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Everywhere you go in Costa Rica you here the words 'Pura Vida'. It is written on road signs, cafes and restaurants. It is used as a personal greeting. Everyday i would be welcomed by the words 'Buenos Dias, Pura Vida'. It means keep it simple, enjoy life and don't worry. The people of Costa Rica use it to say hello, goodbye and to say everything is cool. All succinctly summing up the laid back attitude to life in Costa Rica. When you add in the staggering natural beauty of Costa Rica it all makes for a wonderful place to cycle.
Camp spot near La Cruz
Costa Rica has everything a cycle tourer could wish for. An abundance of volcanoes (many active), mountains and dramatic coastline. There are pristine beaches, untapped jungle and cloud forests. Costa Rica contains 5% of the world biodiversity despite being only the same size as Lake Michigan. The vast biodiversity is attributed to the dramatic shifts in terrain. This tiny country has wetlands, mountains, rivers, and arid plains. Which all makes for a good varied cycling trip.
I spent the vast majority of my time exploring the mountains and volcanoes in the south and centre of the country. I wasn't expecting any big climbs but the road to San Jose started in the valley in San Isidro at 500m. 50km later it took me up and over a windswept pass at almost 3,500m. Longer than any climb in Europe. The road stayed high offering spectacular views and gave me the opportunity to camp high up away from the humidity in the valley. After San Jose I climbed up to the Poas Volcano crater. Still active and one of the main tourist attractions in Costa Rica. It is a beautiful climb with stunning views of San Jose down in the valley. The volcano tends to cloud over in the afternoon so I cycled up in the evening. Camped near the top. My first night sleeping on the banks of an active volcano. I then went to the top first thing in the morning for a clear view of the crater bubbling in the sunshine. You are supposed to book online ($15) for the walk to the crater itself. I did not know this but the guy at the check-post simply smiled when I told him I had no reservation and waved me through for free. After Poas I made my way to another active volcano, El Arunal, the most iconic volcano in Costa Rica. Due to its perfect conical shape and regular displays of erupting lava. It is Costa Rica's most active volcano. Locals and foreigners alike travel here year round with the hope of witnessing its sensational eruptions. All I saw was a thick wet cloud but that's the way it goes sometimes.
The Poas Crater
Before leaving the country I swung down to the coast and the Nicoya Peninsula. A great place to explore. Plenty of remote backroads that saunter through tropical forests. Occasionally landing at some of the best beaches in Costa Rica. Here you can really capture the relaxed way of life in the country. The peninsula is a well known 'Blue Zone'. Meaning that it's inhabitants commonly live active lives past the age of 100. No one is quite sure whether this is because of the local diet or simply because they are happy. Bit of both I expect but it's hard not to get caught up in the stress free atmosphere. People here are thankful for what they have and don't dwell on the negative.
Back roads in Nicoya peninsula
All in all Costa Rica makes for a fantastic cycling destination. For many cycle tourers it is a great place to explore on their way to South or North America. The country would also make a great 3 week stand alone cycle trip. It is hard not to love a country that has had no army for the past 70 years. It is not a cheap place to cycle. Supermarkets prices are almost European and regular stays in hotels will set you back. Camping is fairly easy. A lot of the land is fenced off although this is more to keep the animals in than people out. Whenever I was unsure I asked and the locals were only to happy to show me a good spot for me to pitch my tent for the night. Camping on the lush green turf of a local church is a good option if you get stuck. Bear in mind it is hot all year round in the valley and on the coast so a tent that airs well is recommended. Costa Rica was a highlight of my time in Central America. The cycling was challenging, varied and enjoyable. The atmosphere laid back and relaxed. The people friendly. Pura Vida.
San Jose. Costa Rica’s capital and the largest city in the country, San Jose is considered to be among the most cosmopolitan cities in Latin America. A sprawling metropolis and an excellent hub for exploring Costa Rica’s volcanoes and cloud forests.
Time to Go:
The most popular (and expensive) time to go is the dry season from December to April. You can expect lots of sunshine. The rainy season runs from May to November.
Good mixture. The roads through the mountains in the middle of the country are virtually all paved making for pleasant smooth cycling. It is easy to get off the beaten track though and there are an excellent network of dirt roads connecting the many rural villages dotted around.
Fairly straightforward. As mentioned above a lot of the land is fenced but it is easy enough to get round this and the locals always seemed happy for me to camp on their land. Easy to find a spot to camp in the forests of Nicoya although I found it a bit hot. Camping gas is easy to find but not the screw on canisters we are used to in Europe. They only sell the pierce canisters. With forests and trees everywhere Costa Rica is a good country to travel with a hammock.
Most countries get 90 days on arrival. Be warned that you will be asked for proof of onward travel on arrival. In such situations I book a flight on Expedia (must be .com), save ticket as PDF and then cancel within 24 hours for a full refund. There is a $10 departure tax.
There are good quality bicycle shop in every reasonably sized town. Quality of parts and repairs are high and represent good value.
Food is expensive. Expect European prices. Accommodation is also on the pricey side but considerably less than European. Expect to pay $20 for a double.
Lovely quiet little apartment on the outskirts of San Josehttps://www.airbnb.com/rooms/22255745
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