Just Back From….Costa Rica With Carrie GallagherCarrie Gallagher - Travel Expert
Our Real Latin America Expert
Carrie Gallagher - Travel Expert
A former JLA tour leader, Carrie brings a wealth of on-the-ground experience to our London-based Tailor-made and Group Tours department.
Have you been to Costa Rica before?
Yes, I used to be a Journey Latin America tour leader so I have led tours through Costa Rica and have also visited independently, but this time I also got to visit some new places which was amazing.
What was your overall impression?
I was struck by how green it was, how helpful and friendly the people were and the sheer quantity of wildlife you see. Also it’s a very clean country, you get the impression that people really appreciate what they have and want to take good care of it.
Costa Rica is famous for being a leading country in protecting its natural resources. Did you see any evidence of this?
Yes, in fact while I was there it won the Protect and Restore Nature Earthshot Prize award, which the Costa Ricans were all very proud of! More than one-quarter of Costa Rica is protected national parks, reserves or wildlife refuges and it shows – the country is so green and lush. Hotels are very switched on in terms of solar panel use or even hydro in some places, some had incorporated recycled plastic in construction materials, and many had their own organic herb or vegetable gardens with a noticeable movement towards the sustainable farm-to-fork concept. For a small Central American country, it really is a world leader in conservation.
How did you get there?
I flew with Iberia via Madrid. I had to complete an online ‘Travel Health’ form to transit through Spain which generates a QR code you have to show at the airport, but it was all very straightforward. From December, direct flights with BA will resume which will make it even easier.
Did you need a Covid 19 test to enter Costa Rica? Or any other formalities?
No test is required but you need to have proof of vaccination status, or if unvaccinated you need an insurance policy that covers medical expenses including covid-19 up to the value of $50,000. There is a form you complete online within 72 hours of arriving into the country which asks for proof of either of the above and generates a QR code which you then show on entry.
Where did you visit?
I visited the capital San José, Monteverde in the cloud forest, the Nicoya Peninsula and Tortuga island which had lovely beaches. Then I went back to San José and flew onto Tortuguero which was an area I was discovering for the first time, then finally down to the Osa Peninsula and Golfito where I got used to the sound of monkeys waking me up.
What were the highlights?
As expected, there were lots of highlights, but ziplining in the cloud forest in Monteverde was great fun, the daytrip to Tortuga island was just beautiful, seeing a female sloth with a newborn baby on her back in Tortuguero was very special, and just the sheer luxury of staying at El Remanso lodge in Osa and Playa Cativo Lodge in Golfito. I should probably also mention the fabulous food, but then I’d never end!
Most memorable moment?
I managed to catch the end of the turtle nesting season in Tortuguero and was lucky enough to see a female turtle laying her eggs at night, as well as turtle hatchlings climbing out of their nest and making a dash to the sea during the day. An unforgettable and very humbling experience.
Best time to go / any packing tips?
Costa Rica is one of those topsy-turvy countries where if the Caribbean side is wet, the Pacific is dry and vice versa, so there is never a perfect time to go, it more depends on what you want to see and do. I’m very happy I was in Tortuguero during the nesting season (July – Oct) but I also saw plenty of wildlife other than just turtles, so it’s a year round destination not least for the charming lodges and great food. The Pacific side was quite wet when I was there, but it tended to be afternoon downpours, so it didn’t really put a stop to anything and again there was no shortage of beautiful beaches, wildlife and things to do. In terms of packing, I largely wore shorts and sandals or long sleeves tops and trousers for morning or evening excursions. It was hot everywhere I went, the only place where you might need a layer for the evening is the cloud forest. It’s worth taking a few different face masks so you can change them regularly – the hotels all have them too. Don’t forget you can do laundry in the hotels, so you can travel light and plan a wash along the way.
What was daily life like? (any local rules, facial coverings and social distancing?)
I was immediately impressed by the protocols on arrival. For example, bags would be sprayed with a disinfectant before being loaded into transport and hotels, every hotel has a mandatory handwashing station at the entrance, hand sanitiser and masks are obligatory and some hotels and transport providers even take your temperature on entry. Tourists are required to wear masks in common areas and transport (although if travelling in a ‘bubble’ or family group this isn’t necessary). Some hotels that are open air don’t require you to wear masks at all, although all staff are required to wear masks at all times to protect guests and clients. Given the heat and humidity in some places, it’s quite a sacrifice they are making to keep us safe. At no stage did I feel in any danger of catching Covid.
Were national parks / hotels / restaurants / bars operating normally?
Yes, absolutely everything is open as usual. From January 8, there is talk of introducing a Covid pass for vaccinated visitors and you’ll be asked to show a QR code to enter bars, restaurants, museums etc, similar to the systems in place in many European countries.
Any advice for travellers thinking of heading out soon?
Please just go for it, the online forms are all very simple. Not only do most of us need a holiday after 18 months of restricted travel, spare a thought too for the tourism and related industries in the countries that you are visiting. I heard many heart-breaking stories of hotel staff forced to work in tough conditions on coffee or banana plantations to make ends meet during the pandemic and everyone has really struggled, so contributing to the reactivation of tourism is a huge help.
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