Why the Central Pacific Coast is So Much Cooler Than the North Pacific
There’s a double-meaning to the title of this blog: Not only is the Central Pacific coast of Costa Rica cooler (in terms of temperature) than the North Pacific, but it’s also a much more beautiful and interesting. Let’s face it–we’ve got lots that Guanacaste does not–rivers, waterfall, rainforest, mountains, and a plethora of wildlife. Most travelers who visit both areas agree–while every corner of Costa Rica is gorgeous–the area around Manuel Antonio takes the proverbial queque.
It got me to thinking: What is it that really differentiates the north from the central?
The answer: The Talamanca mountain range. Stretching from San Jose to Panama, the Talamanca mountains reach well over 10,000 feet in elevation–from sea level to 12,600 feet, in the case of Mount Chirripo. The mountains create a massive wall to the elements, and offshore winds push ocean-warmed, moisture-permeated air high into the sky, where it cools, becomes rain, and creates the rainforest.
Where there is rain, there is life. At 9 degrees north of the equator, the conditions are perfect: volcanic soils, lots of rain, and lots of direct sunshine. The earth literally thrives with life, from colorful algae to flamboyant scarlet macaws. The streams and rivers that enmesh the mountains are the veins and arteries of the land, the givers of life. They give form to the landscape over thousands of years–carving mountains, cutting valleys, creating caves, and cliffs, and waterfalls. High in the cloud forest, the rain drips perpetually from the leaves, seeps into the soil, creates rills and cascades of pure liquid crystal. The rills become fern-crested creeks, the creeks become frothing streams, the streams become turgid rivers, and the rivers find their way inevitably back to the coast, to the origin–to the ocean.
The entire cycle of life is present–both in water and in air. Plants and trees take the carbon dioxide from the air and create oxygen. Transpiration creates coolness, providing a more comfortable habitat for life. The mountains and the rainforest literally turn down the temperature a notch.
And all of this, of course, create the features that we love so much–the dramatic mountains and valleys, the cataracts and cascades, ancient forests and verdant plains. It gives us rafting, waterfall rappelling, canyoneering and several different ecosystems. It provides us countless more options for exploration and discovery, and even a dichotomy of destination.
Nearly every Sunday, if we’re not set to spend the day at Playa Espadilla, my family and I set out on an extemporaneous adventure. We pack the car with the basics–a cooler full of drinks and food, towels, bathing suits, sunscreen, and music. We start driving towards Quepos–no destination yet set. The first decision is almost always the same: beach, or river? Salt water, or fresh? Do we explore one of the pristine beaches to the south of Manuel Antonio? Or do we hit a river–or waterfall–for a picnic and some swimming?
More often than not, we opt for the fresh water.
Last Sunday it was Quebrada Arroyo–a 120-foot chasm carved into the rainforest, festooned by numerous waterfalls, and a 400-foot Indiana Jones bridge leading to the other side. It’s just a short, beautiful, 1-hour drive from Manuel Antonio, and an ideal day trip. You can cross the bridge and swim in the waterfall-fed pools other the other side, or you can hike down into the chasm and swim in the Vale of Waterfalls. Awaiting you at the end is a delicious, typical meal and some Costa Rican coffee, served in a wooden restaurante overlooking the whole panorama.
There’s a lot to be said for mountains. But maybe that’s just the Coloradoan in me speaking.
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