Just back from… Costa Rica with SallySally Dodge - Travel Expert
How did you get there?
I flew from London Heathrow with Air France via Paris. I was fortunate enough to fly in Premium Economy and I would say that the extra space and leg room is well worth the upgrade.
Whereabouts did you go?
The trip began in San José staying just outside the city on a coffee plantation. I then travelled to the wild rapids of the Pacuare River, the lush jungle of the Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast, the cloud forest region of Monteverde, the wild Osa Peninsula and then back north to Arenal with its volcanos and hot springs.
Had you been before?
No, this was my first time.
Which was your favourite...
Tortuguero – it was a fascinating place which combined a variety of landscapes and experiences with a connection with people, history and culture. The village and lodges, only accessible by boat, sit within a labyrinth of water channels. Cloaked in lush rainforest, these are teeming with birds, monkeys, sloths, lizards, bats and much more.
The whole area is also sat on the wild Caribbean coast so you can be kayaking in narrow channels in the morning, watching monkeys swing over your head, then dipping your toes in the sea in the afternoon.
The Pacuare Lodge - nestled deep in the mountains, with the roaring sound of the river, howler monkeys, toucans and wealth of bird life, Pacuare Lodge was like no other place I have been. It felt like it had a real magic of its own - what makes it special is the combination of adventure, luxury and nature. Our arrival and departure to/from the lodge was by white water rafting through incredible scenery – I think this really added to the magic and was certainly a trip highlight.
The Twilight float trip, Arenal – a 2-hour excursion floating down a river, as the name would suggest, at twilight. The whole look and sound of the jungle changed in the time we were floating by, we saw a wealth of different birds, saw a wonderful sunset and also watched the bats come to life – watching them glide down the river is something I had never seen before.
What was your most memorable moment?
There were many memorable moments but I think the Sunset birding tour from the Lapa Rios Lodge, on the Osa Peninsula tops them all. It was pouring with rain but we headed out in a covered safari jeep to see what we could see. Everything was very quiet until suddenly the rain stopped and then the birds came alive.
There were scarlet macaws flying overhead, a yellow-headed caracara eating eggs out of the nest, a small tropical kingbird feeding worms to its chick, kingfishers, ibis and so many more – there was so much activity it was difficult to know where to look first. With the steam rising off of the sodden forest, it was a very memorable experience.
Were there any surprises along the way?
The domestic flights in Costa Rica, all taken in small, single-propeller, 12-seater planes, were all extraordinarily scenic – like an excursion in themselves. As you aren’t flying that high, you are quite close to the scenery – the mountains, river systems, coastlines, and small villages are all easily depictable and it was fascinating to see.
What tips do you have for travellers wanting to visit the same destinations?
Costa Rica is famous for its zip-lining, it is where it was “invented”, and it is an activity that many of our customers enjoy. If you are at all afraid of heights like I am, I would recommend doing it first in a place that has quite short wires that are closer to the ground. Here you can learn the ropes and get a feel for what it’s like before taking on any of the higher, longer zip lines.
It's worth going on these though since they are breath-taking and give you a sense of soaring above the forest – especially when you have the Arenal volcano as your backdrop. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the high lines zip-lining as much if I hadn’t had a practice beforehand!
Is there anything indispensable to pack or prepare for?
If you plan to do any water-based activities – rafting, waterfall rappelling, etc.- I would ensure you bring a sturdy pair of river shoes. You aren’t allowed to wear flip flops so they need to be strapped-on river sandals (or an old pair of trainers). I did quite a few activities like this and was surprised at how much walking was sometimes involved to get to the location where you are doing the activity, so making sure they are comfy to walk in is also important.
Any local snacks, dishes, or drinks that should be sampled?
The Costa Rican “Gallo Pinto” breakfast - (rice, beans, corn tortilla, cheese, and plantain) - it certainly sets you up for a full day of activity. All hotels will also offer a more continental breakfast - fruit, bread, eggs, etc., but they will also offer the Gallo Pinto – it may not be your cup of tea but I would highly recommend trying it at least once.
Any restaurant or bar recommendations?
Selva Rustica in Arenal, up a little track, is set back from the main street area of restaurants but it is worth the little extra time it takes to get here. There was a varied selection of local food and craft beers, and all set in a rustic, ranch-like open restaurant.
Sum up your trip in a sentence.
A wonderful combination of wildlife, soft adventure, lovely lodges, delicious food, and varied scenery, all wrapped up with consistently friendly and positive people.
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