Total distance travelled: 39,278.2 kilometres (24,396.4 miles)
At somewhere around 1500-1600 metres in elevation, Santa Elena is by no means one of the highest towns we’ve visited on this trip.
It is however, possibly the windiest, something easily gauged by looking upwards and watching the clouds racing by, or something experienced, as we did, during our short walk to our hostel, laden with our packs.
A backpack will certainly make a walk, more of an effort at the best of times, however when the wind threatens to push you off the road (yes, it was that strong) with each gust, you know you have a challenge on your hands.
Still, we did manage to find a hostel, something we began to fear would not occur when we first arrived, as the first two we tried were fully booked out!
Something of a lesson there, to try and book ahead during the high season!
Our morning had started early, but not too early, with a pick-up from La Fortuna around half past 8, for what is dubbed the ‘Jeep-Boat-Jeep’ journey to Santa Elena.
Don’t be fooled, there is no jeep, but rather a minivan to shuttle people the short distance to the lake where the boat awaits.
Or at least is supposed to wait, although in our case, we were forced to wait for it!
About 40 minutes late, it did eventually arrive, and when we saw how wet the floor of the vessel was, we were a little relieved when we weren’t first on board, as that is where all of the baggage was placed (a hot tip here, make sure you in the middle of the queue to board, as this will likely see your bags not on the floor, but instead buried somewhere in the middle).
Even though we were only on a lake, it wasn’t long before the waters became rough. Rough enough that the shore completely disappeared behind a wall of grey, and both the luggage on the bottom of the boat, and that stacked on top got rather saturated.
By chance, our bags happened to be safely buried in the middle of the pile (recall my earlier tip), consolation for us, but not at all for those with bags on either the top or bottom…
An hour and a half by van (again, no jeep) on the other side got us to Santa Elena, where, as already mentioned it was the wind that was our challenge, rather than the rain.
It was a scenic drive through many rolling hills, lush and green and in what should have been a sign of the winds to come, flush with electricity generating wind turbines that began to resemble a large forest given their number.
Santa Elena itself was a pretty mountain town, although quite hilly, so if inclines aren’t your thing I could see it being a bit of a challenge.
Our driver to the town had shown us some lovely images of rainbows stretching across the town, and our hostel, which had lovely views promised to be the kind of place that could deliver us some of our own at some point.
It was not something we were forced to wait long for at all, as both of the aforementioned elements, wind and rain promptly combined, to give us an armchair view all of our own (well, I guess we did have to share it with our fellow hostel guests).
In fact, the regularity with which we spied rainbows that afternoon as we sipped many a mug of hot tea (it was actually a pleasant change being in a cooler clime), made us a little blasé to it all in the end!
By the evening however, we were actually cold, forced to don sweaters, socks, shoes and even our down jackets.
At least the beds all came prepared with additional blankets, the first we’d slept beneath in a long, long time.
We toyed with the idea of participating in a night tour, but after reading a few online reviews and with another eye on the weather opted out.
As it bucketed down rain at the time when we’d likely have been out, we congratulated ourselves on our wise decision, and instead looked forward to the cloud forest visit we’d arranged for the following morning.
When our pre-arranged collection was late, it caused Sarah a little panic as we wondered if perhaps we were supposed to be at a collection point in town. When we queried this with one of the hostel staff, he seemed to indicate that them being late was not an uncommon occurrence.
Eventually our ride arrived, and after a short journey we found ourselves at the entrance to the forest where a guide was indeed in wait. We lingered a short time, just in case some others arrived who’d also paid for the guide service, but eventually we did set off, just the two of us and our guide.
First impressions were pretty good, although one thing we hadn’t expected was how cold it was! Sarah had actually talked me into leaving my sweater back at the hostel, a decision I quickly came to regret as all I had was now a t-shirt and my waterproof coat. Similarly, Sarah quickly came to regret her decision to where her trainers without socks!
Had it been a walk at our normal pace, it likely wouldn’t have been so bad, however with a guide, who was incredibly good by the way, the pace was much slower as we were often stopped as he told us about the various flora and fauna.
As we began to ascend higher, the strong winds also became a factor, both in forcing the temperature even lower, and also in forcing the clouds through the trees about us at an impressively fast rate.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to sight any mammal life, but animals of the avian variety were in abundance, the most impressive of these being a pair of Black Guan, a relation to the Turkey which began to wander along the path in front of us.
When our impressive tour was complete, we realised we had about an hour until the next return shuttle could ferry us back to town. As such, in an effort to get some warmth back into our limbs, we opted to walk ourselves along another, slightly longer of the trails.
This worked well on many levels. We were able to see more of the forest, it got some warmth flowing through our bodies once again, and it also helped to pass the time.
Plus, there were again some lovely views to be had of the forest.
With a 2pm bus departure desired, the intent being to get us on to San Jose at a reasonable hour, we were eager to have some lunch (a leftover pasta from the previous night’s dinner) and make our way to the bus station.
There was one final diversion we’d hoped we’d have the time to make, especially as we hadn’t spotted any mammals out in the forest.
Our driver in the morning had pointed out a tree in which a Sloth could usually be found, so it was to here we wandered on our course back through the town.
True to his word, there slept a Sloth, our first sighting of such an animal of the trip, and right in the heart of Santa Elena!
* Our Jeep-Boat-Jeep (which at no time included a Jeep) journey from La Fortuna to Santa Elena cost us $35.00 US for two people (discounted as we had already booked dorm rooms through our hostel who also booked the trip).
* Our excursion into the Santa Elena cloud forest cost us $33.00 US per person ($14.00 for the park entrance, $4.00 for our return trip & an additional $15.00 per person for the guide), with a pick-up from our hostel.