Rough Guide: Jean McNeil, author of `The Rough Guide to Costa Rica', remembers the night when the heavens opened ...

Worst moment

Inevitably, when researching a travel guide, there are rather a lot of these. One rainy-season night, at the height of the downpour, things were not going well for Roxana, my host. She had three children, a house in a lower middle-class suburb of the capital, San Jose, and a husband (well, sometimes).

That night, the rain had caused the bank of grass and earth beside the house to collapse and three or four inches of water had seeped into the house. I was weary from volcano-viewing but there was no choice but to muck in, and, with the help of the 12, six and two-year-old, turn the house inside out, throwing everything outside and mopping up until 3am.

The really bad news, though, was that it was this very night that Roxana's husband encountered his girlfriend's spouse. Infidelity in Costa Rica is as common as anywhere - there is a highway motel outside the city that is known as the "Fabrica de Ninos" (The Baby Factory) - and that the limp, kind but obviously feckless Enrique had been going out with a 24-year- old secretary was common knowledge (he had been with her the night Roxana gave birth to their youngest child).

What was less well-known was that he had promised to take her to the US. Unfortunately, her husband found out and came to Enrique's workplace that night. Enrique, with plasters stuck all over his bruised and cut face, came home to find his wife and kids sitting on the sofa in front of the house and their guest mopping up the kitchen. No one slept much that night.

Best bar

On a crowded street in San Jose's university district, Bar La Villa is a kind of throwback to the revolutionary years of the 1960s and 1970s. Nowhere else in Central America can you dine on good cold beer and tasty bocadillos, surrounded by a museum-like collection of Che Guevara posters, while Mercedes Sosa drones leftist anthems on the CD-player, and "intellectuals" (in Costa Rica, anyone who wears little glasses with light frames and a goatee) discuss life insurance and credit-card interest rates.

Best German film-industry stories

Susanna Stoiber and Haymo Heyder left Germany about five years ago for Central America, taking with them their shared dream of setting up a hotel. They settled on Santa Elena, a village high in the mountains of the Cordillera Central. Only a few miles away is Costa Rica's best-known tourist attraction, the Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve, and just north of the village is another, less known and unspoilt patch of high-altitude rainforest, the Santa Elena Reserve.

Susanna and Haymo built the Albergue Arco Iris (Rainbow Lodge), a number of beautifully constructed cabins set in the landscaped gardens around their house. There is something really special about the place. For me, the treat was to sit out on a starry night, hearing the occasional whoops of oropendolas and the ringing cry of bell-birds, and listen to Haymo's stories about his years as a soundman for Werner Herzog. According to Haymo, it was a life-expectancy reducing job, with torturous shoots on Cobra Verde in West Africa, and the notorious shoot for Aguirre, Wrath of God in the Amazon jungle, not to mention snakes, disease, mutinous extras and the strain of working under a fanatical director. He had met Susanna, a costume designer, on the set of a film. Eventually, years of working in such a backbiting industry gave them a very strong desire to head for this misty, hushed little town high in the Costa Rican mountains.

Best National Park

The dry landscape of Rincon de la Vieja National Park, in north-western Costa Rica, is my personal favourite within the country's impressive system of national parks. It is not what you think of when you imagine the tropics: miles of grassland are studded by volcanic mud pots and steam- holes sending up little plumes of smoky steam like so many campfires. The ground is excellent for walking and camping, and a trail leads straight up the volcano to the crater. The trip can be done in two days, and the views over the province of Guanacaste and the Pacific Ocean are stunning.

FACT FILE

costa rica

Getting there

British Airways (tel: 0345 222111) flies once a week from Gatwick to San Jose from pounds 428 return.

Getting around

Buses, the main form of transport, are cheap, frequent and reliable. There are also two domestic air carriers, Sansa (tel: 00 506 221 9414) and Travelair (tel: 00 506 220 3054), that connect San Jose with the main beach destinations.

What to experience

Costa Rica's most popular park is the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio (tel: 00 506 777 0644), 150km south-west of San Jose, which has all the appeal of a tropical jungle and some amazingly white beaches. In the Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja, you can stay at the Albergue Buenavista (tel: 00 506 695 5147), a working cattle ranch from where you can take riding and hiking tours.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week