Blog - Costa Rica

Guest Blog by Matthew Broadbent

In July 2019 my parents and I visited Costa Rica for two weeks. With amazing wildlife, beautiful scenery and a plethora of fun activities, this trip was a holiday I will never forget!

Day 1: Arrival in San Jose

After an 11 hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean, we landed in San Jose at 1pm local time. We were picked up by our tour guide from explore, Ron, and our driver for the next two weeks, Luiz, along with meeting the other family on the same tour as us. It was immediately apparent from touching down in the city that this was not your ordinary inner city. San Jose is situated in a valley, and has a vast amount of green space, along with views to several volcanoes either side of the city. Our accommodation for the next two nights was the Quality Real Hotel. This was very much like a Holiday Inn, part of a chain of hotels. Upon arriving at the hotel we had a short look around the area, before eating and settling down to sleep.

Day 2: San Jose and the surrounding area

On day two of the tour, the usual plan is to visit Poas volcano. Unfortunately, this was impossible as this volcano is currently active and not open to visitors. However, they planned a very enjoyable day for us regardless. In the morning, we did a coffee tour. It was extremely interesting to learn about the processes involved in producing the coffee that we drink, and gave us a great insight into an industry so important to Costa Rica’s. Our guide for the tour spoke perfect English, and was very enthusiastic about coffee farming. We left feeling like experts on coffee farming, and having tasted some delicious coffee.  After this, we visited the National museum of Costa Rica. Whilst learning about the history of Costa Rica was interesting, we were left disappointed by the museum, as it was only really large enough for a 1 hour long visit. On top of this, we had a short orientation tour of the city of San Jose.  As well as this, we visited two small town squares. Every town has a square where events are held on special occasions, and with a beautiful church at the top of the square. One of the towns also had the country’s largest oxcart, which was very interesting to look at.

Day 3: Irazu Volcano and Guayabo

On day three of the tour we departed San Jose very early in the morning and headed towards Irazu Volcano, our first stop of the day. Whilst it was cloudy when we visited, we still had wonderful views of the craters and a beautiful blue lagoon. The wildlife here was fantastic too, as we were greeted by a very sociable coatimundi at the peak of the volcano, along with many birds such as hummingbirds and vultures, both of which we were by now becoming accustomed to seeing throughout the country. After visiting Irazu Volcano we headed to Guayabo to visit the monument. Guayabo monument is an ancient archaeological site in the rainforest, discovered recently, and made for a very interesting place to visit. Its rainforest location also meant the wildlife was stunning, and we were treated to great views of a mother and baby two-toed sloth along with many colourful birds such as parrots, toucans and the gorgeous Montezuma Oropendula. After visiting the monument, we headed to our accommodation for the next two nights, Guayabo Lodge. Set on the slope of a volcano, this lodge had a picturesque setting and a fantastically kept garden which attracted various garden birds, including a huge variety of gorgeous hummingbirds, tanagers and flycatchers. Other animals were also present, with the toads and crickets calling throughout the night.


Day 4: CATIE

On day four, we visited CATIE, a huge agricultural centre. Here, we did a lot of birdwatching. Amongst the birds we saw were water birds such as the boat-billed heron and northern jacanas with chicks. We also saw a caiman here! After visiting CATIE the guide took us to a few more wildlife hotspots that he knew of. After stopping to watch a group of toucans, we were stunned when a black cat-like creature emerged from the bushes. The guide recognised it immediately as a Tyrah, and got extremely excited, exclaiming ‘This is more difficult to see than a jaguar!’ The Tyrah, which looked like a cross between a cat and an otter ran across the road and swam across a stream before disappearing into the trees. An incredible encounter! After this we continued  to drive, making a stop when I noticed a three-toed sloth hanging from a tree by the roadside, and another stop when the guide was excited to see a Laughing falcon in a tree. After this wonderful day of wildlife watching we drove to a local ‘finca’ which is a traditional Costa Rican village. Here we helped to prepare traditional food such as chicken fajitas and plantain. The views from the finca when we sat down to eat were exquisite, and made for a wonderful evening.

Day 5: Travel to Tortuguero

On day five, we travelled to the Tortuguero national park on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. This was a long journey, the last 45 minutes of which had to be done by boat. The lodge was situated on a narrow strip of land between the rainforest and a lagoon. This lagoon then had another narrow strip of land between itself and the beach. Upon arrival, it was noticeably hotter and more humid than the other areas we had visited so far! We visited the town of Tortuguero, where I bought some souvenirs and saw a flock of rare Great green macaws. In the evening, we then went on a turtle walk. Tortuguero is an internationally important site for nesting sea turtles, with different species visiting to lay eggs at different times of year. In July, when we visited, it was early in the green turtle nesting season. The tour consisted in the tourists waiting for a spotter to find a turtle, then calling for a small group of tourists to go and look at it. We were lucky enough to see two different green turtles, one laying eggs, and another hiding its eggs before it walked back to the sea. There was also plenty of other wildlife to be seen in the grounds of La Baula Lodge, which was our accommodation for our stay. This wildlife included iguanas, basilisk lizards, huge frogs, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, geckos, toucans and many other birds. 

Day 6: Tortuguero

Today we were scheduled to have a brilliant day of wildlife watching, with a boat trip along the waterways of the rainforest, a dawn chorus walk and a hike up Tortuguero hill. However, the weather unfortunately intervened, as it rained all day, leaving us stranded at the lodge. However, the rain did stop for a two hour period, allowing us just enough time to take a boat trip. This boat trip was brilliant, and on it we saw several caimans, iguanas and birds such as kingfishers. The boat trip was brilliant, but it was a shame the weather ruined the rest of the day, but that’s just the nature of the rainy season in Costa Rica! One animal we did see today though was a red-eyed tree frog at the lodge. It was absolutely spectacular, definitely the best looking frog in the world.

Day 7: Journey from Tortuguero to Arenal

On day 7, we took a boat trip out of the Tortuguero National Park to meet back up with the bus. The whole area around Tortuguero was flooded due to the torrential downpours, and travelling against the strong currents made it an interesting experience. We were told later on in the trip that the flooding had prevented people from reaching Tortuguero over the next few days, so we were lucky we went when we did! The drive to Arenal was scenic with many gorgeous views. The town of Arenal is situated in the foothills of the Arenal volcano. On a clear day, you could see to the top of this cone shaped volcano, but unfortunately the clouds during our stay made it impossible to do so for most of our stay. Our accommodation for the next few days was a quaint little lodge with a nice outdoor swimming pool just on the edge of the town centre. We had a walk around the town on the day of our arrival, seeing some nice birds, and we ate in a lovely restaurant that served huge portions with low prices.

Day 8: The highlights of Arenal

This day was one of my favourite days of the holiday. Our guide organised three activities for us, a visit to Ecocentre Danaus, a visit to a waterfall and a swim in hot springs. The ecocentre was extremely good for birdwatching. Its location at a middle elevation meant that many birds from both the highlands and the lowlands were present and it was teeming with life. Highlights included yellow-throated euphonia and rufous-winged woodpecker. We also saw many sloths and lizards here.  After this, we visited the waterfall, which due to the recent rain was a spectacular sight, even if it did mean trekking down, and then back up about 1,000 steps. After visiting the waterfall, the guide and I saw a rufous-tailed jacamar, an absolutely gorgeous bird which for 30 seconds just posed for a photograph for us. In the evening we visited the hot springs of the Arena; volcano. With pools up to 39 degrees Celsius it was a brilliant experience and a great way to relax. The hot springs also had a pool bar and two waterslides.

Day 9: Journey from Arenal to Monteverde and hike on the volcano

On day 9 we travelled from the Arenal area to Monteverde, climbing up the mountains towards the cloudforest of Monteverde, and enjoying panoramic views of the mountains and Arenal Lake. On our way to Monteverde we stopped for a short hike on Arenal Volcano. It rained, but didn’t stop me from enjoying the walk, and from seeing birds such as the great curassow, which is basically just a large black forest turkey! The weather conditions in Monteverde were very different to the rest of the country, with the temperature a much more bearable 16-21 degrees Celsius for most of the time we were there. The lodge we stayed at had a very steep hill up from the reception to the rooms, so much so that we had to travel up in a vehicle! This location on the top of a hill did mean we had a great view though, and we enjoyed some gorgeous sunsets over the course of the three nights we were there. The rooms were amazing, with huge beds.

Day 10: Monteverde Cloudforest

Day 10 was an absolutely brilliant day. I got up very early in the morning to meet with a local bird guide who took me to the local Curi Cancha game reserve. Despite the weather conditions being horrendous for a couple of hours this morning, he managed to find 47 different species of bird, most of which I had never seen before, with the highlights being a spectacular male three-wattled bellbird and a female resplendent quetzal. However, a thunderstorm cut this three hour trip slightly short. The weather conditions then improved for the rest of the day, allowing me to join up with the rest of the group for a walk around the Monteverde cloudforest reserve. Here, we got brilliant views of 2 male resplendent quetzals, which was probably the highlight of the holiday, along with many other spectacular looking birds such as golden-browed chlorophonia and motmots. It was also an amazing experience to walk through a dense rainforest, surrounded by the typical sights and sounds, and it was a privilege to be in one of the rare countries where areas such as this are well protected. In the evening we took a night walk. Whilst we were unlucky not to see any mammals, we did see a tarantula, a glass frog, scorpions and many other creepy crawlies, along with roosting birds, which made this a successful walk.

Day 11: zip wire and canopy walk

On day 11, we went on a tour of the rainforest, but on zip wires! In total, we went on 14 zip wires, some of them up to 1 mile in length which flew us straight over the rainforest, giving us special views. This was the experience of a lifetime and one I will never forget. On top of this, we went on a tarzan swing, another wonderful experience. After this, we walked on a canopy tour of the rainforest and across many suspension bridges, which gave us more beautiful views of the rainforest. This fantastic day was capped off when I was able to, after 20 minutes of searching, take a photo of a three-wattled bellbird we had been listening to. In the evening, we were treated to another surprise, when an armadillo greeted our arrival back to the hotel by briefly running around in front of us. Another amazing day!

Day 12: drive to Manuel Antonio

On day 12, we travelled to the final location of the holiday, Manuel Antonio. However, before we set off, our guide was determined to help me find and photograph a long-tailed manakin, one of the beautiful specialist birds of the local area. After asking a lady for directions, we found the place the manakin usually lives, and sure enough, two beautiful males appeared after a short wait. Following this, we drove to our final location in Manuel Antonio. On the way we stopped at Carara national park for a short walk, and here we saw poison dart frogs, some beautiful white ghost bats and scarlet macaws, along with many other animals. We also stopped at a road bridge over the River Tarcoles to see saltwater crocodiles, the largest in the world, and saw 17. Upon arriving in Manuel Antonio we settled in to our hotel. This was a very unusual, eco friendly hotel, where all the rooms were shipping containers, but I loved it. In the evening we had a delicious meal in the hotel restaurant whilst watching a spectacular thunderstorm in the night sky.

Day 13: Manuel Antonio National Park

On day 13 we visited the national park in Manuel Antonio. This was absolutely full of wildlife, especially mammals, with animals we saw including capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys, sloths, tropical deer, a snake and lots of crabs and frogs. A few capuchin monkeys even decided to steal food from the breakfast room of our hotel in the morning. This afternoon we went for a swim in the sea. It was a very pleasant temperature, certainly much warmer than in the UK, and was very relaxing, even if we were a bit worried about monkeys and racoons stealing things from our bag!

Day 14: water based activities in Manuel Antonio

On day 14 we went on a boat trip into the Pacific Ocean, in search of dolphins, whales and other wildlife. Whilst we were unlucky with the whales and dolphins, we did get to see two mating sea turtles, which was great. Also included in this trip was snorkelling, and it was brilliant to see the huge variety of beautiful tropical fish around Costa Rica. In the afternoon we decided to try a new activity, parasailing. This was one of my favourite experiences of the trip, as we were carried on a large parachute by a jet ski over the sea, and admired the views of this special area of Costa Rica. In the evening we had our final meal with the group, along with several cocktails, and reflected on a holiday of a lifetime.

I absolutely loved my time in Costa Rica and will remember it for my whole life. It was a gorgeous country with a huge range of different scenery, such as rainforests, volcanoes, and warm seas. The biodiversity was nothing short of unbelievable, and the people, especially our wonderful guide were helpful and accommodating. An amazing trip!

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