When I was backpacking in Costa Rica, I was based mostly in San Jose and Alajuela. It was my last country of call on that adventure overland from Mexico City down to Alajuela. I was able to get a good mix of urban and rural life in Costa Rica. While staying at the Hemingway Inn in San Jose, I toured the main sights of the city, guided by local author Michael Miller. I also stayed in a downtown hostel there, Kaps Place and enjoyed a few nights out, catching up with my university friend Sigal, a Costa Rican. After that, it was time to head out into the countryside.
So I headed out rural and based myself in the Hotel Linda Vista Montana, which offered perfect views over the countryside and was close to three cool points of interest that I identified. I decided to try and do it for as cheaply as I could, so I started walking on these remote country roads, aiming to get myself to the village of Grecia either by bus or hitch hiking. Nearby are forests and waterfalls, but my points of interest here were these three and I tried to see them all on one day:
1. Grecia the village (famous for its tin church)
2. World of Snakes (a snake zoo)
3. Zoo Ave (a bird zoo and a good chance to see some of the rare and native Costa Rican Toucan birds)
If you want to go as part of a group, you can find tours to the World of Snakes and Zoo Ave on many costa rica family vacation packages and prices vary depending on season and personal preferences. I backpacked alone and was happy with that.
So I left the hotel and turned right. It was a hot day and I backpacked my way through remote country roads, rarely seeing a car.
I said hello to every person I walked past and kept checking I was on route to Grecia. After an hour or so, I hadn’t seen any buses pass but then a guy in his house came out and helped me locate a bus stop. He told me to wait at a point in the road and within 20 minutes a bus had turned up!
This was in the middle of nowhere and I was able to get a bus all the way to Grecia, for quite cheap (can’t remember exact cost or bus number). It was a brilliant morning of adventure, looking back. I’ve put the videos at the bottom of the post. Yes I did get lost, but I was now on route to Grecia.
Grecia is a small town of 15,000. In fact, it’s known locally as a city as it’s the biggest settlement in the area. It’s not touristic at all. However the people are very friendly. There are a few nice bars and restaurants and the highlight is the tin church, a church made of metal!
There is actually a crazy story about the church – that it was made here but the metal was delivered from elsewhere. Costa Rica is a Catholic Christian Country, however “Grecia” is the word for “Hellas/Greece” as well as this town, so the confusion is that perhaps a church meant for Greece ended up in Costa Rica. Just south of the city is the entrance to the World of Snakes, but all was not so good…
2.World of Snakes, near Grecia
Sadly, World of Snakes was closed. I had doubled checked their websites and everything and when I got to the entrance, it was obvious it was shut. All I could see were some ants carrying leaves.
A local shop owner then told me some thing about the museum not paying their bills and being shut down. I toured the outside of the zoo and then decided on a bus back to Alajuela, to change buses to Zoo Ave. A solitary notice by one of the entry gates might reveal the reason why the World of Snakes is shut down.
3. Zoo Ave, near Alajuela
On the day, Zoo Ave was the highlight. It’s a totally massive bird museum. But also inside are reptiles, fun and games for kids as well as shops, cafes and restaurants.
To get here to Zoo Ave (Bird Zoo), I got a bus from one of 3 bus stations in Alajuela. It took me a while to find the correct bus, and even the correct bus station, ask around in downtown Alajuela and you should find it. The same bus also goes to La Mandarin and Manolos, well at least the one I got.
The bus took less than 30 minutes and drops you opposite Zoo Ave. Prices vary, when I went it was around $18 US to get inside. A lot of money, time and effort has been invested into this zoo, so it’s definitely worth it. Check Zoo Ave website for up to date information.
Zoo Ave is massive. It is worth exploring in full – I spent at least 2 and a half hours in here. My highlight however, is the obvious one – the Toucan. I have been in lots of museums and zoos down the years but this was my first ever time to see a real life toucan. A rare and beautiful bird.
You can also see macaws, hundreds of other birds, crocodiles, ostriches, iguanas and many many more types of animals.
After touring Zoo Ave in the afternoon, I was going to get a bud back to Alajuela, but then I met a couple from Costa Rica and their son and I hitched a ride with them. We stopped at another museum and they dropped me off by a bus stop after that and I arrived back in the hotel early evening after the sun had gone down. It was a pretty exciting day!
Here are some videos from my day out in Costa Rica: