Upon receiving the exciting news that my friend and his father from the states were coming to visit me here in Costa Rica, I began searching for interesting things to do. My friend and his father had only requested, “beach, snorkeling, chill.” Fortunately, Costa Rica is abundant with activities that fall into those specified categories.
My research paid off big time when I found out about Cahuita. It had everything that the boys wanted. So I booked the hostel and waited impatiently for my friends’ arrival. They got to San Jose late in the evening, but I made my way to their hotel to celebrate their arrival and have a few toasts.
We left 2 days later for the paradise by the Caribbean Sea. Our drive took us through some of the most twisted, and beautiful mountain views I had ever seen. As we neared our destination, we could see the ocean, a mere 20 meters from the road. Our excitement was palatable, a static energy you could feel at every pore. We rolled the windows down and breathed in the salty air.
The town of Cahuita is small, barely 5 city blocks worth of actual town, but it is densely packed with restaurants, bars, knick-knack shops, tourist companies, and mini markets. We made our way to the hostel, Cabinas Caribe Luna, and saw just what peaceful Caribbean life really looks like. We met with the owners Enrica and David. They had the sweetest and most welcoming demeanor. They were the essence of “Pura Vida.” Their property is tucked neatly back into the wilderness, but still close enough to walk to the beach, the town, the national park. The cabins are individually set back in a romantic garden that is well maintained by Enrica and David. David has even begun marking each plant and tree with their names. There is a small stone sitting circle that I dubbed the “philosophy classroom.” It’s a perfect place for meditation, relaxation, and the mental reset we all need at one time or another.
After setting up our gear in the hostel cabin, we left to get supplies and head down to the beach. The town itself is quaint, quiet, and beautiful. We picked up some snacks and beers and made our way to the closest beach (which was about 300 meters from our hostel). Our first day was spent lounging by the beach with beers in hand. The views are as incredible as you can imagine. The water is clear, the sand soft and warm, the misting sea salt air embraces your lungs.
That night we had a simple dinner at one of the local watering holes, where we enjoyed some beers and the company. We spent the rest of the night playing cards on our peaceful patio. The sounds of the night crept up on us and we all slowly drifted off to sleep.
I woke, sweating (it’s rather warm on the Caribbean coast), but I was delighted to get started on our day. We all had a meager breakfast of cereal bars and orange juice. The night before, we had booked our snorkeling and jungle tour. We were only an hour away from swimming in the largest coral reef in Costa Rica.
My companions and I walked the ten minutes to the tour company that we had booked with. We met our guide, received the simple instructions, fitted our gear, and followed Alex, our tour guide, to the boat. After a few minutes of getting everyone settled in the small boat, we made our way out onto the open water. We were never too far off shore, but the breeze caressing my skin felt like a lover’s hand stroking my beard as I drift to sleep. In other words, pure bliss.
When we reached the first reef stop, we were again reminded of the rules: no standing, no touching the corals, stay close to the boat, etc. We then plunged ourselves into a fantasy. The moment I was in the water with mask and snorkel at the ready, I was immediately in view of an underwater universe I had yet to experience in my life. There were fish of every color. We saw a nurse shark, held a sea cucumber, watched a school of fish whose numbers reached in the thousands. There was every variety of coral, alive and intoxicating to see. We eventually went to another stop a little closer to shore where the scene was just as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the first.
After about two hours of snorkeling, the group was ready to return to shore and begin our jungle hike part of the adventure. I felt like we were waiting forever, but in reality it was probably about 45 minutes. It is amazing how much anticipation can alter our sense of time.
When we finally embarked on the easy hike, it seemed as if there were too many people to see anything very interesting. I feared we would be too loud and keep the animals away. However, within ten minutes of the journey, I was corrected. Alex, our tour guide had already spotted the first sloth. Perched just a few meters out of reach, a mother and her cub were cuddled together gazing at the humans uninterestedly. This was how the hike went: about every ten to fifteen minutes, Alex would spot something else of interest for us inexperienced tourists. We were able to see golden spiders, white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, basilisks (both green and brown), a variety of snakes (both venomous and non), pelicans in the bay, tarantulas, and many types of butterfly. There may have been more as well, but it was a lot to see in one short afternoon in the jungle. There is no better way to describe it other than magnificent.
The rest of the day we ate lunch, relaxed at the hostel, and then enjoyed a bit more time on the beaches. The next day was more of the same. The adventure was complete, we never wanted to leave. We had found paradise.
The sun warmed the tent. I opened my eyes to the beauty of the day. Birds sang the morning chorus to remind me not to stall, not to dawdle. There was so much to see. I began by making coffee. My companion and I ate a high energy breakfast, prepared our lunch, and packed the bag. Tying up my boots, my heart began to race wildly at the thought of what this hike was going to bring.
Once upon the first trail, we walked through the ruins of the former agricultural town, Hacienda La Marta, that used to operate a lively market for coffee, bananas, sugar, and milk in this park. Barely 3 meters away from the ruins, down the main trail into the rain forest, the scene drastically changed. I already felt like I was in the middle of the ever-changing natural environment. My companion and I were not even 30 minutes into our tour, yet I already had an excitement that only natural glory can bring.
The trails themselves were micro-climates that were different in so many ways. Trees canopied the entire path, shrouding the forest in a sense of wonder and mystery. The earth smelled fresh, wet, and alive. I could sense the life all around me. Like a small child, I touched everything, needing the new experience to be as full as possible. My companion laughed at my childish wonder. However, the mosses were all new and felt as such, the leaves looked as fake as they do in plastic offices, the flowers were practically glowing and perfume-strength fragrant. I was a child again.
After about an hour, the path took a steep climb to a precipice where we encountered our first mirador (look-out). The park had erected a sheltered tower upon this peak to give hikers the best possible view of the valley and distant mountains. It was magnificent. With no human construction in site, other than what I was standing upon, I looked out with awe. My companion, who had already been here, was just laughing at my look of pure love. We left this mirador to head to another which we thought would take us a while to reach. We paused briefly (I paused briefly, my companion only slowing once she noticed my lagging). I was in awe of a type of fungus I had never seen. I continued my child-like touching of everything new, which was everything.
By the time we reached the second mirador, the humidity had escalated to full. My shirt was as wet as if I had jumped into the river. My companion and I really felt what it meant to be in a tropical rain forest. We rested and I attempted to dry out my gear in the sun. Here, the railing keeping us from falling into the abyss, was the only thing that was placed by man. The sun beat down, but the breeze was cool. The distances seen were incredible. We felt like the only two humans for miles. We rested, ate a small snack of fruit and nuts, and reflected peacefully in each other’s company.
The next trail we took was an idyllic path through some of thickest forest I have ever seen. Without a watch, I would not have been able to guess the time. The sun was blocked entirely by the epic canopy that shaded and cooled the trail but also wrapped me in humidity like a thick blanket. The silence. My companion and I stopped just to hear the silence. It was eerie in a mystifying and beautiful way. It was here that I felt the most isolated from the world and destructiveness of man. I breathed in the serenity.
We continued winding through the beautiful trails, encountering all sorts of flora and fauna: white-faced monkeys, beetles the size of my fist, every type of moss imaginable, labios de mujeres (a flower that looks like puckered lips), trees the size of skyscrapers, lizards of all varieties, hundreds of colorful butterflies.
My companion and I were nearing the pozas (swimming holes). We saw a sign for a waterfall and quickly took the detour. We walked down some huge carved stairs, turned a corner around a rock face, and there it was right before my eyes. Before I even knew what I was doing, I had my shirt off, my bag thrown carelessly to the side, my hat and sunglasses resting upon it. I had to shimmy around a giant boulder but then I was standing next to the waterfall. It was not huge, but it was beautiful. The water cascading down the side of this mountain was breathtaking. I dunked my head into the pouring stream.
It was clear, clean, refreshing. I had to take a drink just to say that I have drank from a waterfall in Costa Rica. After I played in the waterfall for a minute, it was my companion’s turn. She was just as pleased about this as I was. We relaxed for a minute next to the waterfall on the boulder before heading off for the final leg of the hike.
Our last stretch of trail was littered with pozas. It seemed that every 200 meters there was another place to sit by the raging river, or if you were lucky there were some calmer places to take a dip. It was pure serenity. My companion and I chose a secluded poza to take our final rest before heading back to camp. Here we relaxed and took in the scenery of the majestic river. We talked lightly and briefly about all we had seen. It was the most amazing day in my recent memory. I will have to make another trip to this magnificent rainforest where it seemed that the magic of nature was at its most perfect state.
After leaving the mountain, things began to improve. The cloud we occupied did not follow us down the mountain. We were able to pull over for some the best views I have seen since arriving to Costa Rica. It was also significantly warmer as we made our way down.
Then, my boss and driver had a brilliant idea. He knew of another national park with a large lake that was formed after they installed a hydro-electric power plant. Also, his kids wanted badly to go to said park for a “really awesome” swing that they have there. (It was really awesome). This heavenly place is known as Charrarra.
This park was incredible. The greens were so vibrant and the place swarmed with life. Immediately after arriving we saw a duck with her ducklings, a snake (not dangerous), herons, and other waterfowl. There were amazingly colorful and large eucalyptus trees throughout. The lake was covered in a thick-batch layer of lilies. Some of the ones close to the shore were in full bloom. They had such a majesty.
The group all enjoyed some cold beers together and then we made our way around exploring the park. We wandered down some horse paths and decided it was too risky to dodge the apple grenades. After we had climbed into a model airplane designed for 4 to 6 year-olds, used a 4 person gravity spinning swing, and played some quick toss frisbee, we made our way to a low point lookout that was stunning. Unlike the peak of the volcano, were able to see straight across all of the lake.
After a few gallivanting hours, we were all feeling hungry. We went to a local hotspot for chicharrones and enjoyed a lovely and reasonably priced meal before we made our way back to the city. The moral of the story: even a “bad” start to the day here, can end in wonder and amazement.