Our in-house guru of all things Administration, Rachel embarked on a trip of a life time to Costa Rica, starting in San Jose… read on to find out what Rachel discovered along the way in this awe-inspiring country.
Day 1 – Gatwick to San Jose
Our direct BA flight from Gatwick to San Jose passed quickly and we soon landed in Costa Rica! We met our rep Alberto at the airport who took us to a minibus to go to the Dunn Inn hotel, at about 4pm local time. We settled in and went to get a drink in the hotel bar ready for the welcome meeting at 6pm. We met our CEO (chief experience officer) Gracie and the rest of the group. Gracie talked us through the next few days as not to overwhelm us with information. She was really friendly and approachable. The group was nearly full so there were 15 of us with a wide range of ages and nationalities.
Day 2 – San Jose to Quepos
It was an early start and we had to be ready to go at 5am! Due to the Easter holidays Gracie organised an early start so we can get to the Manuel Antonio National Park in plenty of time to enjoy it. This was great forward planning to ensure that we didn’t miss anything due to the local holidays.
We travelled on a local bus service to Quepos, this coach was fully air conditioned and very comfortable. When we got to Quepos we dropped our luggage off at the hotel then went straight for brunch. I had a traditional Costa Rican breakfast of rice and beans with cheese. After this we jumped on the local bus to head to Manuel Antonio National Park but unfortunately the park had been closed early so we were unable to go in, however we did see some monkeys near the entrance. We then spent the afternoon on the local beach dipping our toes in the warm Pacific waters and soaking up the sun. The beach had loads on offer with food and drink available by waiter service. For the those who want it surf lessons and parasailing are available too. We watched the sunset on the beach and then headed across the road for an early dinner, before heading back to our hotel.
Day 3 – Quepos
We had the morning free so we got up leisurely and headed off out into town to get some coffee and breakfast. Afterwards we walked down to the Quepos seafront and grabbed another coffee! We walked back through town up to our hotel and spent a little time enjoying the sun and cooling off in the pool.
We had opted to add on an activity for the afternoon which was a sunset catamaran cruise. It lasted about 3 hours and as we sailed around the coastline there were opportunities to snorkel, jump from the top of the boat or head down the slide into the water. Though I wasn’t quite brave enough to jump from the top of the boat I did jump in from the back and enjoy a swim in the ocean. A traditional meal of fish, rice and vegetables was served. The catamaran itself is great and is equipped with a bar and Jacuzzi. The sailing docked around 6pm and the marina looked beautifully lit up against the setting sun. The marina was lovely with lots of bars and shops, so well worth a visit even if you’re not taking a trip. After a few cocktails and lots of sea air most of the group decided to spend the evening floating around the pool and relaxing before bed.
Day 4 – Quepos to Monteverde
For the rest of the trip we now had a private bus which was equipped with much needed aircon. The luggage was piled on top of the bus and we jumped inside, the bus was comfortable and it was great to watch the Costa Rican scenery go by. We had an impromptu stop on the side of the road as there were some macaws in the trees above. Then we stopped after the first hour and a half to briefly spot crocodiles. Then it was on to the cloud forest of Monteverde. We arrived at our hotel dropped our luggage off and headed for lunch at the only pub in town! After lunch we went to see a Ficus tree this is a tree that is formed by a type of bacteria that grows around an existing tree and proceeds to kill the original tree creating a hollow tree that is great for climbing up the inside. We then went back to the hotel checked in and got ourselves ready for a night walk through the cloud forest where we saw a tarantula, a scorpion, a frog two types of toucan, an olingo and a sloth. After the night walk it was dinner and bed.
Day 5 – Monteverde
We had the whole day in Monteverde, so I chose to walk the hanging bridges. There were eight in total and the paths between were beautiful, lots of ups and downs with plenty of flora and fauna along the way. The bridges themselves varied in length and height with the longer ones being quite wobbly in the middle especially but the views from all of them were great, it’s not often you get to walk higher than the treetops!
After this I went to the hummingbird garden and it was great to see the tiny yet colourful birds flitting around. I decided not to do any of the afternoon activities and rested at the hotel. That evening our rep had organised for us to go to a home for a meal. It is a local family project where the family all work together to feed water and entertain tourists as a way to make a living, the meal was a tradition Costa Rican dinner of protein potatoes veg and salad, I chose the fish. There were also lots of drinks and cocktails on offer as well as the house shots that had to be drunk during the short trivia game. After this was a dance class where we learnt the basics of merengue and salsa.
Day 6 – Monteverde to Arenal/La Fortuna
We were up early again ready to travel to our next adventure, today’s journey consists of a 2hr bus ride with a quick 10 min bathroom break then 40 mins on a boat across Lake Arenal then another couple of hours on a bus. The roads in Costa Rica are very windy as they traverse the ups and downs of the hilly landscape which gives amazing views of the country side while offering a very bumpy experience. We arrived in Arenal for lunch, then had some free time to wander around the nearby town. On the walk back from the town to our hotel there was a sloth park and we were lucky enough to pass just as one of the sloths was high in a tree at the edge of the park so we got a great view of it.
We then headed out in the evening to one of the local Hot Spring resorts. We went to the Baldi Hot Springs as recommended by our rep as one of the better ones. The resorts use the natural hot spring water and build various pools with differing temperatures and areas, with slides and one even has a swim up bar, the entrance fee also includes dinner at the resorts buffet restaurant after you have enjoyed the springs.
Day 7 – La Fortuna
There is so much to do in La Fortuna with the nearby Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna waterfall and lots of different activities you can choose to do. We chose to have a leisurely morning before heading to the waterfall to swim in the water at the bottom. The waterfall is amazing but you wouldn’t want to get too close to the falling water as it was coming down with such force, but it was great to bathe in the rock pools that had formed and take in the natural wonder of the waterfall. Be prepared, however, there is only way one up and down from the waterfall and that is steps and there are 500 of them, so be prepared once you’re all relaxed in the water, you then have to ascend 500 steps to get back to the top!
Day 8 – La Fortuna
We had another free morning and in the afternoon we visited the Volcano to see where the lava flows ran when the Volcano erupted in 1968, the first part of the visit was a 1.5km climb up to a viewing point that gave great views of the volcano, be prepared however it is a steep climb and the steps are rocky and uneven as they have been formed naturally from the landscape. The view at the top is well worth the climb though! Coming down is a little easier though it is still best to take care and watch your footing, we then took a stroll through the national park area back to meet our bus looking at plants and wildlife as we went. The final activity was to visit the hot springs again, but this time we did it local style, where-by we pulled up on the side of the road and walked down to the river. The river naturally flows with warm water due the close vicinity of the volcano, and this is how many locals enjoy the springs. After this we headed to a local restaurant for a steak, which was great.
Day 9 – La Fortuna/Sarapiqui Rainforest
Today we moved on from La Fortuna to spend 2 nights in a jungle Lodge in depths of the rainforest. The journey was long as we travelled through fruit farms to get to the meeting point of the tractor and trailer which would transport us for the last 2 hrs of the journey to reach the lodge, the road is dusty and the trailer is very open so it is best to wear something to cover your mouth, nose and eyes.
The jungle lodge really is in the middle of nowhere, though we were joined by a cook and couple of local guides to keep us fed and watered but most of all safe. There is no phone signal, no WiFi, no televisions so it really is a time to switch off and fully relax and spot some more wildlife.
Day 10 – Sarapiqui Rainforest
We woke to the screams of the howler monkeys in the nearby trees. There’s not much to do here but relax and take guided walks, you do have to make sure you go out with a guide as they know the area well and know of any potential hazards, we all took a walk across to a river where we could swim and relax for a bit before heading back and were luckily enough to spot a blue jeans frog on the journey.
The cook then gave us an empanada making masterclass which was great fun and they tasted delicious. The lodge also has a supply of games to keep people entertained or the seating area had a great view of your surroundings and is very tranquil. We had dinner then all sat in the garden around campfire, roasting marshmallows. The food provided at the lodge was all cooked by one lady and although basic it was all proper home cooking and very tasty.
Day 11 – Sarapiqui Rainforest to Tortuguero
Another early start and back on the tractor/trailer for the first part of the journey down, then we made our way across for our first taste of the Caribbean coast. Tortuguero is a small town set on the water and accessed by boats that consists of one main street with a dock one end and the national park the other, our hotel was set just across the water and water taxis were used to get across to the main town. On our first afternoon we headed across to the town to have walk around the local shops most of which are gift shops aimed at tourists and great to wander in and out of and while away a few hours, before heading back for a dip in the hotel pool followed by dinner. You can then sit out on the dock and watch the sunset over the water which is very relaxing.
Day 12 – Tortuguero
As Tortuguero is set upon black river canals we hopped on board a guided boat tour to explore the waterways, there is an option to do this as a guided kayak tour too. Along the way there is ample opportunity to spot the local wildlife and we saw sloths and monkeys up in the trees, the monkeys were particularly active as we saw them running across the branches above us to get to the other side of the waterways. We saw lots of birds and witnessed a kingfisher diving down to catch a fish and lots of birds with their wings spread to dry off in the sun, we also managed to spot a couple of caiman in the water too, but we didn’t want to get too close to them! Our afternoon activity was to take a guided walk through the national park where we spotted more Sloths in their natural environment, which is lovely to see, the walk led us to the beach which we walked back along looking at the turtle nesting sites, if you are there at the right time of the year you can see them hatching too.
Day 13 – Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
We headed to our final location straight down the coast to get to the surfer’s haven of Puerto Viejo. This really is a chilled out town full of bars and restaurants along the beach and lots of independent shops with some great things to buy as souvenirs and keepsakes.
Day 14 – Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Just up the road from our hotel was the Jaguar Rescue Centre, the centre is focused on rehabilitating injured, mistreated or orphaned animals with the aim of getting them back out into their natural habitats, although they do have some permanent residents who for various reasons will not be suitable for release. Human interaction with the animals is kept to a minimum and only used where necessary. Visitors are not allowed to touch or hold the animals and the centre asks that any photos taken do not contain humans, so as to not give a false impression of what the centre is trying to achieve, but does provide a great opportunity to see many of the native animals up close and to see the great work being done at the centre.
After the visit we decided to walk back towards town via the beach. We then spent a few hours on the beach before meeting the rest of the group for our final dinner.
Day 15 – San Jose to Gatwick
As our flight time was mid-afternoon the tour transportation would not get us back to San Jose in time for our flight, so our CEO was very helpful in organising us an earlier transfer back to the airport ready for our flight home.
All in all I can say that the trip exceeded expectations, the hotels throughout were basic as that is what we had chosen, knowing that the trip would mean we were out and about a lot. You can look at trips with higher standards of accommodation if you prefer.
The journeys between each location weren’t short but there were plenty of stops to get food and drink and use the bathroom.
The locals no matter where we went were great, they were so friendly and helpful and lived up to the Costa Rican ethic of ‘Pura Vida’ meaning no worries and have a very laidback approach to life.
The country really is so dynamic from beaches to jungles and rainforests offering a wide variety of things to do and see with an abundance of native wildlife and ample opportunity to see it all in its natural habitat, and I got to see the monkeys and sloths that I had gone to see.
The tour was organised superbly and Gracie the CEO on the trip was there at every turn making sure everything was organised and clear, and the options for activities in each location was always available ahead of time so you could decide and book anything that you wanted to do without missing out. And you can be as active or relaxed as you choose.
I would not hesitate to recommend a trip to this country to anyone and really had a fabulous time.
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