First Impressions of Costa Rica
As British Airways launch new direct flights from London, Sarah Frankish travels to one of the holiday industry's most exciting destinations, Costa Rica, and shares her first impressions of this wildlife-filled, eco-friendly and adventure-loving country.
I'm just back from two weeks in Costa Rica and loved every minute of my trip. If you adore lush, beautiful scenery and the bountiful wildlife that lives within it, this is an inspirational destination, especially given the country’s determination to protect its natural heritage through eco-conscious development. The infrastructure is good which makes it easy to visit many of the national parks, and if you want to really get away from it all, the extra effort to reach the Corcovada Peninsula is well worth it. I found the Costa Ricans to be so welcoming and friendly, which really helped to make this a very special holiday. These are just some of the places I visited and the wildlife I spotted along the way.
Upon arrival into San Jose International Airport we were welcomed into this tremendous country by the warm smile of the Costa Ricans, or Ticos, as they call themselves. They are genuinely proud of their slice of paradise, and after spending two weeks travelling around Costa Rica I can understand why. We started our journey like most, in the capital, San Jose. Instead of staying in the city we opted to stay on the outskirts in Santa Barbara de Heredia. After a short 25 minute drive from the airport we arrived at the Finca Rosa Blanca – a wonderful, artistic design property situated on an organic coffee plantation, surrounded by beautiful gardens and unforgettable views of the valley and beyond. It is definitely worth spending a couple of nights here to unwind after a long flight.
Our next destination was Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Coast. The overland transfer from San Jose by road and boat took 3 hours, however the transfer is like a tour in itself. Once you have left the city behind the scenery is stunning. You drive through the Braulio Carrillo National Park before reaching the lowlands of Limon, with hectares of banana plantations. Once you reach Cano Blanco you transfer onto a small boat for the last leg of your scenic transfer through the waterways of Rio Tortuguero. By the time we arrived at Evergreen lodge we had already seen Sloths, Caimans, Herons and Spiders Monkeys. The lodge is situated on the banks of Lake Tortuguero and this idyllic setting makes it the perfect choice -you can relax on your porch in a rocking chair and listen to the surrounding wildlife. You never have to set an alarm clock to wake up in the morning when you can rely on the Mantled Howler Monkey cries at 5am. Their cries can be heard up to 3 miles away, making them the loudest land animal on the planet.
Our 3 day, 2 night programme, included a trip to the local village, a morning walk through the national park, and – the highlight of my trip – a cruise through the canals of Tortuguero National Park . This was undoubtedly the best way to view the scenery and wildlife. If you are travelling to Tortuguero between June-Sep – it’s turtle nesting season! Leaving Tortuguero behind we set off for Corcovado, located on Costa Rica’s remote southern pacific coast. The transfer was a scenic flight with Nature Air to Palma Sur airstrip, then an exhilarating 1 hr 30 m boat ride through mangrove channels, which are home to American Crocodiles.
The Osa Peninsula is situated in the remote southern tip of Costa Rica. With mind-blowing flora, abundant wildlife and deserted beaches, this is a wildlife fanatic’s dream! You are never far from the calls of the Howler Monkeys and the sight of many rare birds, but it’s not just about what you can see on land, the Osa Peninsula is one of the best areas to dive and snorkel in Costa Rica. As part of our 4-day package at the Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge we took a boat to the Isla del Cano and just before reaching the island we were welcomed by a pod of 30 Spotted Pacific Dolphins. These graceful creatures move though the sea so beautifully, every time I encounter them my heart races with excitement. The underwater visibility was excellent – at least fifty meters allowing us to spot two white tip reef sharks, an eagle ray and lots of colourful fish.
Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge
For anyone who is interested in visiting Corcovado National Park, I would recommend a 4 day/3 night package staying at the Casa Corcovado. This heavenly jungle lodge is a must if you love to be off the beaten track with deserted beaches and abundant wildlife as it is the closest lodge to Corcovado National Park. There are trails from the lodge that lead deep inside the primary rainforest that you must visit with a tour guide. The trees are very high, acting as a natural umbrella, which is great if it’s raining, or if you want to stay out of the sun’s strong rays.
Situated 3 hours from San Jose on the Pan Pacific highway is La Fortuna, where one of Costa Rica’s active volcanos lies – Arenal. This massive volcano with its picture perfect conical shape, towers over the country’s largest lake, Laguna de Arenal. Being quite a tourist stop there are lots of activities to do around La Fortuna, we took a guided tour around the beautiful trails at the foothills of Arenal, followed by a bit of R&R at the Tabacon Hot Springs. There is free admission for those staying at the luxurious Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort Lodge.
One of my biggest highlights was the transfer between Arenal and Monteverde by boat, horse back and minibus. After a short cruise across Laguna de Arenal, where you get spectacular views of Arenal, we were met by our cowboy-come-tour guide and introduced to the horses that would be taking us along the scenic lake trails for the next 2 hours. Being a confident rider, ( I have ridden all my life in many different countries) I have experienced a few interesting – and worrying! – horses in my time. But I was very impressed with our guide and the horses’ demeanor.
Monteverde is in the cloud forest and probably the best place to get a glimpse of the Resplendent Quetzal as well as hundreds of different bird species and other wildlife. If you want to experience the thrill and adrenaline of zip-lining above the tree tops on a canopy tour, this is the best place to do it. We stayed at Fonda Vela Hotel, which is a cosy and friendly family run hotel, within close proximity to Monteverde National Park. Being so close to the forest means the gardens are teaming with wildlife. We spotted a Sloth from our balcony and Agutti’s lounging on the lawns. The owner is a Canadian artist and his paintings adorn all the rooms in the hotel – you can even buy one.
On my travels through Costa Rica I feel that I have learnt so much about the biodiversity, flora and fauna of this special place – and the efforts of the Costa Ricans to protect their small fortune. In two weeks I have encountered so much wildlife and more species of bird than I have in my whole life. You can appreciate something as small as Leaf Cutting Ants working together like soldiers to get the leaves back to their nest (maybe Costa Rica does have an army after all!), to the Howler Monkeys swinging in the high trees above in their troops. With over hundreds of different species of orchids and exotics flowers in bloom, this just adds to the beauty of this country.
If you are planning a holiday to Costa Rica it would be great to share my love and passion for this country with you, and put together your perfect itinerary.