Are you that type of person that rather enjoys to roam around the non-touristic, cheaper and hidden magical places? Then the 'national park of water' Juan Castro Blanco is definitely your destination! Being just 1,5 hour away by car or Uber, makes this hidden gem perfect material for day trip from Mangífera Hostel, Grecia.
In this blog you read about:
On the map below you can see that Juan Castro Blanco is located North-West of Grecia. It's almost as close as the entry to the touristic Poas Volcano (a 1 hour drive away from Mangífera Hostel):
As you might guess, Juan Castro Blanco is called 'the national park of water' for a reason. It rains a lot here, so be aware and be prepared to get wet / hike through the mud and slip and slide! As you can see on the pictures in this article, you can find rare cloud forest in this area and that means that there is always a lot of humidity / fog in the air. It's similar to more popular landscape around Monteverde, but without the tourists! On top of that, Juan Castro Blanco is surrounded by typical hilly farmlands full of cows and that promises for very photo genetic scenes.
For a day trip, there are basically two great options. You can enter the park through 'Montaña Sagrada' or through 'San Vicente Hideaway'. Locals pay 2500 Colones for the entry and foreigners pay $10. Be aware that in the whole park, the paths can be quite challenging, most of all because of the combination of inclination and the muddy conditions. Make sure to take good shoes. Perhaps you feel safer with hiking sticks, wear cloths that can get dirty, bring a rain jacket or a poncho and a dry bag for your valuable belongings.
At Montaña Sagrada, you'll find a network of hiking paths that lead you through the precious cloud forest and along some impressive 'centenarian': +100 year old trees. Another parts wind through a more open landscape along and through a river and towards a viewpoint. Follow the path a bit further down, and you'll get to an amazing green lake with an incredible reflection. Normally, there is also the possibility to hike towards to the sulfer mines, but at this moment (blog written in August 2021) that path is closed because of the bad conditions.
In the images below you can check out the elevation profile and other technical details about the hike.
At San Vicente Hideaway you you'll find a similar network of hiking paths including two very beautiful waterfalls where you can even take a dip! The water is very cold though, so be prepared with a towel and a change of clothes. For more advanced hikers: there is also a path that leads all the way up to the dormant volcano 'Platanar'. Ask for more details and information at the reception. When we visited, they discouraged us to take a shot at it because of the very bad conditions of the path due to a lot of rain in the past days.
A nice detail about the way to San Vicente: If you're lucky and the clouds pass by, you'll be able to see the iconic cone shaped volcano 'Arenal' in the distance:
How to get there?
The easiest way to get to Juan Castro Blanco is by (rental) car. The advantage is that you can get off whenever you want to take a pic from the great views on the way. If you're visiting Juan Castro Blanco from Mangífera hostel, you could make a quick pit stop in the town Zarcero, known for its delicious cheese (Palmito) and it's cute central park with its topiary art (bushes trimmed into different shapes).
By Uber / public transport
It is also possible to get there by Uber! If you don't have a rental car, this is a great opportunity to get to a less touristic part of Costa Rica. If you choose to go by Uber, we highly recommend you to go to 'Montaña Sagrada' sector of the park. It's a bit closer to Grecia, so you'll pay less for the Uber.
How expensive your Uber trip is going to be, highly depends on at what hour you are taking off at Mangífera Hostel. When there is a higher demand, the prices for Uber trips rise. The best option is to start your Uber trip at around 7 a.m. That's about one hour before the park opens. The prices are still quite reasonable around that time (normally about $20 --> around 8 a.m. they might rise to $40), you can enjoy the whole morning + early afternoon in Juan Castro Blanco ánd you'll have enough time to get back to Grecia. Sharing a ride with other hostel guests might be a enjoyable and cost-effective option!
To get back to Grecia, we would advise you to keep an eye on the closing time of the park, which is 3 p.m. It's key not to get stuck in the park, of course :-) ! Both at Montaña Sagrada as well as at San Vicente Hideaway, they have WiFi. So you can get on the WiFi network to order an Uber back to Grecia or you could choose to get back by public transport. The easiest way is to call for a taxi (or try to order an Uber) that drops you off at Plaza San Carlos in Ciudad Quesada. Ask at the bus station which bus can get you directly to 'Naranjo'. In Naranjo, you need to change buses to Grecia. The best way to find the right bus in Costa Rica is to ask!
We want to thank Jack, a backpacker that stayed at Mangífera Hostel in July 2021, for contributing to this read by sharing his experiences in Juan Castro Blanco and recommending us to write a blog about this special place!
Safe travels! Enjoy!