“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” – Jack Kerouac
We rose early on our last morning at Manuel Antonio not really wanting to leave but ready for our next adventure. We had planned a morning sloth tour at the Tulemar property before heading north to Arenal. We were grateful that we had forgone the idea of driving ourselves and instead hired a driver again from Morpho Vans to take us there. Our driver was to meet us immediately after the sloth tour and it was going to be another very long day on the road again.
The sloth walk is one of the benefits of staying at Tulemar as it is only offered to guests of the property. Over the course of 90 minutes you have the opportunity to see a ton of sloths, monkeys and birds right in the heart of Tulemar’s own private reserve. The sloth walk is offered every day except Tuesdays at 9 am and books up fast given its popularity. The tour begins up at the top of Tulemar and meanders down the steep road towards the beach.
Each sloth walk is hosted by a Sloth Institute Researcher who carries binoculars for guests to get an up close view of both two and three-toed sloths. Over the course of the next hour and a half we saw a total of 12 sloths including a few babies. It was a cool experience but nothing could ever beat our private tour at Manuel Antonio National Park. Still, I’m glad we did it.
By 11 am, our driver Juan Carlos was waiting with a 12-person van for our family of four. It ended up being a good thing that we had an extra large van given how carsick we all were on our five-hour bumpy, winding drive from Manuel Antonio to La Fortuna. Little did I know, I’d be using the entire back row to lay down and try to sleep away the Dramamine and the feeling of unease. (On map below, we traveled from B to D, a total of over six hours).
The drive was long and arduous yet fascinating given how much the landscape and topography changed. We left the hot tropical jungle of Manuel Antonio, passing through the beach town of Jaco and then headed north to the mountain town of San Ramon and the cloud forest near Los Angeles where we were engulfed in misty cool fog. It was such a dramatic difference from where we had just been that it seemed unimaginable that we were only about three hours away from where we left that morning.
Juan Carlos told me that the clouds come from the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and hang over the mountains that divide the nation into the hot, dry western coast along the Pacific and the green, wet eastern coast along the Caribbean. It was amazing literally seeing the massive transformation within the landscape when we returned to Liberia on our last day in Costa Rica. The colors went from verdant green brilliant with flowers to dry, brittle brown along the Pacific Coast. I had remembered last April in Nicaragua that the dry season along the Pacific Coast also means brown. I preferred the green so was thrilled we had decided to spend our entire vacation within the jungle.
After we passed through the highest point of the mountains in the cloud forest, we were almost fully out of Dramamine. My head was pounding and my stomach felt quite nauseous but thankfully once we were out of the mountains the roads become straighter and it wasn’t too long until we had reached the tourist town of La Fortuna, the jumping off point for all things adventurous given its proximity to Arenal Volcano.
Juan Carlos dropped us off at the tiny National Car Rental outlet in La Fortuna where we picked up our heavy-duty SUV for the next two days. We were going to be staying at a remote farm high up in the mountains surrounding Arenal so we would be needing a four-wheel drive SUV equip with GPS. It was the one and only times we were renting a car in Costa Rica and for that we were thankful.
We found Parrot Hill Ranch through good friends of ours here in Minneapolis who had stayed at the Air B&B rental property a few months prior to our trip. They have two children the same age as ours and they said that this stay was one of the memorable of their entire trip. The only hard thing about the farm would be finding it. Our friends had warned us to download the GPS coordinates to find it and after twenty minutes of trying to figure it out at the car rental place, we finally were ready to go. We never would have found the place without the GPS!
Parrot Hill Ranch is located about a forty minute drive from La Fortuna near the village of El Castillo. As you head out of La Fortuna, you pass all of the world-renown hot springs and spas as well as the turn off to Arenal National Park and the Lake Arenal. Most tourists choose to stay at one of the many resorts however we wanted to try something a little bit different and off the wall. We craved a bit of adventure and we certainly got all we bargained for at the farm.
After we passed the dam at Lake Arenal, we drove along a very bumpy gravel road to the tiny town of El Castillo. There we hung a left and began our long, treacherous journey up the gravel road to the top. At that point, we all wanted desperately to get out of the car and as common with long journeys the final stretch felt like an eternity. As we climbed through jungle and farmland, we knew that we were going to be in for a lovely surprise. It was absolutely serene and magical.
We arrived at the end of the road just as the sun began its descend into the horizon. We had lucked out. After checking in and exploring a bit of the farm, we would be able to catch another Costa Rican sunset. But this time over a lake and a volcano with the howler monkeys roaring, the cows mooing and the entire collection of dogs and cats trying to add in the fun. We could hardly wait!
Author’s note: This is a continuation on our spring break family trip to Costa Rica. To read the previous post in this series, click here.