Off the Beaten Track: Santa Teresa and Montezuma

It’s been a few months (!!) since my last post so apologies to the avid readers out there. 😉 We were back in the states for a couple weeks for my brother and new sister-in-law’s gorgeous wedding and also spent time visiting dear family and friends in the Northeast.

Soon after we returned, the kids had their ‘semester break’ (the school year here goes from early February to late November with December and January as summer holiday) so we took advantage of that and headed to a couple of small beach towns on the Nicoya Peninsula to do some exploring and enjoy lots of fun in the water.

Getting there

Our first stop was the small town of Santa Teresa on the very southwest corner of the peninsula and just getting there was an adventure in itself. We drove to the Puntarenas ferry about an hour from Atenas and took the ferry over to the peninsula before continuing on. The hour long ferry ride was quite lovely – there was a little cafeteria with fresh popcorn and cold beer AND even air conditioning!

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The ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera

We then disembarked and our narrow paved road turned to dirt with major potholes and dust for the last 30 minutes or so to Santa Teresa, but we arrived. It’s a good thing we did not stop anywhere after the ferry until we arrived as our car promptly died as though it couldn’t take anymore…it wouldn’t start later that night when we were thinking of heading out for dinner. Actually, we knew there was an issue weeks prior that we figured we get checked out after our trip. Oops! Thankfully, our AirBnB host lived at the property and right away called her personal mechanic who came to the house, diagnosed the problem (the starter was caput), got the car started and took it to his shop to get fixed. They then delivered back to us two days later just in time for us to get ready for the next leg of our adventure. Talk about service! In the meantime, ‘Big Red’ got us around the area just fine. Actually, this vehicle was made for these unpaved and potholed roads so it was a dream…as long as we stayed under the speed limit.

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Cruising in style with Big Red

Santa Teresa

As for Santa Teresa, the town is spread out along the coast along a string of beaches and beyond that it’s pretty much jungle. The beaches are gorgeous – raw natural beauty! Not the best for swimming as lots of rip currents and waves, but great for surfing and boogie-ing. Playa Hermosa is the calmest and there were lots of first-time surf lessons happening and boogie boarders enjoying the waves.

 

 

We also enjoyed walking to Playa Carmen from our casita and hanging out at the Banana Beach restaurant for amazing food, cold drinks and beautiful sunsets. I mean, it doesn’t get much better than this!

Sidenote: the restaurants in Santa Teresa are also of superb quality with a strong focus on fresh locally sourced ingredients. The Bakery served amazing gourmet lunch fare:

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Avocado Toast at ‘The Bakery’ in Santa Teresa…YUM!

Montezuma

We also took a day trip to Montezuma with Big Red which was a whole other adventure. It’s probably less than 20km away from Santa Teresa, but on very rough dirt roads which included fording three rivers. Somehow Alice fell asleep along the way; meanwhile, I was gripping the door handles. It was worth the journey as Montezuma was a pretty cool boho little town famous for a few beaches great for surfing and a colorful pueblito. We had some snacks, played in the town playground and hung out at the beach for awhile before our nail biting (or nap time in Alice’s case) ride home.

We would have liked to stay longer and do some hiking in Cabo Blanco Natural Reserve, but it wasn’t meant to be this time around.

Stay tuned for the second leg of our trip to Nosara!

In Search of the Resplendent Quetzal

On a bit of a whim, we decided to spend a weekend up in the highlands near some of the tallest peaks in Costa Rica and the picturesque town of San Gerardo de Dota (about 2 hours south of San José on the Interamericana). We wanted to explore the cloud forest, enjoy some hiking and possibly even sight the elusive quetzal. So we booked an AirBnB (why don’t they have a loyalty program!?!), a ‘rustic cabin’ in the mountains, and jumped on the road Friday afternoon.

The drive there was gorgeous once we exited the San José sprawl and Cartago (the former capital) and started to climb into the mountains.

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We stayed in the tiny community of La Esperanza at about 7,000 feet and were enjoying the much cooler temps as it was such a change from Atenas and the coasts…until evening came and it got downright chilly. Good thing we brought extra blankets and the cabin had a fireplace so we could stay warm. I secretly wished I had a hat and gloves. Oscar still insisted on wearing shorts except for this first photo. The boy runs hot.

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The first morning we hooked up with a local guide named Luis who lives in the same community where we were staying and took us to his property for a bird-watching hike. There are a number of aguacatillo trees there which is the main food source for quetzals so he sees them often. Unfortunately, we weren’t so lucky, but it was a gorgeous place with amazing views, centuries old beautiful oak trees, and wild blackberries that the kids couldn’t stop eating.

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We then headed to the peaceful town of San Gerardo de Dota also known as the ‘Alps of Costa Rica.’ It’s a tiny town along a dead end dirt road with the beautiful Savegre River flowing through it. It offers cute cabins and boutique hotels, a few restaurants and is well known for bird watching and hiking enthusiasts as well as anglers hoping to catch rainbow trout. The drive was beautiful getting there and we enjoyed a fabulous lunch (as fabulous as lunch out with 2 little ones can be) at the lovely Café Kahawa. This was no ordinary café, but a feast for the senses – listening the river babbling alongside, watching the hummingbirds and butterflies dart around, and admiring the beautiful decor and landscaping, not to mention enjoying the delectable ‘trucha al coco’ (fresh grilled trout with a coconut sauce) which Palmer and I both chose and their delicious adult beverages. YUM!

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Our final day included a visit to Parque Nacional Los Quetzales and a short hike. I was thinking there would be more hiking trails there, but there was just one out and back 2k trail from the main entrance. We enjoyed the cool misty walk and moss covered trees, and are already talking about a return trip. It really felt like we were not in Costa Rica anymore!

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This is what we were hoping to experience:

This is as close as we got:

(A beautiful mural on one of the building in La Esperanza and an Oscar original. Haha!)

 

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.