Rain forests, cloud forests, Pacific beaches, Caribbean beaches and mountain highlands- Costa Rica (Rich Coast) is a gorgeous paradise. The tourist trail has boomed with large investments in marketing and infrastructure which has attracted a huge influx of tourists and second or retirement home buyers. While 2 or 3 decades ago homes were affordable, today many properties reach up into the multi-million dollar category!
I recalled our first visit to Costa Rica in the late 1990’s, a family eco adventure tour and the price was reasonable for the four of us. We returned in 2012 and 2013 and predictably acknowledged that Costa Rica wasn’t exactly cheap. Our favorite dentist in Liberia provided excellent dental care for significantly less than the US and the savings paid for a portion of the trip. This time in 2016 we’re wondering how Costa Ricans can afford to eat. The dental work is still lower than in the States but other costs seemed out of line like food in the grocery stores and restaurants but it was the $16 car wash that really put things into perspective. We had been paying $4 or $5 to date! Prices have gone up to be sure, but for us it is even more pronounced after traveling in very affordable Mexico and to a lesser extent other Central American counties which are still less costly than Costa Rica. Americans flock here because the perception is positive so I suppose the influx of tourists contributes to the high prices. To be sure, Costa Rica has a lot to offer AND there are other options for similar travel experiences.
After a week-long stay in blistering hot Liberia without air conditioning waiting for Ann’s dental crown to arrive we headed up into the high volcanic region of Turrialba where it was refreshingly cool. This beautiful little town is immaculately clean almost like a Swiss village. Towering next to the town is 11,000 ft. Volcan Turrialba which was spitting fire and spewing ash the evening we arrived. Though the clouds obscured the fire that night the following morning we could see the black plume of smoke rising above the white cloud cover. Farmland crops just north of the volcano were covered in ash and destroyed in this somewhat unusual event.
From Turrialba we headed southeast to the Caribbean coast just north of Panama. The Parque Nacional Cahuita has one of the last remaining live coral reefs in Costa Rica and the snorkeling was quite beautiful. The nearby beach town of Cahuita had a laid back Afro-Caribbean vibe complete with dirt roads and it felt like we were in Jamaica walking down the beaches or sitting in a local café or bar. Jamaicans emigrated here to work on railroads and then in the fruit industry in the mid-19th century. From the 1920s until 1949 government mandated segregation meant that blacks were not allowed to travel freely around the country. Here 100 years later many still remain as subsistence farmers and small business owners.
Since we had previously explored some parts of the country we decided to cut short our time in Costa Rica and move quickly to the Panama boarder with our sights set on maneuvering through our biggest challenge of the trip- shipping our vehicle from Panama to Cartagena, Colombia in a container.