This is the diary of a 10-day trip to Costa Rica which
started early in the morning of on 15
February 2010 and ended in the late afternoon of 25 Febraury 2011.
It was organised by Bill and Mary
through Llama Travel (more...)
Click here for the itinerary and interactive maps. If you just want to see all the photos as a slide show click here. Instructions are here.
We get up at 3am at the Swansons. The taxi picks us up at 4am. We get to Heathrow airport at 4:20am. Immediately we see a sign saying the 6:20am to Madrid is cancelled but no one was around so we just have to wait. Eventually we are told that the 6:20am was cancelled due to non availability of a crew. We could go on Thursday!!!! What!!!! Iberia need to learn more about customer service. They knew last night it was to be cancelled but didn't tell any of us. Anyway they manage to get us on an American Airlines flight at 8.30am to New York but we needed our ESTAs (US Immigration Forms) to be complete. Three of us had recently completed one and travelled to the USA and they are still valid. We find an internet terminal and check and apply for one for Mary who has a new passport. We have a 4 hour wait in NY then get on a flight to San Jose, Costa Rica, arriving at 8:30pm - we are now 6 hrs behind the UK. It is 10:40pm and we are at the hotel and collapsing into bed a little tired. We were just arriving at Heathrow 24 hours ago. Tomorrow is a late start and we have a city tour and a coffee plantation visit so should be nice and easy. It is 21C outside at the moment.
We get up for the buffet breakfast at 8:30am and have plantains and scrambled egg on toast. We wander outside the hotel and cross a busy road, single track railway and dual carriageway to reach a park. The park covers 72 hectares and used to be the city airport. Now it is covered with base ball areas and soccer pitches. The trees on the perimeter are strange. They are tall and have multicoloured bark. The main building in the park is the national stadium which seats 42,000 people and will open in March when the Costa Rican soccer team will play Argentina and then the sponsors of the stadium, China. We get back to the hotel and at noon get aboard a coach which takes us on a city tour. The standard taxis are coloured red. This includes the 1930 built Roman Catholic Cathedral and the earlier built National Theatre paid for by coffee farmers. Since 1948 Costa Rica has been without an army. They believe that diplomacy is the best way to settle disputes. The money they have saved from not having an army has been spent on education and a national health service. 98% of the population are literate albeit speaking their form of Spanish. Our guide is called Cesar and is a very knowledgeable young man. We leave San Jose and are driven to the Britt Coffee Tour at Brava where we are entertained by three actors who describe how coffee is grown , roasted and packed. Coffess is the eighth most important export of Costa Rica - The Rich Coast - a misnomer given by Columbus. Graham takes part in a play - the old ham. The number one export is Intel computer chips. We sample coffee and chocolate coated nuts. In the evening we take a short walk to the Princess Marina fish restaurant where we eat large helpings of fish soup and a main course of mixed fish. We retire to bed at 9pm.
We get up at 5:30am and pack our bags. We check out and board a large coach. We are going to the Caribbean coast. The coach is filled with a variety of tourists from various hotels around San Jose. We climb over a mountain and drive through the only tunnel in Costa Rica. We descend through the cloud forest to Guapiles where we have a typical Costa Rican breakfast, so we are told - rice and beans, fried egg in tomato sauce and plantains. It is very tasty and filling. Back on the coach and through banana plantations on an un-made road - a good massage to help the digestion of the breakfast. We stop at a banana processing plant and have coconut milk. Here we see the processing of the bananas so they can be packed off to the international markets. We also see some Rhinoceros beetles, the second largest beetle in the world. We are driven to the dock at Cana Blanco where we split into two groups as we are going to different lodges both owned by the same Pachira group. We motor for an hour along the canals and stop for a beer and comfort break. Half an hour later we arrive at the Evergreen Lodge, Tortuguero. We make our way to cabin 23 next to Bill and Mary in cabin 22. We have a buffet lunch and return to our rooms. At 3pm we go to the landing stage and get on the covered boat which takes us to the village of Tortuguero. Alexis, our guide, explains the life cycle of the green-back and leather-back turtles which use the beach as a nesting site at two different times of the year. We walk along the narrow grey beach and through a school's grounds and into the souvenir shop. At the nearby supermarket some nibbles are purchased. We return to the lodge and have a short siesta. We have aperitifs at 6:30pm and eat the buffet meal just after 7pm - salad, fish followed by something green that Polycell would be proud of. We retire early and listen to the rain throughout the night as it falls on the tin roof. The sound of animals can be heard through the mesh which substitutes for glass windows.
We get up at 5am, have coffee and board an open boat. In our party of 16 there are four from the US, two from Japan, Chile and Germany. The rest are from England. We first stop to pay the park entrance fees and don large green ponchos as it starts to rain again. We motor slowly along the bank of the canal spotting various birds including many different herons, ibis, egrets, monkeys, Jesus Christ lizards (they walk on water very quickly). We see a sloth atop a tree and a couple of young caymans lurking under branches by the edge of the canal. We return to the lodge and have a buffet breakfast and then find boots which fit us as we are going on a walk. We get to the boarding place for the small boat to take us across the channel; it starts to rain and becomes very very heavy. We wait until the torrential rain subsides and then board the open boat which whisks us to the Pakira Lodge. We walk through the rain forest near Pachira Lodge seeing many different plants. It is not raining but is very muddy. We find out why we need boots. We walk for an hour through tropical rainforest mud, stopping for Alexis to explain the various flora. We get back on the boat and admire a sloth doing Pilates high up in a tree. After a couple of beers we read for a bit and have a buffet lunch. A load of French have arrived. At 3pm we board an open boat and go down the northern section of the canal. It is hot and sunny. We see a sloth, a cayman, toucans, spider monkeys, cappuccine monkeys. We go down a narrow canal where the water is black from all the tannin in the plants. We return for a short rest followed by drinks and dinner. Another early retirement.
We've had a spider overnighting in the bathroom. We have a late breakfast at 7:30am, pack and wait at the dock at 9am. A covered boat comes from the Pakira Lodge to pick us up. We zoom along the canal back to where we meet the coaches. We meet Cesar again and clamber aboard our coach. There are now nine of us, all with Llama Travel. We stop for lunch at the place where we had breakfast yonks ago. We drive up Route 4 passing pineapple fields. We stop for Cesar to buy a rod of palm tree. He splits off the bark and we taste the palm heart. It has a light nutty flavour. We see the Costa Rican Air Force flying sorties. These are vultures. We stop at a place where we can have a comfort break. The place overlooks a river. There are lots of iguanas around as the owner runs an iguana rescue centre. The place sells souvenirs and ice creams. We buy ice creams. At about 4pm we arrive in Fortuna and are taken to our hotel. Just the four of us are staying at the Casa da Luna. We unpack and either sleep or wander round the hotel site. At 7pm we are picked up and taken into Fortuna to eat at the Soda Del Parada which Cesar recommends as being the best value restaurant in town. We have the ceviche of tilapia, chicken and rice, and a banana split washed down with Imperial beer. We queue up to pay and say what we have eaten - a very peculiar system. When we return to our hotel we have a nightcap and retire.
We get up and have breakfast at 7am. A lot of Germans are staying here. We are picked up at 7:45am and taken to the hotel where the other nine are staying, the Arenal Springs. We are all taken to the Arenal National Park which surrounds a volcano which last had a major eruption in 1968. We go for a walk through the forest along a muddy path. It rained in the night and is still raining. We reach the lava flow of the volcano, clamber up some rocks and have a good view of the Arenal Lake. We walk back to the coach along a much dryer path with the sun shining. We are driven into Fortuna where we could eat at the same place as last night but we choose to go to a supermarket and buy some things for lunch. Back at our hotel we have a 'picnic' outside Bill and Mary's room. We wash our muddy shoes and have a rest. At 5pm we are picked up and taken to the Tabacon hot springs. We have a band clipped onto our wrists, are given a key for a locker and a card to exchange for a towel. We get changed into our bathers and climb into one of the many pools fed by the hot waters of the river - about 42C [heated by the volcano]. We wander around the botanical gardens and sample other pools eventually ending up in the coolest pool we can find - a man made one at 35C. We change, have a beer and then queue for a buffet supper. It is very good with a wide choice of food including cassava chips and plantain pancakes. We return to our hotel at 9pm, have a nightcap and retire.
We put our bags outside our door at 6am to be collected and taken to the other side of Lake Arenal. We have breakfast at 7am and check out. A new driver picks us up and drives to the Arenal Springs hotel to pick the others up. We drive West to Lake Arenal, passing the Tabacon Hot Springs on the way. At the lake we unload and board a covered boat which takes us along the side of the lake stopping to view various birds including an osprey. It crosses the lake and docks at a grassy bank. We climb up the short slope and are told to get into a minibus. The minibus takes us up hill and down dale. We can see the Pacific Ocean in the form of the Gulf of Nicoya. We see two swallow-tailed kites and other birds. At last we get to a small town populated by the family of Perez. We stop at the Teviche Restaurant and rejoin Geraldo and his coach with our luggage on board. We drive to an adventure area near Montverde but do not go on the zip wires. Instead we go on the Sky Walk, a circular tour through the cloud forest. It is not raining and there are no clouds. We are at 5000ft. Mary spots a blue millipede which is poisonous. We cross five long pedestrian, very wobbly, suspension bridges. We get back in the coach and are taken into the centre of Monteverde where we have lunch in a restaurant. The service is very slow. We spend two hours waiting and eating a pork risotto. The four of us are dropped at our hotel, the Sapo Dorado - golden frog. We have a semi-detached cabin with two double bedrooms, a bathroom and a balcony. Bill and Mary have the other end of the cabin. We just have time to unpack before we are picked up at 5:20pm to go for a night walk. We are taken to the hut in a small piece of parkland and have a coffee. We join a family of three Americans from New Hampshire and are allocated to Jorge. We are given small torches to light our path and Jorge has a more powerful torch to light up the trees. In the grounds of the hut are several raccoons and agoutis. We walk out of the parkland and on to the road. It has got dark by now. We stop to see an emerald toucanette asleep in the branches of a tree. We see a kinkajous (raccoon-like animal) climbing through the trees like a monkey. We walk up the road and into some hotel's grounds and see an opossum, raccoon and various insects, culminating with an orange-kneed tarantula. After two hours we arrive back at the hut and pay Alexis the owner. We are the last group to return so Alexis drives us and Jorge back to our hotel. Jorge was disappointed he had not been able to show us a sloth. However, shortly after leaving the hut we stop under a tree overhanging the road and there dangling from a branch is a grey fur ball of a two-toed sloth. It is an amazing sight. We get back to the hotel at 8:45pm and are just in time to eat in the hotel's restaurant. We just have a main course. The ladies have sea bass and the men have pojo - in Costa Rica, two l's are pronounced as a 'j'. We wash it down with beer and retire to our cabins.
It is Graham's sister's birthday today. Happy birthday, Jenet. It has been very windy in the night so we did not sleep well. We get up and have breakfast at 7am and are picked up at 7:30am and taken to the Monteverde Cloud Reserve [Forest?] after picking up the others at the Von Trapp Family Lodge. The reserve is very busy. It is a bright sunny day but we are wearing coats and long trousers as it is quite cool. Near the entrance Bill spots a female quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala. There are more quetzals in Costa Rica than in Guatemala because their habitat in Guatemala has been much reduced whereas in Costa Rica they are planting more trees than they are chopping down. We wander around the track guided by Cesar passing other groups and seeing a few birds. Overhead the clouds zoom across the sky. At the end of the hike we go to a humming bird feeding station and see many humming birds and a black and white coati prowling around. We are driven into Monteverde town centre and find the ice cream parlour where we have hamburgers and ice cream - a much better lunch than yesterday's and devoured in less than 40 minutes. We are returned to our hotel and have a siesta. We are again picked up by our bus at 7.00pm and taken to an Italian restaurant called Trimonti. This is for our farewell dinner as a group. There are 21 in the complete group with two guides and two drivers. We have an excellent meal, including Squid carpaccio, Beef for Graham, Veal for Mary and mixed fried fish for Jane and Bill. It is our first 3 course meal with red wine.
Cesar and Geraldo arrive with the rest of the group at 8am and pick us up. We drive through different countrysides as we descend from the cloud forest all the way to the dry forest areas. We stop after a couple of hours for a drink and “restrooms.” Back on the road again we proceed for another hour driving along the Pan-American Highway ending up on the new toll road. We stop near Punta Arenas where we walk along a bridge and see many crocodiles in the river below, we also see a kingfisher and a caracara. The people who are going down to the beach area switch on to a local tourist bus here and only 6 of us are left on our bus. We continue on towards San Jose and stop for lunch at a real Ticos place. Ticos is the name the Costa Ricans are called. Finally we arrive at the Hotel Rincon del Valle and are allocated the same room as when we arrived here, 107. Jane is given a bag with the clothes in she left here 9 days ago!! Mary, Bill and Jane go for a walk around San Jose for 2.5 hours and Graham stays in the hotel reading his book. We walk to the restaurant called Machu Picchu and stop to have a drink, Mary and Jane have a special Peruvian drink called Pisco Sour and it is very tasty. We walk back to the hotel. The plan is to eat near the hotel tonight. Once again we go to Princess Marino and have lovely fish dishes. Mary and Jane eat stuffed sea bass and Graham and Bill have large prawns.
Breakfast at 8am followed by packing. At 9.30am we get the hotel's taxi into town and arrange for the driver, Carlos, to pick us up a couple of times during the day. We visit the National Library, the National Cultural Museum (which used to be a liquor factory), walk around the park and end up in the National Museum which we all thoroughly enjoy. We see many artefacts through the ages and end up seeing a red Summer tanager in a tree. Our taxi picks us up outside at noon and drives us to the Machu Picchu restaurant to which we had walked yesterday. We have a really good meal of fish and meats which we share between us. Graham tries a pisco sour too. Carlos picks us up at 1:45pm and takes us back to the hotel where Cesar is waiting for us. We check out of the rooms and wait for the driver to take us to the airport where we find the flight is 30 mins late. We buy our exit Tax of 26 USD and make our way to sit and read for a couple of hours.
The Iberia flight to Madrid is packed. There are no television screens in the seat backs, just a small communal screen. Graham's headphone socket is blocked and the cabin staff are unable to unblock it. There is no leg room for a 6 foot male. We land in Madrid at noon and walk miles to area H where, at 1:15pm we take off on an Iberia plane with even less leg room. We land at Heathrow at 2pm and after much confusion board a 285 bus at the central bus station which drops us off at Ormond Drive, Hampton. We have used our free bus passes again. After a cup of tea at Bill and Mary's we drive home to recover from a wonderful holiday in Costa Rica.