With travel virtually at a standstill right now, we thought we’d take a look back at some of our own favourite holiday destinations. First up is Cathy.
Travelling around Costa Rica
I work behind the scenes at Ultimate Destinations, looking after marketing, the website and social media. But am still very much a travel fan and love to explore new places.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have travelled to some beautiful parts of the world; the trips which stand out for me are travelling around Costa Rica and heading off on safari in Tanzania (more about this another time). This blog is a reminiscence of Costa Rica.
We travelled to Costa Rica twenty years ago BC (before children), and it was my first long-haul adventure. My partner Rick had done far more long-distance travelling than I, so knew the ropes.
It was a long flight from London Heathrow to San José, the capital of Costa Rica, broken up by a short layover at Houston. San José itself was, for me, unremarkable, the highlight of our overnight stay being the local live snake museum! But once we headed out of the city, this trip with packed with nature, beautiful scenery and was so different.
We travelled with Journey Latin America on a private tour with our own driver, staying lodges and hotels along the way. The itinerary covered Monteverde (cloud forest), Arenal (active volcano), Tortuguero (jungle) and some beach time on the Pacific Coast.
We both love nature and being outdoors, so we found every stop on the trip fascinating.
Monteverde was our first stop and my first visit to a native cloud forest. It was green, lush and humid. Birdlife was in abundance, and on our hikes, we spotted white-nosed coati, white-faced capuchin monkeys, olingos, bats and a wealth of hummingbirds. You could hear howler monkeys with their raucous call.
Treetop suspension bridges took you high up into the canopy of the forest, offering great views. I rode, western-style, down into a valley on horseback, watching the capuchin monkeys jump from tree to tree in front of us; Rick did a ropes course which took him up to the canopy of the cloud forest where there were beautiful views.
It was the perfect place to start our trip – quiet, colourful and timeless. While there, we stayed at Monteverde Lodge and Gardens, just 15 minutes drive from Monteverde’s cloud forest reserves.
From Monteverde, we travelled into the northern lowlands of the country, to Arenal, which is Costa Rica’s most active volcano. The volcano rears up, imposing its presence on the area and at night you can hear and see it rumbling away. Since we visited, the volcano has fallen silent and is now in a “resting phase,” although that could change within a matter of months or years.
While we were at Arenal, we trekked on horseback to La Fortuna Waterfall for a swim. And night hiked up the volcano, which was perhaps a trip not particularly high on the health and safety front! You could see streams of lava snaking down the volcano’s slopes. We stayed at Volcano Lodge, tucked away at the base of the mountain. Time slowed down here. I remember being fascinated by the leaf cutter ants steadily working away in their ant army on their daily leaf chopping tasks.
From Arenal, we flew to Tortuguero in a small eight-seater plane – the smallest aircraft I’d ever flown on. From the tiny airstrip, from there we travelled to a jungle lodge accessible only by boat. It bordered a private stretch of beach on the Caribbean Sea, surrounded by jungle.
For me, this place was amazing. We saw turtle nests on the beach – a place where loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback turtles return to year on year to lay their eggs. The marks of the hatchlings making their first journey across the sand to the sea looked like mini motorbike tracks. The sense of timelessness here was so powerful.
Exploring the jungle with a guide, we spotted birds and monkeys galore along with tiny red Blue Jean poison dart frogs. A night-time boat trip through jungle water trails was dark but far from quiet, with a chorus of wildlife. Our torches lit up eyes in the trees and on the banks of the river, that watched us as we chugged along.
Our accommodation was simple and comfortable and I loved chilling out in the hammock outside our room! Food was traditional and filling – rice, eggs, black beans, plantain.
Manuel Antonio National Park
From Tortuguero, we drove to the Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific Coast, to spend a few nights of downtime in a clifftop hotel. The beaches were beautiful with substantial Pacific rollers crashing in. Our room, complete with indoor hammock, looked out into jungle and monkeys swung past, screeching away. And there was an infinity pool overlooking both rainforest and beach which played the backdrop to spectacular sunsets.
We kayaked in the early morning down the Damas Island Estuary to the coast, watching the wildlife along the way. There were crocodiles and vultures on the banks, and scuttling red crabs on roots on mangrove swamps. We spotted three-toed sloths and monkeys in the trees and lots of beautiful birdlife. Magical. Everything about visiting Costa Rica was somehow captured in this two-hour paddle.
We headed into the town of Quepos one evening for a meal, the size of which still sticks in my mind. It was a Tex-Mex restaurant, and we had no idea of portion size, which proved to be enormous. We could have just ordered one meal between us. The waitress said to us when we had finished eating – “you don’t eat much, do you?”.
We flew back to San José from Manuel Antonio again on a small plane, to pick up a commercial flight back to the UK.
Visiting Costa Rica, for me, opened the pandora’s box of travel and this country’s natural highlights was just magical. If you love wildlife, have an interest in the natural world and like to explore, visiting Costa Rica is for you.
Journey Latin America organised our trip faultlessly and Ultimate Destinations also works with Latin Routes, Kuoni and other top-rated tour operators to arrange similar trips. Ask us for details.
We loved visiting Costa Rica and would love to return, this time taking the boys. They are now old enough for the long flight and to appreciate this wonderful country themselves. We might mix it with a stopover in North America or the Caribbean to break it up the travel time. One to think about while we’re all confined to barracks!