20.05.2011 - 24.05.2011 28 °C
From Puerto Viejo we traveled to Cartago, which once was Costa Rica’s colonial capital and only a 30-minute drive south of San José. While in Tikal, Guatemala, we met Hellen and her mother Yamileth who were kind enough to invite us to spend a few days visiting them in Cartago over the Easter holiday. Hellen is from southern Costa Rica but came up to Cartago to her mother’s home to see us over Semana Santa (Holy Week). The very religious countries of Central America celebrate Semana Santa with a week of family time, food and church ceremonies. Most stores shut down for a few days, buses stop running from Thursday to Saturday, and prices for all accommodations sky rocket. We felt very lucky to have a nice place to stay and were spoiled with amazing hospitality, food, and company.
Yamileth built her dream home in the hills above Cartago and the view overlooking the city is beautiful. Her backyard is full of fruit trees, orchids and vegetables which she proudly shows off. We arrived to find our own private guesthouse made up to give us privacy and comfort and after dropping off our belongings we headed out for our first full day of touring around the city. Yamileth, Hellen’s younger and older sister, brother in law, two friends and their nephews all piled into three cars and drove to the Monumento Nacional Arqueologico Guayabo. Guayabo is the largest and most important archaeological site in Costa Rica, and though it lacks the grandeur of other Mayan sites of northern Central America, it features cobbled roads built sometime between 1000BC to 1400AD, ceremonial mounds and a few petroglyphs. Archaeologists are still uncertain as to what this site was used for, but think that it may have been a resting area for people moving towards the larger northern cities. We walked around the site before getting together to have a picnic in the park. They packed all sorts of goodies and we enjoyed being taken in as part of the family. After our picnic we drove through Orosi, a district of Cartago, to see the white washed adobe church built in 1743 which is the country’s oldest functioning church. From here were taken to the first church built in Costa Rica, and though the park was closed by the time we reached it, they allowed us to sneak in and take a quick look. The day was full of history and family, only to be topped off by a lovely vegetarian dinner awaiting us, being cooked by Yamileth’s husband Wilfred.
The next day Yamileth and Hellen acted as our tour guides as we drove to the Volcán Poás. We drove north of San José, 37 km outside of Alajuela up a scenic winding road. Poás is an active volcano that allows you to drive to the top, and, unlike some of the volcanoes we have climbed, allows you to look into its sulfurous steaming crater. Another 30-minute walk through a forest growing from volcanic soil we arrived at Laguna Botos. The cold-water lake is fed by rain water and fills an extinct crater of the volcano and is surrounded by lush cloud forest.
After the volcano we went to Zoo Ave, a bird sanctuary and rehabilitation center. I have been on the hunt to see a Toucan and was told Costa Rica is the place to do so. Andrew and I spotted the smaller Toucans with less colourful beaks on our bike trip in Puerto Viejo, but were hoping to spot the larger birds with distinct yellow beaks. The park is located just outside the city of Alajuela, but upon entering its gates you find yourself in the midst of a rainforest. We were able to see countless colourful Macaws, ranging in every colour combination possible. We saw monkeys and turtles and finally, to top it all off, the Toucan I had been so excited to see.
Our final day with our fantastic tour guides took Andrew and I to the Volcán Irazú. With the company of Hellen, her younger sister Samantha, and their brother-in-law, we drove the 30km north of Cartago to Costa Rica’s tallest active volcano, towering at 3432m. The last major eruption occurred in 1963, blanketing the Central Valley with volcanic ash, causing deaths and crop failures. Since this eruption the volcano only has mild tremors and hisses steam. We arrived to a completely fogged in crater and just as we thought we would be unable to see within, the wind cleared the area and we were allowed the most breathtaking view of two craters with bright turquoise waters. Stunned by the colour and the unobstructed view of these craters, we took countless photos. On the way back to the car we came face to face with a Costa Rican Pizote, which is a bit smaller than the Guatemalan Pizote with its curled tail. We bought some hot-chocolate (the high altitude makes this a chilly outing) and had a little picnic before starting the winding drive back down the volcano. Along the way we stopped off at what once was a mental hospital and is now open to the public with rumors of ghostly sightings. We were surprised by the number of people who were visiting the dilapidated buildings, but giggled as we hid in corridors and took turns scaring each other around every corner.
Our friends took such good care of us and we are thankful for the lovely memories and hope to have them visit us in Canada one of these days soon. After three days of being spoiled it was time for us to work our way south into Panama. We had to catch a bus south to Paso Canoas, cross the border and get another mini-bus to the city of David where we found a hotel near the central park to rest for the night.
With only 12 days to spend in Panama, we will split our time between Bocas del Toro and Panama City. I’ll write one more blog to update our travels of Panama, but we will be home soon and are excited to see all our friends and family!
Ana and Andrew