Enchanting Costa Rica — Part Two

Volcano with cloud of steam at top
Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

This is the second of two blogs on the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Look at the previous blog for our experience in the rainforest.

In the center of Costa Rica, volcanoes rise up as part of the “ring of fire” on the earth. Our next stop was the Arenal Volcano, one of seven historically active volcanoes in this country. It is located in the center of the Arenal National Park alongside the Arenal Lake Reservoir and a large hydroelectric power station. We stayed at the Magic Mountain Inn, from which we had a great view of the volcano. Our guides told us that the best time for a photo was at 5:45 am when the sun bathed it but before clouds obscured it. Sure enough, we took an excellent picture at that time, and that picture is heading this blog. We did two activities here. Zip line and hot springs. The zip line runs in sections for miles through the forest at canopy height. The view is outstanding and well worth the trip. The hot springs were a welcome respite after several days of sightseeing and activities. We visited Baldi hot springs, one of several establishments in Arenal. Water is heated by the volcano and they have 25 pools of varying temperatures from cool to “ouch.” They even had swim up bars in two of the pools. There is a hotel and spa located here as well. After a relaxing time, we got dressed and had a great supper at Baldi. You can get a day pass, with or without lunch or dinner. There are several other hotel/hot springs/spa complexes in the area. The most famous, Tabacon, is a five star property with 12 pools of varying temperatures, a Grand spa and restaurant.

We left the Arenal area a day earlier than recommended so we missed out on hiking on the slope of the volcano. We had a date with the Pacific Ocean and the Costa Rican beaches. Our ride to the Guanacaste area took about 4 hours through lush countryside up to 240 feet above land. We stayed at the Casa Conde Resort. This is a smaller resort with just 26 units. Our accommodations included a porch, and a view of the swimming pool and the Pacific. Visitors to Costa Rica might be surprised at the beaches They are not raked every day as some are in the US and Caribbean. Rather they are left au natural. This means you will find sandy beaches with driftwood and leaves, etc on the beach. While it may look messier than you usually see at the beach, it is all nature’s debris. You will not see litter, just natural items, as you might find on any isolated beach around the world.
Then to Guanacanaste for two days at casa Conde resort. 26 units. Here you can have a relaxing massage overlooking the pool and beach. We took a catamaran cruise in the pacific and saw an amazing school of dolphins, as well as other species of fish. The end of the day, sunset over the Pacific while on the Catamaran, was just magical.

The best option for an international flight out of Costa Rica when on this itinerary is to fly out of the smaller international airport of Liberia. This is close to the Guanacaste region. Our plane flights required us to drive back to San Jose, which meant almost an all day travel back. The main roads are single lane each way, and if there is an accident, as we encountered on our way back, we had a forty minute delay while that was sorted out. While on the subject of roads, I want to caution you about renting a car in Costa Rica. There are the usual car rental companies (Hertz, Avis, National), but according to Costa Rican law, if you are in an accident, regardless of fault, you cannot leave the country until the accident is legally resolved. Imagine a situation where someone is in the hospital because of an accident where you were driving, and you could not leave until they recovered! This has happened and some unfortunate souls have spent unplanned months in Costa Rica! So arrange all your ground transport to others!

Getting there: The main international airport is San Jose, and the secondary airport is Liberia. Your itinerary will dictate the best airport for you to use. Delta has non stops MSP to Costa Rica at high season. Connecting flights from MSP are offered by Delta, United, Aeromexico, Sun Country, and American.

If you want a unique experience in Costa Rica, call us at 612-332-1100. We’ll put together a vacation you will remember for a lifetime.

Enchanting Costa Rica — Part One

Small boat with guides and tourists on river
River boat at Tortuguero Costa Rica

For 22 years, my parents wintered in Jamaica. And for those 22 years, this became nearly all of my vacations. I saw Jamaica at its best, and also times when it struggled with political demonstrations. We got to know quite a few expats living in Jamaica, and when times got bad, some of them left and went to live in Costa Rica. Over the years Costa Rica has been an attractive place for people to migrate to when there are problems at home. So naturally, I wanted to go visit and see why this place was so attractive to some that they wanted to live out their life there.

Costa Rica had been on my bucket list for years. But it took my purchase of a travel agency to finally get busy and get to Costa Rica. We did this in November of 2013. The visit was two fold. Knock one off my bucket list, and to get to know the people we trust with our clients who visit Costa Rica and Panama. What you might not know is that while we as travel agents put together these fantastic private tours of foreign lands, we rely on the expertise from locals who arrange all of the activities in country. They are the ones we have used for decades and we know they will deliver on all levels. They know the hotels, the roads, the activities. More importantly, they know what the typical traveler is looking for. For those who visit Costa Rica for the first time, they have a 7-9 day excursion that focuses on three main areas of Costa Rica. Since it was our first time, we did the recommended introductory trip.

So our trip started with traveling on Delta to Atlanta and then to San Jose Costa Rica. We overnighted in a typical Costa Rican Inn, called the Casa Confi. It had a layout like a typical Costa Rican Village. Our trip was not without problems. Our MSP-ATL flight was late, causing us to miss our connection and so we got into San Jose at night instead of the afternoon. And the van that picked us up in the morning was involved in a traffic accident with a motor cycle. (Cyclists fault, no one was hurt, very minor damage.) I point this out, because this is one of the reasons why a travel agent is worth it. We know and trust the people who deliver the tours. So this little accident required a new van, and our local guides arranged it rapidly. We had to wait about 40 minutes for a new van and we were on our way again. Oh, and we would not have recommended the tight connection we took via Atlanta or at least advised our clients about the possibility of a missed connection.

After picking some other travelers up, we were off to breakfast and then to the rendezvous point for the boats that took us to the tropical rainforest in Tortuguero. We stayed at the Laguna Lodge in the tropical rainforest. There are no roads here, and there is not even that much electrical power; this was one of the greenest places to be compatible with nature. No air conditioning, but the rooms have fans, spartan rooms, and the food was more like cafeteria food. You will need to bring your own shampoo. This is the sacrifice one must make to commune with nature, but not destroy it. I certainly came back with the impression that CR was doing more about being green than the US is.

My wife and I had been to the El Yanque rainforest in Puerto Rico, but this was  one hundred times better. At the lodge, we heard all sorts of creatures making sounds, including howler monkeys which sound more like gorillas. Once we saw their size, it was funny to hear such a loud sound out of a small body. The lodge had a waterfall and three pools, and we saw a lot of wildlife right at the lodge. Iguanas, Ibis, kingfisher, herons and other species. While we were there, the monkeys stayed away, but we were told that they come every once in awhile to grab some food. The staff knows the drill and they shoo the monkeys away, but they are clever and usually loot some food. The lodge even had WIFI so I was able to keep in contact with the outside world. In this lodge, there were rooms for people with physical disabilities.

From the lodge, our guide would take us out at the right times to visit the nature activity planned. We visited the small town of Tortuguero by boat. There we could do a bit of shopping. All the tours except one were by boat. We went out early to see the monkeys. We saw three species. The Howler monkey, Spider monkey and the Capuchin monkey. There is a fourth, the squirrel monkey, but we did not see one on this trip. Our guide, Alex is an expert and he knew just when to stop the boat, and where to point to see the wildlife. We would have missed a lot of it without him. One of the amazing creatures is the large mostly white King Vulture. Our guide says they are rare in this rainforest, and we saw one on our second day there.

The green turtles nest in this rainforest and they lay about 100 eggs per nest from which the turtles hatch. Tortuguero is the most important green sea turtle hatching site in the Atlantic region. Since it was hatching season, we walked the beach with our guide for about an hour right at dusk and we found two nests with turtles hatching. They dont all make it to the sea, which is only about 20-30 feet away because the vultures swoop down and eat them. But we humans kept the birds at bay, and all made it to the sea that evening under are guidance. I dont know how, but they all know the way to the sea and make a mad dash for it and start swimming right away. This was such an inspiring sight and just this alone was well worth our trip to the rainforest. Isn’t nature grand?

On the third day, we packed, and reported to the dock to be taken by boat back to our bus for the next Costa Rican adventure.

Look for more information about Costa Rica’s volcanoes and beaches in my next blog, part two.