Biking in Costa Rica
Biking in Costa Rica is a bliss. We feel suddenly free to go more off-road and discover beautiful, butterfly kissed roads, plains, steep hills and rainforest.
Costa Rica is 1.37 times as big as The Netherlands, with only 4.8 milion people. It does not have an army since 1949 no army, but police is present in the bigger cities. No trucks full of armed soldiers passing by. Relaxed to no longer see guards with big guns in front of every shop or gas station. Clean country, friendly people looking at the future. Aiming to be the first climate neutral country by 2021 (Belgium and Holland take an example!)
Before biking out of Liberia we venture to park Rincon de la Vieja up in the mountains. We take a shuttle to the entrance of the park and hike 19 km back and forth to a hot spring in a changing dry and wet rainforest. Mud pools too hot to enter and steam holes, fenced off as you can really burn yourself, show the volcanic activity.
It is not just trees, there are plenty of animals too, we spot a capybara (too late for a photo), a giant toad, a snake and birds. Then there was a chameleon that clung to Franks leg. If he would have chosen my leg I think I would have screamed my lungs out, Frank just shook it off.
Hot springs give you a satin-smooth skin. Smells like rotten eggs but you don’t smell it on your skin. Great to be there with only two other hikers.
Being so humid it is the perfect place to spot mushrooms and fungi. Costa Rica is merely 0.03% of the earth’s surface, but it is considered to be a country with more diversity than many other areas in the world. This country is home to about 4% of the species on Earth.
Returning to the Green House Hostal of Adriane, who recently converted her mother’s house to a hostal, gives us the opportunity to cook our own meal and sleep in new beds with enough space. Next day my legs are sore of the hiking. Biking to Canas by back roads, even if it means a +25 km detour, is a blessing.
Take advice from locals
No traffic. Good dirt roads, great nature. After a few kilometers a local stops us and advises us to take the next right to the highway as the second bridge has disappeared and due to the heavy rain off yesterday we would not be able to cross. After only a few kilometers on the HWY with a biking lane we veer of for more dirt roads. Only obstacle is an irrigation canal where we have to pull the bikes through.
Even so steep we need to carry first Franks luggage across and with pulling my bike through I lost one of my sandals in the mud. Takes a while of digging in the mud before I find it back. Maybe better if we would have biked the road indicated on the map and not trying a shortcut 😉.
In Canas we find a very basic, wooden hotel. We shop for a small hair trimmer, so Frank’s beard and hair can be trimmed by ourselves. Until now he would find a barber shop but as those are not always open/available we decided to put even some more weight to his bags. As it is already late we savour the local dish of gallo pinto and a piece of meat with baked banana.
We have biked some small stretches of HWY1 but as they were a nightmare of big trucks and no space for bikes we decide to bike the long way to Monte Verde.
To camp or not to camp
The excuse we created now for not camping is that the rain season is making everything too wet and there are still enough hostals/hotels to choose from. It is a beautiful, very hilly ride. As you can see Franks shirt (and mine) is soaking wet after only 30 minutes of climbing. In Tilaran we find a space from where we finalize the blog of week 52. Small city with no tourists. Next day we are aware that the real work will start. A guidebook Frank read (Thomas Schroeder-Latein America Bike Buch) recommends to take a bus up to Monteverde, but we need to prove we can bike this. After only a few kilometres the roads turns to gravel, slowing down the pace but we are still able to bike everything. Some steep inclines are followed by some steep downhills. We make our own sugarcan juice.
Don't always take advice from locals
The couple is visiting from San Jose and recommends to take the left road in Las Nubes as this road has less potholes and better gravel. What he did not mention is that most of the hills are +15-25% (I do have my level on my bike proving what I feel in my legs). Proves that you should be suspicious of what people in cars tell you when you are on a bike.
It becomes very remote with only motorbikes passing us. No cars so also no possibility to hitch a hike when thunderclouds start to shed their rain. Luckily thunder and lightening stays far away (4km). At one moment a motorbike passes us and returns to Frank to say that he has seen us 2 days ago in Canas and he is amazed he sees us here again! That it was unbelievable, haha, this gives us so much energy we forget the rain and fog for a while. At one moment a motor bike stops and asks if we are going to Monte Verde. It is only 4 km more and when Frank asks if it is much more up-hill, he says no, this is the last hill. Yeah, right. What you don’t feel with a motorbike are all those small 5-10% short hills which make you work like hell. But at least no more pushing.
We stop at the Adventure park but they don’t have cabins and continue to the small village of Santa Elena. It starts to rain like hell but at the second place we check. we decide to stay for two days. A room with kitchen behind a restaurant fully made from wood with a jungle view from the bedroom. The kitchen is nothing you can compare with home, small sink and a stove. Sink hidden in a corrugated outhouse. But it is dry and we can have dinner in the restaurant. Costa Rica is developed but still basic in many ways. Jesus, the owner of the cabins and restaurant is very welcoming and provides us with extra water, as there will be no water tomorrow, some maintenance to be done by the city.
Around noon we head to the Monte Verde Reserve and discover the rainforest. Nice hike, now at an elevation of 1,600 meter with a significant difference in vegetation compared with the other reserve as this was only at 800 meter. This is real cloud forrest, we are with our heads in the clouds!
We don’t do the zipline or bungy jumping, looks like Monteverde is converted to a big amusement park. I want to keep my back in one piece and Frank is not too fond of heights. A big difference with the other Central American countries is the far greater availability of grocery products. Against a higher price, but especially in the tourist cities you can find almost everything you can find in the USA in a medium sized supermarket.
Having an own kitchen we can cook a creamy fresh mushroom chicken pasta. Can you imagine having you own space, kitchen, bathroom. Is it something you would miss when travelling? How do you do this when you are travelling? Do you cook sometimes? Also look at your kitchen again and see what a luxury you have: running, warm water, dish washer, fridge, space, lots of tools.
Leaving Monteverde with a blue sky and through a different route, downhill, what a beautiful ride. So emotional to be able to do this! Of course not all downhill but what we did in two days coming up, we now cover in a short day going down. Switch back after switch back we descend from a humid cooler environment to a hot humid, super green agricultural area.
Then really back roads resulting in pushing the bikes as +15% and a lot of big loose rocks. We meet a group of older mountain bikers who wonder where we are heading. We discuss also the route we imagined for tomorrow but Lollo (far left) strongly advises against it as it is a lot up-hill and bad roads. But for today only a bit more gravel and further small, minimal traffic, rolling (and steep) climbs and downhill. Orotina with a craft market and a hotel (without wifi) is the stop after a beautiful week with great biking.