We left the Nicoya Peninsula on Sunday 24 January. The plan was to travel by ferry and bus to the town of Liberia, where we’d booked a hotel for two nights. This would enable us to do a day trip to the Rincón de Vieja national park on Monday.
However, on Saturday afternoon, while still at Playa Grande, we discovered that the national park was closed on Mondays!!! What to do? We could not postpone our visit, because of affecting subsequent arrangements. With the help of the kind hotel manager, who made several phone calls on our behalf, we investigated options. If we could get to Liberia by 7am, the hotel there would store our luggage and we could take a shuttle to the park. It meant going by taxi, so was not cheap, but there was no feasible alternative.
A fun journey
The journey from Playa Grande to Liberia takes only about an hour by taxi, but because of the driver’s other commitments, we had to leave at 4.40, which meant getting up at 4am!!! The driver had been told the previous evening where we needed to go, but seemed convinced we wanted the airport, and we had a struggle persuading him that was not the case. We explained several times what we wanted, and he then decided he was to drive us to the national park! Finally he understood, but did not know where our hotel was. He stopped and asked a local, who sent us in completely the wrong direction.
We were relieved therefore, to reach our hotel at about 6am, with time for a coffee before the shuttle arrived at 7. There were some people already on board, and we stopped to pick up another group, creating a problem – how do you fit 16 people into a 15-seater minibus? Finally we reached the park; we were given maps and a briefing, then we were free to explore. We were struck by a difference in the weather – much cooler than on the coast. And the wind was blowing a gale, which continued all day. We had never experienced anything quite like it.
Rincón de Vieja National Park
There is a hike up to the crater, but the path was closed (as often, apparently). We were not disappointed as we thought it would be too challenging for us anyway. The park also has bubbling mud pots, sulphurous vents etc, and our guidebook mentioned a 6km hike around these unusual geothermal features. We discovered that the walk is actually only 3km, and part of the path was closed, so we had to walk halfway round and then return.
The park is described as a ‘mini Yellowstone’, and ‘mini’ is certainly the operative word. There was no comparison with Yellowstone itself, or with Rotorua in New Zealand. There were only three small and not very exciting geothermal areas on our walk, which we had completed by 9.45. To fill in the rest of the day, we did a hike to a waterfall – picturesque but not spectacular. The hike took us through forest, so no views, although we did see some wildlife. On the way there we saw a group of capuchin monkeys and some large blue butterflies. On the way back Ian spotted a coral snake.
On arriving back at the entrance, we saw lots of people pointing their cameras at a tree, so we thought there must be something really exciting there. It turned out to be a white-throated magpie-jay, exactly like the ones we’d seen the previous day while having coffee!
Crossing the border
Because of our changed plans, we had a day free in Liberia. The town has no special tourist attractions, but after our very long day it was good to have time to relax. It was interesting to stroll around a ‘normal’ Costa Rican town, and we were glad to spend time by the hotel pool, and to catch up on our blog and other things.
Next day we were on the road again, continuing our journey into Nicaragua. We went by ‘international’ bus, i.e. one that travels across borders. The border crossing was nevertheless time-consuming and expensive ($8 each to leave Costa Rica, $14 each to enter Nicaragua!). We left the bus at Rivas, and went by bicycle taxi (another new experience!) to our hotel in neighbouring San Jorge. From there we could look across to the two volcanoes on Ometepe Island.
We were up early again, in order to catch the 7am ferry to Ometepe. We knew the lake could be rough, so we’d chosen the shortest crossing. But some travellers we met in Liberia told us even that could be bad, so on their advice we’d invested in sea-sickness tablets. When we boarded the ferry, we found we’d inadvertently broken another of the Schagen Laws of Travel: Do not go by boat if lifejackets are compulsory. That made us even more nervous! But maybe the tablets were effective, or maybe the lake was not as bad as usual, because although the boat tossed and turned quite a bit, we felt OK.
We landed around 8.15, and were met by a guide and driver we’d hired to take us on a day tour of the island. This started promisingly. We visited a nature reserve, where (after a belated breakfast) we walked through beautiful gardens to a lagoon and a small beach. From there we went to the El Porvenir farm, where we saw pre-Columbian petroglyphs and more gardens.
On to the Santo Domingo Beach, where we went for a walk along the sand, and had lunch. Then to the Ojo de Agua natural spring, but this was disappointing: just a swimming pool, albeit in beautiful surroundings; the water was cold and the floor was rough. We had a brief dip, but did not stay long. Our final stop was the Punta Jesus Maria, where you walk out on a narrow spit of sand and get great views of the volcanoes. We saw some fishermen returning with their catch.
We were back at Moyogalpa (the main town) just too late for 4pm ferry. So while waiting for the 5.30 we walked up the main street to the church at the top. From the boat we saw a beautiful sunset – and the water was amazingly calm!