Santa Elena: More fun than a person is allowed

Trip Start Jul 04, 2010
Trip End May 10, 2011

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Flag of Costa Rica  , Puntarenas,
Friday, April 1, 2011

Dave arranged for us to store the bikes in the office of Hotal Cañas and we caught the 8AM bus to Tilarán where we needed to change to another bus to our final destination, Santa Elena. The broad road is paved all the way to Tilarán, just 20 kilometers from Cañas. And once the bus climbed over the first small mountain, dropped down and then began climbing up another, we looked at each other and agreed that it was nice to be on the bus.
We were a little disappointed that our early start only meant we would wait in Tilarán longer. There are only two buses from Tilarán to Santa Elena, 5:30AM and 12:30PM. So we had a 3 hour wait for the 12:30 bus. We met a delightful   couple from Ramsbottom, near Manchester, UK who have traveled the world extensively since the 1960's. Jock and Janice were on their way to La Fortuna from where they would visit Arenal reserve and its famous volcano, by rental car. They also had a poor bus connection and joined us at a coffee shop where we excitedly exchanged travel stories until our buses arrived

 . Back at the station a fanatic religious woman with bible in hand paced up and down, preaching( hollering)and gesturing wildly. With our limited Spanish we got the jest that everybody there was on their way to hell unless they changed their wicket ways.

The Tilarán to Santa Elena bus filled up quickly. One guy from Canada wanted to take Dave's seat because his ticket said "Seat 3". None of the seats were numbered so we don't know how he concluded that he should be in Dave's seat. Michelle told him there were not assigned seats and to just grab another seat while there were still places to sit. He grumbled and sat in the next row. The bus is old and stopped frequently to pick up and drop off passengers at the tiny villages along the way. The paved road ended and it seemed to take an eternity to make the remaining 40 kilometers to Santa Elena. We are again glad we did not come here by bike. It would have taken us days (of pushing our bikes) because of the steep narrow road including over 30 km of dirt road. And forget the thought that it would be a great ride down because the road is too rough and hilly to speed or enjoy gliding effortlessly on a return trip back down. 
Along the way, we noticed that there are many hotels, B&B's and lodges dotting the area and most are a long way from the Santa Elena bus stop. We decided to keep it simple and grab accommodation close to town. The hotel touts approached us immediately and Michelle checked out a place right in front of the bus stop. A guy from Vista al Golfo hotel guaranteed us that, once we looked at his place, we would never leave. Plus, he offered us a ride up the hill on his ATV. There was another fellow grinning ear to ear and nodding his head 'yes'. So we climbed on and hung on tight as he zipped up the dirt road a few hundred meters. The place looked nice enough and has an expansive panoramic view of the area including the gulf 25 kilometers to the west. As usual, the gulf was shrouded in fog and clouds. The hotel includes WiFi and breakfast.  No air-co needed and has hot & cold water for the shower. LUXURY!! But at $20 bucks, we thought there must be something wrong with it. Dave looked at the neighboring properties and decided this indeed was the best budget option. They put out fresh fruit, cereal, eggs, bread and jam for the cook-your-own breakfast at 6AM. Pretty darn good. And the coffee and tea assortment was decent too. The kitchen serves as a great place to meet other travelers as well as cook whatever other meals you may want. Highly recommended. 

Santa Elena is in the heart of nature area consisting of rain and cloud forests and volcanoes. It is a lot higher and cooler than the coast. We should have brought our jackets cause it get cold when the sun goes down!! 

This place is more fun than a person is allowed to have!! We spent 4 days in Santa Elena and Monte Verde areas which have lots to offer; nature, adventure and animal viewing, white water rafting, night nature hikes to see HUGE spiders, sloths, bats etc etc. You can go on hanging bridge forest canopy walks, you get it...loads to do and see. Most are done through organized tours that can be booked at each and every hotel, restaurant, or other tourist establishment. 

The first morning, we started with cloud forest hiking in Santa Elena Reserve. We caught a tour van for the ride to the reserve ~five miles east of town. The driver stopped the van and pointed out a mama sloth and baby high in a tree. Thankfully, a couple we were with in the van had binoculars so we got a nice view of them. Intriguing fur balls that prompted us put the Sloth Sanctuary of Monte Verde on our list of things to do.

The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is a community managed reserve located adjacent to the more famous (crowded) Monte Verde Cloud Forest Reserve. Santa Elena Reserve is high on the Caribbean slopes of the Cordillera de Tilarán (5,000 feet, 1,500 m), the Continental Divide of Costa Rica. We picked a self-guided loop hike that was estimated to take 2 hours (we took over 3 hours). The first bird we saw was a "black one" hopping in the low lying branches. He looked like a wild turkey. "Black one", the local common name? Seems like an odd name that was confirmed as the name by two different people. Oh! It is a  Black "GUAN" (Chamaepetes unicolor). We spotted a few other birds on our hike but not the numbers we expected. The main attraction here is the variety of plants to be found. We can't describe them all but we can show a handful of pictures so you get the idea. Its a jungle up there!


If clouds permit, one can see Arenal Volcano (most active volcano in Costa Rica ) 20 kilometers to the east. We lost the trail on our hike but eventually found the tall view tower and climbed up. Pretty scary if you are afraid of heights. We got lucky and caught a glimpse of Arenal volcano.
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