Costa Rica and Nicaragua: beaches, friends, and volcanoes

Arriving in Costa Rica was like going back home. Central America felt so different than South America, it was somehow more familiar, more homely and this finally made us slow down.

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Could someone get tired of travel? A year ago, I wouldn’t believe that is possible. For me, travel is the ultimate way of living. I always was so hungry for new places, new people and new emotions and I’ve never thought that someday I could say “I had enough”.

It was here, on a nice peaceful beach on the south Pacific coast of Costa Rica, that I was hit with travel burnout. We were staying in a beautiful bungalow in Puerto Jimenez, right next to the beach. Except for our host, a charming German lady, there is no one around. The dark sand beach was kilometres long and we were the only people there. The bungalow was nested in a rain forest garden, we were waked up by parrots and monkeys in the morning, the ocean was calm and warm.

Our host tried to offer us some exciting trips and excursions.

“You can go for a trek in the rain forest to watch for Ara parrots.”

“We already fed by hand the wild Hyacinth Macaw in Pantanal, Brazil. They are the biggest parrots in the world, so we may skip the red Ara. We’d better spend the day on the beach.”

“There is a boat company offering a trip to the ocean to watch the dolphins”

“Hmm, we already swam with pink dolphins in the Amazon River. At the Falkland Islands, the dolphins were swimming under our boat and jumping all around it. No thanks, we will pass.”

“You can book a boat trip to a mangrove forest”

“Mangrove forest?  We’ve seen so many of them. We will pass”

And we rolled for three days on the beach like two Canadian sea lions, enjoying the sun and lazy waves of the Pacific.

Maybe at this point for the first time, we both agreed that we are getting a little bit travel tired.

Our next stop was at San Jose and our friends Rujica and Dobry. We were treated like royals with traditional Bulgarian mousaka, banitsa and pitka. And that was the moment when I realized, I am going home. Thank you, my friends, your hospitality and friendship were one of the highlights of my trip.

There are a lot of things to do and to see in Costa Rica. There are many tourist-friendly activities and attractions but if you are a more solitary travel person, like us, you can find some places off the beaten path, where you can appreciate the beauty of the country.

Costa Rica has remarkably diverse climates zones for such a small country.

The Pacific coast and the Atlantic coast are probably 300 km apart, but the difference is huge. South of the city of Limon on the Atlantic, you can find lush rainforest and Caribbean climate and cuisine. The places do not have the typical resort posh style and have a lively,  hippie-like atmosphere. It is hot, humid, even in the dry season, the ocean is warm and blue.

The pacific coast and especially Punta Arenas and Guanacaste has a very dry climate. There is not too much rain even in the rainy season. My ultimate advice for visiting Costa Rica is the Pacific coast in the rain season and the Atlantic coast in the dry season.

For the people who enjoy hiking the country offers a lot of possibilities. There is a beautiful, muddy hike to Rio Celeste, and of course, many active volcanoes to visit.

Costa Rica is famous for its hot springs. One of the biggest hot spring resorts I’ve seen is the Baldi Hot Springs. There are 25 pools with different temperatures, waterfalls and waterslides. I could stay there forever. Of course, you can find a lot of hot spring pools everywhere and some places are quiet and not full of people and tourists like the Rio Negro Hot Springs. 

Our first stop in captivating Nicaragua was San Juan Del Sur.

Here we visited our friends Catherine and Less. We met them on Christmas Day the previous year in Asuncion, Paraguay. We spend Christmas Eve trying to prepare a traditional Bulgarian dinner in the South American heat with South American ingredients. The same day I checked a Facebook group for Pan American travellers and found a post by Cathy. They were in Asuncion as well, and they were looking for company. We met for a glass of wine and treats, and it turned out they were Canadians, from Hamilton, Ontario. We even found some mutual friends back home. We met them a few more times during our trip – in Punta Arenas, Chile and in Ushuaia, Argentina. They had a beautiful house in Nicaragua and they invited us to visit them on our way back.

Nicaragua is a thrilling country. It is less developed and poorer than Panama and Costa Rica, but it has an abundance of picturesque towns, beaches, volcanos, and hikes.

We enjoyed the colonial architecture of Granada and Leon;

we visited a big horse market and show in Managua;

we hiked Masaya volcano twice in order to be able to see the lava glow. First, we went during the day, but the lava was not very visible in the daylight,

so we decided to come back in the evening when we were welcomed with a beautiful lava glow.

I enjoyed the old colonial architecture of the cities in Nicaragua. Before we started our trip, a friend of mine told me about the charm of Granada. I liked it but I found the city too much touristy for my taste. I clearly preferred the lively streets of Leon. Leon was the city where the Sandinista Revolution started that lead to the Contra War. You still can see a reference to it around the streets.

Ivan asked a very photogenic man on the street to take his picture and after that, we invited him for a drink.

I had my first michelada. Even Ivan agreed that the combination of beer and tomato juice is not that terrible, as it sounds.

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