Driving on Your Own in Costa Rica

We left Rio Perdido with several of our fellow tour travelers, were dropped off at the Liberia airport, went down the road, and picked up our rental vehicle, a brand new roomy SUV. We stopped at an outdoor restaurant–in most of Costa Rica the restaurants are outdoors with only a roof. Much to my delight they had my favorite Costa Rican beverage, cas, which seems to be served randomly here and there. I love the stuff–pale green, neither sweet nor sour, a type of guava.

We headed down Highway 21 toward Santa Cruz. This is cattle and sugar cane country with miles of lush green pastures along the way.



Throughout the countryside living fences delineate one pasture or field from another.  Initially, when first built, they look like any other fence posts.  The difference is this:  they grow into trees.


Looking at these photos, it seems hard to believe that we were there in the dry season.  Costa Rica is easy driving with good highways, speed limits, and very little of the mad, crazy driving one experiences in many countries.


Even this far from the mountains, look to the east, and there they are under a canopy of clouds.  After arriving in Santa Cruz, we turned off onto a smaller highway (160) headed toward the tiny town of Paraiso where we had a near hotel disaster.  In September, I booked a hotel farther south on the Pacific Coast only to be notified one month before leaving that a mistake had been made and they had no room available.  Desperately I searched and searched and found one near Playa Negra.  Online it looked ok, not luxurious but ok.


It even looked nice from the outside as you can see above.  Since there was no restaurant onsite, we headed out for dinner.  We had already passed through the little town and had seen several places.


Here we ate some of the best pizza I have ever eaten.  When the waiter asked where we were staying, we told him.  At the time we never thought too much about his rather gloomy, “Oh!”

We went to the tiny local grocery down the road and bought food, shampoo, coffee, enough to tide us over for three days, and returned to our room.  The owners, a French couple, initially seemed ok.  Certainly, the woman did.  She had successfully started the air conditioner, welcomed us, was friendly.  His English was questionable, we do not speak French, and he refused to speak Spanish.  Unfortunately upon our return, the air conditioner no longer worked, there were no windows on one side for a breeze, and little ants were biting quite actively.  I went to talk to the couple.  He was not only uncooperative but eventually started screaming at my daughter, “Get out, just leave!” over and over and over.  He refunded my money; we left.

Here we were in the dark with nowhere to go.  I had visions of spending the night in the SUV, thinking at least we have a really nice vehicle to sleep in if we have to.  My daughter kept saying we would find something.  She had noticed a place down the road.  I kept thinking there would be no place because this is top tourist season.  We headed down the unpaved road, drove down a drive that indicated a hotel, and stopped by the reception area.  I went in but no one was there.  When I walked back out, my daughter noticed a young man walking up the drive.  Thankfully, I know enough Spanish to explain to him what we needed–he did not speak English.  I could not believe the good news:  they had a room for two nights (we needed three, but at that point who cared).  His key to the room did not work, he called the manager who appeared, let us in the room, and actually told me not to worry, I could pay the next morning.  It was the largest, nicest room of the entire trip.  Just wait for the next post to see how incredibly beautiful this place truly is–talk about luck, good karma…











Costa Rica Adventure, Day Five-Part One

After spending our first leisurely late afternoon and evening at Rio Perdido, we arose early the next morning heading to a farm near the Nicaraguan border.  On our way, about 3/4 to one hour from Rio Perdido, we stopped at the studio of the sculptor Tony Jimenez.  Apparently, Tony loves–perhaps an understatement-the female form.  With few exceptions, he carves women, mostly giant women, in wood.


He sells smaller statues, even as small as eight inches high, but refuses to sign them partly because they are made from less substantial wood.  I bought one about a foot high.  Later, in another part of Costa Rica I saw some very similar to mine.  When I asked if Tony made them, I was told his cousin was the sculptor.


Although Tony sells sculpture, his front door fascinated me even more.  It, too, is carved, a frieze.  Even the crossbars on his windows are carved.


We drove along the west side of a volcano for hours.  Because of clouds, wind, and weather from the Caribbean, even though we were on the Pacific side, we never saw the top of the volcano.  It remained misty and rainy most of the morning as we crossed from the Pacific to the Caribbean side.


I do not recall anyone mentioning the name of this volcano.  Given where we were headed, it would appear to be Volcano Miravalles.


Costa Rica Adventure, Day Four–Part One


People love food.  One of the fun things about travel is exploring the food.  My two favorite, traditional Costa Rican foods are gallo pinto and platanos fritos.  Fruit shows up everywhere too.


Breakfast at El Establo just before heading down the mountain to the Pan American Highway on the way to Rio Tenorio.  The plate in the background contains gallo pinto and platanos fritos.  I have made gallo pinto three times since I returned.  See recipe at end of post.


The final view of El Establo as we drove away.

The following photos were all taken riding along the highway, dropping altitude dramatically all the way from Monteverde to the Pan American Highway.  The beauty one passes going to and from Monteverde remains unrivaled anywhere–miles of green vistas, colorful mountain homes, cattle grazing.







Typical country houses along the side of the road painted colorful hues.  Even here the houses have electricity and running water. Most of the way the road was gravel.  In spite of all the green in these photos, this is the dry side of the mountains, the Pacific side.

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IMG_1963 (1)




A lot of Costa Rica is cattle country.  In the lowlands all the cattle have Brahma blood in evidence.  In the high country it varies.  Frequently, they look exactly like the common dairy cattle in the United States.





The farther we drove down the mountain, the drier the foliage and grasses became. Finally, we arrived at a paved road and a town.



Most places, even small towns, in Costa Rica are clean.  People take pride in the appearance of their houses no matter how small. Flowers bloom brilliantly throughout the country.


Streams run everywhere even through towns.


Finally, we headed north on the Pan American Highway.  In all of Costa Rica living fences surround fields.  In this area it appeared the major commercial endeavor is cattle, all distinctively Brahma or at least part Brahma.


Looking at these photos it seems hard to believe this is the dry season.  We saw large irrigation ditches bringing water all the way from Arenal, a huge lake on the other side of the mountains, a place I visited on my previous trip.

Recipe for gallo pinto:

Enough vegetable oil to lightly cover bottom of a skillet

1 1/2 cups day old, cooked  rice

1 cup day old, cooked, black beans

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 small, sweet red pepper, finely diced

2 Tbls. chopped cilantro (optional)

2 Tbls. salsa (optional)

Add chopped vegetables to the skillet.  Saute until onions are clear.  Then add the beans and salsa.  Finally, add the rice and heat through while stirring constantly.  The mixture should be moist but not wet.  There should be enough juice from the beans to color the rice.  Experiment to see what you prefer.  I use garlic instead of onion and poblano peppers instead of the red.