Getaway to the mountains of Heredia
This article of mine originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look around. Thanks, Solson
I always carry a compact camera. If you live in or have visited Costa Rica you know why. Funny, beautiful and shocking things may be just around the corner. My little camera spends time waiting for sunsets and rainbows (and the frequent misspelled or poorly translated sign, internet gold!). It lives in a messenger bag that I take everywhere. It only leaves that bag when I use it to carry my bigger camera via a very cool and very cheap removable padded insert (check it out you’ll thank me). I never miss an opportunity to take a picture. My cell phone has a camera but is not a camera; I refuse to acknowledge it as such.
Recently my girlfriend and I decided to take a drive up the mountain north of Heredia where we live. We had no plan, just a setting sun and a gorgeous February afternoon. As I downshifted to try to get up a hill a sudden squeal made me pull over. At first I thought something else had failed on my car (when you own a 1990 BMW 325i this happens occasionally). Thankfully not. It was my girlfriend rendered speechless by a tremendous rainbow formed by the setting sun and the mountain mist, mixed with a rustic farmhouse in the foreground it was the stuff of postcards. I thought of my compact camera, safely in its messenger bag, which was safely tucked away in my closet back home. Cursing ensued—in two languages.
I tried to take a picture with her phone. More cursing. I wished for my trusty compact, for my film camera (more on that in a future article), for my DSLR with its super-wide lens. Anything but a phone. I gave up.
We drove uphill a bit more, chasing the end of the rainbow until the dodgy fuel pump got a bit too warm and starting misbehaving. I took one more shot with the phone. Reasonable success.
As we coasted down the mountain the setting sun taunted me, more squeals from the passenger seat reinforced my oversight, and the guy with a Nikon on a tripod and a huge orange-ball-sun setting over the hills nearly made me cry. If it is possible to sulk while driving, I did.
Though I managed to forget my camera I did discover (remember?) that the mountains of Heredia have tons of great places to slip away for an afternoon, a weekend or to fill in a blank spot in a travel itinerary. It takes less than an hour (in non rush-hour time) to get there from the Central Valley, and it can be a refreshing change. There are lots of lodging options that are great for cozying up for a night or two. And you’ll want to cozy up since it’s colder than you think up there, especially if you are a weather-sissified ex-pat coddled by the the perfect temperatures in the valley.
There are several routes up the mountain but the preferred ones will take you through San José de la Montaña or through San Rafael de Heredia. The San Rafael side sends you up toward the famed Monte de la Cruz (a wooded municipal park with a giant cross) and the nearly as famous and rather ritzy La Condesa hotel, as well as Hotel Chalet El Tirol. The drive up is in good shape (up to about the park anyway) and dotted with local restaurants of varying price points as well as fancy estates. Tops for uppity eats on this side of the hill is Baalbek (great view too).
The San José de la Montaña route is well, different. Once you get above said town, things get interesting. The road quickly dwindles to about 1 ½ lanes wide which makes for hair-raising encounters with on-coming traffic where uphill traffic has unofficial right of way because of the steepness of the hills. This side of the mountain features more farms and frankly more photo opportunities. This area also has a bit more for the folks on a budget or for the adventurous.
The Barva Volcano doesn’t get nearly the number of visitors than does it’s steamy neighbor Poás, but it’s no reason to overlook it if you are equipped with a 4×4 vehicle and a strong set of legs. It’s rugged in there and always damp, but it’s more natural feeling than Poás, plus you might have it all to yourself on a weekday. This is one of my all time favorite shots, taken during the week in the Barva Volcano:
If you are sans the vehicle or the fitness, check out Canopy Adventure for some killer zip-lining and a bit of knowledge. Once you’re all adventured out it’ll be time to eat and sleep. There are lots of hotels to choose from, but I hear good things about El Pórtico (and it was packed for Valentine’s Day so there’s a clue). You’ll have your pick of restaurants, mostly local tourist places that’ll be good for local fare and a brew. Most weekends you will be able to find lodging without a reservation, but if you have a specific place in mind call ahead.
The hills are calling valley-dwellers, answer the call, but please please don’t forget your camera.