Driving in Costa Rica

Our 2010 Honda CRV – aka ‘white lightning’

Driving in Costa Rica is a little hairy as most of the roads are two lanes, very narrow, windy, hilly, and not in the best condition…though there are some nice exceptions. On the other hand, for all those same reasons, the drives around here are gorgeous and the vistas are often breathtaking. As we’re approaching the 6 month mark here (!!!), I thought I’d share a few things we’ve learned to watch out for while on the roads.

  • Landslides – As much of the country is mountainous and roads are cut through the mountains, landslides are very common after heavy rains and especially in the rainy season, and it sometimes take a day or two before they are cleared so it’s common for roads and major routes even to close after heavy rainfall.
  • One lane bridges – There are very few two lane bridges in Costa Rica except on a few of the highways, so you will often come across one lane bridges. There is always a “Ceda el Paso” (yield) sign on one side of the bridge and the other side has the right of way so you have to make sure to look for the sign so you know if you have the right of way or if you have to stop.

    ‘Ceda’ en Limón province
  • Potholes – They are everywhere and they can be deep.
  • Deep drainage channels at edge of streets means tricky parking in town and even on the highway so don’t go over the ‘cliff’ as there typically is no shoulder.
Atenas Centro after repaving
  • Use your 4-way flashers. Everyone loves their 4 way flashers and use them for just about everything: making a turn, slowing down, pulling over, and oncoming cars use them to warn of accident, landslide, police or just about any hazard ahead. If you see someone flashing them, best to slow down.
  • Motos are very common and love to pass on the left or the right (!!) especially when there is traffic.
  • Cyclists – Another bogey! I wouldn’t have thought cycling would be so popular here with the steep, narrow roads, but it’s huge! Again, there are really no shoulders here so passing can be tricky if there is heavy traffic.
  • Accidents – You can’t move your car if you’ve been in an accident in Costa Rica for insurance and police report purposes so traffic can back up for literally hours depending on the severity of the accident.
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We waited for over an hour in this spot waiting for an accident to clear.
  • Always be ready to merge. Even the major highways (the Interamericana and Route 27) go from four lanes to two lanes with little to no warning so you always need to be paying attention and be prepared to merge into one lane at any minute.
  • Roadside stands are fantastic. Stop and see what’s fresh and local.
One stand on the Interamericana selling jocotes, honey, peanuts and other local products.
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One of the many coconut oil stands in Limón area. 

And here are just a few more interesting driving related photos. 🙂

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Interesting maneuver – cars going off-roading and through barricades to pass cars on the right in San José.

Tractor trailer hauling oranges from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, banana plantations and truck hauling yucca.

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Beautiful views looking south from the Ruta Vieja (old road – route 3) between Atenas and San Mateo. 
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Highlights of Tortuguero

man driving small boat in canal

Palmer and I recently enjoyed a 3 night getaway to the small town of Tortuguero on Costa Rica’s north caribbean coast (HUGE thanks to mom and dad for babysitting and allowing us some time sans kiddos!). Though most famous for its nesting green sea turtles that return to the beach where they hatched during the months of June through October, we had an amazing experience during our early January visit. Here are a few of the highlights:

1. Guided Canoe Trip in Tortuguero National Park

We booked a 3 hour canoe trip with Tortuguero Tours, a local guiding company, in the national park where you can spot amazing wildlife. We woke up at dawn and headed down to the meeting point for some coffee and fruit before being given a pair of binoculars and heading to the park. We were on small boat with 4 other tourists plus our local guide who rowed us through the smaller canals and pointed out some fascinating flora and fauna. We saw howler monkeys, sloths, caimans, iguanas and lots of bird life (green macaws, little blue herons, yellow crowned night heron and northern jacanas to name a few). The highlight for me was a male emerald green basilisk that was perfectly camouflaged on a branch just over the water surrounded by leaves…so camouflaged that you couldn’t get a good pic!

2. Hike in Tortuguero National Park

Since we had already purchased our national park passes for the canoe tour, we headed back to the park later that same day to hike the one out and back trail that the park offers. We were all geared out with our sturdy rubber boots, hiking clothes, hats and even a dry bag. It soon started to rain pretty steadily and we were thankful for our rental boots as it was so muddy…and also the umbrellas we brought. Ha! We weren’t very lucky with wildlife, but we did see a howler monkey eating and a pretty cool great curassow (a large pheasant-like bird strolling the path ahead of us) and enjoyed a walk on Tortuguero beach where the turtles nest.

3. Visit to Sea Turtle Conservancy

Even though it wasn’t turtle season when we visited, we still felt we got the turtle experience with our visit to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, the world’s oldest sea turtle research and conservation group founded by Dr. Archie Carr. He was also instrumental in the effort to protect the region and advocate for the opening of Tortuguero National Park. The small facility is located just off the beach a few blocks from the town center and functions as a research station but also hosts a small museum for visitors to learn more about the sea turtles of Tortuguero, the history of the region, and the work that STC does. We ended up adopting a turtle (named ‘Shelby’ thanks to Oscar) to support their mission. We are looking to return one day when we can actually observe the turtles nesting. That would be amazing!

4. Exploring the Town of Tortuguero

We really loved discovering the town itself and were glad that we opted to stay in town rather than one of the resorts to get a better feel for the community. We stayed at El Icaco, a modest but colorful hotel on the beach side, and had plenty of time to walk the paths of town and just relax. The one main paved pathway in front of the public dock is sprinkled with businesses (restaurants, grocery stores, shops) while the rest of the paths are mainly sand or some combination of boards or stepping stones due to all the rain they experienced. Apparently the rainy season in Tortuguero ends in late January. We enjoyed some good meals at Tutti’s (amazing calzones!) and Donde Richard, and delicious breakfasts and cakes at Dorling’s Bakery. Budda Cafe had fancy cocktails and a lovely canal-side location.

5. Getting There and Back, an Adventure In Itself

Tortuguero is only accessible by plane or boat so we opted to drive to La Pavona (basically a restaurant, bathrooms, small store and parking area in the middle of nowhere) where you can then park your car and hop on a boat for the one hour ride to Tortuguero. The drive from San José to La Pavona is beautiful as you first climb through the misty mountains of Braulio Carrillo National Park and then head north through the banana plantations and ranches north of Guápiles. The road is mostly paved except for the last 30-40 minutes when it turns to gravel, but the views were beautiful and we loved the drive. I’m sure that flying in would be spectacular too as the region is so remote and picturesque, but we’ll have to save that for our next visit.

Overall, Tortuguero totally exceeded my expectations with its raw beauty and unique wildlife and even though the town is mainly dependent on the tourism industry, it still has an authentic small town Caribbean vibe. We are hoping to return again soon during turtle season!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase or book a hotel using one of the links, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

A Day at Parque Nacional Marino Ballena

We spent a day at Parque Nacional Marino Ballena (Marino Ballena National Park) in Uvita over the Christmas holidays. It’s a beautiful national park located on the Costa Ballena (South Pacific Coast) of Costa Rica about 3 hours from our place in Atenas or 3.5 hours from San José.

The park is famous for migrating humpback whales and also for the ‘whale tail,’ a natural formation which appears at low tide when a sandbar is exposed and connects the mainland with some rocky formations just offshore so that it looks like a whale tail.

After checking the tide charts, we decided to check it out with Mom and Dad and enjoyed a few hours on the beautiful palm-fringed beach. It was quite a hike to get to the sandbar from where we parked and no shade of course so we lathered on the sunscreen and hoped for the best.

Using Alice’s shirt as a hat to avoid burning my scalp!
The trials of fair-skinned boy in Costa Rica.

Beautiful vistas and beach fun.

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We also enjoyed treasure hunting for sand dollars and other beach creatures.

Dad professing his love once again to Mom. awwwww

Here was our perspective from the beginning of the sandbar looking out at the ‘tail’. Can you see it? 🙂

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All that exertion deserved a cold beer and a seriously delicious BBQ lunch at Lone Star BBQ & Grill in Uvita which didn’t disappoint.

On our next visit we are hoping to see some whales, maybe even some nesting turtles and discover the little nearby surf town of Dominical! We’re realizing once again that there’s never enough time, but so thankful for the time we do have here in Costa Rica.

 

Our Favorite Typical Costa Rican Dishes

Costa Rican food isn’t known to be especially unique or flavorful, but we beg to differ. It’s always extremely fresh as most ingredients are local and dishes are homemade! We’ve loved the food we’ve found and are always on the hunt for new places to discover another favorite typical dish. Here are a few of our favorites.

‘Pinto’

Gallo Pinto (‘spotted rooster’) is probably the most famous food of Costa Rica. It’s rice and beans mixed with different spices such as cilantro, onion and peppers and served with any meal though we seem to see it most on breakfast menus. It’s a hearty beloved dish!

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Typical pinto breakfast wrapped in a banana leaf = eggs, pinto, fried cheese and maduros (sweet plantains)
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Traditional pinto at La Casita del Café with scrambled eggs and tomato, pinto, cheese and a tortilla. Not to mention fresh mango juice AND a view!

Casados

A Casado (literally ‘married’) is probably the most typical DISH of Costa Rica. They’re usually cheap and they’re found everywhere…from the tiny soda in the market or bus station to the large restaurants catering to all kinds of local and foreign tourists. They always include a choice of meat (chicken, pork or fish), rice and beans, salad and usually another side dish or two. They’re super delicious and super filling. Here are a couple that I’ve enjoyed (you see I LOVE a good casado!):

Pupusas

Alright, so pupusas are actually from El Salvador, but they’re quite common here in Costa Rica too. Most of the pupusa places are owned by Salvadorans. A pupusa is a thick corn tortilla stuffed traditionally with refried beans and cheese, or pork or all three…or really anything meat/veggie/cheese combo you like. You then put a spicy cabbage slaw on top and some hot sauce if you like! It is the perfect combo of texture (soft and crunchy) and flavor (savory and spicy). My favorite is the beans and cheese with lots of cabbage on top. We have an amazing place right here in Atenas called La Fiesta de las Pupusas that we frequent about once a week.

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Arroz con Camarones

Fried rice with shrimp or chicken or pork is very popular here too. It also typically comes with the same side dishes as a casado (salad, beans and/or plantains).

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Pescado entero

Whole fried red snapper is very common as more of a speciality dish and always seems to be cooked perfectly as the fish is super moist and flavorful! There’s a place on highway 34 near Tarcoles on the Pacific coast where you can find many fresh fish vendors standing on the side of the road with a string of freshly caught fish for sale. We are hoping to stop and buy one of these one day and try our own hand at pescado frito.

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Frescos Naturales

All of these dishes pair perfectly with a nice glass of fresh fruit juice of course. I enjoy them ‘en agua’ (mixed with water) but it’s common to request your juice ‘con leche’ (with milk) as well for a richer flavor.  Some common flavors are lemonade (with or without hierbabuena (mint), strawberry, blackberry, mango, pineapple, guanabana (soursop), cas (costa rican guava), papaya and passion fruit. They usually come in huge glasses, often larger than Alice and Oscar heads. 🙂

Our favorite flavors: pineapple and strawberry (Oscar and Alice), passion fruit (Palmer) and soursop (me).

I’ll leave alcoholic beverages for another post, but suffice to say, we’re totally on top of the boxed wine trend.  Ha!

Making Memories at Manuel Antonio National Park

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While we were staying near Playa Bejuco over the week of Christmas with the fam, we all decided to make the one hour drive and enjoy a day in Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio (Manuel Antonio National Park), an extremely popular tourist destination in Costa Rica for lots of good reasons.

It’s actually the smallest national park in the country, but the most visited due to its beautiful white sand beaches and abundant wildlife that is often easy to spot. In fact, some of the monkeys are known for steeling bags and opening backpacks to get to the snacks which we saw happen. Apparently, Pringle cans are banned as the monkeys know what they contain and the park is trying to ensure that the monkeys stick to their normal diet. The park is located two hours from San José on the Pacific Coast just south of the town of Quepos.

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White faced capuchin monkey

We opted to forego a local guide (we’d been here in January and discovered that as the park is so popular, there are large guided groups stopping everywhere to look at something), though they do often have a spotting scope which is very helpful because so it’s much easier to see the sloths and monkeys that are high up in the trees.

We walked to one of the four beaches in the park, Manuel Antonio Beach (also the most popular as it’s good for swimming and closest to the entrance), and spent some time relaxing on the beach and swimming. Oscar just learned to swim that week in the pool without any type of float or life jacket and he did an awesome job practicing in the ocean here with Uncle Keith, Auntie Annie and Grandpa. A couple of us also checked out Espadilla Sur Beach which is just behind Manuel Antonio Beach and much less busy. There are also other trails in the park which you can hike to see a waterfall and at least one of the other beaches, but we’ve yet to check them out (the heat and humidity and two little ones makes that tricky). 🙂

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Beautiful Playa Manuel Antonio

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As far as wildlife, we saw lots of seemingly fearless capuchin monkeys, a couple of sloths,  two chestnut-mandibled toucans, parrots, red land crabs and Oscar found an interesting salamander-type animal on the edge of the path. We even saw one sloth moving from one tree to another right next to the path near the entrance and quite low to the ground so that was very special. And Oscar was happy to discover his favorite monkey, cute little squirrel monkeys, on our walk back to the car outside of the park.

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Oscar’s discovery

After enjoying our time in sun, we headed back but had to make a pit stop and enjoy some cool ‘pipa fría’ (cold coconut water) sold at many of the stands just outside the park, It was SO refreshing after the being in the sun for so long!

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Selfie success…with everyone except dad

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We then headed to El Avión, a cool restaurant built around a C-123 Fairchild cargo plane with amazing ocean views, for a well deserved lunch before heading back to our oasis up the coast.

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Oscar and Alice at the controls…hold on tight!

 

Chillin’ in Esterillos Oeste

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Soda Margarita

We spent a week on the Pacific Coast over Christmas at a beautiful home with mom and dad and Keith and Annie and enjoyed lots of pool and beach time and exploring a few nearby towns (Uvita and Manuel Antonio). The closest town to our rental home was Esterillos Oeste, a super chill small town laid out on dirt roads right along the beach with a few restaurants, a small grocery store and a couple places offering surfboard and boogie board rentals. It’s about 20 minutes south of the popular surf town of Jaco. We had stopped here once before a few months ago just to check it out quickly, but finally made it back this time to soak it all in.

At low tide, tide pools appear at the northern end of the beach along with La Sirena, a statue of a mermaid gazing out to sea..kind of random, but kind of cool. Supposedly, no one knows how it got there. The beach has some good waves but it’s shallow for a ways out so it’s fun for swimming and boogie boarding (we all had a ball trying to catch the waves – Oscar is quite a pro now!), and popular for surfing too (Keith was stoked to catch some rad barrels). Ha!

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Treasure hunting
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Ice cream and granizado (like a snow cone but better) vendor on the beach
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La Sirena

We also enjoyed a delicious lunch at Soda Margarita which came recommended by a local, but finding it was half the fun. After starting off along the road and then walking along the beach for awhile looking for a ‘little pathway’ just beyond ‘La Sirena’ statue, we had to stop and ask a few people along the way to find this hidden family-run place. We finally arrived after inadvertently crossing a few backyards and were pleasantly surprised by the casual and friendly atmosphere and delicious traditional meals, pescado entero (whole fish) and arroz con camarones (rice with shrimp) to name a few, along with their fresh fruit juices.  The kids were entertained trying to crack open a coconut they had found as well playing with all the animals (kittens, dogs and parrots) at the home.

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Pescado Entero (whole fish) with patacones (fried plantains), rice and salad
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A coconut entertaining the kids

More adventures from our Christmas week coming soon! Happy New Year!

Road Trip to the Caribbean!

We spent last weekend celebrating Dad’s birthday on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in the relaxed beach town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and surrounding tiny coastal towns of Cahuita and Manzanillo.

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The 115 mile trip took us SIX HOURS (that included about an hour for lunch)! Yes, it is slowwwwwww going on these roads. We had to skirt around San José (yet still got caught in traffic) and then climb through the mountains and into the clouds of Braulio Carrillo National Park topping out at about 5,300 feet before heading down to the eastern lowlands,

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The blue bags protect the bananas from bugs and being damaged.

banana and pineapple plantations and finally arriving at the Caribbean coast. Most of the route is two lanes and it’s especially slow when you’re behind large semi trucks in the mountains and also going through a few mile very congested stretch of road just outside of the port city of Limón which is full of semis and commercial shipping / sea container yards (Chiquita and Del Monte among them).  But we eventually made it to our lovely beach home for the weekend.

 

Our first adventure was to Cahuita National Park, Dad’s birthday choice, where we enjoyed a beautiful hike that ran parallel to the coast and saw iguanas, sloths, beautiful flora and a picturesque coastline! We were hoping to swim and snorkel here but unfortunately the water was quite rough due to a coming storm so we really didn’t get to swim.

The tiny town of Cahuita had a very chill vibe with lots of local characters and color!

 

Puerto Viejo is one of the larger towns in the area and we were surprised at the number of tourists and expats that lived there, as well as all of the English spoken and prices in USD. That was quite a change from Atenas!  We had some fabulous meals (Madre Tierra is a must for fancy tropical cocktails and dinner on the second floor, Chile Rojo had yummy sushi and Pan Pay offered delicious pastries) and enjoyed a little shopping here too as the weather wasn’t so conducive to outdoor activities.

 

We also visited the Jaguar Rescue Center which was awesome and we highly recommend it for anyone traveling to the Puerto Viejo area. The center takes in injured or sick animals and their goal is to rehabilitate them and release them back into the wild. There aren’t any jaguars there today, but the center began when a sick baby jaguar was brought to the home of the eventual founders after its mother had been killed by farmers. There are a lot of sad stories of injury and abuse (sadly, many stories due to humans) but most animals are eventually released. However, there are a few that are permanent residents including a margay (member of the cat family) and a crocodile that had been abused. The center is mostly volunteer run (with the exception of two veterinarians) and offers small group tours at 9:30 and 11:30am every day. We were able to see baby sloths and monkeys and get closeups of two types of toucans that live in Costa Rica, the Keel-billed Toucan and the Chestnut Mandibled Toucan.

 

We were hoping to spend some good time at the beaches, but with the storm and huge waves, we instead enjoyed quality time relaxing. We did drive south along the coast along some beautiful stretches of coast to the town at the end of the road, Manzanillo. I loved the feel of this town – authentic, colorful and laid-back! Hoping we’ll get back here one day to further explore the area and do some hiking in Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge. Here are some of the colorful quaint homes in Manzanillo:

 

and a few more photos for good measure. ha!

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Special beverages!
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My sweet boy
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Coconut oil for sale was popular in the area. We had to stop of course!
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‘thatch for sale for roofs’

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Tarcoles and Carara National Park

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View from Crocodile River Bridge over Rio Tarcoles.

We had a fun day with mom and dad watching the huge crocodiles that congregate in the Rio Tárcoles under the Crocodile River Bridge in Tarcoles as well as hiking in nearby Carara National Park. Both sites are just a couple kilometers from each other and only about 40 minutes from Atenas so it was a perfect day trip for us, but they’re also easily accessible from San José or anyone heading towards the South Pacific Coast (Jaco, Manuel Antonio, the Costa Ballena) of Costa Rica as they’re located right on the main route, Route 34.

The Crocodile Bridge is a quick stop, but definitely worthwhile as the crocs are HUGE and fun to watch right below the bridge. The nearby town of Tarcoles also offers crocodile boat tours for those with a bit more time.

Carrara National Park ($10 entrance for adults) is an unassuming national park where if you blink, you might miss the sign and parking lot just off the highway but I highly recommend a hike and spending at least an hour or two exploring. It’s always hot and humid, but the trails are mostly all shaded.

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Hiking at Carara – Photo credit: Karen Solle 🙂

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This was our second visit and we’ve seen monkeys both times. It’s located in a transition zone where the Pacific dry north meets the humid south coast so there is an abundance of flora and fauna in the park. We decided not to hire a guide this time around, but there are typically a few waiting around the main entrance and they are fantastic as they know where the animals are hiding, what to look for and they often have a telephoto zoom lens or spotting scope so hikers can see up close the wildlife high in the trees.

Despite our not having a guide, we still saw a ton of wildlife and other hikers are usually happy to point out what they discovered or where to find a specific species on the trail which is super helpful. We discovered a scarlet macaw high up in a hole in a tree pruning itself as well as agoutis, leaf cutter ants, two howler monkeys swinging from the canopy, a number of unique birds and towering trees with amazing root systems. We hiked all of the trails in the park (3 interconnected loops) and estimated we walked about 4 miles in total. On a side note, I highly recommend the Costa Rica Wildlife Guide (Amazon aff link) so that you can identify what you see. Even the kids get into this!

After all that exercise, we enjoyed a delicious typical lunch with fresh fruit juices at Soda El Guacimo, a popular roadside restaurant with excellent service, just a couple miles north of the Croc Bridge.

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Casado con pollo (chicken, rice and beans, salad, green beans and sweet plantains)
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Soda el Guacimo: “May Peace and Labor Ever Live” (last line of the national hymn)

Our Border Run to Nicaragua

We’ve been here for 3 months already (wow!), which means we needed to renew our 90 day visas and do a border run. Many longer-term expats in Costa Rica do a day trip to Nicaragua or Panama to take care of the visa, but we wanted make a weekend of it so we headed to the northwestern part of Costa Rica (Guanacaste), famous for its beautiful beaches, and visited Nicaragua at the border crossing of Peñas Blancas to get our visas renewed.

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Arriving back into Costa Rica after renewing our visas in Nicaragua.

The 4 hour drive from Atenas to Playas del Coco was an adventure in and of itself with beautiful views, mostly two lane roads and a variety of different landscapes – mountains, tropical forests, the Pacific Coast and finally the dry, flat Guanacaste region known for its sabaneros (cowboys) and cattle.

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Playas del Coco

We based ourselves at an AirBnB condo in Playas del Coco for 3 nights and enjoyed spending time at the beach, swimming in the pool of our little complex and exploring the area. Playas del Coco is a cute town once you get to know it with basically one dusty main street lined with restaurants, shops and a couple of grocery stores that ends at the beach. It seems that stand-alone houses are few and far between here. Rather, lots of condo complexes surround the town and there are many more tourists here than we typically see. The beach wasn’t our favorite in the area as the water was cloudy and the sand was rocky, but the sunsets were beautiful, the boardwalk was lively with food vendors, tourists and weekending Tico families, and we found some amazing sea urchins at low tide.

 

We also visited Playa Hermosa just north of Playas del Coco to watch the sunset and enjoy dinner at Aqua Sport, located in the sand right in front of the beach.  The made-to-order ceviche and whole pargo rojo (red snapper) were amazing. The sand was much nicer here and there were lots of people enjoying the long wide beach.

 

Last but not least, we drove the 10 minutes to Playa Ocotal located just south of Playas del Coco and spent our last morning there. An almost deserted black sand beach, this was unexpectedly our favorite of the three! It was a smaller beach with calm clear blue water, amazing tide pools with tons of life and lots of beautiful seashells. Snorkeling off the beach is also popular here. You do need to be aware of riptides as the signs note as it gets deep quickly and currents can change, but we stayed in the shallows. Apparently, Father Rooster’s is the place to grab lunch as they are right on the beach and well-known for their fantastic pub fare, but we unfortunately had to hit the road.

 

Thankfully our border run to Nicaragua overall went very smoothly. We planned for spending the better part of the day to make the 1.5 hour drive to the border, do the crossing and then drive back to our AirBnB, and despite an extra half hour getting there due to construction and an extra hour on the way home due to an accident ahead of us, it all went according to plan. We had amazing views of three volcanoes (Miravalles, Rincón de la Vieja and Orosi) just east of the route which also made the trip pretty special.

The crossing at Peñas Blancas is a busy one so there was about a 4km line of trucks waiting to cross into Nicaragua. They have to go through a different process so we were able to pass them and parked right in front of the Costa Rican border crossing. There were a lot of people wanting to ‘help’ us for a tip but we said no thanks as it’s a pretty straight forward (thanks to My Tan Feet for that). After paying our $7 per person exit tax, we waited in the short line to have our passports stamped out of Costa Rica. Next step is to walk or hire a pedicab over to the Nicaraguan border in order to enter Nicaragua. Of course, we opted for the quick and fun pedicab ride.

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Pedicab ride
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Nicaraguan border crossing office

The Nicaraguan border agent confirmed with us that we were just staying for the day, we paid the $12 per person entrance fee and he then stamped our passports. Then we were officially in Nicaragua which was a bit livelier than the Costa Rican side with a bunch of little stands and shops selling latest in wares as well as a number of small sodas (typical, family run restaurants) with meats grilling right out front. We chose one and enjoyed a delicious lunch (rice, beans, grilled chicken, cheese, tortilla and salad) complete with a Victoria, the national cerveza of Nicaragua, to celebrate our arrival.

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After our celebratory lunch, we turned around and headed back out of Nicaragua paying our exit fees and then pedicabbed it back to the Costa Rican office where we waited in yet another line to get stamped back into the country. All in all, it was a long day with two little ones, but it was an adventure and we were happy it all went smoothly.

We’re now trying to decide where our next border run will be in early February – Nicaragua again but maybe at Los Chiles instead of Peñas Blancas, Panama, or we may take a flight to Guatemala (to visit Antigua) or Mexico City and make another weekend trip out of the event.  Any suggestions?

9 Costa Rican Fruits We Love

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Our fruit bowl

We’ve enjoyed so many delicious tropical fruits while we’ve been here! Of course, Costa Rica is known for its pineapple, mango, papaya and coco which are all a regular part of our diet, but here are a few fruits that are a bit different and some you may not have even heard of before!

  1. Carambola (Starfruit) – The carambola trees are full of fruit right now, and we’ve had fun slicing them up to highlight the ‘star’ part for the kids. Ticos enjoy putting them in the blender to make fresco (natural fruit juice).
  2. Jocote – When we first arrived here in late August/early September, there were little jocote stands all over selling bags of this delicious small fruit. I admit I was a bit skeptical as I had never heard or seen these before, but once we tried them, we couldn’t get enough. They are picked when they’re greenish/yellow and they quickly ripen and turn to red after a day or two. The taste is something completely unique – they’re part of the cashew family and the yellow innards have a delicious sweet nutty flavor when ripe.  img_1695
  3. Granadilla (sweet passion fruit) – Palmer’s favorite fruit which he likens to ‘a sweet oyster that grows on a tree’ (Ha! — only a Mainer would come up with that analogy!). The edible slippery insides offer a seedy sack of sweet goodness which you slurp down…thus the oyster reference. img_2827
  4. Maracuyá (passion fruit) – My absolute favorite! Passion fruit is very sour, but makes for the BEST fresco once blended with a bit of sugar and water. On a sidenote, check out its gorgeous flower.
  5. Plátano (plantain) – Plantains are very versatile and used for both salty and sweet meal accompaniments. The salty version is called patacones and are made by using green plátanos which are cut into thick slices, fried and then smashed and fried again giving it a crunchy outside with soft inside – they’re sort of like the french fry of Costa Rica. The sweet version is called ‘maduros’ and you wait until the plátano turns brown before peeling and then frying them whole in oil until they’re soft and sweet. Maduros are often eaten with breakfast. plantains
  6. Cas (Costa Rican guava) – This is another fruit that is often made into fruit juice. It has a mild guava flavor and is super refreshing on a hot day.guava-144145_1920
  7. Guanábana (soursop) – This larger spiky fruit has a white fleshy inside with black seeds that again is used to make fresco. It has a citrusy flavor but also a creamy consistency giving it a unique taste. soursop-2837863_1280
  8. Caimo – We just discovered this fun yellow fruit yesterday at the feria and had to give it a try. It has a soft and super sticky inside with a mild taste that combines melon and pear flavors.
  9. Mamón chino (rambutan) – This is another fruit that was in season in September and October and found around much of the country piled high at roadside stands and at markets. The funky looking fruit has a delicious sweet white center with a dark brown seed inside that you eat around. rambutan-2477584_1280

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