Today is our first port stop after our full transit through the Panama Canal. It is time to explore Central America. Today we dock at Puerto Limon in Costa Rica. Both Boris and I have been to Costa Rica before, but not together. I visited on a scuba diving trip. The diving was not great-murky, cold waters-but the zip lining through the rainforest was incredible. I felt like a bird. I suggested that activity to Boris, but he was a definite no go. (I highly recommend you try it though.)
Our compromise was an ariel tram into the rainforest. All the excursions from the port included some sort of rainforest experience. When headed toward the jungle, I remembered the other thing I noted about Costa Rica on my last visit here; the roads are terrible. It is not unusual for roads to wash out or bridges to collapse. My visit was years ago, but the roads are still in a really rough condition. The current construction to widen the main road (from two lanes) was ongoing, but our guide said it has been like that for five years with little to no progress.
I guess I should have been glad that at least the main road was paved. When we ventured off the road to reach the research center, the Veragua Rainforest Park, it was even rougher going. Looking up into the hills, I almost looked like the leaves were changing color for the season. Actually, they were flowering trees with a lovely orange-red flower canopy that originated in Africa.
We passed small homes that I noted all had running water and electrical power. These more remote residences didn’t have those amenities on my last visit. There are some areas where they are making big inroads on the infrastructure.
You had to have a reservation to enter the Veragua Rainforest Park. It sits next to a nationalized tract that has been designated a no-construction zone to preserve the existing rainforest. Costa Rica knows that its rainforests are the key to tourism and they are doing what they can to protect this ecosystem. The Veragua Rainforest Park is dedicated to biological research and preservation. The structures are research facilities, housing for the workers and seasonal educational visitors, and the visitor centers. The nonprofit organization uses the money earned from those visiting the rainforest exhibits, riding the tram, going on the canopy tours (zip lining), having lunch, or buying souvenirs to fund their programming.
After passing the guard station, we drove in and someone on our bus spotted a sloth in the trees. We took the time to stop for a picture. The facilities at the park are in excellent condition with lots of clean, strategically placed benches, covered areas, and toilets. It can get very warm, but there was a nice breeze on the tram and in the higher elevations.
Upon arrival, you are divided into groups depending on whether you wanted to make the climb to the waterfall or not. We had been advised that this path was not as well maintained so we opted out. Those that went thought it was fine. We started with a visit to the exhibit on the snakes that inhabit the rainforest, followed by a visit to the frog house and butterfly atrium. Many student groups come to research the animal species that live in the regional rainforests.
After the exhibits, we saw a video on the foundation’s work and then enjoyed a presentation by one of the facilities’ leading biologists. He jokingly told us to enjoy the time; it was in the only air-conditioned room at the reserve. The presentation was very well done.
Next it was time for our tram. There were well constructed steel supports and dual cars that ran down through and into the rainforest. It was a beautiful view of the vegetation and the hills beyond. There were 4 long benches in each car to accommodate about 8-12 adults total for the car (more if there were children). There was an attendant in each car. Once the tram was fully in motion, you were allowed to stand if you wanted a different view. At the bottom we exited for a walk on the boardwalk though the rainforest. The other group took the hike to the waterfall.
It was warmer and more humid at the bottom. After some time there, we took the tram back up to the large covered and open-air dining area. They offered full (heavier) meals, but I enjoyed the sandwich and the wonderful fresh regional fruits that were included in our excursion package. They were not stingy with the offerings either. You could also enjoy a variety of fruit juices.
Afterwards there was a little free time to enjoy your lunch, visit the gift shop, or use the facilities. The tram was fun, if a little tame for me. We both enjoyed the day. It was a good choice for nature and/or animal lovers.
Just as we were about to get back on the bus, another sloth was sighted. After picutures, we headed out of the park and once again had to endure the rough roads. On the way back the guide gave us a little more insight into the economy of Costa Rica. It is a beautiful country, but food can be very expensive to purchase. Conversely, cell service is quite inexpensive. Cars are often very expensive, but repairs are not. Our guide drives a 24-year-old SUV that he bought when it was 15 years old. With the rough roads, you could see why you would need a good mechanic and affordable repairs.
There were some craft stalls near the port, but there wasn’t much to see in the town of Puerto Limon. This was a port where you really needed to do an excursion. We were pretty hot and tired so we got back on board directly after our tour. In the evening we enjoyed another excellent dinner, but rough seas. There was wonderful evening entertainment with a comedian who peppered his jokes with comments on the rocking and his experience joining the ship. Always nice to have the presentation personalized. In spite of the movement of the ship, it was a great day and a wonderful start to our Central American visits.