Costa Rica - Legend - Our Trip
It was mid January and we flew with 4 friends for a 10 day visit to the natural wonders of Costa Rica.  This was our first trip with Caravan Tours and hopefully the first of many with them.

Our flight was non-stop to San Jose on Jet Blue from Orlando. This was a nice find at less than $400 round trip.  We traveled more than 800 miles on a luxury tour bus throughout Costa Rica visiting the mountains, volcanoes, rain forest and rivers to observe exotic birds and wildlife.  Our trip took us to resorts on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

We stayed in each resort for 2 days. This was a nice diversion from the usual one night pack n go trip.

                                                                      Lynn, our guide Anita Monge and Dave.

First day. Our hotel was the Aurola Holiday Inn in San Jose. The hotel was a nice surprise. A 5 star hotel! We were told by friends who had taken this trip to expect this kind of accommodations. We arrived in the early afternoon and had a light lunch in the hotel's restaurant. Delightful.  We had a 6:00 PM meeting with Anita, our tour director for this trip. We would be spending our first two nights in this hotel. 

                          Aurola Holiday Inn, San Jose

Sunday morning was an early start. We left the hotel at 7:30 AM.  However, before leaving I made some photos in the beautiful square which was right in front of our hotel.  We traveled for more than an hour toward the mountains surrounding San Jose. Destination. The Poas Volcano.  We hiked the short trail to the rim, but it was cloud covered. We heard that the volcano is only viewed about 30% of the time. We weren't in the 30%!  The trail was beautiful though...abundant with many dew dropped flower blossoms. 

Poas Volcano Crater – in Fog

 After lunch in the plains of San Jose at a nice small local restaurant we traveled another hour to the Britt Coffee farm for a humorous talk and walk through the coffee plantation.

We returned to the hotel and a walk to the car free street and some browsing.  We were amazed how many people were milling about, just enjoying life late on a Sunday afternoon.  As they say in Costa Rica "pura vidal"

On Monday we began our short trip across the country to Limon province and the Tortuguero Canal.  Shortly outside of San Jose we began driving into Tortuguero National Park.  Our 1st stop was a Butterfly Farm and for lunch.  I spent approximately an hour with my Nikon 105m macro lens trying to get some crisp in-focus butterfly photos.  The blue morphs were most difficult as they flitted about from flower to flower seldom resting.  About 1 1/2 hours later we were boarding our boat for a one hour trip to Pachiro Lodge at Pavano.  Our group was huge but one boat took all of us to our lodge. The Rio Suelo was swollen from all the rain.  Along the way we spotted some birds that we also have in Florida (little blue heron, anhinga and white heron). We also spotted a toucan, but it was too distant and in bad light for a photo.

Tuesday was a nice day on the water.  We started out with a 2 hour morning search for wildlife on the Tortuguero Canal.  Our photographic prey today included a two toed sloth, caimans, snowy egrets, little blue herons, turtles, a boa constrictor and a couple of tiger herons.  The tiger herons were new to me.  So many of the other species are common in Florida.  We returned to the Pachira Lodge before being ferried across the river for a visit to the village of Tortuguero. It is a tiny town with a grocery store, a Catholic church and a few small shops.  I had fun photographing Costa Rican moms with small children and local dogs.  Then a return to our lodge for lunch and a swim before our 3:30 PM boat ride.  More birds, iguanas and monkeys to photograph. This trip was just 11/2 hours long followed by some Caribbean entertainment and dinner. 

Wednesday...Boy how time flies when you are having fun. Today was a driving day.  Just a stop for lunch and a visit to a pineapple plantation (organic) before continuing to our lodging, Arenal Springs Resort, at the base of the Arenal Volcano.  What a site. This is the most conical volcano that I have ever seen.  It was clear almost to the top.  I got some photos using some lush Costa Rican flowers in the foreground.  Our lodge is really wonderful.  It felt more like a residential neighborhood than a hotel.  Wildlife and lush flowering plants were right outside the door.  Lynn was spooked by a juvenile armadillo which surprised us right next to the front door of our room.  After we got settled here we took a taxi into the small town of La Fortuna for shopping before returning to the hotel for dinner and socializing with friends.  Anita, our tour director said that there will be some wildlife opportunities right outside of our door so. I was prepared with my photo equipment.

Thursday... I got up early to photograph a few birds near the lodge.  I did my bird photography on this trip with my 70-200mm lens with a 1.7 teleconverter and a monopod. Once again we departed fairly early from our hotel.  On this day our plan was to take another boat trip on the River Frio that borders Nicaragua in the north of Costa Rica,  On this trip we saw a couple of caimans, some birds including kingfishers and a variety of herons.  Of course we saw several different species of monkeys including spider monkeys and capuchins.  The primates here are quite difficult to photograph due to their elusive habits of grazing in the top of very tall trees and their very dark coloration.
Arenal Springs Resort.  Our cabin.

Friday. I was up early this morning to photograph hummingbirds near the lodge.  I think that I got a couple of keepers.  This was a traveling day to Guanacaste in the flatlands on the Pacific coast.  Shortly after leaving the hotel we stopped for a 2 1/2 mile hike over 6 suspension bridges.  We stopped along the walk to take pictures of lizards and several Costa Rican raccoons (coatis (sp).  Along the last bridge we had an excellent view of the Arenal Volcano.  We were so fortunate on this trip with great weather.  The volcano has been clear all of the way to the top during most of our visit.  From what we have learned this is not normal.  I have many images of the volcano to compare for my final prints, web and slide show candidates. We stopped in the town of Liberia for some last minute supplies before taking a terrible road west to the J. W. Marriott Guanacaste, our lodge for the next 2 nights. The road reminded me of the horrible road that we took to the Sambura Lodge in Kenya a few years ago which was so bad that we drove off of the road to avoid the potholes! Every hotel seems to best the previous lodge on this trip.  This J.W. Marrott Guanacaste is an open concept Hawaiian style lodge.  Our room was immense with all of the luxury amenities. Large tub with separate shower, Beautiful dark hardwood cabinets with a flat screen TV. Dinner was the usual buffet which always includes beans, rice and some kind of pasta.

                                                                        J.W. Marriott Guanacaste

Saturday. A really relaxing day.  We took a short hike along some dry forest area and then walked along the Pacific Ocean.  The coastline here is rocky, but really quite naturally beautiful. Later we spent several hours enjoying the huge J. W. Marriott Guanacaste infinity pool.  Late in the afternoon I went out to try my photographic luck with birds.  I didn’t find much more than a few flycatchers.  I spotted a couple of caracara, but they were too fast for me to get a focus on them.  At 5:15 I returned to the beach to get a few sunset photos. 

Sunday. This was our final tour day in Costa Rica.  Like on many trips we were feeling quite nostalgic. Not really ready to return home.  Our drive back to San Jose would be a long one.  We left the beautiful J.W. Marriott Hotel Guanacaste at about 7:30 AM and would not arrive at the Aurola Hotel until 4:30 PM.  However, along the way we had one final adventure. A nature cruise along the Tarcoles River. This stop in west central Costa Rica was after about 6 hours on our bus along the Pan American Highway. The big attraction on the Tarcoles River is crocodiles.  They were everywhere both large and tiny.  One of the highlights was when the local guide fed chicken to a very large 10 foot croc.  Not recommended incidentally! There were quite a few species of birds along the river as well as some howler monkeys high in the trees.  After arriving at the hotel we were treated to some Costa Rican dancing by a talented young couple people from San Jose and an elegant dinner on the 17th floor of the Aurola.

Monday. We flew home to Florida on our 3 hour non-stop flight from San Jose to Orlando. We had a 2 hour drive back home to Safety Harbor.  This flight was a real bargain at under $400 per person. Parking near the Orlando Airport was reasonable at under $10 per day, certainly better than renting a vehicle each way. 

Here are a few observations.  This was our 1st trip with Caravan Tours. Our guide, Anita Monge was extraordinary. Her English was excellent.  She was totally knowledgeable about all of the sites that we visited and the wildlife that we viewed.  She had a great sense of humor. She always had a great smile and was wildly enthusiastic about her job. Costa Rican guides must be licensed for the country.  They also must have permits for the sites that are visited or a local guide must be used. On our many trips throughout the world we have been fortunate to always have excellent guides.  Anita ranks right there in the top 5 percent. 

Accommodations were also 5 stars.  It would be difficult to explain which was the best hotel since all of them served a different travel purpose.  The San Jose hotel, The Aurola  Holiday Inn, is a beautiful, large lodge in the center of San Jose that works great as an arrival and departure hotel. The staff is efficient and hotel security is good.

In Tortuguero we were transported to the Pachira Lodge by boat. The accommodations here are similar to the rustic lodges that we have stayed at in the bush in Africa.  Our suite was in a pod of 4 small wooden units on a single level reached by a wooden boardwalk.  Each room had two beds a small, but adequate bathroom.  This was the only hotel that had no air conditioning or hair dryers. Each room had a ceiling fan.  Staying here was an enjoyable experience.

The Arenal Springs Resort was beautiful. Every room had a fabulous view of the active Arenal Volcano.  This resort seemed like a neighborhood with its modern single level duplexes.  Again each unit was connected to just one other room.  Subtropical plantings surrounded the lodge which made for an excellent spot for bird photography.  There were hummingbirds here and we spotted a pair of toucans as well.  Our visit at the Arenal Springs Resort was perfect since we were able to view and photograph the volcano for most of our time here.

Finally, the J.W. Marriott Guanacaste was over-the-top.  It is a luxurious resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Rooms are huge with a separate bathtub and shower.  Beds are exceptional as is the Marriott's style.  Every amenity is available here including several fine dining restaurants and a huge infinity swimming pool that covers most of the property.  The stay here was a relaxing stop for resting and enjoying the pool.

Here are a few of my comments regarding food on this trip.  Most meals were buffets. All included rice and beans of different types.  We got a great chance to enjoy some of Costa Rica's tropical juices.  I particularly liked the fresh pineapple and slices of plantains that were available at every meal.  The buffets included beef, chicken and fish.  We found the beef to be tough so we avoided beef except for the final night when we ordered filet mignon. On the last night we were served an elegant meal on the 17th floor of the Holiday Inn with a magnificent view of San Jose.  This was Lynn’s favorite meal.

This was billed as an all inclusive tour.  One could take this 10 day trip and leave Costa Rica without spending any cash except for tips to the driver and tour director!  Our cash expenditures were only for souvenirs and drinks in the bar.

Our group was large...46 folks on a luxurious Isuzu bus. We wondered how the guide could deal with all of these people.    Anita was truly amazing.  We never felt like we were crowded from seeing and photographing sights.  We had plenty of time at all of the spots that we visited.

If you would like to travel to Costa Rica with Caravan Tours, Lynn and I will be happy to assist you in booking a trip.  Just e-mail or call Lynn at 727-420-0424.

Go to Costa Rica for the great nature sighting, beautiful resorts and wonderful Costa Rican hospitality. We will go back. Pura Vida!  Life is good in Costa Rica. 

Dave Hutchinson 
E-mail: [email protected]

Copyright - Dave Hutchinson