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Nicaragua and Costa Rica

Author: RichardNika (More Trip Reviews by RichardNika)
Date of Trip: May 2011

The gold museum was closed for renovations but, as it turned out, it didn't matter. It's part of a complex of museums under the plaza. Admission wasn't cheap - $10 - but was well worth it. My first stop was the numismatic museum. Numismatic refers to the study of coins, currency and tokens, and I've been very much into it since age 9. Costa Rica is not exactly a major financial power in the world, but this was the best numismatic museum I'd ever visited since the American Numismatic Society closed its museum in upper Manhattan and put almost everything away in vaults. The exhibits began with primitive forms of money and covered coins currency and private coffee plantation tokens. They were beautifully organized, and the explanations were in Spanish and English. An educational and delightful 15 minute video also detailed the country's numismatic and economic history and provided a personal touch as to how the museum's director had become interested in the subject.

Adjoining this was a museum featuring a lot of dioramas and pre-Columbian art, including much of the pre-Colombian gold I'd hoped to see. There was also a fascinating sculptural exhibit. Jose Sancho uses found objects, machine parts and every sculptural medium imaginable, and there were countless examples of his work, wildly varied, as well as videos and a reproduction of his studio. It was a 5 or 6 block walk from there to the National Museum, which cost $8. I entered into a walkway that led up, zig-zagging through a huge sort of arboretum, filled with native plants and live butterflies. At the top was a door leading to the rest of the museum, and if someone is interested in many different varieties and eras of pre-Columbian art, this is their Mecca. There were endless sculptures , furnishings, burial objects and tools. There were hundreds of examples of pre-Columbian jewelry and gold. There were also many dioramas in the style of NY's Museum of Natural History, and an outdoor area with benches and trees and a superb elevated view of the city.

That was it for the day's sightseeing. I got lost on the way back and returned to the hotel just in time to avoid a rainstorm. Dinner was in the little cafeteria again, and I had a long swim, wondering why no one but me ever used the pool.

I had signed up for a morning half day tour of the Irazu volcano the next morning through the hotel desk and Marbella Tours - cost $44. A van picked me up after breakfast at 7:30, stopped at various other hotels, then proceeded through villages and endless farms, rising higher and higher and finally entering the National Park that included the volcano.

irazu crater costa ricaIrazu is one of the endless series of volcanoes found in Central America, and is special to San Jose. It has an enormous, awe-inspiring crater. It last erupted in 1963, providing a special welcome to President John F. Kennedy on the day he came to town. Needless to say, Ticos still joke about the special "fireworks" with which they welcomed him. The van pulled into a parking area adjoining a cafe and gift shop, from which it was an easy 200 yards or so walk to the fenced-off rim of the crater. The area around the crater was covered largely with black volcanic sand, which I'd last seen on Hawaii's Big Island.

It's impossible to exaggerate the size, width, depth and visual impact of the crater and the variety of rock formations and colors on its walls. Along with others, I lingered, taking photo after photo. Being a long time rock and mineral collector, I picked up two rocks and carried them back to the parking lot, where an odd furry beast called a coati was scurrying about the tables, begging food from people. Our informative guide approached me and noticed the rocks. "If they see those at the airport," he said, "it could be a few nights in jail." He didn't have to convince me twice - I dropped the rocks and photographed them.

The van descended and entered the town of Cartago. Most of my fellow passengers had signed up for a full day tour, going on to lunch and some natural sights. I preferred to return to the hotel and spend the rest of the day just vegging out, taking short walks and swimming. Little did I suspect what else awaited me!

My fellow half-day passengers, two young American men, and myself had about 15 minutes to visit the adjoining Virgin of the Angels Basilica, a spectacularly designed cathedral which I was unable to photograph because my last set of batteries had just given out - thankfully after and not before the volcano! I walked in. It was a beautiful huge space, and was almost filled with worshippers. I took a seat by the aisle near the rear exit. A priest was reciting prayers. I looked down the aisle, An attractive young woman was several rows ahead of me, crawling up the aisle towards the front on her knees. Not on her hands and knees - that would have been hard enough. Just on her knees. An older man passed by, doing the same. Then two ordinary looking young guys entered the structure and immediately dropped to their knees and also began crawling, right alongside me. I left quickly.

It was a good hour back to my hotel. I chatted with the young men. One had a bandage completely around his head. He informed me that he was a medical tourist, and had come to Costa Rica for plastic surgery, to have his ears pinned back. I said "well, I guess that means you can't run for president!" He laughed. "Bush and Obama!" he said.

I took a short walk. It was cloudy and began to rain when I had almost returned to the hotel. I had a beer and ceviche appetizer in the restaurant, then headed straight for the pool, swam for a long time and then returned to my room and sat on the bed, watching ABC national news on cable. It was 4:47 PM local time - 6:47 PM Eastern Daylight Time. Suddenly, the room and the bed began shaking. Back and forth for perhaps 20 seconds. I had never experienced an earthquake, despite many visits to family members in California. I wasn't scared, but I hoped that the ceiling wouldn't crumble and rain plaster on my not-yet-dressed self. It did not. Dressed and downstairs soon thereafter, I found that no one seemed in the least excited by what had happened. I asked the desk clerk about it. He said that it didn't happen very often, that the last one had been 8 months ago. I later found out that it had been a 6.1, but had not caused damage or injuries because it took place 70 kilometers - 44 miles - beneath the surface of the earth. It was the headline in the next day's paper. I had my 3d dinner in the cafeteria across the street, a beer in the bar and then to bed. No, there were no aftershocks!

The following morning, there was time for breakfast, a quick walk and time to pick up the newspaper headlining the quake and some fresh batteries before heading for the airport and my noon flight back to Ft. Lauderdale. I always go to airports early. Instead of an $18 cab ride, I took a $1 ride to the Merced Park bus station and a 70 cent bus to the airport. Once past a huge beautiful mural and the usual security procedures, I came into a huge modern departure area. Most airports are well supplied with bars, but to get a final beer, I had to go downstairs and sit at a dingy counter. The flight left on time, and my passage through US passport control and customs was quick. As usual, the fact that I had two rather than the one bottle of duty free liqueur allowed without payment of tax or duty was overlooked. Spirit Airlines has exactly one good deal on their flights - large Otis Spunkmeyer muffins for $2 - chocolate, banana-nut and blueberry.

Sooner or later, some travelers are lucky enough to discover one place that is special, or even beyond special. I'd thought I'd found it in Ubud, Bali many years ago, but I've heard that sweet village had become highly commercialized. Then, this time around, I found Granada, Nicaragua. Someone please take me back!

Richard ("RichardNika")

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