Our Flawless Costa Rican Vacation - Feb 26 - Mar 18, 2021
Diego was amazing! We told him who we were (old but not dead) and what we wanted (more forest than beach) and he listened. His plan was a 21-day drive and stay adventure that was perfect for us. Going on a great adventure means (safely) getting out of your comfort zone – anxiety without harm. Some of the roads were narrow, steep, and twisty, but traveled without incident and minimal held breaths. The fifteen-minute walk alone through the dark forest to our Treehouse was full of noises and imagination but also the satisfaction of finding some of the critters we had been shown on our guided night walk. Sure, the provided google map route took us on a 3k “short cut” on a one-lane stone road through a dairy herd, but it came out at
the right place and when was the last time you had cow breath in your window.
The trip was not all adventure, there was a lot of learning. We went on tours and saw frogs, snakes, butterflies, frogs, monkeys, sloths, frogs, dolphins, cacao plants, frogs, iguanas, coffee plants, frogs, spiders, one giant crocodile and heard the stories of each. Having a guide is a must. We could have traveled the same paths and we would not have seen a thing. The guides Diego found were terrific at explaining the fauna and flora and being patient while we took five minutes to see what they were pointing at. Sloths were really hard to see. I would find it, take my eyes off it, and never find it again. Maybe the guides have some secret power to “show” us what we want to see, even if it is not there. But then they take a picture of it – and send us the picture. Superb!
Finally, there were the accommodations that ranged from a “primitive” (not) treehouse with a king-size bed and full bath to truly luxurious room with a private hot tub. Of all the places we stayed my best memories were the showers. One shower had glass walls looking out into the forest canopy, one had two showers, one inside and one in an outside garden, and another shower had a glass wall viewing the forest and Avenal volcano.
Throughout our visit we were impressed with the sanitation measures in place at businesses and in the parks regarding COVID. Always someone at the entrance to make sure everyone has a face covering, and they wash their hands - at businesses both large and small.
Diego put all of that together for us and took the time to check in with us throughout the journey to make sure all was well. This adventure went off without a single glitch. Amazing, I cannot orchestrate my breakfast at home for twenty-one days without something going wrong. We are including a summary of some of the people, places, and things we enjoyed the most.
1 Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel 27-28 Feb
Kenneth and the staff at the hotel answered every question and request to make our 2-night stay hiccup free. Our bungalow was spacious and elegant, with lots of natural light during the day from floor-to-ceiling windows, as well as reading light for evenings. Two spacious showers, one indoor and one an enclosed outdoor shower complete with luscious flowering plants. A gorgeous, roofed deck so we could sit out even when it rained. Everything was supplied.
The open-air restaurant is surrounded by so many lush tropical plants it is like sitting in a garden, and the food. Well, one of us is an omnivore and one a vegetarian and we each had choices that were delicious, with some suggestions by the chef. They had positioned in the “garden” a stand with fresh fruit which attracted the birds so we could photograph them up close!
They arranged a guide, Joseph, to give us a night walk around the property where he explained what we were seeing, and hearing (very reassuring). We got to see colorful frogs and friendly snakes and even footprints in the dirt of something I do not remember the name of. Frosting on the cake was Joseph forwarding us the close-up pictures he took on the tour. He is an accomplished photographer!
2 Tenorio Volcano National Park Tour with Jonier 28 Feb
We were the only two people on this tour so we had the delight of Jonier telling us everything we were seeing and what to look for, the history and uses of the Park, some stories and customs of the area and foods we should be sure to try. He kept a good pace for us and made sure of our footing on some of the slippery or steeper parts, answering all our questions as we went along. He is so personable and knowledgeable it is apparent he enjoys his profession as a licensed guide.
3 Boca Tapada, Maquenque Ecolodge, Tree House 1-2 Mar
What an adventure this was! After driving twenty-five kilometers on a dirt road, we arrived in the Lodge’s parking lot with no hotel in sight. There was a restroom and a phone on the wall which connected us with Reception, who then sent a boat to pick us up (we could see the boat and landing across the river). Once across we walked 10 minutes along a gravel walk with lush Costa Rican “forest” on either side. At Reception we were greeted by Vicki who coordinated our entire stay beautifully and arranged for one of the staff to carry our suitcase up the gravel path for another 10-minute walk to our very own treehouse. Forty-eight steps up we found a gorgeous deck looking out over the jungle, and inside a king size bed in an amazingly comfortable room, with complete bath, including shower with windows on two sides looking out over the jungle.
The grounds are lushly forested with a beautiful “lagoon” complete with caiman whose eyes shine in the gleam of nighttime flashlights. The open-air restaurant serves
delicious fare for both the guests, and the birds who flock to a short platform covered with fresh fruits which attract them, making birding an up-close-and-personal experience.
During our two-night stay we took two tours, both with our excellent guide Jose. On the night walk he led us around the property where he pointed out the caiman’s shining eyes, plus colorful frogs, friendly snakes, and night-blooming flowers.
On our daytime boat tour up the river to the Nicaraguan border Jose pointed out iguana, crocodile, many types of birds, old homesteads along the shore, and gave us a snapshot of the history of the area – including the fact that his father made the furniture at the lodge, harvested from a local farm.
4 Tirimbina Lodge and Rainforest Center Chocolate Tour, 4 Mar
What a wonderful tour through the rainforest this was. Because of COVID we were the only two guests on the tour, so we were able to pepper our guide William with all our questions. He told the stories of everything (including the beautiful birds) we were seeing around us, both on the trails and across the hanging bridge that led across a deep ravine. When we reached the cacao plantation, he explained the history of chocolate cultivation and we saw cacao trees and tasted the white, sweet fruits inside the pods. Then there was a demonstration of the numerous steps the indigenous people followed to make chocolate. These same steps are followed today except using machines instead of using hand power. And then, the absolute best part, getting to taste the chocolate at several points in the process, including the so-marvelous, finished product of silky-smooth warm chocolate.
The Tirimbina Reserve is a scientific area, dedicated to studying butterflies, cacao, chocolate, and nutmeg. To preserving and understanding nature and its processes.
5 Pierella Butterfly Farm & Ecological Garden Tour, 5 Mar
From a 20x20 M plot of bare land in 1995 to the lush rainforest it is today, William and Krystal have grown a thriving butterfly operation and the tour they gave us was totally eye opening. How could the vegetation grow this lush in such a short time, with such an abundance of varieties of both flora and the beautiful butterflies?! It’s beautiful.
It is obvious this is more than a business to them as their passion for this forest and its residents suffuses all their stories and the excitement they express in their explanations. They are reclaiming the rainforest.
Beyond learning the lifecycle of butterflies and seeing so many varieties in their stages of development, William showed us a sloth, and found for us the rare white bats (tiny little white bundles nesting on the underside of a heliconia leaf). Then Krystal took over and pointed out colorful frogs and birds she located by their calls.
As if the personal tour wasn’t enough, Krystal showed us how chocolate is made, using cacao pods from the trees growing on their land, then fed us a delicious (and bountiful) typical casado lunch.
6 Savegre Hotel Natural Reserve 6-7 Mar
The 9K drive down to the hotel from the paved highway got our attention. Suffice to say the road is narrow, steep, and twisting (and even paved in sections) but totally manageable. The hotel and grounds are superb, from reception to the restaurant, trails, rooms (we had a junior suite), to the spa where I received a blissful massage. The entire staff made sure our 2-night stay put smiles on our faces.
In early March when we were there it got cool (40’s F) at night so the blankets on the beds were most welcome. And my jacket came in handy for my 0530 Quetzal Birdwatching tour when it was still dark.
The tour itself was an astounding success! My guide (Melvin I believe) drove us up the road a short distance, parked, got out his scope, heard a Quetzal calling and immediately sighted the colorful male bird in a nearby tree. We watched it long enough for M to take a video of it on my camera, through his scope, giving me both visual and audio. It then flew to another close-by tree where a female was perched and whose picture we also got, through his scope. What a morning! And what a considerate guide to get those photos for me!
Our room was very spacious and comfortable with lots of windows for natural light, bedside lighting for reading, and an elegant bathroom with candles beside the tub.
As a vegetarian I appreciated the staff and kitchen working with me on menu choices while my omnivore husband enjoyed the entire menu happily. The fresh fruit plate at breakfast was something to look forward to as well.
7 Cuna del Angel Hotel - Uvita 8-9 Mar
This is a lovely hotel, just north of Uvita town and quite near the beach, with beautiful grounds immaculately kept. The hotel restaurant is entirely gluten free and its open sides provide beautiful views of the lush forest and the Pacific Ocean. I also received a particularly excellent facial from Yolanda in their spa. The air conditioning was appreciated in this humid part of Costa Rica.
During our 2-night stay there we visited the nearby beach community of Dominical which we really enjoyed. So laid back – complete with natural foods grocery (Mama Toucans), a café with veg and vegan options and free wi-fi, and many vendors along the sandy beach drive (hippie comes to mind) shaded by palm trees blowing in the warm breezes. We had a good lunch at Phat Noodle too.
8 Bahia Aventuras 9 Mar
The crew from Bahia Aventuras led us on a snorkel tour in the warm waters of the Marino Ballena National Park. We were so impressed with their excellent equipment and the care they took to make sure we were at ease every step of the way, and to make sure we saw a variety of marine life. Our companion boat stayed near us the entire time and was our café on the water during our trip back to shore. It was an excursion I highly recommend.
9 Manuel Antonio National Park 11 March
Andray was our excellent guide for the morning through this park - the guy who was able to show us sloths in the trees - and any guide who can make it possible for mere mortals to discern a sloth high up in a tree, surrounded by leaves and branches, is a gem by any standard. All the way through the park he told us the history of the area, the natural habits of the creatures living in the park, and on to the beaches which are beautiful and situated in small coves where swimming is a treat! We highly recommend both Andray and this park as well worth it.
10 Amor Arenal Hotel 14-16 Mar
From the moment we arrived at Reception to the moment we drove away, the entire staff of this luxurious rainforest lodge made sure our 3-night stay was exceptionally enjoyable. The grounds, our “cabin”, the restaurant, pools, everything, put big smiles on our faces. Breathtaking was the jolt I felt when we entered our cabin and I saw the woods – in floor, walls, ceiling – stunning, especially when enhanced by the spacious windows and the lush greenery outside those windows. Simple, elegant, and totally fitting in the rainforest setting. Spacious enough in our room in fact, to use the yoga equipment supplied in the closet! So thoughtful.
The pools were refreshingly salt water and there was both sun and shade around them for enjoying them in any temperature. The open-air restaurant was its own tropical garden, complete with delicious food and beverages at every meal. We highly recommend this lodging to anyone staying in Costa Rica.
11 Organico Fortuna Restaurant 15-16 Mar
So good we went twice in two days! I’m vegan and was overjoyed to find an entire selection of vegan dishes and drinks. Plus, my omnivore partner got a delicious fish dish and, he thought, the best meal of our 21-day stay in CR. The service both visits was so friendly and helpful in describing the dishes it was simply hard to limit what we ordered!
The setting is relaxing with light, bright surroundings, and comfortable chairs. A definite recommendation to visit and dine.