Costa Rica: Heading To The Highlands

As we’re currently enjoying a short break at La Casa Amarilla in Mompos, we’re trying to catch up on some photo stream posts for Costa Rica and Panama – this post being the first of a handful.

Whilst taking a break for maintenance chores in Liberia, the mountains and volcanoes were calling us again. After a boring stretch on the Pan-American into Liberia, we were eager to get off piste to see some of Costa Rica’s natural beauty. Check out a more detailed map on the Costa Rica Route page.

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From Liberia, we escaped the Panamerican by climbing up and around to Rincon de la Vieja, Lago Arenal and into the northern ‘burbs’ of San Jose.

During our four days in Liberia, Lars became friendly with the guys at Ciclo Guilly bike shop, who built the Oxigeno Freeride Bike Park on the northeast outskirts of town. We’d planned to head out to the park to watch them do some big jumps on our way out of town, but sadly we had an alarm clock fail and overslept.

It should have been a smooth ride out of Liberia, but after a clumsy bike blunder caused by aggressive mutts, my mood went sour; snarly dogs were turning me into a nervous wreck! I was having a bad day and poor Lars had to endure relentless whining! 

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The fast rolling sand stone is great fun on bikes, with very little traffic. The locals at Ciclo Guilly have built some freeride jumps at the Oxigeno Bike Park on the northeast side of Liberia.

My spirits were soon lifted at the sight of a beautiful, flowing stream. The heat was insufferable, so Lars strategically suggested a dip. After ten minutes of bobbing around in the cool water, I was a rejuvenated woman!

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Between San Jorge and Guayabo, things start to get windy…

We encountered picturesque, rolling hills from San Jorge to Guayabo scattered with wind turbines. We were cycling into a headwind, but luckily for me, I had a head-strong Lars who battled it out while I cruised behind in his slipstream.

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… with wind turbines whirring all around us.

The road out of Guayabo spoilt us for scenery. That was until we were spat back onto the ugly, hot Pan-american. After 20 miserable kilometres we arrived in Cañas, where we crashed in a cheap (by Costa Rican standards) hotel for $24 before an early start on the climb up to the Nuevo Arenal, mas fresco at 620m above sea level.

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Fortunately, we encountered a nice descent on this quieter road from Guayabo to Bagaces before the busy and monotonous Panam stretch to Cañas.

Nuevo Arenal To La Fortuna

Carretera 142 from Nuevo Arenal towards Fortuna was closed due to numerous landslides after heavy rains that sadly took the lives of a local father and son. So, we forced to look for an alternative route that turned out to be muy brava.

The locals at Toad Hall described a dirt road which didn’t appear on OpenStreetMaps or Google Maps, but after 7 hours of riding we managed to find our way to Highway 4 from Upala. We were exhausted; with another 30kms to ride we hopped on the bus for 20 of them to get to La Fortuna before dark. What a day!

Here are a few pics of Lars’ reconnaissance mission the day before:

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We discovered that the main road along the lake to Fortuna was closed due to a landslide, so Lars decided to spend the rest of rest day looking for a dirt road detour…

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… and discovered a long off-road route along the ridge above the lake.

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The detour adds significant distance and climbing to reach La Fortuna.

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A few mini-landslides from the recent rain…

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..rocky descents which demand 2+ inch tyres.

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Evading one of the daily downpours on the lake…

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… and watching from a nice perch.

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Finally linking up with the Carretera 142. The impact of the recent heavy rains that closed the road for at least 8 days.

And some photos of our long and winding journey to La Fortuna the following day:

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A grassy climb…

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Up to a beautiful view point, only to be told by a local we had gone the wrong way!

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So back down the grassy climb we go.

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passing the cows…

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…following a long, loose gravel road squiggling into the distance.

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Finally, we were awarded a view of Arenal from the north.

La Fortuna To San Ramon

The ride from La Fortuna to San Ramon turned to seven beautiful hours riding a gentle but relentless climb, accumulating over 2000 metres elevation gain over 75km. Luckily, we found another great place to cool off and rest for lunch!

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Cooling off for lunch at these waterfalls…

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… we found a nice swimming hole…

City Riding In San Jose

We did not find San Jose to be particularly cycling-friendly. Despite this, it’s seems to be a popular choice of transport with the locals commuting to work. No longer will I complain about the cycling in London after seeing what these intrepid souls endure.

The roads are fast and heavy with traffic. Lars is almost always in front of me when we ride and is fairly vigilant about signalling to me when there are obstacles to manoeuvre around. I guess this is ingrained in him from club road cycling around London. Still, when he shouted “hole”, I had no time to react. I could see his face full of dread as he looked at me helplessly. I rode straight over an uncovered manhole in the midst of four lanes of fast traffic.

To both our amazement I kept control and glided precariously, yet somehow smoothly over the right-hand side of the gaping hole. My sheer disbelief was similar to that accompanied by a golf putt which appears to be headed straight for the hole, but somehow defies physics and bounces out the other side at some ridiculous angle. The only difference being, I was saved from disaster – definitely par for the course!

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