Rainforests, volcanoes and tropical beaches - Louise Crawford from our Howard Street Belfast branch revels in nature as she visits Costa Rica as guest of Trafalgar Tours.
The phrase ‘pura vida’ is everywhere in Costa Rica. Literally translates it means ‘simple’ or ‘pure’ life, but it is used by the locals to say both hello and goodbye, and the country’s fast-emerging tourism industry uses the phrase to encapsulate the easy-going, in-tune-with-nature culture of this wonderful country.
In Costa Rica there is a determination to ensure that the growth of tourism is truly sustainable, encouraging visitors to immerse themselves in a gloriously verdant country which, famously, hosts five per cent of the world’s biodiversity.
Costa Rica is a rugged, rainforested Central American country with coastlines on both the Caribbean and Pacific. Roughly a quarter of its area is made up of protected jungle, teeming with the sort of wildlife most of us only see on television documentaries.
No surprise that, in a country so dense with rainforest, rain can be an issue. If you are planning an adventure visit to Costa Rica it’s worth remembering that the dry season runs from December to April, with a wetter season from May to November when mornings tend to be sunny, with rain in afternoon and evening.
I travelled with BA from London Gatwick direct to the capital of San Jose, an 11 hour flight. Getting the body clocks in synch was a bit of an issue with a 7 hour time difference and an itinerary which had a fairly relentless focus on early morning starts … essential if you want to make the most of a visit and tackle the often long and occasionally difficult distances between destinations.
Our first destination was the spectacular Tortuguero National Park, stopping to enjoy a casual lunch at a butterfly farm where we got waylaid for a time on a sloth hunt. Only in Costa Rica, eh?
The small town of Tortuguero is only accessible via a one hour boat journey or by small plane. We opted for boat, prolonging the trip with countless fascinating detours to see some incredible wildlife along the way. Tortuguero means ‘turtle catcher’ and is very famous for its nesting sea turtles, although we missed the season.
We stayed at Laguna Lodge which, although a tad basic in its amenities, more than makes up for that with its amazing rainforest location. Our alarm clock on our first morning there was provided by squealing howler monkeys and the dramatic sound of tropical rainstorm. As we headed out for some wildlife viewing around the lagoon, the sunshine emerged in all its glory and we were fortunate to see a vast range of wildlife, from red-eyed frogs and chattering moneys to slow-moving crocodiles and stunningly plumaged birds. By 10am it felt like we had been up all day and, with temperatures topping 25 ℃, we were more than ready to head back to the hotel to cool off in the pool, before talking a leisurely stroll around the local town of Tortuguero to experience the local culture, meet some of the locals and buy some gifts.
Two nights in the rainforest had really whetted my appetite for more, but further adventure lay ahead as we set off on a 5 hour journey to the Arenal Vulcano. It’s a long way by coach, but the route is packed with so much to see and admire that the time flies by and we had plenty of stops to enjoy a tour of a banana plantation, get some refreshments at village fruit stalls at the side of the roads and visit the home of a local family to see at close quarters what life is like on a palm plantation.
We arrived the 4* Arenal Paraiso hotel overlooking the Arenal Vulcano in the middle of a rainstorm, so we had to take that ‘overlooking’ on trust! That night the Costa Rica national football team was playing Tobago and we headed into the local town of La Fortuna to watch the match on tv alongside the locals – amazing craic and a genuine sense of welcome!
The following day we had an early start for a tough hike up the volcano before going to the national park to see the famous hanging bridges which allow you to talk through the jungle canopy … visions of ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!’ That afternoon we got to enjoy the thermal springs warmed by water travelling down from the volcano. The hotel has made the most of this wonderful asset and features seven small pools, leading into a larger pool with its own swim-up bar. Perfect relaxation after an exhausting, but hugely rewarding day! A beautiful dinner and a good night’s sleep set us up for the last part of our trip, this time to the Pacific coastline.
We actually zip-wired into our next hotel, the fabulous 5* Parador Resort & Spa in Manuel Antonio. What can I say – it had to be done and I felt like a modern day Jane from a Tarzan movie! Great fun and an experience to remember!
The hotel itself was something to remember too, from the welcome cocktail and beautiful rooms with inspiring balcony views to superb spa and gym facilities. This would be a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime destination choice for honeymooners of those wanting to celebrate a romantic anniversary.
A twenty minute stroll took us to the lovely beach which is part of the Manuel Antonio national park, a wonderful spot in which to unwind and reflect on a holiday that was quite unlike anything I personally had ever experienced. Ours was very much a ‘taster’ visit, but I have returned eager to find out more about this wonderful country and I fully intend to return there at some stage.
Trafalgar Tours has a range of great options in Costa Rica (and, indeed worldwide). The company offers holidays which focus on delivering unusual, memorable experiences … and you’ll find those in plenty as you step into the astonishing natural environment of Costa Rica. Phone me to find our more and I will be delighted to share new-found enthusiasm for rainforests!