March 21, 2013
Central America is comprised of seven countries. We visited two of them on successive days as we continued our travels through the Pacific Ocean on the Star Princess. Located on the Central American isthmus, Costa Rica and Nicaragua are two countries that have a wealth of biodiversity within their borders. During our time here we ‘trekked’ by river, as we rafted for two hours, and hiked around a volcano crater.
We first docked in the Northern Costa Rican port of Puntarenas. The country of Costa Rica is home to a rich variety of plants and animals. The size of the U.S. state of West Virginia, Costa Rica comprises only about 0.25% of the world’s landmass, but contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity. Over 25% of the country’s land is protected in national parks and other areas. As a comparison, the average developed country is only 8% protected.
Our activity for the day was rafting on the Corobici River, about 56 miles (90 kilometers) away. Each raft carried six to eight people as we covered about seven miles (12 kilometers) in an area adjacent to Palo Verde National Park. The river was fairly calm with only class 1 and 2 rapids, which gave us time to view the vegetation and wildlife around us. While rafting we saw bats, several iguanas, birds and monkeys.
The next morning we arrived in Nicaragua. Larger than Costa Rica in population, with about 6 million people, Nicaragua is the biggest country in area within the Central American isthmus. The size of Greece or the U.S. state of Alabama, almost 20% of Nicaragua’s land is in protected areas of national parks, nature reserves, and biological reserves.
Our ship anchored in San Juan del Sur, which is located in the southern portion of the country. We drove for about one hour and 45 minutes to the base of the Mombacho Volcano, which is one of Nicaragua’s 40 volcanoes and located in a nature reserve. Transferring to 4WD vehicles, we traveled over 3,200 feet (970 meters) up a road with grades as steep as 45 degrees. Like Costa Rica, Nicaragua is a big exporter of coffee. We were able to sample a cup at a coffee plantation about halfway up the volcano.
At the top of the road we began a hike of just short of one mile (1.5 kilometers) around one of Mombacho’s craters. This area is in a cloud forest, which receives less rain than a rain forest, and relies on humidity and cloud cover to provide moisture to plants and animals. The crater is covered with vegetation, including several varieties of orchids. We also heard and saw howler monkeys. Viewpoints along the way provided glimpses of Lake Nicaragua below us. The trail also took us to a steaming fumarole, or vent of the volcano.
At the conclusion of the hike we drove a short distance to the colonial city of Granada. Founded in 1524, Granada is the oldest colonial city in the Americas. It is characterized by colorful buildings, beautiful churches and a shaded main square. We were able to hear traditional music and watch dancers before eating lunch at a nearby restaurant. We ate local bass from Lake Nicaragua, along with rice and vegetables.
On the journey back to the ship we stopped along the shore of Lake Nicaragua for a short walk. It is the 20th largest lake in the world and has volcano views from its shoreline. Here, we were standing within 15 miles (24 kilometers) of the Pacific Ocean. Over one hundred years ago Nicaragua was a candidate for a canal from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans that was eventually built in Panama. Today, there is talk that a canal may finally be built, running through Lake Nicaragua, and saving ships time and money over using Panama to transit between the oceans.
Our trek on the wild side, by river in Costa Rica and around a volcano in Nicaragua, gave us a glimpse into biodiversity of these countries, so small yet so rich in plant and animal life. We have one more country to visit, Mexico, before returning to the United States next week.