We ended up staying Santa Elana (a small town very close to Monteverde) at a hostel called Pension Santa Elana for $20US per night. The hostel had internet, a kitchen and multiple bathrooms, so we were happy. The town itself is at altitude and gets very chilly at night (another evening to highlight how stupid we were when packing our bags to think we wouldn't need jeans...). We had a good night sleep in our cozy room and got up early the next morning to do some exploring on foot.
The Santa Elena/Monteverde are is quite little, but really hilly, so walking around on foot takes it out of you. But that being said we always find exploring on foot a nice way to check out any town, and this was no exception.
Our highlight on the first day was the local insect and butterfly sanctuary. I have to say at this point that Bec is terrified of butterflies and moths so visiting this sanctuary, and being in the cages with these "creatures" was no easy feat for her. She took a lot of convincing to even get her there let alone inside. We had a great guided tour around the sanctuary, and got to see creepy crawlies and their winged relatives from all corners and climates of Central America. It was awesome! One of our favourites was the giant Menelaus Blue Morpho butterfly, which was bright blue and nearly the size of a dinner plate! By the end of the day even Bec warmed up to the flying bugs... kind of.
The next day we set off to see the Monteverde Cloud Forest. We had booked in to do a morning canopy tour followed by zip lining. The canopy tour was great. Although we didn't see much wildlife it was an awesome experience to walk around on the bridges built through the tree tops. We also got to climb up the inside of a giant hollow tree. Definitely worth visiting! After the tour we headed on to the next destination for Zip Lining. It's important for me to note here that Bec is again, a little afraid of heights (she couldn't even abseil down a 2m "cliff" in school), so agreeing to go zip lining was a big achievement.
The zip lining course consisted of 8-10 lines of various lengths strung up between trees throughout the forest, ending up with a "Tarzan Swing". The zip lines got gradually longer through the course until we got to the last and longest; The superman. A gigantic 1500m long head first, high speed breathtaking, harness nut squishing, kamikaze blur, hundreds of metres above the valley floor below. The zips could only be topped by the finale, the Tarzan Swing. A 150ft drop from a platform suspended in the air. Terrifying (especially for Bec), and resultantly I ensured she went first so that she wouldn't have a chance to watch other people do it and get freaked out.
It's important to note here that we went with a company called Aventura. It was very professional and all equipment was checked and rechecked. I would definitely recommend them!
From Monteverde we booked a trip to La Fortuna, a town on the way to our next destination. Whilst we were only here for one night we booked a walking tour to Arenal Volcano, followed by a visit to the local hot springs. Both activities were awesome, even though it rained during our hike and Bec accidentally stepped on a snake on the trail - don't worry though, he slithered off unharmed. Arenal was previously one of the most active volcanos in Central America, however when we visited it was not erupting. Whilst we didn't get to see any fresh lava, the walk and the volcano scenery was still amazing! After the hard trail walking in the cold and rain, the natural hot springs (with free rum drinks mixed by our tour guide) were a great way to end the day.
From La Fortuna we headed to River Pacuare, where we did a day of white water rafting. Whilst we were on the bus to the river, our guides proceeded to feed everyone warnings about there being man-eating crocodiles in the river, and the necessity of pulling fellow rafters back into the raft IMMEDIATELY if they were to fall out . They had everyone looking seriously concerned, and even questioning whether we wanted to still go rafting, let alone putting serious doubts about how good Bec and my David Attenborough DVD based wildlife knowledge really was. I mean, surely they wouldn't let us raft if there were dangerous crocodiles? And wouldn't the crocodiles want to avoid the rapids? And aren't they called Caimans over here anyway? Guys?
After eventually arriving at the river, we were split into groups and introduced to our rafting guide who's name was Ricky but was dubbed Ricky Bobby after the "Talledega Nights" character; and who's Tico accent "Shake and bake Baby!" impersonation was seriously funny. Ricky ensured us there was certainly NO crocodiles in the river (I knew they were pulling our legs about the crocodiles. Seriously...), and that we had visited Costa Rica in the dry season, so the river was going to be relatively tame. Despite this, he still screamed "Oh My God!" at every obstacle larger than a pebble we had to pass by. Me and Bec both managed to fall out of the boat at separate occasions, and I nearly got crushed by the raft full of people in shallow water. Bec lost her thongs overboard on one particularly bumpy part of the river. We wrote them off as completely lost only to have them float back past us about a mile downstream. My only pair of shoes got a good washing in the river after being completely trashed with Arenal volcano mud the night before.
Our guide Ricky was the man, and his cheeky sense of humour made what was already a great day even more fun! The day included breakfast, lunch at a pit stop on the river and 3 hours of rafting. We also got to take onward transport from the river to Puerto Viejo included in the cost of the days rafting - a massive bonus.
From River Pacuare we boarded a bus to take us to the town of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast.
We spent our first night at a hostel called Rocking J's, in a tent, inside a building... Not ideal. We moved hostels the next day to a place called Lizard King. We had a large room with a private bathroom, and the hostel had a pool. Lizard king cost around $45US per night for the both of us. So not too bad considering we'd been paying $20+ for A 2 MAN TENT inside a building the night before.
On one of the days we hopped on one of the local buses and visited Cahuita National Park (a stunning rainforest on the beach). We got lunch at a local soda and then walked through the park (~10km) looking for sloths (Bec's favourite animal). Unfortunately we didn't see any sloths, but we saw a tiny, bright yellow snake and a lot of birds.
We spent the rest of our time in Puerto Viejo lazing at the beach, washing some clothes (finally) and eating lots of tasty cheap food.
Next (and last) stop.. Panama.