January to February 2020
Day 1 - San Jose to La Fortuna
We started in Quesada having stopped awhile in Zarcero to admire the topiary and church in the central square. The climate is changing commented Esteban as we unloaded the bikes in the rain before setting off northwards along route 141. Quite a start it was too, where we fell 400 metres along twisting roads bordered by cows and trees. Tico’s provided a fine choice, not only because of the ample and delicious portions but the three iguanas sunning themselves in a neighbouring tree.
Freshly cut pineapple and water melon fuelled us along a track parallel to the main road to La Fortuna where the weather closed in and it was a race to get to the accommodation before dark. Our accommodation like Centre Parks with birds was delightful.
Day 2 - La Fortuna
An early start at 0630 beckoned as we breakfasted before transferring to Sky Adventures to the south of the volcano. It had started raining in the night and would intermittently carry on all day, but it didn’t dampen what was to be a fabulous day in the mountains.
Kitted out in a harness, helmet and gloves, eight of us headed to the Sky Tam to be whisked up through the treetops with the only option to take 8 zip lines down. After a short introductory ride, I looked right to see an enormous one across the canyon, many metres above the treetops. The guides clearly had a sense of humour and seemed to love every minute, clicking us in before pushing us into the abyss. Next were the Hanging Bridges after the obligatory coffee which was an absolute treat as our guide was incredibly enthusiastic. The walk was supposed to be 2 hours but took 3.5 hours. It was raining and the wildlife was hiding, though the small snake and the howler monkeys squatting in the trees were a highlight. Robin spotted the spectacled owl amongst many other fantastic feathered creations.
We ate at the hotel within the huge dining area open to the elements on all sides which provided great bird spotting opportunities
Day 3 - Lake Arenal
It was increasingly obvious that with the rain, hills and heavier bikes a change of plan was needed. Combine this with a road to the lake that was quite full of traffic heading out to the attractions meant that we took the bus to the edge of Lake Arenal to start in the drizzle. Starting along the dam because this was a reservoir and Costa Rica’s largest lake the start would be a series of ups and downs along the north shore. Our first stop was the Chalet which was a real piece of Switzerland complete with small church, coffee and railway. The German bakery was our destination, there’s a trend here, so apple strudel quaffed it was bikes back on the bus for most whilst a bunch of us decided to cycle back. The clouds remained low and for me a tremendous downpour hit just before the dam illuminated by a bunch of White Faced Coatis snuffling up the verge. I caught the bus in driving rain, so dressed in a coat and shorts the naturel thing was to strike for home, up 2 big hills, past a thermal pool and so chocolate milk powered descended back to the hotel
Day 4 - Monteverde
Estefan coming from the area suggested a better route than planned and looking at it with a predominance of downhill it looked idea. Bikes loaded we set of for the 40 minute drive to the north where we unloaded and headed for a viewpoint. From there it was back again and a left in and out to a remarkable spot. Here on a small hill was a small one room building with steps up the side where we all assembled to admire the clouds and distant views. Next door was a toilet and when I asked why was told that a dairy farmer had lived here till 20 years ago. Back down the track to descend into Saint Elena passing the zip lines and tour buses taking expectant punters to the adrenaline attractions. It had been a tough few hours, the road was tough enough to catch out folks who were used to tarmac, but not rough enough to slow everyone down.
From Saint Elena we descended along the way we had driven into Monteverde and I was surprised at quite how steeply we descended, though tempered with the short sharp uphills. The road was still dirt, but tarmac is coming as we were held up by a road crew doing the drains before a precipitous and rapid descent along fresh tarmac to an absolutely delightful lunch stop with football pitch, gardens and the ubiquitous Christmas Crib decorated area.
Day 5 – Monteverde.
Up and out early for a delightful morning bird walk through the hotel grounds and open spaces by the road as it was far easier to spot them. To the Salvatori Bridges where we spotted a Sloth and watched Humming Birds basking in the sun. Back in Saint Elena, coffee was on the menu as we munched sticky buns before returning back to relax in the forested grounds of our hotel
Day 6 – Monteverde
The rains had fallen, the rivers were swollen and the south lake road although maintained by the government had a river crossing up to the thighs. The bus could get to this point to dry people out, but with track after that the route was altered to start on the north side where we had finished yesterday at the German bakery.
The wind was blowing strongly on the lake and you could see the windsurfers zipping quickly from side to side as well as the windfarms churning. Climbing away from the lake led to a viewpoint where we met the van for snacks before descending quickly to Tilaran. The arrival of 18 cyclists in a local café was a bonus for the owner and for the street seller outside from whom we bought two huge Elephant ears. Wrapped in a huge plastic bag they were a huge sweet crisp which went down well with the fries and sandwiches washed down with fresh orange juice from jugs.
Approaching 1400 now we still had a 2 hour drive up to Monteverde, so whilst half put the bikes on the roof, the rest of us set of Uphill to as far as the tarmac ran out.
Collected by old turbine blades in the public park, we were taken up a rutted dirt until we reached St Elena to admire the view and tuck ourselves up in the Eco cabins at El Bosque.
We were on a time table because tonight was the Night Walk, a trip through the forest trail next door where the highlight was the Olingo in the tree boughs.
Day 7 – Tilaran
In search of tarmac, the bikes were loaded for the 2 hour trip down the mountain, along the unmade road. It seemed a shame to miss the descent but with 3 short ascents and an unsure surface it seemed the right thing to do. Onto tarmac 10km outside Tilaran and which we climbed back to the viewpoint over Lake Arenal. Bikes unloaded it was a fast descent to the lake after which we climbed with the windfarms revolving to our left and distant views of the pacific. The tarmac continued as we passed the radio tower at the top before descending. I had expected us to stop at the village but we were directed right and up along an unmade trade heading for more windfarms. Cereal bars and fruit powered us down the descent and it was a sinking feeling that I realised that this unpaved part was going to continue to route 6 despite assurances it was going to be tarmac all the way.
We were though saved by Karen who had managed to persuade a local to open up his house, share his 3 bananas and play music by the Beatles whilst we admired his courtyard of flowers. Along route 6, happily tarmacked climbing and then a grand descent passing howler monkeys and chocolate kiosks to be picked up for the trip to L’Anita
Day 8 – Yoko
The original ride was to Liberia and back but I was adapting, so in consultation with Pablo (the owner) we headed for the hot springs. We could have done a circuit at the top. “It’s flat smiled Pablo, but then again I use a motorbike’ Checking Ridewith GPS it was clear that there was a 300m climb down and up, so that was ditched.
Out of L’Anita the road varied from tarmac to good track. Over a small blip and through what I thought was the real Costa Rica. 4 fishermen appeared at a bridge. Smiling all the time, one though a net in whilst 2 others dived to check it, one fish the reward. The climb to the hot springs was long and gradual, a tarmac road with a volcano LHS, top covered in wispy cloud. Steam vented from a resort as we settled into Yoko, where 4 pools of various heat soothed our aching limbs. Coffees drunk, lunch munched it was back down the hill and a return to L’Anita where the Toucans sat in the trees.
Day 9 – L’Anita
The toaster at breakfast took a hammering whilst it was agreed that a walk along the trail was the thing to do. So, map in hand and donning a pair of wellingtons (to avoid snake bites) everyone set of in pairs to explore first the jungly bit then the track past the estate’s cocoa bushes. Grasshoppers and butterflies were the order of the day and it felt really soporific in the heat whilst walking rather than on the bike.
Back at the guesthouse we assembled for an evening meal cooked by our goodselves, with a delicious chicken and cheese dish at a local café hidden in the jungle.
Day 10 -Liberia
It was hard to leave L’Anita for some, another day would be nice remarked Robin as Pablo waved us goodbye. We divided into 2 groups. 6 wanted to cycle from the start whilst the rest of us took the bus to an agreed pick up. The plan was to meet at the top of the first climb which Martyn and Robin managed in 90 minutes. For the bus we had to take a diversion as the coach would ground out on the steep incline. In the end we met at the bisection of tarmac roads by a channelled water course serving Liberia. We had 2 choices, the less scenic tarmac all the way (hopefully) or the other described as ‘mostly tarmac’ We chose the latter heading down then the usual steep up. The gpx took us along a track but we chose to follow the tarmac as it paralleled, but turned off along an old stoney track to be greeted by an ox cart and 2 smiling Costa Ricans. Through the trees and large blue birds before being spat out again onto a hard baked track that undulated to the left of a huge canyon with a ridge of larval rock to the right. A local family had dammed a stream with sandbags to make a swimming hole, so whilst the young lady floated pink balloons in the water, Karen and I cooled of ion the water. We were on a hard white smooth surface where the track had been scraped through the interior, with high walls to our left. After a particularly steep climb, we started a lovely gradual descent along a perfectly smooth white base with the white high clouds about us. Liberia’s outskirts greeted us with piles of rubbish a stark contract to the norm as this is a pretty clean country. We followed the grid patter through the city before spotting Robin and Martyn by a café on the side. We left Liberia behind back on the tarmac, past the airport. However, the road was busy and we stretched out along the road. After the eventual bend south, we all bailed out and onto the bus for a transfer to Tamarindo where the traffic intensified.
Our hotel by the beach with fabulous surf issued us with wristbands and we settled in.
Welcome cocktails (Pin Colada/G&T) set us up for tacos by the sea.
Day 11 - Tamarindo
The few tarmac roads on the west coast fill quickly with cars and lorries shuttling tourists from A to B, so we headed for the dirt tracks north of Tamarindo intending to complete a 57 km circuit. It started well with a wide track through farmland, but then narrowed to a short section of narrow muddy swamp then more track and another swamp. Will Mart (a play on Wal Mart) served coffee filtered through a stand and a net, where the boiling water made the best of the coffee. We were supposed to take another track north but we were refused passage, so added a 3km loop, though the reward were black and white striped iguanas and forestry views. Tourists in 4x4 dune buggies over took us as we pushed up an impossible steep slope to the sound of the sea before descending to Playa Bahia (Pirate Beach) where we took to the warm water. The back up bus couldn’t get here so we headed to Conchal Beach and cycled along it, passing hundreds of tourists before finishing and loading the bikes at Brasilito at 1400. Lunch and a return to the hotel for a fabulous Italian meal at Antichi Sapori where the owner oozed enthusiasm and the food was delicious, pesto pizza anyone?
Day 12- Tamarindo
The sun shone as eight of us set out for a ride to Playa Avellana, effectively the next beach south from Tamarindo. Heading west along the main street we quickly hit a wide dirt track recently scraped flat and after the obligatory steep climb descended to the tarmac main road. Onto dirt again and past a pool filled with bird life before arriving at the beach where the perfect surf was pretty forceful. A fresh coconut for me and a coffee for the others and we bussed back to Tamarindo to while the afternoon away, in my case on a surf board whilst Sarah read her book. Our final dinner was beautifully laid out to the sound of the surf and with a cocktail inside us enjoyed the sound of the sea and the overpowering synthesiser which pleased the Germans as they danced the evening away.