A trip from the capital, San Jose, to the coasts of the North Pacific. The intense life of the wetlands, mountain rivers, volcanoes and the exuberant flora and fauna of one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. A great destination of ecotourism that every year more Latinos come to.

We had scarcely climbed up the winding river of the windy river when Luis, one of our guides, said the expected phrase: “lazy at three o’clock, above the tallest tree.” Then the captain, Ernesto, stopped the engine and we remained silent for a few minutes, absorbed in the slow-moving pirouettes of the sloth up there, passing from branch to branch near a group of howler monkeys.

Just below, on the banks of the river, a caiman warmed in the sun, and a few feet above a semi-submerged trunk, a marsh tortoise carried its young on the shell while a pair of branches higher up, in a majestic ceibal, a hawk Of swamp seemed to watch every movement. “They are not so easy to see like this, so close, so it’s a lucky day”, warned the guide Rosi Arguedas.

Probably because in a few minutes we obtained, by way of presentation, a sample of the impressive natural wealth of Costa Rica, a country that because of its political and economic stability, because it has no army and because it is very safe for visitors, The Switzerland of Central America “.

pura vida costa ricaThen that “pure life” with which everyone greets in Costa Rica takes on another meaning. An encounter in the street, a phone call, does not begin and ends here with “hello” and “chau”, but with a sonorous “pure life”. And although this custom was curiously imposed by a Mexican actor, the “ticos” assumed it as their own, and with a few days in the country you can understand why: in a territory of 51,000 km2 (little less than the province of Jujuy) And with a distance of 322 km between the Caribbean and the Pacific, Costa Rica is home to 4.5% of the world’s flora and fauna species, with 95,000 recorded and thousands more estimated to exist but unknown. With 0.03% of the planet’s surface, it is one of the 20 countries richest in biodiversity.

Its 165 protected wilderness areas (more than 26% of the territory) range from coasts in the Pacific and the Caribbean to volcanoes, mountain and plain rivers, a hot climate – except when climbing the slopes of volcanoes – and within that framework, The country is an Ecotourism Mecca: its two tourist keys are nature and “soft adventure”, although there are beaches and resort life all inclusive, an interesting cultural mix and a remarkable kindness among its people, proud of having “the best Coffee of the world “. It is something that, in all surveys, Costa Rica appears as one of the happiest countries in the world.

And it is also an increasingly attractive destination for Argentines: in 2016, the arrival of Argentines grew more than 22% in relation to 2015, and in the first quarter of this year it continued to rise: 9.8%. And it will surely continue in 2018, when a new flight will connect Lima with San José, improving connectivity with South America.

Like all countries, Costa Rica has its classics, the ones to which most tourists go. Like the national parks of the Poás and Arenal volcano; Tortuguero, where thousands of sea turtles spawn; The tropical beaches of Manuel Antonio Park and the cloud forest reserve of Monteverde, among them.

But there is much more to see, of course. Like the places we visited on this trip, where we toured part of the northwestern area, near Nicaragua, and Pacific beaches. The same nature, not so many tourists. Come on?

Flight between volcanoes

nature air costa ricaTo get to that scene from the beginning, that of the lazy one among the branches, we had taken a small plane – a Cessna 208, for 12 passengers – in the airport of the capital, San Jose, to fly between volcanoes – to the right the Poas, Now closed because it erupted, and to the left, the Arenal, on the green jungle, on coffee plantations and pineapple plantations – ananas, if you prefer. The internal flights are in small planes because everything here is very close and because of the routes, sinuous and traveled – there are many cars, so much that the traffic in the capital is usually a hell -, demand more time than a number of kilometers would seem indicated.

After 30 minutes of taking off, bordering Nicaragua, we landed on a new track that traces a white pit between the green jungle and the red earth: Los Chiles. There we meet our guides and we climbed a boat to climb the river Frio, which a few more kilometers to the north ends at Lake Nicaragua, and reach the mixed wildlife refuge, Caño Negro, a large wetland considered “of international importance” By Unesco and “world protected area” by conservation groups such as Ramsar.

Caño Negro is home to thousands of species of plants, animals, and birds, some of them rare, such as northern jacana birds, ibis, jabirú storks or pink spatulas. It is also a habitat for the Emerald Basilisk – a large green lizard also called “Jesus Christ lizard” because it can walk on water – anteaters, jaguars, ocelots, iguanas, turtles, monkeys, pumas, caimans. And in lagoons and baths are fish such as snook, guapote and gaspar, a fish that is related to crocodiles and alligators and is considered a living fossil: it has more than 150 million years without changing its physiognomy.

We see several gaspares in a hatchery on Tabacón ranch, in the town of Veracruz, where we eat a tasty married to the firewood (see La buena mesa) wrapped in the humid heat of the jungle, before the owner of the place, Adán Domínguez , Show us how, in a large cage with a lagoon, it feeds the crocodiles. It opens the mouth, the straight … anyway, we continue.

To observe birds, nothing better than getting up very early. With 315 migratory and resident species, Caño Negro is one of the main observation destinations in Costa Rica, and today we see several of the “noticeable”, such as the jabirú or the hawk, on a trip to the Mónico lagoon. It is May and the rainy season is beginning – until November, so rivers and lagoons just begin to raise their flow. There is still a lot of vegetation that in a few weeks will be under water, that water that now reflects, directly opposite, the tops of the volcanoes Tenorio and Miravalles poking through the clouds.

And that structure? “It is the new observation tower, about to open. It has 18 meters and, along with new piers and a raised path to walk among the trees, is part of the Program to Strengthen Protected Areas, to improve the tourist infrastructure, “says Rosi, as we climb the horses to cross the bed of the Enormous lagoon Caño Negro, now almost dry but in a few days will be under water. The lightning on the horizon seems to warn.

A very blue river

Another day that starts from the best. A breakfast of those that one would never want to finish at the beautiful Rancho Santiago, on the banks of the river, 3 km from Caño Negro and on the route to Upala and attended by its owner, Marjorie Romero. After the delicious coffee with gallo-pinto, Fried plantain, and tortillas, we set out on a gravel road between the jungle.

Half an hour later, we stop and go up Alfredo, who begins to count: “I am from the Sun community, one of the three maleku with Margarita and Tonjibe, and I want to invite you to know our culture.” Maleku is one of the eight indigenous ethnic groups recognized in Costa Rica, who live in 24 autonomous territories.

costa rica real estateThe visit begins with the handicrafts center, where Dona Eli shows us fabrics, like that blouse made with bark of a tree, and musical instruments, like the drum called tali, with iguana leather, and tells customs and cosmovisions, speaks of the character Sacred of the cocoa, of the god Tocu and his rival, the devil (Maica), a serpent who becomes a man. The visit continues with a succulent lunch, a tour to recognize plants and know their medicinal uses, and a few attempts – clear, of course – to hit the target with handmade bows and arrows.

It begins to fall the afternoon when we arrive in Bijagua, a town of about 2,000 inhabitants located about 15 km from the access to Tenorio Volcano National Park, in the area of Rio Celeste. We are already at a certain height and thank you: the temperature is pleasant and, although we are starting the rainy season, dawn with a radiant sun and the river Celeste shines more than ever. Why that color so intense ? is the question of all. “Tenorio Volcano National Park, created on July 8, 1995, extension, 12,871.53 ha,” says the poster at the post entry Pilón. From there, a walk of an hour and a half promises the answer.

pure life costa rica The guide Ronal Chaves shows us: orchids (there are more than 1,800 species only in this park), insects, monkeys, the famous and tiny red frog with blue legs – and eye that is poisonous – coatis, lianas. We pass from the secondary forest to the transition forest, where the trees already exceed 25 meters in height, and after a while we arrive at the source of the color: at a certain point in the park called with justice Teñidero, where they join the Agria Gorge with the river Buenavista, there is a kind of white strip on the ground. There the water transforms its color, from an inch to the other, in an intense celeste. Magic? No, a chemical phenomenon that modifies the ph (acidity) of the water and increases the size of some mineral particles (aluminosilicates, for more data), that decompose the sunlight and reflect the celestial color.

In the nearby fall, it looks better than anywhere else: a ladder in the middle of the lower jungle, down and down dozens of steps until we reach the foot of the waterfall and hypnotize ourselves: the intense green of the jungle, the water that Falls, white, from 30 meters in height, and the lagoon of an intense celestial at its feet.

Rato later, we had lunch on the way to Guatuso in Tour Caña Wine, a family enterprise that is part of the impulse that is being given to rural and community tourism, so that the industry benefits as many people as possible: a delicious chifrijo ( Soup) that, Ronaldo tells me, is the most popular dish in the tico bars to accompany a beer. Then a walk through a gallery forest to enjoy more pure life: a lazy, monkeys, red frogs, the fearsome tiger ant and a nest of hummingbirds, with two eggs in full development. We said goodbye after visiting the sugar cane plantation and the sugar mill, where they show us how the canes are pressed and fermented to make soft drinks and spirits.

Few minutes of combi and again in the river Frio. The same as before, but another: here comes coming down from the top of the volcano, so it is a mountain river, with rapids, small waterfalls, and backwaters of fresh and clear water. The plan is to lower it by doing tubing, something like rafting but individual: mounted on large inflatable’s, we jump between the rapids. A super fun way to enjoy the river from the inside, only before you do it you have to make sure that the water level is adequate, so you do not get stuck on the rocks every time.

The dinner finds us, exhausted, at Casitas Tenorio, a beautiful bed & breakfast very close to Bijagua where we are welcomed by Pipa, a friendly Australian who fell in love with Costa Rica and a tico, stayed and not long ago managed to open his boutique hotel In the middle of the jungle, with private cabins and activities. A dream that, at this point of the journey, is very understandable.

The jungle on the beach

“No shoes, no shirt, Nosara,” they say around here. Another flight of 30 minutes, which just before landing we are excited about showing the beaches over the Pacific. Back to the heat. Nosara is a small city famous for surfing and yoga, another of the points that tourism is focusing on in Costa Rica: wellness, which materializes in yoga, spa, spa, relax.