Costa Rica – April 2011

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Arrived into San Jose, the main city in Costa Rica, mid-day. The tour didn't start until the evening, so we wandered around the city. Some Spanish/European influences in the architecture. Took a quick break for some guacamole, chips, and beer. The local beer is Imperial, nice and crisp beer. That evening we had our first meeting with the entire tour group, then had a late dinner and early bed time. Day 2 - The early bed time was because we got up early and hopped on a bus to Puerto Viejo, on the Caribbean coast. It was a 4 hour or so ride through windy mountain passes, so by the time we made it, people were tired. The lodge we stayed at had really comfy hammocks. Given that it was a travel day, we simply ate and explored the town for the rest of the day.
Day 3 - Another early morning, but this time to join a nature hike just south of Puerto Viejo, in a place called Manzanillo. We were joined by two stray dogs for a bit. Our guide Ricky stopped at numerous places along the road to the main hiking spot, showing us various unique things. Here, the magnetic properties of the sand. Ricky our excellent, excentric guide.
He found a large Golden Silk Orb-Weaver spider to crawl all over us. Lisa was the first to volunteer her hand. I was the last. BUT, I did it! And it didn't even eat my face. Once we got into the actual hike, we saw quite a bit of wildlife. This is a yellow eyelash viper, nice and poisonous.
A bullet ant. Fairly sizable, this ant is known for it's sting - the most painful stings known to man.  Wiki's description: Waves of burning, throbbing, all-consuming pain that continues unabated for up to 24 hours....yikes. A walking palm tree, their root system is largely above ground to allow it the move slightly (not really walk) if sunlight or water sources disappear from it's current spot. A very poisonous frog. So tiny and cute, so very deadly.
Gecko! Another poisonous frog. We walked deeper into the forest for some bird-watching. We saw a few.
A rubber tree! Bleeding rubber sap. A huge tree... That was hollow on the inside! It was really odd looking up the inside.
One of many butterflies found in Costa Rica - 1200+ different varieties of Butterfly, and 8000+ moths. Another eyelash viper. We saw 4 total during our walk. Finally, a beautiful lookout spot to end the hike. It's actually featured in a lot of postcards.
Obligatory picture of people with nice scenery. The group took a bit of a break here, we had been hiking for several hours. On the way back, we saw numerous small crabs.
After a long, eventful day, getting back to the lodge for rest, food and relaxation was much deserved. Day 3 - A travel day to Tortuguero. We were only 30 minutes or so out of Puerto Viejo however when trouble struck - blown out tire! We had a good stretch during that time.
One of those 'don't try this at home...or at all' moments. Gunning an engine while your tour guide holds a block with his leg. The blown out tire. After the tire change, we continued to our next stop and hopped on a boat for a couple hour boat ride to Tortuguero. We saw lots of bird and wildlife.
A Basilisk, also called a Jesus Lizard, as it can run on water. Large Iguana watching us. We saw one large crocodile briefly, but I wasn't fast enough getting my camera ready and only caught it as it went into the water.
A row of sleeping bats. A caiman, smaller cousin to the Crocodile. Saw several of these. Wouldn't kill you, but they would be able to take a finger or toe off. Finally made it to Tortuguero. Known mostly for it's beach, where turtles come to lay their eggs. We came in the offseason however, and while we did a walk at  night for turtles, we didn't find any.
The town of Tortuguero, a small, somewhat touristy place. After a brief visit to town, we got on our boat and went to the hotel, jumped in the pool and had a quiet evening there. Day 4 - This day started very early, thanks to these howler monkeys. They get their name because they are VERY VERY NOISY. At 5am. Grr. But, there was a silver lining, as we got to see our one and only Toucan!
Our lodge as we leave for the day. After a boat ride, we switch to our own mode of transportation - kayaks and canoes. Greta and Lisa had the enviable position of having no paddles.
They did do a little bit to help out though. Taking a break from the kayaking. After paddling around for nearly 2 hours, we went to the beach and ocean for a break.
All that non-paddling was tiring! Giant rooster came over to say hello. Getting my feet wet, a refreshing break, doubly so because we got to eat lots of pineapple for a snack.
For the way back, we switched things up, so I was now in a canoe, and Greta took to kayaking triumphantly! Once we got back to where we got our boats, we had a good long break and lunch time, and I stole some time on their hammocks. Then we got to don sexy boots.
And go for a hike in the nearby forest. Right away we got extremely lucky and spotted a spider monkey! After the hike, we came back to our hotel for rest and a bit more relaxing. The pool, not currently in use. That night we went to Tortuguero for dinner, then did the hike along the beach in the fruitless search for turtles.
Day 5 - Back on the road (water), Lisa took an uncomfortable looking nap. The water was very shallow due to being in the dry season, so we took several hours to get to our transfer point. Where we got into crowded, unairconditioned vans for another hour journey.
THEN, we transfered to tractor. For 3 more hours. Up to the remote mountain lodge of Rara Avis. The tractor was used because the terrain wasn't exactly flat. We took a break at a biological research station and Lisa made some friends.
Some people had opted to horseride up, and arrived 10 minutes after our tractor. We still had an hour hike up to Rara Avis, and by the time we arrived, night had fallen. Lisa, Greta, Stephen, Marie and I quickly signed up for the night hike that was offered and began shortly after we had finished dinner. We were glad we did - it was rained out the next night. We saw several of these tree frogs. A sleeping lizard.
A really cool, very long and slender snake. A baby tarantula. Did not put this one on my hand. The ghost glass frog, hard to find and neat looking.
How it looks under normal lighting. And finally, a cicada as it begins it's fully adult phase. After getting back from the hike, it was pretty much bed time, we were all exhausted. Day 6 - Some of us slept better than others. Alana found this happy little scorpion in her bed. Needless to say, she didn't sleep much that night!
A hammock after breakfast is a good way to start the day. So that's where both Lisa and I spent a while relaxing. A bit later on, the group did a morning hike around the area of Rara Avis.
Our guide Deinor climbing a vine. They hold a surprising amount of weight, multiple hundreds of pounds! A plant apparently only found in Rara Avis. A butterfly seen during the hike.
We ended at a viewpoint of the beautiful double waterfalls near our lodge. Since it was a hot day and we had been hiking, naturally we went swimming in the waterfall. I took my camera with me and explored the other side of the falls. No gold.
Jumping into the water. Surprisingly deep! Relaxing by the falls. The current near there is stronger than I thought it would be. Looking down at the second set of falls. Too shallow to jump.
After getting back to the lodge, it was time for a GAP ritual - a friendly dirt barefoot soccer match between the locals and the tourists! On the strength of having two English footballers and our guide Deinor, we whomped them 5-1. I found out afterwards that this is apparently a rare event, the locals usually squash tourist teams! Shortly after the game ended, the torrential rain came. Thankfully everything for the day was done and we had already made our way to shelter, where we stayed until the rain passed. The bats still came out, and liked eating from the hummingbird feeders.
Day 7 - After our 3+ hour tractor ride down from Rara Avis back to civilization and transfering to a wonderfully air conditioned bus, we stopped for lunch. Lisa ordered something called 'Marinated fish'. The left the word 'whole' out of the description. 🙂
Still apparently tasty. Made our way to La Fortuna, spent the night at the hot springs, which were very touristy and not deserving of pictures. Day 8 - La Fortuna is the place for adventure sports in Costa Rica. Upon the suggestion of Deinor, we did Class 3&4 whitewater rafting. It was EXCELLENT. Our boat leader Roger was outstanding. He kept us in the boat during the very difficult Class 4 sections (I *nearly* went for a swim).
We got wet. Very very wet. We often had to paddle hard to avoid obstacles, and also to get speed before hitting more rapids. Me being submerged in water.
Lisa during a break in the rapids. Couldn't exactly get my camera out at other times. :) Me relaxing in the waterfall. We took a break at a waterfall for fruit and to pose for pictures.
At the end of the rapids, we all jumped out of the raft and relaxed as we floated down the fast flowing river. Downtown La Fortuna. A look at the active Arenal Volcano.
Day 9 - Some of us continued our foray into adventure sports with Canyoneering - rapelling down waterfalls. Because we were in the dry season, it was more rapelling down cliffs. Still fun, but also a tiny bit disappointing. 2 of the drops were sizable, 200ft cliffs. Looking up from the bottom.
The only way we got wet during this activity was because they made us jump into a deep gorge. Getting ready to go down the last cliff. After a quick buffet lunch and ride back to town, Lisa, Marie and I got ready for even MORE adventure, this time caving. It was advertised as a walk through some massive caverns to find some bats, giant spiders and some sightless animals. We were also told our feet might get a bit wet....our guide had other ideas!
Found a giant tarantula near the entrance. Also did not volunteer to have this one on my hands. The cave was pitch black, our lights providing the only light. With just the 3 of us and our guide, it was a very dark tour. Our tour guide Carlos. Quite the character, he did an excellent job the entire time. Here he is with a spider-scorpion hybrid, of which there were tons in the cave.
Sure enough, the first part was an easy walk through some big caverns, and our feet got a little wet. 'Do you want to do something different and fun?'
'Um...okay?' Then we took a detour and got down to business. First was going through what Carlos coined 'the Birth Hole', which was a tight squeeze, feet first. This was the easy part.
Then we had a considerable (12+ feet) free climb up a slimy rock face. It was NOT easy. But we survived it. After lots of scrambling, scraping and crawling, we made it to the giant papaya (behind Lisa) for a photo op. Then, we got wet.
Very wet. Our 'after' picture. We spent 90 minutes or so in the caves, and came out utterly exhausted. And soaked. It was a ton of fun though and very unique! Leaf cutter ants at work. We saw these guys all over the place, but usually on the forest floor, marching back to their home with cut leaves. This was the only time we saw them hard at work.
Then we really lucked out on the drive back, and found a 2-toed sloth hanging out on a telephone wire! Had an excellent dinner that night befitting our exhausting day (Double patty hamburger!) and crashed early that night. Day 10 - Left La Fortuna and headed to the Cloud Forest of Monteverde. One last look at Arenal Volcano as we took a boat across a lake. At our rest stop, a friendly duck wanted food.
We made it to Monteverde, high up in the mountains of Costa Rica, and went on a coffee and sugar cane tour. The coffee bean is in there. Dried coffee beans. Roasted coffee beans. Not my favourite taste, bleh.
The sugar cane was caramelized and then we added peanuts, coconut and chocolate to them. After some hard work, it had cooled and solidified and was ready to eat. Tasty funny to me though. One of Deinor's favourite activities - napping! That night we had one of the best meals of the vacation at a place called 'Trio'. Awesome drinks, awesome food. YUM.
Day 11 - A morning hike in the cloud forest in search of a Quetzal (bird). It was too nice for clouds though, so the cloud forest was more of a high altitude forest for us (nice and cool in the morning!). Hummingbird nest. Pretty flower.
Pretty bug. We found another vine, and some took to it right away. Greta giving it a swing. And Ben was really happy to get up and do his best Tarzan impression.
More greenery in the forest. A cool looking 'Glass Butterfly', which has transparent wings. We did get extremely lucky and found 2 Quetzals, though I didn't get a picture of either (too far). Still, huge, colourful birds and really a treat to find. After the hike, it was a short walk down to the Zip Lining.
13 lines of varying length, including a 1km long final zip, during which we reached speeds of 70km/hr! Lisa heading down a zipline. After the ziplines, some of us also tried a tarzan swing. Stepping off a perfectly good 25ft platform into nothingness is plenty scary, but the swinging around afterwards was lots of fun! That evening we had another excellent dinner in Monteverde.
Day 12 - Left Monteverde in the morning (along with it's wonderful, less humid climate) and headed to the pacific coast. Along the way, we crossed a big river that was home to lots of crocodiles. When we arrived at Quepos, our destination, Lisa and I went to a little cafe after wandering around for a bit. Just as we walked through to the backyard patio, we spotted a mother whiteface monkey with it's baby on it's back. I couldn't get a picture of it before it took off, but this monkey came over 5 minutes later. And promptly pooped on my leg. That evening Lisa, Stephen Greta and I had a great dinner at a restaurant near our hotel, and had an early night in prep for an early morning the next day. Day 13 - An early morning, we went to Manuel Antonio park for 7am to ensure we got in - this was now Easter weekend, and Manuel Antinio only allows 600-800 visitors per day, so they often close the gates early. 50 feet past the entrance, a young deer stepped out of the trees and wandered around. Not afraid of humans at all!
A fairly sizable snake we saw along the path. A lizard changing it's colours! A larger lizard/baslisk sunning itself.
There was a happy sloth near one of the trails. Big iguana by the path. This is the reason many come to Manuel Antonio - the wonderful beach.
Oh, and the wildlife, especially the entertaining monkeys! There were numerous monkeys in one area of the park. This one was thirsty.
Just hanging out. Monkey fight! Before hitting the beach, Stephen, Greta, Lisa and I opted for an hour hike or so.
It gave us some great viewpoints. And some new wildlife too! An Agouti, a large, tailless rodent. Looking back at one of the gorgeous beaches of Manuel Antonio.
Finally, we went to the beach and I quickly jumped in the water. Even though it was the Pacific Ocean, this was possibly the warmest I have ever felt ocean water. It was like a bath! Strong riptide here and good waves. Devious monkeys steal food (not ours) And some curious racoons taking stock of the situation.
We just relaxed at the beach for a while, then headed back to the hotel for some wonderful Air Conditioning. That evening, we had our last group dinner together at a big airplane restaurant. There was a bar inside the airplane! Day 15 - Final day of the tour, on the drive back to San Jose we got extremely lucky when Deinor spotted a pair of Scarlet Macaws in nearby trees. We pulled over the bus and snapped a ton of pics of the pair, which seemed to be having a bit of a domestic dispute. That evening, back in San Jose, we had a final (smaller group) dinner and then drinks together as a group, said our goodbyes, and flew out the next morning! Costa Rica was an amazing country to visit, definitely highly recommended for the adventurous, the animal lovers, and those that simply like a good variety!
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Description: A 16 day vacation in Costa Rica! Joined a GAP Adventures tour and 14 other people, including Lisa, as we toured around the country.
Location: Costa Rica

2 thoughts on “Costa Rica – April 2011

  1. LOVED seeing all of your pics! Looked like you all had a wonderful time. My boyfriend and I will be leaving September 5th to take the same 16-day GAP tour in Costa Rica. Can you tell us which hotels you stayed at? Did you find that you had enough time to enjoy the areas vs. the travel time it took to get to each?

  2. Sure thing Karyn, I’ll do my best to remember:

    San Jose – Hotel Rincon de San Jose
    Puerto Viejo – Bungalows Escape Caribeno (Garden Side)
    Tortuguero – La Baula Lodge
    Rara Avis – 5* Accomodations (actually, it’s a no-electricity-or-hot-water type rustic lodge. It’s fun though 🙂 )
    La Fortuna – Hotel Cabanitas
    Monteverde – Hotel Los Cipreses
    Quepos – ??? – This place was an absolute crappy hole of a place, the only bad one we had. I can’t remember the name. We were supposed to be Hotel Babaloo Inn I think, but it was booked up. We lost out big time, their replacement sucked.
    Overall though, besides the place in Quepos, my friend and I were happy with the accomodations. For the most part clean, and we had hot water…in most places. One or two were hit or miss for that. When you have a hot shower, eenjoy it, there might not be another the next day!

    As for time available – I felt we had enough time to enjoy things. Some travel days were indeed very long – especially Tortuguero to Rara Avis, which took the entire day and we arrived in the dark, but we still had plenty of time in the towns I thought. La Fortuna you could easily spend a week at anyways, but you do get an extra day there compared to the rest. We got lots of activities in! The trip all together was great – one thing I suggest, get away from the ‘authentic’ Costa Rican restaurants when you can! You’ll be tired of beans and rice by the 3rd day. Costa Rican food really is quite bland. The slightly fancier, ‘touristy’ type restaurants only cost a few dollars more and had GREAT food. We didn’t learn this until Monteverde though. Our guide Deinor always had great suggestions for places to eat though, he never steered us wrong.

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