Colourful and Vibrant - Land of Costa Rica
I have been very lucky to have visited some amazing places but I have to say Costa Rica is be far one of the best. There is nothing quite like it and is a wildlife fanatics utter paradise. Make sure you have a good camera, you will be using it a lot!
I must say I am not a morning person. I am grumpy and wish I was back in bed as soon as I wake up especially as I had to be at Gatwick's South terminal for our 6am check in time! However this morning was different, I was jetting off on British Airways for my 11 hour flight to Costa Rica; to which I deemed 6am to be a very acceptable time of day! I was very excited, bright eyed and busy tailed as were we all. Once we had all checked our bags in we headed through security and into departures. After a coffee and a cake (there must always be sweeties involved somewhere before a plane journey) and a look round the shops we headed to the gate to board. In Economy I can honestly say the food was good, the seat was comfortable and I had room the person in front of me put his seat back. After a couple of films and a nice sleep we arrived at San Jose airport.
Once we collected our luggage and passed through customs we were met by our guide Antonio from Travel Excellence and driven to our first hotel the Grano de Oro. This is a beautiful hotel not too far from the centre of San Jose. The original building is 125 years old and has 39 rooms. The restaurant at the hotel is one of the best in San Jose and very popular with the locals.
After a quick freshen up we headed to a local bar to have a drink before dinner to get know each other a bit better. Antonio told us a bit about the history of Costa Rica and a bit of what we would be doing over the next week. We headed back to our hotel to meet the rest of the Travel Excellence team and headed into the restaurant for dinner; during of which we discussed the itinerary for the week and even though we were all very tired after a long day travelling we were very excited for the adventures ahead. After, we said our goodbyes to the team as we had an early start in the morning for our first full day in Costa Rica!
After a good nights sleep it was another early start today as we had to be up and on the coach by 06:30. We all collected our bags, breakfast packs and boarded our coach for the 3 hour drive to Pacaure River for our rafting adventure to Pacaure Lodge!!
En-route to the river we drove through San Jose which is a very vibrant city with lots to see and do. They have Museums and a theatre and home to the University of Costa Rica. Once we left the capital we headed to Cartago, which was the first city the Spanish came to before moving to San Jose and making it the Capital. Cartago is home to the main church in Costa Rica and on the 01st of August every year there is a pilgrimage to the church and then a big celebration.
Whilst giving us the history and facts of Costa Rica Antonio also told us about the big coffee trade. Coffee is a big part of life in Costa Rica and they produce the Arabica Coffee but now it’s all about quality rather than quantity.
After a quick stop for breakfast (where I had to buy a jumper as it was cold and had not stopped raining all morning, stupidly I had forgotten my coat!!!) we arrived at Pacaure River. Exiting the coach filled with excitement and a few nerves the group met our guides Max and Jose Luis who went through all of the safety rules with us, kitted us out with our helmets, paddles and life jackets, put our overnight bags (you are only allowed 12kg per person) into the waterproof bags and we were all ready for our rafting adventure!! We split into two groups and boarded our rafts. Once on board we practiced our safety moves and headed out onto the rapids. WOW!! After the first bend we were all already soaked! I’m sure our guide Jose Luis made sure we hit the rapids in a way that guaranteed us to get hit with the freezing cold water!!! He was a great guide and although he was slightly crazy he made sure we were always safe and not one of us fell out! It took us 1 hour 30 minutes to raft our way to our hotel and I loved every minute. It was definitely better than I anticipated it to be and a great way to arrive at Pacaure Lodge.
We disembarked our rafts and headed to the reception of the hotel where we were given the keys to our rooms. I was in a Vista Suite which was massive! It was a large open plan room with a King Size bed, sofa and chair and a huge bathroom with a separate bath and shower. There was a lovely terrace with an outside shower, a hammock, lounge chairs and an infinity plunge pool!! The view from the terrace was stunning and the sound of the fauna was mesmerizing. The best bit was that the wall leading to the terrace was mesh so even when you were lying in bed you could still see and hear everything.
We headed down to have lunch and to decide what activities we were going to do for the afternoon. There is an extensive choice of activities to choose from to suit everyone’s needs and requirements from zipwiring, canyoning to guided walks. I chose to go canyoning! After lunch we went to the activity centre and got kitted out in our helmets and harness and then we were ready to go! We climbed to the top of the resort ready for our second adventure of the day to begin. We spent the next two and half hours making our way through the jungle back to the resort by zipping between trees and abseiling down waterfalls, which with my lack of co-ordination proved quite tricky at times!! Such a great experience which I can highly recommend to anyone. Once we were back on firm ground we went back to our room for a swim in our pool and to get ready for dinner. As there is no electricity at Pacaure Lodge this was all done by candle light and torches! The food at Pacaure Lodge is really good and all cooked and served by the guys who are your guides during the day, so you get to build up a really good rapport with them and learn more about each other which really helps enhance your whole experience at the lodge.
Another early start today as I woke to the sunlight coming into the room and the sound of birds in the trees. It was a beautiful clear sunny day so I got up and ordered coffee in Spanish (I was very impressed with myself!) sat out on the terrace and just took time to enjoy the amazing sights and sounds, before I got ready to join everyone for breakfast and headed out on our rafts again.
After breakfast, we all got kitted out in our life jackets and helmets, grabbed our paddles and got ready for our 3 hours of rafting!! Today we rafted from Pacaure to Siquirres and were in level 5 rapids. Unlike yesterday we were not scared to get wet and went for a little swim in the river before we got into our rafts. We all boarded our rafts and were set for another big adventure!! The river leaving the lodge was where the rapids were at their fastest and we did nearly loose someone but Jose Luis grabbed her and pulled her into the raft just in time!! Once we were in the open waters of the river and the rapids had calmed we all jumped out of the rafts and went for a little swim, letting the rapids pull as along behind the raft. Jose Luis pulled us all back in and we were back in the raft paddling our way down the river and taking in the amazing sights of flora and fauna. After a while we pulled up on the banks of the river and Jose Luis and Max turned one of the rafts upside down and started making our lunch! Just as they were doing so it started to rain but as it was warm rain and we were already wet we sat down on the beach and ate our wraps. Max and Jose Luis thought we were mad and took shelter from the rain under some trees!! After lunch, we got back in the rafts to complete the last part of rafting adventure. Before we came to the end we went for another little swim in a waterfall and just floated along beside the rafts just taking the scenery before we had to get back in and steer the rafts to shore. Once back on dry land and changed into dry clothes, which had been a welcome change after the last two days we said our goodbyes to Max and Jose Luis and the other members of the team and then boarded our coach for the 4 hour drive to Manuel Antonio!!!
On arrival into Arenal we checked into the Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort, freshened up and got into our swimming togs as we were heading over to the Arenal Hot Springs, which are owned by the hotel and entry is included in your stay for a dip in the hot springs and dinner. When we arrived at the Hot Springs we all went into the main pool which was so hot! It was a lovely warm night so the water felt even hotter. Dinner was at the Pool Bar next to some small pools which had been reserved for us. Afterwards we explored the other pools and really liked the Shangri La Gardens which are tiered pools that lead into one another. It was nice to be able to have a swim and stretch your legs after a day on a raft and then on a coach!!
Breakfast the day after was followed by another short coach drive over to Arenal National Park. Once we arrived we headed to the Sky Trek to get kitted out in our harnesses and helmets for our zipwire tour!!! Once were all clipped in and we had our safety briefing we headed up to our first zipwire – there are 7 in total. Good news though, if you do not enjoy the first line you can head back but once you have completed the second the wire there’s no going back you have to complete them all!!!! This was one of my many highlights – I absolutely loved every second and was brave (or stupid) enough to be the first one to go!!! I did manage to get done for speeding and was given a ticket by the canopy police for being fastest on the longest wire!
After we completed the course we headed back to our hotel to check out and had a site inspection. It’s a nice property with good rooms and lovely views. Once completed we headed over to Nayara Hotel for lunch and a site inspection. Nayara has a great feel to it as soon as you walk in to the reception. There are two parts of the hotel, one for adults and one for families. The hotel is built into the jungle and as were walking around we got to see a sloth just chilling out in the trees. We had lunch over by the adult only pool with the view of the Arenal Volcano in the background. After lunch, we all grabbed a takeaway coffee that is produced and only sold at the hotel and made our way to the coach for our four and half transfer to Manuel Antonio.
We arrived a little later than planned to the Parador Resort and Spa in Manuel Antoni as there was a really bad thunderstorm so the traffic was quite bad. At the hotel all of us went for dinner in the main restaurant. The owner of the hotel came and chatted to us and told us how her and her husband bought the hotel after a trip to Spain. They decided to make it feel like a Spanish house, which explained the décor and layout of the hotel. Dinner was swiftly follwoed by bed as there was yet another early start to be had!
Entrance into the park is $16.00 and you can pay this at the entrance and make your own away long the sign posted paths or you can pay a small amount to have a private guide. I would recommend this as they have been doing it for years and what to look out for and where to look. The park is home to all types of animal mainly Sloths, Monkeys, Toucans and the green frog!! We started our trek and we saw a Sloth straight away but he was very high up so we needed binoculars to be able to see him. Antonio was a great guide and helped us spot some amazing sites, the best of all were the spider monkey’s as we came to the beach. It was amazing. There were lots of them just playing in the trees, swinging from branch to branch and grooming each other. It was amazing to be within touching distance to these beautiful creatures. After our monkey spotting we headed to the beach to have swim in the ocean. There are two beaches one with still waters which was quite busy and one which was quitter and had some pretty big waves. We headed to the quitter beach and after we all managed to tackle the waves to be able to go for a swim a few of us took a walk down the beach. We came across a racoon rummaging through a couples bag that they had left on the beach whilst they went for a swim! We scared him away and collected their belongings and hung their bag on a tree hoping they would now be safe! Whilst we were walking down the beach a massive wave came in and nearly swept all off our belongings away – thankfully Antonio had stayed behind and manage to rescue it all!!! Who knew a trip to the beach could be so eventful!!!! After we collected our belongings and dried ourselves off we headed back to the Parador a swim in the pool and some lunch.
The Parador has 3 pools (2 are adult only) we went to the main pool with the swim up bar and ordered our lunch from the snack menu. The food, like dinner was really good and also reasonably priced. After lunch we had a site inspection of the hotel. The hotel is set out in different buildings and has quite a few room types some of which are in an adult only section. There is also a spa, kids club, mini golf and a 45 minute monkey trail at the hotel and its own beach which is accessible only by walking 15-20 minutes down a path. This is a really good four star property. The rooms are clean and staff are very friendly. You quite often see both the owners walking around chatting to guests and making sure they are having an enjoyable stay.
After our site inspection we headed onto the coach and over to Arenas Del Mar a five star property in Manuel Antonio. I really liked the rooms at this property, they are all the same the only difference is the location and the view. The staff here were very friendly and could not do enough for us. There are two buildings in the hotel and there is a pool and restaurant in both buildings. The hotel also has two beaches one private and one public. After we had looked round the hotel we went for sundowners on the terrace with the most amazing views across the ocean. Dinner here was fantastic and possibly my most favourite meal of the trip. It was quite an eventful dinner as a racoon did try and join us for desert! Note for you all – do not leave doors and windows they will not hesitate to come in and join you!!!!
Today I made our early start even earlier as I wanted to check out the walk to the hotel beach! So at 06:00am I put on my trainers and headed off to find the path to the beach. The path is a bit rocky and not suitable for anyone with walking difficulties or a buggy. I would definitely advise trainers and not flip-flops and the ground is very rocky and even. It was worth the 20 minute walk as the beach was deserted and beautiful.
After breakfast we headed three and a half hours further south to Corcovado and the Osa Peninsula. When we arrived at Puerto Jimenez we had to say a sad farewell to Antonio as he was leaving us to head back to San Jose. He was a great guide and really helped make our Costa Rican experience then we headed off on our 30 minute drive to Lapa Rios. On arrival all I can say is WOW!! This place is definitely worth the journey to get here. The scenery is absolutely breath-taking. We were shown to our rooms which overlooked the canopy of the rainforest and down to the beach and ocean. From here you could hear sound of the howler monkey which was just the most amazing sound. Like Pacaure Lodge, the rooms at Lapa Rios do not have a fourth wall just a meshing to keep the mozzies out! This really does help enhance your experience here as you really do feel like you are in the middle of the rainforest with the most incredible views and sounds to wake up to.
Once we had freshened up we headed off to the restaurant for lunch and to see what activities we could do. At Lapa Rios all of your food and activities are included, all you have to pay for locally are drinks. There are some excursions which are off site, these are not included in your package and have to be paid for locally. Whilst we had lunch we picked our excursions. It was so hard as there was so many to choose from. In the end I decided on the night tour that evening and 3 hour trek through the rainforest. I had high hopes to see a sloth and the howler monkey!
After lunch we went over to El Romanso to have a look round. This is a beautiful lodge with great views and like Lapa Rios is located right in the rainforest. At El Romanso your activities are not included in your package, however they do have their own canopy walk which goes through the rainforest and is a definite must for anyone to do.
After our visit we headed back to Lapa Rios for a swim in the pool before our night walk and dinner. Whilst we were in the pool we were so lucky to see Toucans but the best part was two Scarlet Macaws landing on a branch just above us! I couldn’t believe how lucky we were to see them so close. We headed out on our night walk with our walking sticks and torches ready to spot the red eyed tree frog which only come out in the dark. The night walk was great, we came across some very interesting creatures! Just as we were nearing the end walk the heavens opened! Our guide spotted a tarantula in a tree, it was bigger than my hand. I tried to move out of the way for everyone else to see it an managed to slip over (typical Nat thing to do I hear you all say!!) and the spider scarpered so they all missed it!! As it was now raining so heavily our guide said we needed to head back as the ground was getting to soft – I think he was worried I would have another accident! We were happy to be getting out of the rain but gutted that we didn’t get a chance to see the frog so he said he would bring us out tomorrow night. On the way back to the activity hut we had to pass the pond again and just as we were walking by he saw something out of the corner of his eye and made us all stop – it was the Red Eyed Tree Frog!!! It was like we all completely forgot it was raining and were snapping away like crazy people to get a picture of this beautiful frog. We were so excited that we got to see it as it is quite rare to be able to spot them as they only really come out in the dark and when it’s raining!! As we were all soaked through (this was becoming quite a theme of the trip!!) we had to change before dinner. There was a good choice of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All cooked to order and were able to cater to any dietary requirements. After dinner we all went to bed as we wanted to be fresh for our activities in the morning.