Fotografía Profesional en Costa Rica–Professional Photography in Costa Rica

Entradas etiquetadas como “Costa Rica

Releasing Sea Turtles, 1 in a Million

The article originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look. If you would like to reach me for photography or other services you can do so here.

Update OCT 24 2012. I’ve added the video referenced in the article!

Undisclosed Pacific Coast Location

6:22am

It’s early enough that even the guard isn’t at his post yet. After about 10 minutes of driving through a series of shallow ponds wrongly called a road, we’re at the access gate. We’ve already ignored one “No public access” sign, what’s a unmanned guard shack? It’s not as bad as I think, the driver has already called ahead. We pull up to a government run ranger station and I unload my gear quickly while the others check in with the park rangers.

“He’s writing an article.” Fingers point at me. I am?

“I am.”

Clearly my status as a reporter has been slightly (or grossly) overstated but I’m carrying a bunch of gear which always lends credibility. I’m really here to get video of baby turtles for my client, who will use the footage to support conservation efforts. I’m not about to blow it on account of a lack of clarification.

I keep my head down and look busy unpacking before anyone asks any questions about my credentials.

6:26am

A gentlemen appears carrying a 5 gallon bucket and dryly states:

“…But there’s a problem.”

Uh-oh.

“The tide is up and you will get your shoes and pants wet.”

Before he’s done speaking my shoes are off and am unzipping my pants into shorts (I suspected this might happen so I wore convertible pants). I prefer the beach barefoot rather than have shoes full of sand anyway. The same gentlemen who shows such concern for our shoes points to his bucket: “Here are the turtles.”

I take a quick peek and am shocked to find 100 wriggling newborn Olive Ridley sea turtles. It seems rather unceremonious, but I trust no harm is being done.

6:32 am

The sun has been up for a while but the light is still a little flat (not much contrast), our portly guide charges ahead of us with his 5 gallon bucket. I hang back a bit trying to get some “dramatic” scenes of him leaving a trail of footprints in the sand. In retrospect though, there is nothing graceful or dramatic about a middle-aged man wearing rubber boots trudging through wet sand carrying a bucket. Try it you’ll see what I mean. Plus the footage ends up all foggy anyway since my gear spent the night in air-conditioning and the sea breeze instantly condenses on the lens.

6:35am

Our guide draws a line in the sand about 20 meters from the water line. The turtles need a bit of space to get their bearings so they can make their way back later in life. They are removed one by one from the bucket (wearing latex gloves so as not to contaminate them). They come out flapping oversized flippers with amazing ferocity, desperation even. They are painfully cute. Once on the sand they don’t head straight for the water but sort of wander around in fitful burst before finally heading towards the surf.

It’s quite difficult to keep the camera steady and the two inch turtles in manual focus while not interfering with any of them. I manage to get some nice footage while narrowly avoiding a wave or two splashing onto the camera.

As amazing an experience as it is, my version is a bit anesthetized since I live it through the view screen on my camera with a head full of settings and trying to keep things in focus. It’s something I’m glad I got to see since most folks aren’t allowed.

6:51am

The babies are on their way to a sadly low survival rate in the water and our guide turns his attention to a nest he’s spotted. He expertly digs up the rubbery eggs and puts them in a plastic grocery bag (again it seems somewhat unceremonious). He carries the bag gently—no swaying allowed—to the nursery.

7:06am

Fenced off and laid out in a grid, dozens of transplanted nests await their moment protected from any number of predators. After drawing a diagram for our edification he recreates a nest with the requisite shape and reburies the eggs.

7:22am

The term translates to exhumation. I’m instantly not a fan of the word. Too many negative implications in English. It means digging up a nest that has recently hatched to find any stragglers. We find a few survivors while as tallying up the ones that didn’t make it and the eggs that stopped forming in different stages of development. It feels like the icky part of biology class or Discovery channel. I get footage that probably won’t be used.

7:40

Back out on the beach we find a disturbed nest. It might have been an animal, but after closer inspection: “People…people stole the eggs.”

Fortunately there are people who save them as well. People who work crazy hours without enough pay or the equipment they need. Volunteers too. What I saw isn’t really allowed in order to protect the turtles, but I just can’t help but think that if it were allowed it might be helpful to the cause. What might someone pay to have a one in a million experience?

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Macaw conservation needs your help–Ayuden a salvar las lapas

This article originally appeared (in English) in the Costa Rica Star, so stop by  and have a look. Versión en español disponible después de las fotos.

Tucked away somewhere in Río Segundo in Alajuela, behind veiled chain link fencing and sporting nearly no signs is The Ara Project. Between my unfamiliarity with the area and Tico-style directions it might have been easier just to roll down the window and listen. 200 macaws squawking carries a pretty long way…

Chris Castle opens the gate and I finally meet what was had been just a voice on the phone with a funny island accent (I couldn’t determine if Aussie or Kiwi). He’s upbeat, happy and thankful that someone (the gentlemen who hired me to take video) has taken and interest in the project. If you didn’t know better you might mistake Chris for a surfer. He’s tall, with piercing blue eyes, 3 days of stubble, an old t-shirt and blond dreadlocks. It takes less than five minutes of conversation to know that he’s no smoked out bum seduced by lazy afternoons in the sun and too much ‘pura vida.’ In fact he’s the accidental heir to the project after original founders passed away.

His co-conspirator in conservation, Jenny Pettigrew, pops up a couple of minutes later, just as cheerful, though slightly less unkempt, and sporting the same accent: New Zealand we are informed. Both have degrees in biology from Kiwi universities, and since there are no programs to study macaw husbandry anywhere I’m guessing that makes them some of the world experts on the subject.

They show us around the property and let us in the cages while explaining how they take care of the birds during during the nearly year-long pre-release process, what they eat and where they finally release them. At one point as I’m filming, two young macaws begin playing with Chris’ hair (I nearly drop the camera when one decides to do the same to me) while he just keeps talking. He’s in his element, passionately so. He’s so passionate that he only takes 3 days off every 3 months in order to renew his tourist visa. Jenny does the same. They don’t make enough to apply for permanent residency despite doing this for years.

Over coffee and home-made chocolate muffins, Chris and Jenny explain how their social life revolves around the volunteers that come through (there’s never enough), that the money they make from tours to foreigners doesn’t even cover the costs of feeding the birds, never mind paying themselves properly (very supportive parents they explain). They do have local support though. A prominent local family helps with funding while a Canadian woman helps find them furniture, second hand fridges and microwaves. Tico volunteers help regularly as well, one woman even cooks certain food for the birds over a fireplace on the farm.

So much self-sacrifice and dedication aren’t enough to overcome some of the problems they are facing. Their regular monthly funding will stop in March 2013 and the property that has been home to macaws for some 30 years is for sale (fortunately it’s overpriced). A hotel in Punta Islita, where they release birds, has donated land, but they need quite a bit of money to build the infrastructure for birds and humans. I guess the macaws have plenty of reason to squawk.

Maybe they just need someone to squawk and make some noise for them. If the foreign soccer players can get high-level meetings with immigration officials, surely these two should get their papers. I don’t know if the president has the power to grant citizenship for meritorious activity but at minimum I’m betting she can speed things along for residency. A little Internet shame goes a long way in a small country.

So here’s the deal, if you’re friends with an ambassador (or better yet you ARE an ambassador), have a sister-in-law in immigration, make their case known. Plus this presidency could use a win, this could be one.

We need to get more folks on board in general to help the macaw cause. As I mentioned there will be a fund-raising campaign featuring the video I took as well as an art contest called the Amistad Prize which is looking for sponsors (local artists depicting the effects of deforestation). I don’t have a ton of details on either but I will try to keep you all posted or you contact me here or my Facebook and I will put you in touch. Thanks for helping if only by sharing this article.

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En un rinconcito de Río Segundo de Alajuela, tras malla verde y con escasa rotulación encuentro por fin el Proyecto Ara. Entre el desconocimiento de la zona y direcciones a la tica sería mas fácil encontrarlo bajando la ventana y escuchando. Los gritos de 200 lapas se oyen a buena distancia…

Me abre el portón Chris Castle, el dueño de lo hasta ahora fue solo una voz con acento de islas lejanas (no supe distinguir si Australia o Nueva Zelanda). Nos recibe alegre, efusivo y agradecido de que alguien (el señor que me contrató para el video) ha tomado interés en el proyecto. Chris tiene toda la pinta de surfo: alto, ojos celestes, falta de afeitar, camiseta destartalada y una melena de dreadlocks rubios. Pero bastan cinco minutos de conversación para entender que este no es ningún vago seducido por las olas y la mota y el ‘pura vida’. Ha dedicado ocho años de su vida a cuidar, criar e introducir lapas a la naturaleza. Es el heredero accidental de la pareja de extranjeros que comenzaron el proyecto unos 30 años atrás.

Su compinche en conservación, Jenny Pettigrew, aparece dos minutos mas tarde igual de alegre, un tanto mas limpia y peinada, con el mismo acento y nos confirma que son de Nueva Zelanda. Ambos son biólogos graduados de universidades de ese país. No hay programas de estudio en el mundo que enseñan como reproducir lapas, por lo que presumo que estoy en la presencia de algunos de los expertos mundiales en el tema.

Nos dan una vuelta por la finca mientras explican como cuidan a las aves durante el largo proceso de crianza, qué comen y donde las sueltan. En algún momento dos lapas jóvenes juegan con el cabello de Chris sin que él deje de hablar (yo brinco medio metro cuando otra me hace los mismo). Está en su ambiente, haciendo lo que le apasiona. Esa pasión significa que se toma solo 3 días libres cada 3 meses. Los usa para salir del país y renovar su visa. Jenny hace lo mismo.

Tras ofrecernos un cafecito y pastelillos caseros Chris y Jenny cuentan como su vida social pasa por los voluntarios que les ayudan (nunca son suficientes), que los fondos que reciben de los tours de extranjeros no alcanzan para darles de comer a las aves y menos para pagarse lo suficiente. Hay quienes los apoyan, como una reconocida familia nacional que les suple la diferencia entre las entradas y sus costos, la señora canadiense que poco a poco los ha dotado de algunos muebles, refris de segunda y microondas. Voluntarios ticos ayudan con varios aspectos, incluso una señora les cocina verduras a las lapas en un fogón del patio.

El sacrificio de tantos no alcanza ante los problemas que se les asoman. Los fondos se acabarán en marzo del 2013 y se suma el hecho que la finca está en venta (por suerte piden un monto descabellado). En Punta Islita ya tienen un terreno donado por un hotel de la zona, pero necesitan dinero para construir la infraestructura. Tienen buena razón de hacer tanto escándalo las lapas.

Y llegó el momento de que nosotros hagamos un poco de escándalo también. Si los futbolistas extranjeros pueden tener acceso a altos funcionarios de migración y volver a la canchas en una semana, me parece que estas dos personas deberían tener ciudadanía por mérito, por servicio a la patria. Mínimo la residencia (no ganan lo suficiente como para pedirla…). Este es un país pequeño y un poco de vergüenza pública resuelve situaciones. Si la presidenta ofrece cada año indultos carcelarios con bombos y platillos, imagínese lo que podría ganarse con el público resolviendo este tema.

Esto lo vamos a tener que solucionar entre todos, nacionales, residentes y extranjeros. Ya hay gente importante moviendo hilos, pero más publicidad y clamor es lo que se ocupa. Si su tío es diputado, o su hermana trabaja en migración, háganles llegar esta información. Veamos que patas tenemos entre todos para ayudar.

Ya hay gente tratando de ayudar, como la campaña que utilizará mi video o una iniciativa nueva que acaba de conocer que será una competencia de arte llamado el Premio Amistad que busca patrocinadores. No tengo muchos detalles aún pero me pueden contactar aquí o por me página de Facebook y los pongo en contacto. Gracias por ayudar aunque solo sea compartiendo este artículo.


Favoritas–Favorites

Aquí los dejo con algunas fotos favoritas. Muchas son de mis andanzas en el mundo, aglunas para clientes. En fin que las disfruten.

Here are a few of my favorite shots. Most are from my wanderings some other for clients. Hope you enjoy.


Wearing flip-flop sandals and traveling to Costa Rica

This article originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and check it out.  If you would like to contact me please do so through my contact page. Thanks, Solson

Footprint in sand at sunset

A footprint in the sand I recently captured on film.

 

Ladies, let’s talk about shoes. Fellas don’t leave me just yet this concerns you as well, plus I promise no Blahnik or Louboutin talk (ladies are you impressed I know them?).

Mostly I’m concerned about you. You flew many miles and spent tons of money to come visit us in Costa Rica. You’re probably packing cameras, iPhones or iPads worth hundreds or thousands of dollars so you can capture great memories of all those places you spent hours meticulously researching, and yet despite all this research your main shoe choices seem to be flip-flops.

I’m going to go ahead and assume this is some sort of information black hole that even Google can’t penetrate because I can’t conceive that if you’d done your research you would do this consciously. So I’m here to help you out. Don’t get me wrong I don’t have anything against flip-flops, in fact I’m wearing some as I write, they just make terrible travel footwear, especially in Costa Rica.

Since you’ve done your research you know we have some infrastructure issues, mostly regarding terrible roads. A logical extension would be that if the roads are bad than the sidewalks are as well. Yep. Awful. Missing manhole covers, missing paving stones, sudden level changes or just the absence of sidewalks all together are routine sites in any town in Costa Rica. All these things could potentially lead to bodily harm or at the very least toe-ily harm, especially when you’re busy looking up at every corner for a street sign that isn’t there to guide you to your hotel.

Then there’s the rain. Ewe. There’s nothing quite as foul as getting caught in the rain in the city in open toed shoes. Remember those infrastructure problems—not just sidewalks and roads, but often waste-water and rain water issues too. Eeeewe! Since most of the worst flip-flop offenders seem to come during North-American summer please take into account that it’s rainy season for us ’round here. You’re much better using those waterproof shoes you wear in winter or hiking or when it rains there.

Also Jimmy Buffet warned us against flip-flop-failure related injuries while drinking in paradise back in the late ’70′s (kids Google Margaritaville Lyrics) so we really should heed a wise man’s advice and wear shoes that are less prone to sudden failure. College kids I’m talking to you. Parents, I’ll take the time your kids are using to Google Jimmy Buffet to remind you our legal drinking age is 18, sorry.

Ok the ranting is over. You may pack your flip-flops, just don’t use them as you walk-around shoes. You can use them on or around most of our beaches, as was intended by the flip-flop deity. Of course you may want to just go barefoot, as I prefer, in the sand. If you are on a plane, a bus, sidewalk, zip-line or volcano you really should have something more substantial. You can compromise with a set of all-terrain sandals, but I still recommend something with a toe guard (Keen & Teva make some really nice ones) for hiking and urban environments.

Woman with flip-flop on beach in b&w

Flip-flops as they should be used, near the beach.

 

Now that you are properly prepped in the way of footwear I’ll leave you with some other travel tidbits. You will pleasantly surprised to find out that unlike some other Latin-American destinations our water is very drinkable so there’s no need to worry about that. Bring your own sunblock because it’s crazy expensive here. Bring a good hat and sunglasses. Someone please tell what else you guys are carrying in those backpacks? If you are planning on spending time in the central valley or the mountains you will be plenty comfortable in jeans year round, they are also much more socially acceptable than shorts, particularly for men.

Finally, you can get flip-flops just about anywhere, including most grocery stores, just in case you should find yourself making an impromptu Margaritaville fan video for Youtube.

 


Tourism: La Garita

For those of you that don’t know I write a semi-regular blog for The Costa Rica Star online newspaper. I’m going to start posting them for my English speaking followers. Enjoy and thanks for taking the time to read. Cheers

I’ve run into a few people who claim to have gone to Manuel Antonio National Park and didn’t see monkeys. I don’t know how that happens, in fact it’s so unlikely it makes me think that perhaps they screwed up the name or didn’t make into the park itself. I’ve heard stories of exchange students that ate little more than cereal while here—I thought you were legally obligated to eat gallo pinto before exiting the country. Lots of folks wonder what that pretty flower-tree-fern-bush is called. If for some reason your trip to Costa Rica is missing flora, fauna or food I have a quickie family friendly solution: La Garita.

Just about 15 min from the Juan Santamaria Airport you and your family (text-addicted-iPod-encrusted teens included) have a chance to squeeze in a great afternoon while filling in the gaps in your vacation photos. If you live here in Costa Rica it makes a great afternoon getaway or a great place to take out of town guests. La Garita area of Alajuela is easy to get to (follow the highway from the airport towards San Ramon, exit at Recope, turn right, enjoy), lined with lovely estate/vacation homes, nurseries, restaurants and a very interesting animal rescue center.

For the hungry bunch in your group (even the teens may just unplug for a moment) there are a number or typical restaurants but my personal favourite is Las Delicias del Maíz. The food here is well executed classic local cuisine and I’ve noticed that the portion sizes have increased recently. This is a big restaurant that can get quite busy on weekends—often with locals. If this is where we go for our typical lunch it’s definitely the place you need to be, plus they have the stones to put their kitchen on full display right as you walk in. If you have a sizable group try some of the sampler platters (arracache picadillo—score!) and share. No alcohol is served so things stay family friendly, but they have plenty of natural fruit juices to cool you off–try the cas it’s always a hit.

Whether you need to work up an appetite or work off that lunch the countless nurseries in the area offer a great option to stroll, browse and get info. In my case I rarely make it home without some new greenery for the house since prices are very reasonable and the variety is excellent. The big momma nursery here is Vivero Central featuring a giant fountain visible from the highway, beautiful grounds and the main “showroom” in the shade of a massive tree. If you are local be sure what you buy fits in the car before you get carried away.

If you have some of those aforementioned teens in tow the nursery portion of your trip may be the part where you get the most eye rolling, but fear not you have an ace up your sleeve: Zoo Ave. While not a cheap attraction ($20 for foreigners, $10 locals), your admission fee helps fund a number of animal conservation, rescue and breeding programs so don’t complain too much. The zoo houses many more types of animals than the bird-themed name would imply. On site you can find reptiles, birds, big cats, and of course monkeys—who doesn’t love monkeys? Those pesky chain-link fences are the only give away your photos will have that you didn’t actually venture deep into the rain forest to capture rare animals.

As far as those photos go, it’s a tricky place to get good shots. The thick foliage means there isn’t much light and you will have to have your flash off–O-F-F. If you don’t know how to do this consult your teen (if you don’t have a teen, it’s the little button that looks like a lighting bolt). Besides the lighting issues the chain-link fencing will often confuse your auto-focus system meaning that that fence will be lovely focus but the really cool crimson-crested-whatever will be blurry. Bummer. Keep it in mind and review your photos carefully before moving on or use manual focus if you have that option.

With a full belly and a full memory card you’re ready to head home. La Garita is a great place for a relaxed family afternoon and really shouldn’t be skipped if you aren’t booked full, and if you’re local it’s a reminder of just how cool it is to live in Costa Rica. Stop by, you won’t regret it.


Driving in Costa Rica: Tips on Surviving Your Rental Car Experience

This article of mine originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look around. Thanks, Solson

Do pay for the GPS option. You’ll learn to love that heartless voice. And if you’re thinking you’ll turn it off. Don’t. You’ll want to keep your eyes on the road.

When you come from any developed country driving in Costa Rica may be the most maddening, if not downright terrifying thing you can undertake. I read an article recently that suggested that Costa Rica would have to invest $2 billion per year for 25 years to catch up on its road infrastructure. Throw in an average fleet age of 13 years and a notable absence of traffic cops (which are a different group from regular cops) and you’ve got a recipe for trouble. I don’t recommend driving on your visit especially if you suffer cardiac conditions or would like to preserve the health of your marriage, but if you must I’ll try to help you survive.

It took me about a year to stop breaking into a sweat every time I had to venture into San José in morning traffic. Every intersection seemed like a bumper car rink where someone had turned off the power; motorcycles materialized out of nowhere and the buses were always in the way. I suffered a thousand tiny heart attacks every time a cab pulled into my lane. Eventually I began to learn a few of the basic local rules.

Lanes are more like suggestions—if they are even marked at all. What may seem like a dangerous invasion of your lane is pretty normal even on the highway, and a necessity in town. Buses have legal stops all over the place (including highway lanes) and will often stop anywhere someone requests. This slow speed stop-and-go game is no fun for those behind them. So folks just go around. If you are on a road with two lanes in the same direction you need to be aware that people will just squeeze into the other lane a bit to get around the stopped bus. Your normal first-world reaction is to slam on the brakes, honk the horn and curse. Here your reaction should be to just drift a bit left even at highway speeds. If you have time, do a quick mirror check for motorcycles. If you’re on a two lane road and you see a stopped bus in an on-coming lane be prepared for someone to pop out suddenly from behind.

Certain intersections in urban areas will get choked with magically appearing extra lanes as locals jockey for position. A good rule of thumb is to add at least one lane to whatever is marked. A hand wave and eye contact are often effective in slow speed merge situations. Flash your high-beams or wave to let someone in. Wave or blink your hazards once to say thank you if you are let in.

Speed limits are very slow by most developed standards and change very frequently and often for no apparent reason. Try to follow them reasonably closely (within 10kph or so). Scoot a bit to the right to let someone by if they want to go faster, you’re probably on vacation and not in such a hurry anyway.

If you get pulled over, don’t offer a bribe. That’s illegal here just the same as back home. While some cops might pull you over just in the hopes of collecting a bribe, it’s not worth the risk. Also it’s worth noting that police vehicles run around with their blue lights flashing permanently, it doesn’t mean you’re being pulled over. Traffic cops that stop you will generally be in a fixed position and just point to you and signal you to pull over. If you hear sirens then you do need to pull over, either to let them by, or get your ticket for an infraction.

If you’re hauling suitcases and/or surfboards be careful where you park. Those flip-flops and shorts you’re wearing make you a target for getting all your stuff stolen (plus you’re driving a late-model car). Most public places have a gentleman in a reflective vest hanging around helping you park and “taking care” of your car. While they will certainly not be held responsible for any damages to your car they do provide a small amount of security and not playing along is often a sure-fire way of having a problem. The going rate for tipping these guys is 500-700 colones per hour and is a good way to use those giant coins you accumulate on your trip.

Back to that GPS I told you to get.

Directions here are really difficult to follow since they require you to know some fixed reference point and also which way is North, South, East and West (not hard for people from Saskatchewan). A great tip for figuring out which way is North is by finding a Catholic church. Nearly every Catholic church faces West, so that should help you get oriented. If you forgo the GPS or it doesn’t have the reference point you want, don’t be afraid to ask. Your wife will thank you and locals are very helpful in this regard since we have to ask as well.

Also local vernacular will often substitute “abajo” (down) and “arriba” (up) for left and right. In flat terrain “abajo” means left and “arriba” means right, this all goes out the window if there is a hill. If you are confused get clarification via left and right before proceeding.

Now you know why you and your wife will end up loving that monotone self-righteous GPS voice. Welcome to Costa Rica.


Top 5 Local Hangout Spots in Heredia Costa Rica

This article of mine originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look around. Thanks, Solson

 

To most valley dwellers Heredia means, traffic, universities, call centers and Intel. To the foreign visitor it’s all just San José. Most outsiders haven’t a clue about the places we prefer and most of them are not famous outside our little city, unlike places in San José like Soda Tapia and Avenida Central. We’ve got our favorite spots to meet and eat, and I’ll share some with you.

Fair warning, the following are presented with absolutely no scientific study and are in no way definitive, feel free to add to the list.

5) Bol Cariari. Probably the latest arrival to the trendy list in Heredia. Tucked awkwardly near the Real Cariari Mall you may have seen the sign from the highway, but you still may have a little trouble finding one of the few bowling alleys in the country. Locals have found it just fine. By American standards it’s a bit cramped and noisy, but it’s brand new, good fun and usually hopping. You’ll probably have to wait a while for a lane (charged by the hour not by the game) and be sure to dress appropriately. Its proximity to business centers, and the ritzy Cariari area means that most folks are on the upper side of the income scale and are either blowing off steam after work or pre-gaming for a night out so you won’t find many grungy tee’s or blue collars.

Food here is a predictable assortment of fried things, nachos, pizza and beer. Also, if you’ve ever attended a bowling alley in the States don’t expect anyone to follow any sort of basic lane etiquette, so just breathe deep and have fun.

4) Café Scarlett. A block east of the courthouse, this unassuming cafe is the requisite meeting place for local politicians and lawyers. A number of expansions over the years means that diners are often seated in a labyrinth of rooms where one would expect to find the kitchen. The odd layout brings new meaning to the term “backroom deal.” Don’t be surprised if you end up rubbing elbows with folks like the mayor, city council members or other folks you’ve seen on TV, but don’t be intimidated, plenty of locals stop by as well.

Open for breakfast, lunch and afternoon coffee, Café Scarlett serves up a nice alternative to the greasy spoon “sodas” widely available in downtown Heredia, often featuring lovely green salads and lasagna. Be sure to be in early enough to grab lunch while they’ve still got some.

3) La Parrillita de Pepe. Open late (5am on weekends) and serving up goodness for what ails you La Parillita de Pepe has seen near instant success despite a somewhat awkward location on the fringe of downtown. Featuring a mix of local “soda” style short order as well as Colombian specialties means they have an extensive menu that is especially well suited to the tastes of local college students. While students aren’t their only customers, the proximity to university watering holes means they’ve taken full advantage of the buzz-busting power of their menu. They’ve recently expanded their dining area as well as their hours (opening at 11:30am) while retaining their speedy delivery service. I expect that they get quite a lot of late night business from our next place on the list.

2. El Bule. Technically it has the awkward name of Bulevar Relax Bar Restaurant & Grill, but ask for it by that name and you’ll get nowhere. This is THE bar in Heredia. Locals go and bring their out of town guests with them. Weekend nights mean loud music overflow onto the sidewalk, and little access to parking on the streets. Heaven help you on game day. Like La Parrillita de Pepe the clientele is largely student driven but it’s iconic status means that young and the young at heart still drop in to revel. I can’t say anyone I’ve met has ever commented on the food, but we’ll take that as a good sign. They open for lunch but the party gets started late.

1. El Parque Central. The historic central park still serves its role as meeting place for the community. It’s where championships are celebrated and heartbreaking losses are mourned. High school students flirt and kill time while older gentlemen complain about the government and the the management of Club Sport Herediano. All the bustle is flanked by the historic “Fortin,” the historic post office, the renovated Escuela República de Argentina, and a couple of iconic eateries: Pops and Soda Testy.

While Pops has grown into a well recognized national ice-cream franchise, the central park location has been there for close to 40 years marking it as an Heredia institution. It’s always bustling with folks of all ages with a sweet tooth, but an endless stream high school students keep this place in the black. Soda Testy is equally iconic, serving up classic Tico short order food and is well known for its air-raid type siren that sounds with unwavering devotion to the victories of the local soccer team.

Well let the debate begin, this is my list, make your own. Let some other towns chime in with their best local guides, I’d love to know where the local hot-spots are for when I’m wandering about.