On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
Although I enjoyed San José more than I expected to, our program did include several excursions out of the city. These are some of the highlights.
This is Póas volcano, a mere thirty miles from the capital, famous for the (highly acidic) blue lagoon in the crater.
It’s an active volcano, so visits are limited to twenty minutes and there are concrete shelters on the viewing platforms in case of an unexpected eruption. You also have to wear hard hats; each tour group got hats in a different color, so the trail from the visitors center to the volcano was a sea of reds and yellows and whites bobbing along through the trees. The last major eruption was in 2017, which closed the park for eighteen months, and some of the trails are still closed. You can see the effects of the acid rain from the gases that are still being emitted on the nearby landscape.
The ruins of Santiago Apóstol in central Cartago, about an hour southeast of San José.
There have been a series of churches on this site since the sixteenth century, most of them destroyed by earthquakes. The guidebooks point out that the church that’s there now isn’t technically a ruin because it was never finished. It was to have been the only Romanesque style church in Costa Rica, but after yet another earthquake in 1910 it was abandoned.
There is a legend that two brothers, one a priest, fell in love with the same woman. The priest killed his brother with a knife during Mass, and though he vowed to build a church to atone for his sin, the church was destroyed by an earthquake a year later, as was every subsequent church on the site, which is taken as proof that it is cursed.
Inside the church walls are these beautiful gardens. They’re supposedly haunted by the headless ghost of the murderous priest, but honestly, if they didn’t want the priest hanging around forever they should have made the place less appealing.
Another day, another ruined church. This one, dating from the late 17th century, is all that is left of the village of Ujarrás, which was abandoned after a flood in 1833. The land surrounding the ruins is now a park.
Looking over the Orosi valley, not far from the ruins.
Costa Rica is famous for its amazing birds, but the butterflies were much easier to photograph. I’ve always wanted to see glasswing butterflies but wasn’t in the right part of the country; the blue morphos were a nice consolation prize.
And for the BJ crowd, some critters.
Who knew sloths were so adorable? I certainly didn’t, and I have actually seen sloths in the wild, in both Costa Rica and Panama. They always looked like giant balls of brown fur glued to a tree trunk, barely animate and not at all cute, as opposed to this little guy, Milo, and his friends at the Toucan Rescue Ranch just outside San José.
We got to see toucans, monkeys, and other wildlife in addition to the sloths. Some of them had been pets; some were injured by cars or power lines. Because the goal is to return as many of the animals to the wild as possible, human contact needs to be limited, and you can only see the animals who for one reason or another can’t be rehabilitated. (One poor spider monkey for example was kept as a pet by an owner who cut off her prehensile tail to keep her from grabbing things with it.)
It takes two years to teach a sloth to live in the wild, and those, like Milo, who fail to graduate will continue to live at the ranch with yummy snacks and blankets to keep them warm for naps.
Latte, another dropout from Sloth University, considers whether that flower will make an acceptable snack. (It did.)
Sadly, I do not have a picture of my favorite animal at the ranch, Felicia—she was hiding behind some plants in her cage, so I only got glimpses. But even without a picture her story is worth telling.
Felicia is an ocelot, and was brought to the Toucan Rescue Ranch when the drug dealer who was keeping her as a pet was arrested, and the police found her sitting on the couch in his apartment. Because she was still very young, it was hoped she could be rehabilitated and returned to the wild.
The most important skill for living in the wild is obviously being able to feed yourself, and so they put a chicken in her cage to see if she would hunt it. The first day she was scared of the chicken and hid, but by the third day she had made friends with it.
So Felicia will also be spending the rest of her life at the ranch, having someone else provide her with dinner.
I love Felicia’s story.
I’ve always considered the sloth as my spirit animal.
Nice pictures and stories, thanks! My one trip to CR was to the Pacific coast and San Jose was just a pass-through. The abandoned churches have a nice back-story and ambience.
Felicia’s story is just what I needed this morning.
Such sweet stories!
Great story about Felicia. That valley looks like a nice place to live.
I love the volcano and the sloth!
Here on Long Island we have the Quogue Wildlife Refuge who does the same thing – humans only get to hang out with the critters who can’t be released (usually because of injury)!
I love the Felicia story. It looks a very beautiful place, though the number of ruins left by earthquakes seems a bit worrysome
Sloth’s ARE adorable. We visited a similar sloth orphanage in Brazil, and it turns out that they love to cuddle.
And yes, Felicia’s story is a good way to start the day!
Enjoying the pictures, thanks for posting! Trying to sell me wife on a trip down there.
@Albatrossity: Oh I love that picture! I want to cuddle a sloth (though apparently you do have to beware of those claws.)
Thank you for these. And the story!
@Albatrossity: Apparently sloths like bewbs!
Felicia’s story is hitting me in all the right feels this morning. Ocelots are such beautiful felines.
I, too, loved the Felicia story and which I had a picture of her and her chicken. But in searching the net, I did find a picture of her:
Definitely not looking like a wild animal!
@MelissaM: Oh thank you! Hi Felicia! She is such a beautiful kitty!
@kalakal: Costs Rica is located on the Pacific “ring of fire”, so it’s adjacent to tectonic plate boundaries and is always going to be earthquake prone unfortunately, and stone buildings don’t fare well with that. It is a gorgeous country and people do things like have latches on cabinets and lips inside to keep their dishes from dancing out to crash on the floor during the quakes..
@Benw: I’ve started volunteering with a local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation group here, but I’m doing landscaping. I’ve yet to see any critters, those that can’t be released are sent to good permanent homes.
Thank you for all the beautiful fascinating photos of Costa Rica this week, as well as for your very informative commentary. I won’t ever get there, though now I have a wish to go.
Such lovely ruins!
@MelissaM: Thanks for finding those!
click to enbiggen.
arrieve, this has been such a lovely series!
I have added Costa Rica as a category under OTR.
Thanks, arrieve. Nice pictures, and it has been fun to learn about a place I know very little about.
When we visited Poas in the 90’s we were free to roam, no time limit, no hard hats, no shelters. We found a serpentarium. My partner was terrified of snakes but the handsome buff guide was irresistible. The snakes were in terrariums typical of their habitat. We probably saw some snakes but we have no idea. Their camouflage was perfect. My partner decided they just wanted to be left alone. The bigger monkeys (they’re cute, right?) were terrifying.
Thanks for Felicia’s story, I love the thought of a cat and a chicken being friends!