Unfortunately, our second full day in Costa Rica was kind of a bust. Sleep-deprived and slightly hungover from our New Year's Eve festivities the night before, we signed up for a trip to visit Volcán Irazú. Costa Rica is one of the most tectonically active countries in the Americas, and the central highlands are full of volcanoes. When we were researching our trip, Irazú looked amazing -- it's a gigantic crater surrounded by gray badlands and filled with stunning green water. We had high expectations.
However, the weather definitely wasn't cooperating, and our view looked more like this ...
Worst ever! This must be typical weather for water-filled volcanic craters -- we talked to several other people who experienced the exact same thing. Hindsight is always 20/20, and I think if we were to try to visit a volcanic crater like Irazú or Poás again, we'd rent a car and head up to the mountains at the crack of dawn, when apparently the weather is clearer. Having a car would also give us the option of spending a few hours at the crater and waiting out the weather (like MittyK and I did last summer at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.) Better luck next time.
That being said, Volcán Irazú wasn't a total bust -- we ended up seeing a bunch of coatis, which were the cutest consolation prize ever! They're like fearless little raccoons with flexible noses. Supercute.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the highlands around the Orosi Valley. I've got to be honest here, it was all very nice and lovely, but it wasn't as JAW DROPPING AMAZING as places we visited later in our trip, like the cloud forest or the coast. So if you're stuck around San Jose for an extra day and want to get out of the city, the Orosi Valley is a nice diversion, but don't plan your vacation around it. Fair enough?
That being said, The Orosi Valley is a really nice place. It's well-known for its landscape of rolling hills terraced with shade-grown coffee plantation and endless valleys speckled with little villages. The coffee is AMAZING. Seriously, I've never had better coffee than I did in the Costa Rican highlands. It's big and flavorful, but not bitter at all. Usually back home in the States I drink my coffee with milk, but in Costa Rica I drank coffee black without secretly wishing it was café con leche.
We drove into the town of Cartago to check out the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles, the most important religious site in the country. Back in 1635, a native woman found a 1-meter tall statue of the Black Virgin (probably an indigenous representation of the Virgin Mary.) As the story goes, when she tried to take the statuette with her, it miraculously reappeared back where she’d found it. Twice. So the townspeople built a shrine around her.
After the basilica, we visited the nearby orchid garden, Jardín Botánico Lankester. It was a pretty place with tons of orchids, a Japanese garden, cacti, and a second-growth rainforest. It wasn't the same as seeing all these plants in the wild, but of course it was still lovely. Moral of the story: San Jose is okay, the central highlands are nice, but after a couple days in civilization we were ready to see something WILD. Our next stop was the cloud forest of Monteverde, and we wouldn't be disappointed.