anticipation & preparation: nicaragua & costa rica

We are going to Nicaragua and Costa Rica after the Christmas holidays. This will be our first time to Central America, and I feel good that this year we’re giving some love to the Americas outside of the U.S. Our primary reason for going to Nicaragua is to visit our youngest son who has been staying on Ometepe Island in that country almost since the start of the pandemic. We’ve seen him on FaceTime and Zoom, and talked with him frequently, but we haven’t seen him in person since early 2020.

Mike was the driving force behind going to Costa Rica, which adjoins the southern border of Nicaragua; to be honest I wasn’t originally all that thrilled about it. Heat and humidity are not things I enjoy; neither are bugs, poisonous snakes, bullet ants, and other unpredictable wildlife. Plus, Costa Rica is a different ballgame altogether with all of its adventure sports and active volcanoes. However, after reading a lot about it, I’m now fully onboard and have even opted to try numerous adventure sports such as ziplining, tubing, rafting and superman ziplining, as well as walks over hanging bridges and guided wildlife walks.

Spanish studies

I’ve continued my Spanish studies with The Great Courses and with Duolingo; so far I have a 212 day streak and I’m determined to meet daily goals and to keep practicing.

Books

Of course, I always love to read books set in my destination, so I read some of the books below (indicated with stars and ratings). I own the books in green and will read them sometime during the year.

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books set in Nicaragua

Nicaragua

  1. The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love & War by Gioconda Belli *****
  2. The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey by Salman Rushdie ***
  3. Nicaragua: Living in the Shadow of the Eagle by Thomas W. Walker
  4. Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua by Stephen Kinzer (currently reading)
  5. The Ladies of Managua by Eleni N. Gage (Kindle) ***
  6. Lonely Planet Nicaragua ****
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books set in or partly in Costa Rica

Costa Rica

  1. Moon Costa Rica by Nikki Solano ****
  2. Costa Rica: A Traveler’s Literary Companion, Ed. by Barbara Ras
  3. The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica by Mavis Hiltunen Biesanz & Richard Biesanz
  4. Monkeys are Made of Chocolate: Exotic and Unseen Costa Rica by Jack Ewing
  5. Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, & Living the Zero Hour Work Week by Nadine Hays Pisani (currently reading)
  6. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  7. The Lost World by Michael Crichton
  8. The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond (& San Francisco, CA) ****
  9. The Best Short Stories of Quince Duncan by Quince Duncan
  10. A Beach House to Die For by K.C. Ames
  11. See Before You Die: Costa Rica by J.E. Leigh
  12. The Scent of Jade by Dee DeTarsio
  13. It’s Every Monkey for Themselves: A True Story of Sex, Love and Lies in the Jungle by Vanessa Woods

Movies

I found movies set in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, but sadly I haven’t seen any of them. Hopefully, I can find some of these in the coming months.

Nicaragua

  1. Alsino and the Condor (1982)
  2. Under Fire (1983)
  3. Latino (1985)
  4. Walker (1987)
  5. Clinton and Nadine (1988)
  6. Sandino (1990)
  7. Carla’s Song (1997)
  8. La Yuma (2010)
  9. Now & Later (2011)
  10. Kill the Messenger (2014)
  11. The Naked Screen (La Pantalla Desnuda) (2014)
  12. Drunk Wedding (2015)

Costa Rica

  1. Caribe (1987)
  2. Jurassic Park (1993)
  3. Jurassic Park & The Lost World (1997)
  4. Jurassic Park III (2001)
  5. Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002)
  6. The Blue Butterfly (2004)
  7. The Red Sky (El Cielo Rojo) (2008)
  8. The Path (El camino) (2008)
  9. Cold Water of the Sea (Agua fría de mar) (2010)
  10. Costa Rican Summer (2010)
  11. Runner Runner (2013)
  12. After Earth (2013) – in La Fortuna
  13. The Happiest Place in the World (El lugar más feliz del mundo) (2015)
  14. Journey (Viaje) (2015)
  15. After Words (2015)
  16. Imprisoned (Presos) (2015)
  17. About Us (Entonces nosotros) (2016)
  18. The Heat After the Rain (El calor después de la lluvia) (2016)
  19. Paths of Love (Los caminos del amor) (2019)
  20. Land of Ashes (Ceniza negra) (2019)
  21. The Last Thing He Wanted (2020)
  22. One Step from Me (A un paso de mí) (2021)

Our Itinerary

It seems our time in Nicaragua will be more laid back than our time in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a real tourist destination with so many activities to choose from that it boggles the mind. Below is our itinerary. The Costa Rica part includes numerous options, some of which we haven’t yet narrowed down. I hope to wait until we’re in country and can get recommendations from our hotels or tour guides.

Nicaragua

Our entire trip encompasses 22 days, including the travel to Nicaragua and from Costa Rica.

1) Tuesday: Fly into Managua, Nicaragua. Pick up rental car and drive to Matagalpa. (2 hr 12 min):

  • Hotel San Jose, Matagalpa

2) Wednesday: Overnight in Matagalpa

  • Hiking opportunities abound. Boulder, fields and red rock faces of El Ocote
  • Cafetín Girasol: Sells detailed leaflets for self-guided walks
  • Esteli: (1 hr 34 min): Reserva Natural Miraflor (???) (too far and too much time?)
    • Stunning cloud forest with rivers and waterfalls
    • One-day trek 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. and cost around $20/person (inc. 2 meals and mandatory guide). All money goes to supporting community and farmers.

3) Thursday: Overnight in Matagalpa

  • Reserva Natural Cerro Apante: Cloud Forest Reserve and shade-grown coffee plantations, pleasant cool climate (2 hour round trip hike to mirador)
  • Selva Negra – hike any of 20 km of trails

4) Friday: Matagalpa to León (2 hr 36 min)

  • Hotel La Posada del Doctor
  • Leon City Walk, p. 145 guidebook (Revolutionary and Cultural Leon)
    • Museo de Arte Fundación Ortiz-Gurdián (contemporary art, $2, way to escape the heat)
    • Iglesia de la Recolección – most beautiful church in city
    • Museo Histórico de la Revolución (Museum of the Revolution – $2)
    • Catedral de León 8 a.m. to 12 OR 2-4 pm Monday-Saturday (Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
      • Largest in Central America, Tomb of Rubén Darío (poet)
      • Climb to top for views ($2)
    • Street Art of the Revolution
    • Dine at Al Mirador for views and sunset
    • Explore local markets: Mercado Central most popular and renovated, across street from Cathedral

5) Saturday: Overnight in León

  • La Peñitas – white sand paradise
  • Poneloya
  • Mas Adventures – hiking trips to Telica, El Hoyo, Cosigüina * Asosasca Volcanoes
  • Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado (not sure)

6) Sunday: León to Granada (2 hr 25 min)

  • Granada Airbnb
  • Motorbiking is a good way to get around in Granada; NO UBER. Get around by Tuk-tuk, taxi or foot.
  • Drive by Masaya volcano (stop at Mirador Catarina) – if you go at night from Granada you can see the magma lit up
  • Fortaleza La Polvora – best views in town to Lago Nicaragua
  • La Capilla María Auxiliadora – beautiful interior
  • Cemeterioide Granada – outskirts of town

7) Monday: Overnight in Granada

  • City Walk: p. 88 guidebook
    • Explore main plaza: Parque Central, Catedral de Granada
    • Go to Iglesia La Merced (near Cathedral) and climb bell tower ($1): stunning views of Cathedral and the city in general (great sunset location as well)
    • Convento y Museo San Francisco
  • Iglesia de Merced – Sunset Views from bell tower

8) Tuesday: Overnight in Granada

  • Volcan Mombacho – hikes. Open with regular hours (Fri, Sat, Sun only??)
  • Reserva Natural Laguna de Apoyo – Crater Lake
    • Go to Paradiso hostel; message them on Facebook and book direct for free access to tubes, sun loungers and kayaks, small fee for paddle boards ($10/person if book with them directly)
  • Isletas de Oranada

9) Wednesday: Granada > Rivas (1 hr 13 min) > to Santa Cruz, Ometepe (2 hr 12 min – cross ferry)

  • El Encanto Garden Hotel, Santa Cruz
  • Punta Jesus Maria
  • Ojo de Agua (The Eye of Water) Ometepe – natural spring. (Carol & Carlos recommended)

10) Thursday: Overnight in Santa Cruz, Ometepe

  • Motorbikes? Or bicycles?
  • Hike to Cascada San Ramón
  • Horseback ride to Volcán Maderas
  • More of our son’s life

11) Friday: Santa Cruz, Ometepe (cross ferry) > San Juan del Sur (2 hr 40 min)

  • HC Liri Hotel
  • Explore San Juan del Sur: Clapboard Victorian houses, pretty beach for sunset stroll, statue of Christ: Cristo de la Misericordia (1 hr hike up and 1 hr down)
  • Eat dinner at El Timon San Juan del Sur – Nicaraguan beach restaurant with thatched roof – Latin live music J (Recommended by Carol & Carlos)

Costa Rica

12) Saturday: LEAVE NICARAGUA. San Juan del Sur > Peñas Blancas > Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica (2 hr 26 min)

  • (Trade in rental car and get new one at the border in Peñas Blancas)
  • Our son returns to Ometepe and we travel onward.
  • Hotel El Velero
  • Laid back vibe, Relax on the beach, stroll 4-block boardwalk

13) Sunday: Overnight in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

  • Diamante Eco Adventure Park
    • Zip line and Aerial Adventure + 30 foot free fall Quick jump. Scheduled for 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
  • Relax on the beach

14) Monday: Playa Hermosa > Airport (29 min) > Liberia (19 min) > Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin (32 min)

  • Take Alex to Guanacaste Airport near Liberia by 10:00 AM. (32 minutes)
  • Liberia:
    • Iglesia La Agonía
    • Giant El Toro Statue
    • Parque Mario Cañas Ruiz & Central Church of Liberia
    • Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin, Rincon de la Vieja National Park
    • (Massages??)

15) Tuesday: Overnight at Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin

  • 2x 1 day Adventure Pass 8:30 a.m.
    • Canopy (zipline tour), rapelling through the Rio Blanco Canyon, a tubing adventure on the Rio Negro River with class III rapids, horseback riding expedition to nearby waterfalls, relax with volcano heated thermal waters, steam and mud bath.

16) Wednesday: Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin > Catarata Llanos del Cortes (47 min) > Bijagua, Costa Rica (55 min)

  • (TOTAL drive 1 hr 33 min)
  • Catarata Llanos del Cortes (quick stop at waterfall)
  • Celeste Mountain Lodge
  • Volcán Tenorio: Rio Celeste: hiking: Sendero Principal 3km 1 way 1.5-2 hours last entry 2 pm.
  • Rio Celeste: $2 to park by trailhead and $12/person to hike the trail (8 am – 4 pm)
    • Along bright blue river
    • Enter park through El Pilón Ranger Station
    • Catarata Rio Celeste (waterfall)
    • Mountain Mirador
    • Laguna Azul
    • Borbollones & Los Teñideros
  • Also: Frog Paradise and Wildlife Sanctuary nearby (night tour?)

17) Thursday: Bijagua > Tilaran (1 hr 7 min) > Monteverde (1 hour 41 min) Take route 145 and 606.

  • Hotel Claro de Luna
  • Monteverde Rain Forest Night Walk $34 (@ 2 hours) (5:30 or 8 pm)
    • Meeting point: Wildlife Refuge Monteverde: C. Los Camachos, Provincia de Puntarenas, Monteverde, Costa Rica Drive to Cañitas in the 606 nort 1K out of the town to Refugio de vida silvestre in calle Camachos or add in your GPS 85HC+FV Monterverde de Puntarenas when you are there please ask for Johnny Villegas in the front desk of Refugio de Vida Silvestre
    • RSVP to the biggest party in Monteverde with this nocturnal tour of the area’s famed wildlife by moonlight, when nearly 80 percent of Monteverde’s mammalian residents come out to play. Join a guide who will help you spot animals such as gray foxes, reptiles, and more as they come out after dark. Guided night walk of Monteverde’s wildlife Spot the animals that only come out at night, including gray foxes and more Nocturnal tour lets you see more of Monteverde’s famed animal life, as nearly 80 percent of its mammals are nocturnal. Read more about Monteverde Rain Forest Night Walk – https://www.viator.com/tours/Puntarenas/Monteverde-Night-Walk/d4506-23968P2?mcid=56757

18) Friday: Overnight in Monteverde. OPTIONS:

  • Monteverde Sky Adventures Park:
    • Sky Walk &Tram @ Monteverde 9:35 pick up at hotel.  Adventure from 10:15 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
  • Monteverde Orchid Garden (9 am – 5 pm daily, $14/adult)
    • Complimentary guided tour (departs every 15 minutes 9am-4:15pm, 35-45 min) is optional but wows everyone.
  • Shopping in Santa Elena:
    • Woods Art Gallery – Costa Rican souvenirs
    • Foresta Arte Local – jewelry, clothing and items made with batik fabrics
    • Luna Azul – handcrafted jewelry and clothing designed by Costa Ricans

19) Saturday: Overnight in Monteverde. OPTIONS:

  • Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso de Santa Elena – cloud forest immersion (7am-4pm daily, last entry 2:30pm, $16/adult). Significantly smaller, slightly higher in elevation, and noticeably less busy than the Monteverde cloud forest reserve (see below). More intimate and peaceful experience. 12km of well-maintained hiking trails.
    • Tour guide in visitor center: natural history walk (7:30am, 9:15am, 11:30am, 1pm daily, 2.5 hours, $33/adult) All guided bookings require 2 days notice. By phone or website.
    • Guided Sunrise Tour: (4:50 am daily, 1.5-2 hours, $25pp, includes reserve entrance fee). Tour provides access to park before reserve opens; when sunrise tour wraps up, can spend the rest of the day exploring the network of on-site trails at your own pace, at no extra cost.
    • Hiking:
      • Sendero Encantado, 3.5km loop, 2-3 hours, moderate)
      • Sendero del Bajjo (2.5km loop, 1.5 hours, moderate) (don’t have to work too hard on either of the above trails)
      • Sendero Caño Negro: (5km one-way, 3-4 hours, moderate-difficult) – roughest, most adventurous trek of reserve’s five trails.
  • OR Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso de Monteverde (12 min drive from Santa Elena. 4×4 recommended but not required) – Park fee $25/person. Most popular cloud forest. Over 4,000 hectares. 11 trails of varying length. Well maintained and easy to follow.
    • 7am-4pm daily, last entry 2pm, $25/adult
    • Region’s most visited cloud forest reserve
    • Guided tours:
      • Early morning bird-watching tour (6am, 3 hours, $65pp.)
        • Resplendent quetzal
        • Three wattled bellbird
      • Daytime natural history walk (7:30am, 11:30am, 1:30 pm – 2 hours, $23/pp)
      • Can arrange tours through the reserve or through tour operators in town – advance reservation for tours are required
      • Park’s trails can also be explored without a guide. Advance reservations recommended but not required, esp. in morning when park is busiest.
      • Hiking: 13km trail system beyond the main visitors center.
        • Sendero Bosque Nuboso, 2km one way, 45 min, moderate)
          • “cloud forest” – dense forest where air is moist and cluttered with clouds. Prettiest trail in park
        • Sendero Camino, 2km one way, 30-45 min, easy-moderate) – less rugged terrain, a wider track and an easier hike, but a less scenic experience.
          • Both of above most frequented, end near La Ventana (The Window) a lookout point over the Continental Divide
  • Hummingbird Garden (just outside Monteverde Cloud Forest)
  • Horse Trek Monteverde – choose from mountain and farm rides, during the day or sunset, rides along the Continental Divide and more.
    • Half-day ($49-65 pp)
    • Full-day ($85 pp)
  • El Tigre waterfalls:
    • 2 trails, both intermediate level, showcasing 4 stunning waterfalls and 9 bridges. $29 entry. 7:30am-2pm.
  • Selvatura Park (wildlife – hummingbirds, snakes, butterflies, and other species) – Caters to busloads of visitors daily.
    • Guided exhibit tours every 15 min (8:30 am – 2:30 pm daily)
      • Hummingbird garden ($6/person)
      • Butterfly Garden ($17/person)
      • Reptile and Amphibian Exhibition ($17/person)
      • Sloth Sanctuary (45 min, $35/adult)
    • Adventure tours:
      • Zip-lining canopy tour ($55/adult – 8:30 am, 11am, 1pm, 2:30 pm. 2.5 hours)
      • Treetop Walkways hanging bridges tour (8:30 am, 11am, 1pm, 2:30pm. 2-2.5 hours guided tour – $33/person) A moderate hike through 90% virgin forest. 1.9km of trails over 8 bridges ranging from 170 feet to an amazing 560ft. in length.
  • Monteverde Adventure Company
    • Whitewater rafting
    • Safari float excursion on Río Tenorio
    • Horsebackriding tour
    • Mountain biking tour
    • Kayaking tour
    • Stand-up paddleboarding tour on or around Lago Arenal
  • Find the ficus tree bridge hidden in the jungle of Santa Elena
    1. Located in downtown Santa Elena, should only take about 30 minutes. Walk from the start of the trail takes only 5 minutes. Try climbing down to the river and get an angle from below.
  • Finca Don Juan (8am-5pm daily)
    • Coffee, Chocolate and Sugarcane Tour (8am, 10am, 1pm, 3pm daily. $37/adult)

20) Sunday: Monteverde > Juan Santamaría International Airport (2 hr 46 min) – drop off rental car) > San Jose (45 min)

  • Birdwatching Morning Tour 6am-8am. See up to 480 bird species – pickup included. $65.76/person
    • Read more about Bird Watching Tour in Monteverde – https://www.viator.com/tours/Monteverde/Birdwatching-Tour-in-Monteverde-Cloud-Forest/d24783-9102P1?mcid=56757 Immerse yourself in the bird lover’s paradise of Monteverde cloud forest on this 2.5-hour early-morning bird-watching tour. With up to 450 species of birds, including the rare Resplendent Quetzal, Monteverde is a natural playground for wildlife enthusiasts and your expert guide will ensure you tick off as many as possible. Don’t just train your binoculars on the treetops either – white-throated capuchin monkeys, coatis, agoutis and deer are also common sightings. 2.5-hour bird-watching tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Maximise your chances of spotting birds with an early-morning walking tour Be in with a chance of seeing 450 different bird species, including the Resplendent Quetzal Spot wildlife like coatis, capuchin monkeys and deer No experience necessary: suitable for all abilities Free hotel pickup and drop-off included Small-group tour ensures a personalized experience.

  • Hotel Santo Tomas/Historical Property 

21) Monday: Overnight in San Jose

  • Can take a San José Free Walking Tour 9 am and 1 pm daily, 3 hours, donations accepted). Covers downtown core. Just meet in front of Aurora Holiday Inn on north side of Parque Morazán.
  • Sights:
    • Cathedral Metropolitana (6am-7:30pm Mon-Sat; 6am-9pm Sun) 4 masses throughout day Mon-Sat.; 7 services on Sunday.
    • Plaza de la Cultura (park)
    • Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica (can visit for free to see inside) – can see theater on guided tour 9am-4pm daily, 45 min, $11/person)
    • Museo del Jade (pre-Columbian history) (See the Night exhibit & the colorful Day exhibit) (9am-5pm daily, $16/person)
    • Museo del Oro Precolombino: Gold Museum (9:15am-5pm daily) $14/person)

22) Tuesday: Fly home to U.S.

Travel Journal

Finally, here are some bits of my journal that I’ll be taking along.

See you again in January. Happy New Year, everyone!