Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 1: From San Jose to the Southern Caribbean Coast

Destination: Puerto Viejo

Vincent and I decided to meet at 8 a.m. for our trip to the Southern Caribbean Coast; anything can happen on the Costa Rican road, and we wanted to be prepared. After greeting each other, I hopped into Vincent's car and readied for the five-hour car ride.

We began by weaving north through Heredia, and I could feel the temperature drop as we climbed higher into the mountains. Soon, we drove into Braulio Carrillo National Park -- Costa Rica's second largest -- which also happens to be one of my favorite places in the country. Emerald green plants and towering waterfalls lined the cliffs, spilling down to the roadside. As we made our way through the clouds, I spotted an orange-kneed tarantula on the side of the road. It was my first sighting without the help of the guide and excitement gripped my chest.

Emerging on the other side of Braulio Carrillo, we were greeted not by the Caribbean Sea, but by the Caribbean way of life: humid, warm air played on the gentle breeze and toucans flew above our heads. Vincent, a trained naturalist, also spotted a sloth lazing in a nearby tree.

After stopping for lunch of chicken, rice and beans, we continued along the two-lane highway, intent on reaching our destination as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we were to be waylaid by an upcoming traffic jam -- road workers had gone to lunch, and had apparently forgotten about directing traffic.

We waited in line for an hour as trucks and cars from the oncoming lane barreled past us, until frustrated drivers finally stepped in to rectify the problem. Unfortunately, their efforts only caused gridlock, and we had to wait another 30 minutes before inching forward to our exit.

Thankfully free of the traffic jam, we sped southward toward Puerto Viejo. Little more than an hour later, we had arrived at our Cocles beach hotel and were strolling through the one-lane town. It was quiet and peaceful -- surfers took advantage of the high tide and towering waves, dogs ran along the road and people -- tourists and locals alike -- biked lazily, avoiding the giant, water-filled potholes whenever possible. After our walk, we had dinner at our hotel's in-house Italian restaurant and then collapsed in exhaustion.

Day 1: From San Jose to the Southern Caribbean Coast in Pictures