Costa Rica: Sarchi & the Road to La Fortuna

Man plans and god laughs, right?

We had planned to visit the Poas Volcano on our first morning in Costa Rica.  Only half an hour north of our hotel in Alajuela, we were going to get up early, drive to the National Park, and hike to the summit.  On a clear day from the top of Poas, you’re able to see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.  There’s not many places in the world you can see both of those oceans at once, and we were really looking forward to the hike!

As luck would have it, the park was shut down due to a recent eruption!  (Check out some of these articles for some information and neat pictures – 1, 23)  It was very cool to see the news stories, and talk with a few ticos (local Costa Ricans) about it, but we obviously couldn’t go hiking with the park closed.  The government had even ordered the closest portions of Alajuela province to evacuate!

With Poas out of the picture, we changed up our road trip, and drove northeast out of Alajuela!

Sarchi

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Although this decorative cart is far too big for real oxen, the patterns found on it are indicative of the real thing.

Originally planning to take Ruta 126 up to Poas, and then Rutas 140/141/142 west to La Fortuna, we decided to hit Ruta 118, taking us northwest through Sarchi on our way up.  Sarchi is known for the famous painted ox carts of Costa Rica’s Central Valley, as well as other local crafts.  A smaller town, we found it pretty quiet on Easter morning.  It was a beautiful day, so we opted to park the car near the Parque Central de Sarchi Norte, and wander a bit.  The kiddo climbed around on the playground while we enjoyed the sunshine.   Easter music drifting out the open doors of the church and across the breeze.

Before leaving, we stopped at a neat little tourist trap that we saw on the way into town (the store shows up as Coopearsa R.L on Google Maps).  Great place to stop if you want to find a couple random souvenirs, and admire the local wooden furniture, but it didn’t have any of the traditional craft market feel that we were looking for in Sarchi.  Just one more place we’ll have to visit again!

After fueling up with some junk food at the local super (every grocery store in Costa Rica seems to be a “super” store), we continued east toward San Ramon.  In San Ramon, we hopped on Ruta 702, north for La Fortuna.

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Nothing like the open road!

and the road beyond..

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All of these mountain bridges are one way – you have to stop to let the traffic through first, and then take your turn.

If you get the chance, drive Ruta 702 in Costa Rica.  Winding mountain roads, surrounded by exotic bird calls and massive green forests.  The trees break just in time for beautiful views of the mountain landscape to expose themselves (if it isn’t too foggy).  Sprinkle in a couple of narrow, clanking metal bridges, and you’ve got quite the roadtrip on your hands.  If you’re not at least a little nervous crossing a bridge, it’s probably no fun anyway!  One of these days, I’m going to travel the Americas by motorcycle.  Canada to Chile, Argentina to Arkansas.  I can only imagine the amazing views you’d get to see at every turn of the road.

We were planning on stopping at the Lands in Love resort for lunch.  We had read some good reviews, and it was just about two thirds of the way north.  Perfect time to stop for food!  We found the turn off from the main road, and followed the narrow paved drive all the way down to the restaurant.  We sat down at a table, and looked at the menu.  Honestly, we weren’t into it – kind of pricey, and almost entirely international food.  I’m sure it would have been delicious, don’t get me wrong!  I was just in the mood for something more authentic…more tico.

We did explore the grounds a bit, which were beautiful!  If the restaurant is any indication, the hotel is on the expensive side for the area, but you’d have plenty to see and do.  We walked across a small hanging footbridge and explored some of the  short paths through their jungle estate before continuing on.

A few kilometers down the road, we found just what I was looking for!  Restaurant on side of road?  Check.  Open air seating?  Check.  A ratio of at least 4 locals to every 1 tourist?  Check.  We stopped at Restaurante Bar La Casona (Restaurante La Casona Mia on Google Maps).  I don’t think there’s anything better than a massive casado in front of you.  Usually some combination of rice, beans, plantains, cole slaw, and salad – topped with your choice of protein.  Between the three of us, we snagged some steak, pork, and beef stew, and I was definitely happy with the results.  Washing it down with a cold bottle of Imperial and a batida papaya (like a milkshake), we were full and ready to drive.

It was another hour north through foggy mountain roads and other-worldly forests to La Fortuna.  I can’t explain how much I loved driving through Costa Rica.  It was honestly my favorite part of the trip.  There were so many vistas throughout the mountains that just begged to by painted into masterpieces, and I regret I only took the pictures I did.  After a while, though, you don’t need anymore pictures.  I just wanted to experience everything.

We arrived in La Fortuna around 4PM.  Driving by it on the way in, we already knew we wanted to check out the swimming and the rope swing at El Salto, just south of town.  The kiddo is always looking for the next swimming hole, so we dropped off our bags and shot right back out the door for the water.  Stay tuned for the next post to see what else La Fortuna had to offer!

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