Saturday, June 18, 2016

Costa Rica Part 10: The Pacific Coast

A pensive young girl strolls along as the surf breaks behind her on the nearly empty beach . Costa Rica's Pacific Coast contains hundreds of miles of beautiful beaches. Following our stop at the Hanging Bridges of Arenal (see Part 9 of this series), our Caravan Tour headed for the coast. In this posting, I'll give you a little taste of what you might find along the coastal areas of Guanacaste and Puntarenas Provinces.

Relief map of Northwest Coast Rica. The capital of San Jose, where we began our journey (Part 1), lies in the Central Valley in the lower right corner of the photo. Our tour took us into the mountains north of San Jose to visit the Poas Volcano and then up to Rio Frio on the Nicaraguan border near the top of the map. After the river cruise, we traveled back south to Lake Arenal (center of photo) where we visited the Hanging Bridges. Then we drove west to the coast of Guanacaste Province to visit a sea turtle sanctuary before stopping for the night at a beach resort. The following day, our journey took us back across the neck of the Nicoya Peninsula and down the eastern shore of the Bahia de Nicoya. Along the way, we stopped to take a ride on an aerial tram up through a deep jungle-filled canyon. In Part 11 (the next, and last, of this series) I'll show the Central Coast down to the beach town of Quepos and the adjacent Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, our last stop before returning to San Jose.

The beach communities

The beach at Leatherback Turtle National Park was almost empty when we visited. The park's Spanish name is Parque Nacional Marino La Baulas, While the central and southern coasts are warm and humid, Guanacaste's coast is hot and dry. Sunblock and plenty of water are essentials for those considering a visit. The park consists of Langosta, Ventanas, and Grande beaches and a protected undersea area extending 12 miles out to sea. The estuaries and mangrove swamps behind the beaches are also included. In total, the protected area covers 175 sq km (109 sq mi). Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriasea) are the biggest turtles in the world and can weigh as much as 907 kg (2000 lbs). These beaches provide their most important nesting areas along the whole Pacific Coast.  While local environmentalists are doing their best to protect the creatures, it is a very difficult fight and the Leatherbacks' future is in doubt. Unfortunately, we saw no live Leatherbacks during our short visit. However, we did visit the small museum and viewed a informative video. Caravan Tours has been very supportive of local efforts to aid the turtles.

One creature we did encounter was this large Neotropical rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus). The snake, about 1.22 m (4 ft) long, was slowly slithering across the highway as our bus approached. Being environmentally conscious, our driver quickly stopped to avoid crushing him. In the shot above, the snake has safely crossed the road and is making his way into the forest. You can see the tail rattles in the lower left of the photo. This poisonous species can grow as large as 2 m (6 ft) and its lightning-fast strike can be very serious, even fatal. The poison not only renders its prey immobile but contains neurotoxins to break down tissues. You probably don't want to trip over this guy while thrashing through the jungle.

One of the less-commonly encountered reptiles of Costa Rica's jungles. This full-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex was hanging out near the parking lot of a restaurant where we stopped for lunch. About 60 million years ago, meeting this fellow might have caused some concern. However, the only thing consumed that day was a considerable quantity of Costa Rica's traditional meal: chicken, rice, and beans.

A graceful foot-bridge extends across a narrow neck of the pool at the J.W. Marriott Hotel.  While swimming in the pool, I underestimated the strength of the sun and neglected to use my sunblock. After only about 10 minutes, I acquired a bad burn that remained uncomfortable for nearly a week. Visitors should keep my experience in mind. This large resort-hotel complex is located some distance from Pinilla, the nearest town. While the J.W. Marriott property was beautiful, we found its remoteness to be confining and its atmosphere a bit too manicured. The only way to visit Pinilla to sample the local culture was by taxi, costing $14 (USD) per head. In addition, drink prices at J.W. Marriott were exorbitant. A beer cost $5.00 and a half a glass of house wine was an eye-popping $10.00. On the up-side, our rooms were comfortable, the hotel food was good, and staff was friendly and attentive.

Tide pools formed from volcanic lava mark the southern boundary of the hotel's beach. I took this shot in the late afternoon as the sun's golden rays bathed the volcanic rock, creating a rosy glow. The water was calm and the fierce heat of mid-day became balmy as evening approached.

Aerial tram

An aerial tram gondola passes over a waterfall deep in a gorge of the coastal range. A short drive up into the coastal mountains will bring you to one of Costa Rica's many aerial  trams. Taking a ride on one of these will give you, literally, a bird's eye view of the countryside. Each gondola will fit only a handful of people so, if you arrive at the same time as a tour group, or are part of one, you may need to wait a bit to get aboard.

The forest on either side of the gorge grows thickly up its steep sides. Rainforest Adventures Costa Rica Pacific operates this tram. The ticket price was included in the cost of our Caravan Tour but, for those going "a la carte", the cost is $60 (USD) per adult and $30 for a child. The turnoff from the Coast Highway (#34) is at Jaco, a few miles south of Bahia Herradura.

Bright yellow primavera flowers sprout from the trees along the gorge. In some places you can almost reach out and pluck the flowers from the tree tops as you pass.

Gondolas glide slowly through the forest canopy. The two gondolas on the left are rising while the ones one the right are heading back. Each gondola seats nine passengers: eight tourists and one bi-lingual (Spanish-English) naturalist guide.

A small waterfall rushes over a rock face near where the gondolas turn to head down. There are 18 gondolas and one arrives every few minutes at the small station far below. It takes a few minutes to debark one set of passengers and embark another, so the other 17 gondolas periodically halt in the air along the way. This makes photography a bit easier since shooting while moving can be tricky.

A monitor lizard greeted us when we debarked from our gondola. This fearless creature was about 0.6 m (2 ft) long. Native to Africa, Asia, and Oceania, monitors are an invasive species. They probably arrived in Costa Rica as pets. When released, they rapidly adapted to their new environment, probably at the expense of some native species.

This completes Part 10 of my Costa Rica series. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, you will leave your thoughts or questions in the Comments section below or email them to me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE also leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

1 comment:

If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim