Jeannine Williamson explores this country filled with bio-diversity with a short stay on land and a Star Clippers cruise, always a favourite with over 50s who enjoy small ships.
A lofty cloud forest and a crow’s nest – with plenty of wildlife in between – are among the many experiences on this unique cruise holiday.
As I get my first glimpse of the caramel coloured creature camouflaged by leaves and branches I hurriedly scrabble for my camera. Guide Jorge smiles good-naturedly and reassures me there is no rush.
Oblivious to my excitement below, the two-fingered sloth snoozes on before gazing at me lazily and going back to sleep. Jorge explains the slowest mammal on earth is equipped with such a sluggish metabolism they take days to digest a meal and sleep soundly for many hours at a time. He’s right. I leave Costa Rica’s Natuwa Wildlife Sanctuary with photos galore of sloths, macaws, monkeys, big cats and more. Some arrive at the refuge injured and many are rescued from the illegal pet trade. Where possible, they are rehabilitated and released back into the wild.
On land for flora and fauna
My two-day pre-cruise stay is a perfect introduction to Costa Rica. The Central American country with around five million inhabitants that’s small on size (the UK is nearly five times larger) is big on biodiversity and home to around half a million animal species. In the space of a few hours you can travel from sun-drenched beaches to trek in the shadow of an active volcano, admire the massive leaves of the Gunnera plant – the ‘poor man’s umbrella’- in a humid jungle or pull on a waterproof and warm clothes to travel through an ethereal cloud forest.
I say travel because at Sky Adventures Monteverde Park, perched more than 5,700 feet above sea level, options include taking a gondola ride to the summit of the cloud forest, whizzing down on a zip line or seeing the park from a completely different perspective on a series of hanging bridges suspended high in the forest canopy.
Next day, in the Pacific port town of Puntarenas, another thrill – and the main reason for my visit – is waiting. Dwarfed alongside a regular cruise ship is the 170-passenger Star Clipper, one of three beautiful masted tall ships operated by namesake line Star Clippers. It has four masts, reaching a height of 226 feet and 16 sails which later unfurl at sail-away time to the stirring musical backdrop of the 1942 Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis. As we sip a celebratory glass of fizz the team of riggers, eyes cast up the sky, trim the billowing sails by hand or with electric-powered winches. It’s a hairs on the back of your neck moment.
Star Clippers recently returned to Central America for the first time since 2014, offering brand new itineraries in Costa Rica and Nicaragua as well as Panama and its famed canal. It’s the chance to explore a beguiling part of the world in an equally enthralling fashion. With Star Clippers the vessel is an integral part of the experience and so much more than a means of getting from A to B.
Where Mother Nature allows the ship sails under wind power – some 30% on our voyage – and it’s about as far away from the perception of mainstream cruising as you can get. Although mostly over 50, passengers don’t fall into a particular ‘type’. Many have an interest in sailing, more than half are returning Star Clippers’ guests and others are curious to try a seafaring journey with a difference. On my sailing, I met couples, singles, families and friends . With around 100 passengers that week, I found faces soon become familiar and friendships were made. We all enjoyed the relaxed vibe on board, aided by daily happy hour cocktails in the al fresco Tropical Bar, which encouraged a convivial and inclusive atmosphere. You’re just as likely to find off-duty officers boogying on the dance floor when they’re not on the bridge.
Life on the ship
We were offered low-key onboard activities, mainly nautically themed, such as a knot tying, a talk by the captain, a swashbuckling pirate’s night and dramatic light show on the sails. The most exciting pursuit is climbing 65 feet up a rope ladder to the crow’s nest on the foremast. It’s well worth plucking up the courage to do it. The views across the rigging and teak deck with its neatly coiled ropes are amazing. Otherwise, lounge in the bowsprit nets and look out for playful dolphins that were spotted off the ship each day. My cruise was also one of Star Clippers’ yoga-themed sailings and early each morning our charming teacher Sylvie led classes on deck. They were aimed at all levels including creaking beginners like me, against the soothing sound of waves.
The sailing through cobalt waters took in snorkelling expeditions and lazy beach stops on uninhabited protected islands where we sat beneath obligatory swaying palms. The programme of optional and varied excursions included an exhilarating river floating adventure, rainforest walks and visits to large and small nature reserves. Each night there was always plenty to talk about in the Tropical Bar before a crew member rang the bell to announce “dinnertime”.
Whether you’ve got your head in the clouds in the forest or you’re standing aloft on Star Clipper’s crow’s nest, Costa Rica is certainly big on natural highs. A very special destination for those over 50 who are looking for adventures.
Find out more
Star Clipper sails in Central America from December to March on seven-night sailings visiting Costa Rica and Panama or Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Fares include flights, transfers, all meals and onboard activities, including yoga classes on themed wellness sailings. Pre- and post-cruise hotel stays and guided tours to explore different areas of Costa Rica are also available. in partnership with Swiss Travel (https://www.swisstravelcr.com/).
To book a voyage with Star Clippers and get further information, call our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678.