As I boarded the British Airways flight to Costa Rica I don’t think I have ever seen so many Silver Travellers all together on one flight before! Costa Rica is a destination that can appeal to anyone but for some reason there seems to be a huge amount of over 60’s visiting. My friend and I got the new direct BA flight from Gatwick to San Jose. It was 10 long hours but it is definitely worth the long journey!
We had booked our trip through Trail Finders and we had opted for a private tour but we would be joining other tour groups for some of the National Park visits When we arrived in San Jose it was early evening (but the wee hours of the morning back in the UK). We were picked up and taken to our hotel, The Bueno Vista in the nearby Alajuela area. This is a nice hacienda style hotel with panoramic views of San Jose. Unfortunately, all we saw of it was a brief glimpse of the twinkling lights of San Jose below us as we went straight to bed and were leaving the next morning at 5am!
The 5am pick up was a shared transfer to Tortuguero. Unfortunately all transfers in Costa Rica seem to take forever, bad roads, too many cars, roadworks, they all contrive to make the journey lengthy. However as we neared the dock where we had to get our boat to Tortuguero we passed banana and pineapple plantations and the scenery changed quite drastically. When we got to the dock it was interesting (and not a little worrying) to see everyone’s luggage piled haphazardly onto a very shallow boat and head off before us. Our boat took about one and a half hours to get to our hotel (and this was whilst travelling at considerable speed). Our hotel was the Pachira Lodge right in the Tortuguero National Park. There are no roads into the park and everything has to be transported by boat. After a welcome drink, lunch and a chance to unpack a few things we were taken on a more leisurely boat ride around the canals. Up until then I had been a little underwhelmed by the wildlife that we had seen but on that slow guided tour we saw white faced monkeys, spider monkeys, iguanas in the trees and a small iguana nicknamed the Jesus iguana as it literally walks on water! This was where we saw our first sloth, high in the tree curled into a large fur ball. We learned that they sleep for an enormous amount of time and like to be high in the trees to feel the sun on them. They only come down from their tree once a week to do their weekly “poo” and bury it. No one knows for sure why they do this but there are a few different theories. That is when I decided that, in a future life, I would like to be a sloth! Sleeping, sunbathing and only going to the bathroom once a week, it sounds very hassle free! We spent 3 days at Pachira Lodge and each day we saw more birds and animals. (We even saw a snake hanging from the bar ceiling!) I would sit on my veranda listening to the sounds of the monkeys and the birds. There are also howler monkeys in the area and their cry is a really eerie howl that comes straight from an Edgar Allen Poe story! There was a guided walk through the grounds of the Lodge and a boat trip to the small town of Tortuguero which was interesting but a little run down.
We then moved on to our next destination. On the boat ride back we saw a huge crocodile and lots more birds and monkeys. Another rather long transfer and we were at The Arenal Springs Hotel which stands in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano. A beautiful hotel (even if all the rooms are set out so perfectly that it looks a little like a set from The Stepford Wives!) and it has it’s own hot springs. We enjoyed many a cocktail and a snack whilst sitting in the warm waters of the hot spring swimming pool! Quite an experience! Whilst in Arenal we did a guided tour of Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridge Park. The guides in Costa Rica are excellent. They all have these large telescopes and tripods and whenever they spot something they set their telescope up so that you can see it in more detail. They also have a wonderful trick of using your mobile phone to take a picture through the telescope. It makes for wonderful shots to take home. Again we saw howler monkeys, Toucans, bats and lizards of all kinds. The park has steel hanging bridges which wobble worryingly when you cross them. We also, one day, took a ‘Sloth Tour’. and this is when I completely fell in love with these bizarre animals! We saw lots of them (how the guide sees them amazes me) and we got shots of mothers with babies, babies trying a tentative slow move of their own (more wobbling that toddling!) and we also saw lone males. The telescopic lens meant we saw every detail of these adorable animals.
Next morning we were off to Monteverde up in the Cloud Forest. Our hotel The Fonda Vela was a bit disappointing (the grounds were nice but the paths were difficult to walk on and it all looked a bit run down). The weather here was cooler and the rooms felt a little damp. I don’t think anyone needs more than 2 or 3 days there. We did visit the local town Santa Elena (they have a nice Orchid garden there) and we found a nice little restaurant called The Tree House Restaurant which is literally built up around a huge tree! We had another guided tour of The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Again the wildlife was breathtaking, we saw the most famous Costa Rican bird, The Quetzel with it’s beautiful long blue tail feathers, some Toucanets (small Toucans), some Coatis (like a raccoon) and some turkey like birds called Guans. We learnt a lot about epiphytes (plants that live on hosts such as the orchids we saw the day before). We also saw a lot of delightful humming birds, so beautiful!
Although Monteverde was beautiful and the wildlife was amazing we were glad to head off back to a warmer part of the Country. Our next stop was Manuel Antonia on the Pacific Coast. Our hotel, The Parador, was incredible. Built on s sheer hillside most of the rooms have stunning views. We had been upgraded to a Junior Suite which was in a building which had it’s own swimming pool and a Jacuzzi on our balcony! The Hotel also has a large family pool and a smaller adults only pool. It also has it’s own Monkey Trail where you can wander off through the woods and see monkey jumping from tree to tree. The walk is about an hour long and is best to do first thing in the morning when the monkeys are most active. We had a special spot where we liked to sit by the pool and we even had our own favourite iguana (we called him Brian) who came out to sit under our sun loungers each day!) The Parador is a fabulous place, sitting by the pool watching the sun go down and seeing the Turkey Vultures circling overhead was like being in Paradise! The only drawback is it doesn’t have a nearby beach which is easy to access. To get to the beach is a steep incline and then a rocky path. We made the journey twice and it is a beautiful small cove but it was so hot that the journey there was rather unpleasant Once again there was a nearby National Park to visit. The Manuel Antonio National Park was smaller than the others but has an abundance of animals and birds. In the Park there is also a beautiful tropical beach where we stopped for an hour. It was one of the most stunning beaches I have ever seen and it was comical to watch the raccoons trying to steal food from visitors rucksacks! There was even a troupe of white faced monkeys sitting on the beach no more than 10 feet away from me!
We spent our last day and night back in San Jose. Not a terribly impressive city but they do have a large number of museums. We visited the Jade Museum which was 5 floors of various Jade items and histories of Jade. It was fascinating but I would rather have been watching the Sloths! Our Hotel in San Jose was The Presidente which was a small rather pretentious hotel which had very avant garde decor but our room wasn’t very impressive.
So would I recommend Costa Rica? Well that would be a resounding YES! It is truly like a little piece of paradise and the people are really friendly. If you love nature you will love it there. If you are more adventurous that us you could try zip lining, or white water rafting or all sorts of other activities. Here are a few extra trips:
1) Take American Dollars they are easier to spend than the local currency and are widely accepted.
2) Be prepared for long transfer times, the roads aren’t great.
3) Make sure you have a guide when you visit the National Parks, Walking around without one will mean that you see very little.
4) Take a fold up raincoat, it can rain suddenly with no warning.