After a refreshing nights sleep in an airport hotel in Paris, only an 11.5 hour flight separated me from the paradise of Costa Rica. I was pleasantly surprised with the Air France flight. On board a brand new Airbus A350 the plane had a thoroughly modern entertainment system that plenty of options to keep me occupied all the way through to the capital of San Jose.
With excellent flight timings from Paris and with San Jose being a relatively small airport, I was in my private, air conditioned car (with WiFi) by 6pm, 30 minutes after landing. The English speaking driver giving me a very thorough run down of my trip along the short 20 min drive to my hotel in the central valley. After such a long flight, the Finca Rosa Blanca was a sight for sore eyes. Fantastic views over the city of San Jose, an incredible dinner in their restaurant and a late dip in the beautiful swimming pool was just what I needed. An early night beckoned before the early start to journey to Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast.
The journey to Tortuguero is an epic one. Driving through cloud forest and banana plantations to get to the pier before an incredible boat trip through the canals to get to the lodge was really exciting! I stayed in Mawamba lodge which is perfect for families due to its beachfront location and family friendly pool. Having a huge 5 foot Iguana slowly creep through the breakfast area the next day was truly incredible! Visiting Tortuguero when the turtles were absent meant that I could spend more time doing the nature walks provided by the lodge and seeing caiman with their babies on our boat tour of the nearby national park
My next stop was a short visit to the nature paradise of Sarapiqui. Both Tortuguero and my next stop of Arenal see a lot of visitors but Sarapiqui sees substantially fewer. Ideal if you’re looking to get a little bit off the beaten track. My first night walk of the trip saw plenty of wildlife action. Neon coloured poison dart frogs (in the middle of mating), snakes, anteaters and the rare, elusive Kinkajou rounded off a fantastic walk. The next day I headed into another reserve in search of Sloths before journeying over to adventure capital of Costa Rica - Arenal!
The Volcano at Arenal and Cloud Forests of Monteverde
I was lucky enough to stay in the Arenal Kioro hotel which is a lovely and modern upmarket resort, complete with private jacuzzis in the room with unobstructed views of the Volcano!
There is so much to see and do in Arenal as it is an activity and adrenaline lovers dream! My first stop was to the hanging bridges which is a must do for any first time visit. A series of suspended bridges above thick rainforest mean that there are numerous animal spottings and this occasion did not disappoint. I was lucky to see Toucan, sloths, snakes, tarantulas and many brightly coloured birds!
I hadn’t quite had enough sloth sightings so I decided to do the dedicated sloth tour. By this point I had seen a few sloths on the road, but they were always quite high in the trees and impossible to get a good photo of. Doing the sloth tour meant I had a dedicated guide who tracks sloths every day and knows all the best spots for the very best sightings. They always carry a scope with them so you can see them extremely clearly (and get the magical photo through the scope). I was lucky to see around 10-12 sloths on the tour…including a mother and baby!!!
No visit to Arenal would be complete without a visit to one of its many hot springs! The visit really is ideal after a days sightseeing where you can just kick back and relax in its thermal hot waters alongside its fully stocked bar. Visits usually include a delicious dinner as well!
The next day I completely the incredibly scenic lake crossing across lake Arenal to the cloud forests of Monteverde with the epic volcano in the background slowly getting smaller and smaller. Straight away you notice the drop in temperature which is very much welcome after the humidity of Arenal. Visiting cloud forests mean you can see wildlife that don’t exist anywhere else in the country and I was eager to see what was in store.
Santa Elena sees far fewer visitors than the nearby Monteverde reserve so I opted to do a daytime visit to Santa Elena followed by a night walk in Monteverde once all the day trippers had headed home. I wasn’t disappointed. Within 30 minutes I had spotted the stunning resplendent Quetzal. Although I am not an avid bird lover, the elusive Quetzal really does have the wow factor!
Whilst in the area I also did one of the many chocolate and coffee tours that are on offer in the area. As you would expect, there are good coffee tours and there are very very bad coffee tours where the focus is very much on the gift shop at the end. The benefit of booking the activity through a reputable company meant that I was assured of getting a fantastic experience with zero expectation of buying something at the end.
One of The highlights of this part of the trip was seeing a family of Agouti (think large Guinea pigs) running through the garden of the hotel whilst having breakfast…incredible!!
Enjoying the Beach at Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast
After 10 days of being on the road I was in need of some rest. However, I wanted my days to have the perfect balance of beach, relaxation with a healthy dose of activity thrown in for good measure! The beach and national park paradise of Manuel Antonio beckoned…
Manual Antonio is a beach side national park which means it is ideal for people who, like me, want to have some relaxing beach time but also have the option of activities thrown in too.
Manuel Antonio national park is considered to be the most attractive national park in the country and is one of the few places in the country where all 4 species of monkey live - Howler, Spider, Squirrel and mischievous white faced monkeys! I was lucky enough to see a pack of white faced monkeys put on quite the show for us by swinging through the forests and playfully fighting with each other just meters away from us.
I also tried out the sea kayaking which was fantastic and a nice change from the many nature focused activities I had done so far. Calmly kayaking along the beautiful coastline of Costa Rica was truly a magical experience. I stayed in the Parador resort and upgraded to a Vista suite. The hotel is absolutely fantastic and perfect for those looking for some down time in a lovely resort and the Vista suites come with private hot tubs on the balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean - ideal for sitting back and watching the sun set!
The Remote and Wild and Fabulous Osa Peninsular
The final week of my trip was to be spent in the remote jungle paradise of Osa Peninsular. To break up the drive to get there, I spent a night in the coastal town of Uvita. This is one of the best parts of the country to see whales and dolphins. Dolphins are present year round but sadly I wasn’t visiting at the right time of year for whales. Even so, seeing dolphins playfully chase the splash of our boat was an experience I will not forget!
Osa peninsular is one of my favourite parts of Costa Rica as it is far removed from the usual tourist trail and sees significantly less visitors than other parts of the country. With miles and miles of untouched rainforest, national parks and coastline this really is one of the most scenic parts of the country
Osa peninsular is not the cheapest part of the country to visit due to its remoteness and lack of accommodation options but the magnificent Drake Bay Wilderness lodge is one of the few options in the area that is very reasonably priced. It is also located in the best part of the country to visit the incredible Caño island. Considered one of the best areas of Costa Rica for snorkelling a visit here is a must if you have time! I saw thousands of beautiful, brightly coloured fish as well as around 20 different turtles! Snorkelling here is highly recommended!
My penultimate stop was the stunning resort of Playa Nicuesa on the Golfo Dulce. The resort really does pack the wow factor. It is only possible to visit the resort by boat and the crystal blue water of the gulf are perfect for spotting dolphins (and whales in season). I opted to take the upgrade to a bungalow and was not disappointed. The rooms have serious star power and are highly recommend. Situated a 5 minute walk away from the main building and completely open to the rainforest on 3 sides of the room (closed off at night by shuttered panel doors) means that the rainforest is ever present around you
My final stop was the very southern point of the Osa Peninsular. To get there meant a 60 minute boat crossing of the gulf to the tiny town of Puerto Jiminez. It also meant a third experience of dolphins playfully interacting with our boats wake…truly a highlight!
My home for the final part of my trip was the stunning El Remanso lodge, perfectly situated for the Corcovado national park. The resort has its own zip lining and also plays home to hundreds of species of birds. I managed to see toucans and brightly coloured macaws whilst relaxing by the stunning pool. I also saw them whilst zipping past them on the zip lines.
The highlight of this section of the trip was to visit the famous Corcovado national park. Here I was lucky enough to see Tapirs, Anteaters, more snakes, scorpions, monkeys, dozens of species of birds and so much more!
Most people arrive and leave by light aircraft and this is exactly how I chose to head back to the capital. The flight really is like no other. There is no airport, no fancy check in area and no lounge - only a simple airstrip with the person checking me in next to the runway also doubling up as baggage handler and control tower. The tiny 12 seater plane meant I had unobstructed views of the coastline and thick rainforest as we flew back to San Jose…with the pilots sat mere inches in front of me!
Costa Rica really does offer something for everyone. It is a nature lovers paradise, an adrenaline lovers dream, a surfers Mecca, a food lovers holy grail and a beach lovers delight!
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