Our Day 4 begins early as we plan to cover more area today. Our travels plans are to head slightly Northwest and then cover some of the northern regions.
We leave San Jose and head out on Route 27 to Route 136 North which leads into La Garita. A short jaunt west down Route 3 brings us into Atenas. A quick drive through the city shows a nice area with a population of about 5,000. Atenas is a popular area for ex-pat Americans to live but for us it isn't in the elevation that we are looking for as it is only 698 meters (2300 ft) above sea level.
From Atenas, we begin our route North on Route 135. Our next stop is in Palmares, which is the capital city of the Canton of Palmares. It is located at 1017 meters (3336 ft) above sea level. This is at the bottom side of where we are thinking we want to be. The population is about 4,400 people with many of the basic amenities. We begin our venturing off the path up into the hills and find there are many house just a little higher that are what we might be looking to rent. This puts this as one of the first possible areas.
We now head the 38 kilometers Northwest on Route 1 into one of the larger cities, San Ramon. It is located at 1,057 meters (almost 3500 ft). The climate here is almost perfect at 70-80 degrees year round. With a population of almost 11,000 it is very similar in size to city we live in currently in the US. Not to small, not to large. San Ramon is located nicely in the Central Valley. It is 47 km from San Jose, 55 km from Puntarenas on the Pacific Coast, 44 km from the Gulf of Nicoya and 140 km from Limon on the Caribbean Coast. It is an area rich in culture and all of the necessary amenities. All of these things lead us to spend about a hour or more driving up into the hills surrounding the town. One of these adventures leads us up what starts out as a paved road but eventually turns into a semi intense 4X4 road that is 1 car width wide. The houses up this direction have AMAZING views and provided we have a 4x4 they could be perfect. Since the maps don't show these roads well we eventually back down a little bit and turn around. I'm guessing we were almost to a major road (or at least that is what my husband kept saying) but we have many areas to see and can't spend the day playing 4x4. San Ramon absolutely is on the short list for possible retirement areas. We make our way back to Route 1 and head east to where it meets Route 144.
Route 144 takes us North to the city of Naranjo which is a small local town. Continuing on we travel through a series of many switchback roads as we climb in elevation. Passing through exits to several smaller cities in the Canton Alfaro Ruiz we finally reach the City of Zarcero. Zarcero is located at 1736 meters (5695 ft). This elevation is reaching towards the upper end of what we think is the prime. As we drive into town we are greeted by a quaint community that is centered around the Parque Francisco Alvarado and the Iglesia de San Rafael church. The Parque has a plethora of topiary trees in the garden shaped like animals and other unique characters. An archway of topiary's leads up to the steps of the church which is gorgeous on the outside but the inside is even more amazing with stunning pinks and blues. The artwork on the ceilings leaves you breathless. The population of this area is on the small size at about 4,300. We chose to stop here for lunch and to stroll through the park and the church. We enjoyed a truly authentic Costa Rican meal and found the people of the town very friendly. I fell in love with this community and we found housing to be an option just outside of city in both directions. Mark this with a possible Yes on the future home list.
Continuing on up Route 141 for about 27 km we rapidly descend in elevation and enter Ciudad Quesada (or Quesadilla if you are pronouncing it like my husband.) It is the capital city of the Canton of San Carlos. Although Quesada is the official name it is commonly called San Carlos. Quesada is one of the most highly populated areas in the region with a population of 43,000 and is the major economic hub. The city is located at 656 meters (2152 ft) and is marked by its amazingly beautiful pasture land. The horizons are defined by green ranch and dairy land which is the economic driver for the area. It is also known for budding agritourism and tourism to the local hot springs. While this area is below our prime elevation the beautify and the amenities make it one that we need to keep in our back pocket. Just a couple large peaks away.
From Quesada we make the decision to head northeast on Route 140 rather than stay on Route 141 and head towards the Volcan Arenal. This is a strategic decisions as we have been told that while the area around La Fortuna is beautiful that the climate is much like that of Seattle, WA as it relates to rainfall and humidity, two factors on our NO list for future homes but may be perfect for someone else. Route 141 leads us heading towards Aguas Zarcas with a population of 13,651 and is at 458 meters (1500 ft). You could definitely feel the difference in temperature here and although beautiful in it's own right it was well outside the bottom elevation for us.
We continued on 140 and passed through Buenos Aires. As we continue driving we begin a discussion on which way to go next. One of the maps we had told us that Route 126 south was under construction which lead us to think we might need to go north on Route 126. This didn't seem like a great idea because the afternoon was wearing on and that path was going to be many many kilometers the wrong direction and driving way into the evening. Not a good plan in a foreign country in our opinion so we opted to take our chances and headed South through San Miguel.
The trip down Route 126 took us once again back up in elevation, passing through mountain ranges and beautiful rainforest scenery but not much in terms of towns and houses. An amazing site we weren't aware of awaited us between Cinchona and Vara Blanca. As you descend down you pass several small little series of waterfalls that illicit oohs and aahs but then you round a corner and at the bottom of the hill is La Paz Waterfall, located just off the road. It is breathtaking and shocking at the powerful stream of water that is coming off the mountainside formed from the River La Paz after it has travelled across volcanic terrain from the Poas Volcano. A must stop along the roadside for photos. Besides the waterfall we were amazed at the actual size of some of the rainforest leaves that must have been 6 foot around. Something that you don't quite realize until you get out of the car and up close.
We continued south on Route 126 until it met up with Route 120 heading toward San Pedro de Poas. This route took us through a very commercial tourist area just outside of the entrance to Poas Volcano. Reminded us of exiting from one of many National Parks in the US. We passed through Sabana Redonda and San Juan Sur which were small communities made up of most churches and escuelas (schools), finally dropping us into San Pedro de Poas. San Pedro is located at 1148 meters (3766 ft) and has a population of 7500. It appears to be a working community with a major bus hub located in town. As darkness falls, from San Pedro we head south on Route 107 until it meets up with Route 118 and take that south until we reach Route 3. Heading east on Route 3 takes us back to Route 136 and Route 27 returning us back to Escazu after a long but very fruitful and informative day.