the spine of Costa Rica’s continental divide, Monteverde is a world above the coastal towns that dot the country’s famous shoreline. Due to it’s altitude, Monteverde is privileged to receive a steady supply of clouds and the life giving moisture that they contain. This helps to support a complex and far-reaching ecosystem, one that harbors over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, tens of thousands of insect species, and over 2,500 varieties of plants, 420 of which are orchids alone.”
Our first morning at Hotel Belmar we headed out for a guided tour of the trails and wildlife. I wasn’t sure how exciting it would be, but it was so nice to slow down the pace a bit and I was really glad we did it. There was so much to see and so many different species of plants and birds – it was overwhelming. The eagle eyes of our guide (along with his amazing telescope) allowed us to see some fantastic wildlife, mostly beautiful birds, that we would NEVER have spotted otherwise.
Is it just me that finds those tiny (and yet proportionally huge) eyeballs hilarious?
That right there is the world’s tiniest species of orchids. They were about the size of a pencil eraser.
EVERYTHING was covered in green, and we were there in the dry season. I can’t even imagine the wet season. We’re talking legitimate rain forest here people.
On one of the mornings in Monteverde, Jon and I decided we
had a death wish needed some adventure in our lives. We chose zip lining.
Ahhhhh zip lining. Where you safely and securely clip onto a thick cable in a sitting position and leisurely glide through forests reminiscent of my backyard.
That is so NOT what happened. I was bamboozled.
Oh yes they started me off how I imagined (maybe a little higher) just to lull me into a false sense of security. Even so, you can already see a little fear in my eyes. I could tell something was up.
After about 4 or 5 ‘runs’ like the ones above, they told us to start the hike up the trails to where the next line began. When we got to the top we were so tired from the hike we barely had time to react to what we were met with.Look at those idiot ignorant tourists with their silly smiles. This could have been our last photo together…ever.
Now, I know a lot of people will say “hey I’ve zip lined before“.
I’m here to tell you that no. No you have not.
I’m not even sure what WE did should be called zip lining. It should be called flying. We went flying that day. Over a valley of death. My life flashed before me at least twice and it was very, very green.
I was already scared just knowing we were going to be whizzing that far, alone, down a zip line. Scared does not even BEGIN to describe how I felt when they told me what we’d actually be doing.
Guide: Alright, go ahead and lie down on your stomach.
Ali: I’m sorry…what?
Guide: It’s no big deal. We strap you in by the back, take away all controls of the breaking mechanism you became accustomed to, you lie down on your stomach and we push you off a cliff. Be prepared though because this is over 300ft above the tree line and you will reach very fast speeds. It’s called “The Superman”.
Ali: Mmmmmmk no.
Jon: You’re doing it.
(that’s me giving him the silent treatment)
As Jon did the ‘Superman’ hundreds of feet over the tops of the trees, he chose to be all cool and pose like superman. I went with barbie hands.
That look is not joy. Do not be fooled. THAT, my friends, is apparently what my face does when I’m terrified, paralyzed with barbie arms, and about to throw up into my dirty man gloves. JUST KIDDING!! It was so much fun (afterwards) and the adrenaline rush was the best I’ve ever had.
I had been wondering where all the screams echoing throughout the jungle had been coming from. They really had a penchant for the dramatic around that place. They send you out one at a time to walk down a very long and very unstable plank. This allows plenty of time to think of all the things you would have done with your life had you just said no to the guide/husband with the crazy eyes.
Jon went first and as I watched him walk the plank I was repeating ‘please don’t die please don’t die’ over and over again in my head. I was SERIOUSLY asking myself questions like, how does a devastated widow get home from Costa Rica by herself, and was getting mad at Jon for even making me have those thoughts. They threw him off the platform. A few seconds ticked by and I heard a huge “WHOOO”!
Alas, we were there for adventure and I wasn’t about to wuss out now. My shaking legs walked that plank like they owned it and I allowed two Costa Rican men to strap me into a harness and push me off a platform hanging almost 200ft in the air.
The adrenaline rush lasted about an hour, but five minutes after being on the ground I was wishing I could go do it again and again. I was hooked. The superman zip-line could go to hell, but the Tarzan swing was awesome.
Our stay in Santa Elena at the Hotel Belmar was a big highlight of the trip for me. We were completely cut off from the world and surrounded by people who didn’t speak our language. There were no TV’s, no internet, and everywhere we looked there was beauty. It was by far the most relaxing and peaceful few days of the vacation. Except for the almost dying part. Otherwise, totally relaxing. : )
Our last stop in Costa Rica was set to be the Tabacon Hot Springs, near the volcano Arenal. I have to admit, we were pretty ready to get home by this point. What had been a week was feeling like several and I think all the adrenaline from our death defying stunts had worn us out.
Lucky for us the several hour drive from Hotel Belmar to Arenal was so much better than the treacherous trip up to Monteverde. The definition of ‘rolling countryside’. Who knew? We drove all the way around Lake Arenal and stopped a few times for coffee and also at Costa Rica’s only brewery, Volcano Brewing Company. We could not recommend stopping there more. After a week of a foreign country this place brought us a little bit of the homeland (it’s owned and run by a former Californian). Sitting at the restaurant inside the brewery, eating one of the best meals we’d had all vacation while listening to reggae, it felt almost like we were at the Minnesota Lakes…almost. Feeling refreshed and ready for the last leg of our trip, we jumped back in the car, turned a few corners, and BAM……volcano Arenal.
I thought so anyway. I had never seen an active volcano and I kept suspiciously peering at it out the window and thinking you’re one ominous piece of earth.
Shortly thereafter we arrived at the hot springs, which are heated from the volcano (obviously) and set directly in Arenal’s lava path should there be a massive eruption.
They actually had safety warnings on the website of the resort and we had to park our car nose out so we had a quick escape route. Livin’ on the edge.
We did one afternoon of exploring the extensive grounds of the resort and all the many many hot springs. Before too long, however, we decided it felt incredibly touristy and almost like a water park, which was disappointing (unreal people watching), but we found some other activities in Arenal to do. Pretty sweet/scary view from our balcony. That thing was mesmerizing.
On an overcast day we decided to get in a little hike up and around the volcano. It was pretty funny how used to tourists this area was. The ‘hike’ as they called it was said to take around two hours and could be strenuous (warning the tourists). Maybe it’s since we’re Coloradans, but it took us roundtrip about 30 minutes and was more like a tough walk rather than a hike. We were pretty ego boosted when we were done. : )After the ‘hike’ we went in search of a tough to find spot that supposedly housed a spectacular waterfall. The hike down to the water and back up was the hike we’d been looking for that morning, not for the faint of heart. Once we got down and were nice and sweaty, a dip in the very cool water was just what we needed.It was during this trip to the waterfall where Jon and I both agreed what an amazing trip it had been. Swimming at the base of that enormous waterfall was such a treat and something we’ll probably never do again, and certainly will never forget. We just sat there staring and soaked it all in.
Speaking of a soak……our final afternoon in Costa Rica was spent lazing by the pool in the sun, getting the last bits of relaxation we could before heading home. I know I’ve said it already, but we had such a great time. Experiencing Costa Rica was strange in a way. I think since the majority of the trip was a pseudo work thing, paid for, and organized for us, we didn’t really give it a lot of thought beforehand. In fact, I was making last minute and final reservations for our leg of the trip down to a few weeks before we left. I usually do a TON of research before our vacations to make sure we see everything we want to see, but this time we just kind of went in blind, having no idea what to expect.
It could have gone very poorly, but instead it was one pleasant surprise after the other. Costa Rica was FULL of surprises. It really was like an adventure. The multitude of different landscapes, the differences between the resort areas, the beach towns, the valleys and the mountains, it was all so beautiful in such different and unexpected ways. I am a fan, is what I’m saying, and I finally understand why people go back over and over again.
Happy Tuesday and thanks so much for reading!
*sorry for the updates for those of you who follow by e-mail, I found some spelling mistakes.