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Costa Rica: Snapshots – The Friends School

At the Monteverde Friend’s School, the library is on the honor system for checking out books, and it is open 24/7!  It’s an example of how terrific this K-12 bilingual, Quaker based school is in Costa Rica.


Quaker school library.

“Surrounded by Nature, Supported by Love”

“Nestled in the cloud forest community of Monteverde, Costa Rica, the Monteverde Friends School was founded over 60 years ago by Quakers who left the United States in search of a country and community that supported their peaceful principles. Today, our school continues to promote the universal values of peace, love and respect in the context of a challenging bilingual education and a sense of community,” notes the website <>.



This solar oven is where students and staff heat up their lunches

They have a garden too.

We loved seeing this busy school with students and teachers learning together in a beautiful atmosphere.  We felt the love of learning in the Monteverde Friends School.

Go visit Escuela de los Amigos when you are in Monteverde.

Pura Vida, Renée



Costa Rica: Snapshots – Johnny’s

One of the great things about being on vacation is we get to try a variety of food – all cooked by other people.  One place we enjoyed in Monteverde was Johnny’s, a pizza place with beautiful teak walls and open light space.  We were lured in as well by the name, our son’s.  Roberto, an older Costa Rican who spoke excellent English, was our friendly, well-trained waiter.  I had the veggie burger – one of the best I’ve ever had.  Barry opted for the  lunch special pizza.

We loved the attention to detail, the open seating, and the tasty food.

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Stairway to the second floor of Johnny’s – on our last lunch there

We liked sitting on the balcony.

But thinks can quickly change.   We’d heard fire sirens and smelled smoke earlier that morning.  And as we walked toward the Cloud Forest, we saw the fire hoses.  I kept saying, “I hope it isn’t Johnny’s.”


The hose for the water ran over two blocks – up hill.

It was Johnny’s.  The owner was there talking urgently into his cell phone.  His wife held him, her arms circling his shoulders.  The restaurant, opened since 1993,  was completely destroyed.  We passed the still smoking, charred remains.


The smoldering remains of Johnny’s

The owner and his family must have put everything into what had been a beautiful restaurant.  Roberto and the other employees are out of work.  Does Costa Rica provide unemployment insurance?  Did the owner have insurance?  No one I asked seemed to know.  The owner, staff, the community are all impacted in this loss.  😦

Elizabeth, a Monteverde resident, says that things in Monteverde have a way of working themselves out.

When you go to Monteverde (and I return), I hope that we find a rebuilt Johnny’s.

Pura Vida, Renée


Costa Rica: Snapshots – Ecological Sanctuary

Of course, Barry and I did the Cloud Forest hikes, places of great beauty and activity (tour bus destinations), but we also found the Monteverde Ecological Sanctuary, a Costa Rican family run site that we had to ourselves much of one morning.  It is on 48 hectors (about 118 acres) of reclaimed logged forest.  Although second growth, this forest is beautiful and a wonderful place to wander and explore.


Monteverde Ecological Sanctuary – cost is $15.00 U.S.


For the most part, the trails are very well marked.

We were impressed by the large and the small.

We learned of trees we didn’t know.


The “Hippie Killer” tree – for all those darn tree huggers 🙂

One trail was particularly steep, but well worth the climb.


With a rainbow too

Although we didn’t see mammals up close – probably because we were there mid-day and because conservation land that doesn’t allow people is nearby, we thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Monteverde Ecological Sanctuary.

Be sure to visit.    We think you will like the Monteverde Ecological Sanctuary too.

Pure Vida, Renée

In Costa Rica: Snapshots – San José

Although most tourists stay in San José for only a night before heading out for adventure in other parts of Costa Rica, Barry and I were there for several days both at the beginning and the end of our trip.

We liked the architecture.  Even if a building wasn’t really architecturally special, often the color made it memorable.

Sometimes the building material is unusual like this building that is now a school; the outside is made of metal.


A school made of metal – in San José


Many places in San José offer good food or drinks


Even the underpasses can be memorable

And you never know what might come down the street:


Blindfolded, they walk along the street


Is this a comment on going to war? Or could it be how we blindly follow others? We saw it in San José.

San José parks are great places to watch people, listen to a guitarist, read.

We liked the architectural details and beauty of the buildings.

We enjoyed walking through San José streets.



Of course, some places in San José look very familiar


Art on a street wall – in San José

San José is mainly a city of low-rise buildings – and walking streets.

Costa Rican police  cruise up and down the walking streets to run off vendors and buskers – which probably means there aren’t enough jobs for the people who live in San José, but the people we met were friendly and looked happy.


A San José walking street

In the days we spent wandering through San José, we had good food, met terrific people, saw good museums, and heard lively music.    So when you find yourself in Costa Rica, enjoy San José, the capital city – before running off for adventures in the forests.

Pura Vida, Renée








Costa Rica – Snapshots: Bugs and Butterflies

In San José, the capital of Costa Rica, Barry and I loved wandering the colorful, bustling streets.



But Costa Rica is known for its land conservation and rich natural life.  So we liked being outside the capital too.  Most of the birds, the animals, and even the bugs are beautiful and wonderful.


A bird feeder outside a Monteverde café and bakery

You may know of the sloths, monkeys, and coatis of Costa Rica, but did you know that the country is also host to many insects?  Surprises, for me, included:


Assassin bug – also known as “the kissing bug” – that little brown bug with the orange edges.

Not everything is good for humans.  I’d never heard of the assassin bug – that Sara, our informative and friendly naturalist guide at the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, had found in her own bed!  To know how troubling that is, she told us facts about this small seemingly harmless bug.

They are known as “kissing bugs,” because they tend to bite sleeping humans in the soft tissue around the lips and eyes. Then, says Sara, when you wake up and the bite is itchy, you scratch it which allows the venom to get in your blood.

Those bites can be vectors for the trypanosomal Chagas disease, sometimes called “American trypanosomiasis.”  In the early stage, symptoms are typically either not present or mild, perhaps a fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, or swelling.  After 8–12 weeks, the chronic phase of disease can begin, but for 60–70% of the victims, it never produces further symptoms. 

The other 30 to 40% of people, however, can develop further symptoms 10 to even 30 years after the initial infection.  Ten percent may experience an enlarged esophagus or enlarged colon.  The damage includes enlargement of the  ventricles of the heart in 20 to 30% of those bitten, which leads to heart failure – death.

Later, we were told by a young Costa Rican woman that these are bug bites that disproportionately affect the indigenous and poor – and the reason many die early.  According to her, little research is being done on treatment since “it is a poor person’s disease.”

But don’t avoid Costa Rica or the tropics.  Know what an assassin bug looks like – as Sara does – and be aware.

Another insect here is big and not pleasant to see – but it is not a vector for disease:


A Giant Blaberus cockroach.  Sara is holding it, not me

Another insect is known for its strength.


Hercules beetles

The Hercules beetles are amazing.  They can reach 6 inches (15 cm) in length, making them the largest species of the Rhino Beetle, the largest beetle in the world.  Besides, pound for pound, these beetles are the strongest animals in the world. Where an adult elephant can lift about 25 times its weight, the rhino beetle can lift 850 times its body weight!  That is more than any other animal recorded.

Especially for Asian boys, they are  a popular pet; you can easily spend $350 U.S. dollars on a rhino beetle although they live only about a year.  Or just come see them in Costa Rica.



A red liliko’i (passion fruit) flower in the butterfly garden!



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Sometimes you can have a very close encounter

Butterflies that feed on fermenting ripe fruit – like the Morpho butterfly below – become intoxicated; they tend to have short – and perhaps – happy lives.


The Morpho butterfly



Of course, we saw more leaf-cutter ants. These were marching along a roof pole on a shed in the butterfly gardens.

So know that when you come to Costa Rica, you can enjoy the museums, night life, and people of the city – and the interesting critters in the conservation areas as well.

Pura Vida, Renée

In Costa Rica: Facts


Costa Rican flag


Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a world leader in land conservation – but it hasn’t always been that way.  In 1500, over 95% of the area was forested, but by 1987 only 21%.  By 2010, 52% was forested and today, a bit more.   With 20 national parks, 8 biological reserves, plus animal refuges, and protected areas, 26 percent of Costa Rica’s land is protected.


Along a trail in Costa Rica

One of those important parks is the Arenal Volcano National Park,  29,692-acre (12,016-hectors) that includes both the Arenal Volcano and the dormant Chato Volcano.  Beginning near Lake Arenal, the park has hiking trails and observational points.  Of the over 200 volcanic formations in Costa Rica about 112 have shown some type of activity: Arenal is the most active volcano in Central America, while Poás is the second widest volcanic crater in the world, and Irazú is Costa Rica’s tallest volcano.

Arenal Volcano National Park - the largest recorded eruption was in 1968

Arenal Volcano – the largest recorded eruption was in 1968

Costa Rica is serious about land conservation; it offers farmers, for instance, yearly subsidies if they keep part of their land forested.

Another popular tourist destination is  Manuel Antonio National Park: on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast; it includes rugged rainforest, white-sand beaches and coral reefs.  It contains a  vast diversity of tropical plants and wildlife, including three-toed sloths, endangered white-faced capuchin monkeys, and hundreds of bird species. The park’s 1,680 acres (680 hectares) have hiking trails meandering from the coast up into the mountains.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park – beautiful!

But these are only two of the many wildlife and conservation sites you can visit in Costa Rica.  It is one of the most valued environmental destinations in the world – with over 100 protected areas to visit.


Wildlife Crossing – puma


Costa Rica – a land of conservation and adventure


There are zip lines, water adventures, beaches, wildlife tours, and much more to see in Costa Rica.


The first – and some of the best zip lines

Other important facts:

  • The Costa Rican army was abolished in 1948 after a grim civil war that killed 2,000 people in 44 days.
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    Costa Rican civil war in 1948

  • On 24 April, 1944, led by José María (Pepe) Figueres, a powerful coffee grower and outspoken rival of Calderón (the previous president), anti-government forces entered San José, almost six weeks after beginning a revolt in southern Costa Rica against the contested election of the Picado government.  The United States helped determine the outcome of the revolution by its mobilization in the Canal Zone, constant pressure on Picado, and cutting off Nicaragua’s (Somoza’s) help.  Also, throughout the country, armed groups were formed, trained by Guatemalan military advisors, in part, we were told, because of a promise by Figueres to send Costa Rican fighters later to Guatemala.
  • No ArmyOver the following 18 months, Figueres acted as interim president, during which time he drafted a new constitution that prohibited presidential reelection, dissolved the communist party in Costa Rica, granted women and blacks the right to vote, abolished the army, and established a neutral body that would oversee future elections (the Electoral Tribunal). All of the social reforms that Calderón had established were maintained. Banks and insurance companies were nationalized, and ten percent of all bank funds were seized for reconstruction. In 1949, Figueres turned the country over to Ulate, who  had run as the unified opposition party leader, challenging Calderón’s party in the 1948 election. “Don Pepe” Figueres was elected president in 1953 and again in 1970. Upon his death in 1990, he was remembered as one of Costa Rica’s greatest leaders and a crusader against political corruption.  He also never kept his promise to send troops to Guatemala; he knew the horror of war and didn’t want any more Costa Ricans to die.  Costa Rica still has no standing army.
  • 2014 celebration of with former President José %22Don Pepe%22 Figueres Ferrer

    “Don Pepe” Figueres on the right

  • Costa Rica has more teachers than police!
  • Literacy rate is 95% for men and women.
  • Infant mortality /maternal mortality rate is 25 per 100,000 live births and it continues to go down.  In contrast, in 1987, there were 7.2 deaths of mothers per 100,000 live births in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2011, that number more than doubled, jumping to 17.8 deaths per 100,000 births mainly because of obesity-related complications.  While the U.S. rate is still better than Costa Rica’s – that may not be true for long.
  • President Luis Guillermo Solís won the 2014 election with over 77% of the vote.  This was the largest margin ever recorded for a free election in Costa Rica. He is a member of the center-left Citizens’ Action Party. Now he isn’t as popular as when he was elected because the employment rate hasn’t improved as much as hoped.
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    Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís

    Previously, Costa Rica’s president was Laura Chinchilla, Costa Rica’s first female president and sixth female elected for president of a Latin American country.

  • In the 1950’s, the Monteverde Quaker community started with nine families from the U.S. – seeking a peaceful country.
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    A Quaker dairy treat – in Monteverde, Costa Rica

  • It has one of the highest life expectancies in the world according to the World Bank, Life expectancy at birth is 80 years compared to 79 in the United States.  The Nicoya region of Costa Rica is also one of five Blue Zones—“longevity hotspots” populated by the longest-living people in the world—on the globe.
  • At 19,730 square miles, Costa Rica measures slightly smaller than Lake Michigan. It has  801 miles (1,290 km) of coastline.
  • It is home to more than 500,000 species – with nearly 3 percent of the world’s biodiversity.   Corcovado National Park has been deemed “the most biologically intense place on the planet.”
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    A colorful bug on my jeans – in Costa Rica

  • Costa Rica contains approximately 90 percent of the butterfly species found in Central America, 66 percent of all neo-tropical butterflies, and about 18 percent of all butterfly species in the world.

    A Sara butterfly

    – and over 50 species of hummingbirds.


    One of the many kinds of hummingbirds in Costa Rica

  • Costa Ricans are some of the happiest people on Earth according to the Happy Planet Index, which uses three criteria—life expectancy, experienced well-being, and Ecological Footprint—to determine the overall happiness levels of 151 countries across the globe. With a score of 64.0, Costa Rica is near the top of this list while the United States has a happiness index of 37.3.
  • In case you think that Costa Rica is perfect, know that pedestrians are called “targets” and speed bumps are “son muertos” – [they are] dead people. Do pay attention when you cross a street.
  • Pura Vida is the response of  locals when asked how they are or in passing to say “hello or goodbye.” Pura vida is a state of mind. Costa Ricans take every opportunity to live life to the fullest.

Visit – you will love the people, the conservation lands, the adventure tours. . .


A magnificent – and fun (for people) – Strangler Fig



That’s me on the way up. The view from the top was spectacular. I felt like a bird perching high above the land.

Go to Costa Rica.  You’ll love it.

Pura vida, Renée

In Costa Rica: San Luis Ecolodge

One of the most interesting adventures we had in Costa Rica was experiencing the University of Georgia’s research facility and eco-lodge in San Luis, which is just a short “as the crow flies” distance from Monteverde.

Check-in wasn’t until noon.  We’d gotten an early start,  and the public bus didn’t come for 45 more minutes.   We’d walked to the Quaker meeting the day before, and according to Google Maps, the eco-lodge was just kilometers beyond.  How bad could it be?


View toward the Nicoya coast

We started walking to the UGA San Luis Eco-Lodge.

art on the way to sL

Artist studio on the way toward San Luis

The sun was shining – and the wind blowing –  at 25 miles an hour – with gusts much higher.

The views were  stunning.

view of sL

View down to San Luis

What we couldn’t tell from Google is the walk included several kilometers of a very, very steep grade down toward San Luis – at about 25%.  It’s so steep that trucks and buses are prohibited.


A 25% grade-no trucks or buses are allowed on the road to San Luis

Much of the road to San Luis is not paved.

At times, I thought I’d be blown over the edge by the gusts of wind.  Barry was backpacking all our stuff, and before we got to San Luis, he said it felt like about 100 pounds.

However, the walk was beautiful.  And we did make it, but what we thought would be about a one-and a-half-hour walk turned into about three hours.

on the way to san Luis

Cows near the San Luis Eco-Lodge


Welcome sign

We did arrive about 15 minutes before lunch.  Perfect.

And we had a great lunch – a buffet.   I ate two full plates!

And then we got to go with naturalist Dan, an enthusiastic, knowledgeable intern, on a three-hour hike/lecture to the Eco-Lodge farm and through a forest.

Dan, me, David

Naturalist Dan – at the UGA sustainable farm in San Luis, Costa Rica.  David, on the right, from the U.S.

Along the way, we saw three white-faced capuchin monkeys, a coati, and an agouti – a big rodent that is the favorite meal of pumas, and, of course, we saw many colorful birds.


An arguti in Costa Rica

We saw cool birds, animals, bugs, interesting trees and plants.   You would love it there.

At the farm, we saw innovative practices to promote sustainability.  One of their composting strategies is using black plastic tarps, which we are trying at home.

dan at UGA

Dan sharing wisdom of the forest


Raised beds, rotated crops – beautiful lettuces

sloth tree

A symbiotic relationship of stinging ants and this tree give the ants a home and a sweet nectar to eat, and the tree gets defense so it can  grow tall quickly.

leaf cutters

Leaf-cutter ants are busy day and night. They can strip a tree in one day!

Before dinner, we went up and sat on the great deck in wooden rocking chairs, drank delicious Costa Rican coffee, and chatted with other tourists and University of Georgia interns and staff.


Waiting for the next meal at UGA Eco-lodge

Again, I got two full plates for dinner.  We’d heard the hot chocolate served after dinner was stupendous; it was.


Dinner with the interns at the San Lois Eco-Lodge

Then we had an interesting lecture about the history of Costa Rica.  We could have chosen a night hike looking for frogs and snakes, but we’d had enough of hiking for the day.    I was asleep by about 9 that night.


UGA – Costa Rica staff

The next morning, we went at 6:20 to milk cows and see the biodigester that converts  all the waste materials into cooking fuel.


We had a  medicinal plants lecture and field trip after breakfast.

Among many other facts, we learned from Dan that guava is good for hangovers; coffee is anti-Alzheimer and Parkinson’s diseases; dumb cane is for toothaches; catnip is like cocaine for cats, but as a tea, is calming for people; papaya is a good meat tenderizer; yellow oleander is very poisonous; the root beer plant is for headaches – put a leaf on your forehead . . . The reason aloe is good for sunburns is because it holds in moisture which allows the skin to heal.  The sap from the dragon-blood tree is anti-fungal and an antiseptic. . .

After lunch, we got an an introduction to bird watching.  Costa Rica has 850 species of birds; 250 species are in San Luis near the eco-lodge – beautiful and diverse!


The rain brought rainbows

After dinner, I took a night hike seeking mammals.  Because it was windy and rainy, we mainly found spiders, moths, leaf-cutters, and other small beings.  Again we slept well in our beautiful and comfortable bungalow.

The next morning, we went out at dawn for bird-watching with a naturalist.


We watched for birds from the deck on this rainy morning


A bird on the deck railing


After breakfast in the San Luis dining hall, Barry trying a Spam can strung like a guitar!  With Susan Stanley of The Hobohemians, a blues, folk, jazz group

Generally, we did lots of activities – and then we’d eat again.


Another great meal


No burning of cane as is done on Maui. On this conservation land, the cane is just dug up at its roots.


On our coffee tour

Actually, there was much more!

But you get the idea: you will  learn about plants, animals, bugs, sustainability, Costa Rica, coffee,  history, and more from enthusiastic and knowledgeable interns and naturalists, meet other travelers, eat well, enjoy hot water and a new, clean bungalow, and have an eventful and wonderful time at the beautiful Ecolodge San Luis.

For more information and to reserve your visit, go to the website:

You will love the experience.

Pura vida, Renée

P.S. To leave the eco-lodge, did we walk back up the steep road?  No!  We took a cab. 🙂

In Costa Rica: Quakers of Monteverde

Barry and I had been in the Monteverde Cloud Forest 13 years ago and had attended a Friends meeting.  We wanted to go again to this special place with people who live their faith and who have had a huge impact on protection of the land.

It is easy and cheap to take the five-hour bus ride from the new 7/10 San José Bus Terminal to Monteverde.

Below:  waiting at the new terminal.

The roads are good except for about the last hour.  There has been much resistance to  paving the road into Monteverde (especially by the Quakers) since many of those living there who do not want more tourists to come.


On our way toward Monteverde

In 1951, U.S. Quaker families  moved to Monteverde, Costa Rica.  The eleven families from Alabama were seeking a country that would accept their pacifist Quaker stand against war.  Four young men from those families had been jailed for refusing to sign up for the U.S. Selective Service for the Korean War.  The U.S. judge who had sentenced the young men to jail had said that if they couldn’t follow the laws of the land, then they should find another country.  And so, some from this Quaker community sought another place to live.

In general, Quaker principles rest on simplicity, justice, equality, integrity, service, peace, community, and a view that the light of God is within each person.  Modern Friends vary in their traditions and practices, but they share common roots  in a Christian movement that arose in England in the middle of the 17th Century – especially in the writings of George Fox (1624-1691).


George Fox – “You can’t kill the devil with a sword or a gun” – from the Ballad of George Fox

Image from: <;

In 1948, Costa Rica had abolished its military (and still has none); the country wanted settlers to develop its land.  In its wind-swept cloud forest on the Continental Divide in the middle of Costa Rica,   Monteverde, at that time, was  accessible only by ox cart. The American Quakers came seeking a land where they could live in peace and practice their religion.

Together the U.S. Friends purchased 1500 hectares (about 3,707 acres) of land,  which they divided among the families; they helped each other in building houses, clearing the land of forests, introducing  dairy cattle, and farming.

In 1957, they built the main building of  Monteverde Friends School.   Today, it is a bilingual school serving the local community – both Quakers and local Costa Ricans – from pre-school through to high school.

Part of the land the Quakers purchased was used to set up a dairy farm;  the Monteverde Cheese Factory today produces over a ton of cheese a day.  That factory is now owned by a Mexican company; the ice cream store is now employee owned.  But until recently, these businesses were owned by the original Quaker families.

Early as a way to protect their water source, the community  made the far-sighted decision to set aside an area on the mountain slopes as virgin cloud forest – high altitude forest cooled by moist air from the Pacific.  This action was the beginning of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which has become an international model for conservation.   The Quakers evolved from those who cleared the land and hunted to those who protected the forests and the animals and birds.

Information from:


Escuela de los amigos – Monteverde Quaker school and meeting house



At the entrance to the Sunday Friends meeting – Silencio


Quaker 6th graders from Philadelphia. They began the singing with “Lean on Me.”


The Ballad of George Fox <>.  When three or more gathering together – a Quaker meeting.

After singing for a half hour, we sat silently for about an hour.  It’s a silence of gratitude, of listening for the light of God, a silence of reflection.


Sunday Quaker meeting

After the silent meditation,  Danielle reported on the children’s discussion held during the adult meditation time.  She said the young students talked about what they could do during silent meditation time – besides staring at the back of someone’s head.  They considered being grateful.  Who are you grateful for?  Who has done something nice for you?  Who have you been nice to lately?  The older students discussed the concept of integrity.  What do you do when things aren’t clear?  How can you act with integrity in complicated situations?

Above photo on the left, Danielle giving the children’s reports.  On the right, an attender sharing her meditation insight.

After meeting, we enjoyed  a potluck lunch with the Quaker members, and then Barry and I joined in the Arthur M. Larabee Spirit-Led Decision-Making Workshop that was held in the afternoon.

The key concepts of Larabee’s lesson include: Listening beyond the self, separating personal preferences from what may be different right outcomes for the group, creating a climate of safety for all to speak candidly, uniting when possible, standing aside when appropriate, seeking unity.  The purpose of Quakers meeting and discussing ideas and plans is to seek unity and a way that will consider and respect each person’s ideas.

We had a wonderful, loving, thought-provoking several hours of singing, reflecting, meeting people, and considering Quaker ways.

I hope you will be able to visit the Monteverde Quakers too.

Amor y Luz – y Paz – Renée


In Costa Rica: San José

Both at the beginning and the end of our trip to Costa Rica, we spent several days in San José, the capital – a metropolitan area of about a million people, the political and economic center of the country.

We found wonderful museums.


Good museums – the gold and Pre-Columbian museums

We enjoyed the wonderful walking streets – and getting to watch people.


See the man with the rooster on his head?  Most people weren’t that unusual.

We liked the food.

I liked the Downtown Yoga studio, in a 115-year old building of beautiful walls and tiles and great yoga and Pilates instructors.


A morning class at Downtown Yoga

We liked our AirBnB:


Barry on our Airbnb patio

We liked the street art and the energy.



On a San José walking street

So whether you are an adrenalin-rush adventurer coming to Costa Rica for the white-water rafting, the Superman bungee jumping, and extreme zip lines or an avid bird watcher, don’t use San José as just your transit point.  Stay a few days in San José to enjoy the people, the food, and the museums.  Then head off to the wilderness.

Pura Vida, Renée

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