25th – 26th January 2014 – We continue north through the Guanacaste region to visit Parque Nacional Santa Rosa, one of the oldest and biggest parks in Costa Rica, which covers most of the Peninsula Santa Elena that juts out into the Pacific in the far northwest. This peninsula protects the largest remaining stand of tropical, dry forest in Central America and it also protects some of the most important nesting sites of several species of sea turtle along its long stretches of beach. At one time, dry forest used to stretch along the Pacific coast from Mexico to the Panama Canal, but this has been drastically reduced, mainly due to logging, development and agriculture.
The park is named after the Hacienda Santa Rosa, where an historic battle was fought on March 20th 1856 between an amateur army of Costa Ricans and the invading forces of North American William Walker.
The historic, main building of the old Hacienda Santa Rosa – La Casona, was destroyed by arson in May 2001 by two hunters, as revenge against rangers that had repeatedly punished them for hunting deer and other animals within the Area Conservacion of Guanacaste. The Casona was rebuilt in 2002 using historic photos and local timber and today it is an interesting information centre and museum, reached by a paved road approx. 7km from the entrance to the park.
In the mid 18th century, cattle ranchers from southern Nicaragua migrated to Guanacaste, where there were large expanses of land and some already established ranching settlements. Many of these ranch customs and traditions still exist today in this area.
We head for the campground, a very large area with many old and gnarled trees. There are basic toilets, cold showers, barbecues, wooden tables and chairs and a useful sink with cold water. It’s a peaceful and relaxing place, with only a handful of of other local campers in tents.
Before we can even explore the hiking trails, the wildlife comes to us! Deer and a little Agouti tread cautiously through the trees and venture into the clearing……
………..Noisy Black Howler monkeys (Mono Congo) come swinging through the trees, enjoying the pink blossom of one tree in particular.
These creatures are incredibly well camaflouged…………..
………and we saw other interesting insects, birds and flowers on a walk later.
During this dry forest’s 5-7 months without rain, rivers dry up, many species of trees lose their leaves and many animals move to more humid areas to take refuge. The forest however, also has areas of evergreen trees, their leaves providing welcome shade and cooler temperatures under their canopy. Some of these can live up to 500yrs. old and soar to heights of over 30m.
From our campground, a 12km dirt track (which can be closed in the wet season), leads down to the coast at Playa Naranjo. About one third of the way along, there is a short walking trail that takes you to a mirador with views across to the Pacific Ocean.
Playa Naranjo has a beautiful wide, sandy beach and although there are signs warning of strong currents and rip tides, the waves at the far end by Witch’s Rock, are popular with surfers. Also here is the estuary where the river flows into the sea and although we don’t see any, we are warned that there are some very large crocodiles here, who enjoy this rich feeding ground during tidal changes. Just to the south of here is Playa Nancite, the best beach to see turtles. It has been made a protected and restricted area for the hundreds of Olive Ridley turtles that come to lay their eggs there later in the year. We are disappointed to have missed them.
27th – 28th January We leave Santa Rosa and continue north to La Cruz, a much poorer and non-descipt looking town but with a mirador providing a wonderful view to the Pacific.
From here we turn for Sonzapote and Finca Canas Castilla, owned by Agi and Guido from Switzerland. Their finca is situated right next to the Rio Sonzapote, a beautiful river full of water and with tree-lined banks. Agi points to what looks like a rock in the water and tells us it is a crocodile, in fact there are two living in the river…..so no swimming here! There are well marked walking trails, following the river and all around their farm land, with some steep climbs and a river crossing using rocks and boulders. Once again, ancient trees soar upwards to the sky, spider monkeys swing effortlessly through the branches, some with babies clinging tightly to them, and we have a beautiful sunset.
We are lucky to see our first sloth high in a tree by the river. Leaves are their main food source and some of their favourite are from the Cecropia tree that is often found on river banks. After watching for a while, we notice that she has a baby with her.
Agi later shows us another very young sloth that she is caring for, after its mother refused to show any more interest in it once it fell from the tree. It’s a dear little thing, like a cuddly teddy bear with brown button eyes. Every day it spends some time climbing slowly amongst the branches of a tree next to its house and being encouraged to find leaves to eat for itself.
Park Santa Rosa and Finca Canas Castilla have been a great ending to our time in Costa Rica, both in beautiful settings and with plenty of wildlife.
29th January – Leaving Sonzapote today for the border with Nicaragua at Penas Blancas, only 15 – 20km away. Our guide book tells us ‘it is a very busy crossing with hordes of touts who will offer to guide you through the channels and charge whatever they like’. And the locals here warn us of ‘being careful’ through Nicaragua……..we will see.
Costa Rica has been a vey interesting country to visit with friendly and helpful people as always. We have loved the wildlife and found some great places to camp but overlanders all seem to agree that it is not the cheapest of countries to visit and it has many visitors. Guides are often necessary and not all the parks have easy access. For example, most people arrive at Costa Rica’s famous Parque Nacional Corcovado by plane. To drive there from Puerto Jiminez is unfortunately not possible, the closest point of access being Carate where it would be necessary to find somewhere safe to leave your vehicle and then have a long hike west along the beach before reaching La Leona station. With temperatures in the high 30s we decided to miss on this trek and have fortunately been very lucky in seeing lots of wildlife in other parts of this country. Beautiful Santa Rosa Nacional Parque will charge you an entrance fee for every day that you are there, even though you don’t leave the park, so for a family of 4 camping, it would cost them almost 100US$ for just 2 nights….expensive. This was introduced we were told, because they could not keep tags on surfers who would disappear to camp along the beaches for maybe a week or more, after paying just one entrance fee.
And so we look forward to exploring Nicaragua….we have heard many positive reports from other travellers that it is a surprisingly easy country to travel around and that the Nicaraguan people themselves, are the country’s chief asset!