Day 10: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

A new day, a new guided tour. This time it is after a dinner without Gallo Pinto, a first for me since we have landed in Costa Rica. Why, I hear you ask, is it that I didn’t have Gallo Pinto for breakfast? Well, that is simply because this hotel does not offer Gallo Pinto as a breakfast option. We could see the cook preparing it, but it was not for the guests.
And as we were in a hurry to get to the guided tour, we didn’t pursue this matter further.

At 07:30 the tour starts in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a fully protected part of the land which consists of a few thousand hectares of tropical forest on both sides of the continental divide. On both side there are both tropical cloud forest and tropical rain forest, depending on the altitude. The difference is mainly in precipitation: cloud forests typically don’t get much rain, all water usually comes from damp, fog or clouds rolling through. This results in a very dense, overgrown forest where all trees are overgrown with moss and aerial plants on top of the moss. The trees grow less tall than in a rain forest because of the lower temperatures and less sunlight.

The first thing our guide did when we entered the reserve was to say that we would be on the lookout for one of the most endangered and coveted species of bird in Costa Rica: the Quetzal. Officially the Resplendent Quetzal, it is usually very hard to see and find.
Today, we were incredibly lucky to get good views in 4 separate sightings of 2 female birds, and 1 male bird. Including the long and very sought after tail feather. This male only had one, some birds have two. The guide didn’t have a good explanation for that, and therefore me neither. 😉

We swalked for about 4 hours in the forest, trying to find all kinds of other stuff, like stick insects, toads, frogs, lizards, trees, vines, and whatever was available T that moment in time.
Thus we found a lot, including the Orange-bellied Trogon, some species of Tanager and more birds I cannot remember the name of.

As a true sweet dessert, he also took us to a place called Colibri Café, a café located just outside of the reserve which is doing its name proud: the Colibri have taken their garden over completely, which is mainly to do with the bird feeders hanging there.
At least 10 species of hummingbirds could be seen at any given time over there, and we probably also have.
We also took way too many pictures of the hummingbirds, to get that one shot of the bird hovering in mid air. So far, we hope to have succeeded in that, but it is hard to judge without a monitor. We probably spent close to 3 hours lingering in the garden, taking pictures and waiting for that perfect moment. Now, that is dedication for you!

After all that, we decided it would be best for us to just go to the hotel and relax before dinner, and that was exactly what we did. Tomorrow, we’ll go on the final bird watching tour here in Monteverde, and after that we are off to Rincon de la Vieja!
Probably to view some more wildlife. 😀


Day 9: To Monteverde

Another early start as we leave the lodge near Arenal, this time without any flat tires. 🙂
The journey today will lead to another well known location in Costa Rica: Monteverde.
Most well known of course is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which consists of, you guessed it, tropical cloud forest.

The 120kms again take about 3.5 hours to drive, of which the first 80 can be completed in about 2. The other 40 are again unpaved and will at least take 1.5 hours, if not more. We took on the Costa Rican style of driving, and just went down the road easily but steadily. Mañana mañana.

Monteverde actually is the name of the region surrounding the reserve, and the main town is Santa Elena, where most of the hotels, lodges, restaurants and tour operators are located. This is also the village where our hotel is, Claro de Luna.
Upon arriving, we immediately were given a large list of tours and tour operators of things to do in and around the town. We decided to book a night walk and, of course, a canopy tour.

The canopy tour was first, and around 2 we are picked by a small minivan which took us to Selvatura, a big park right next to the reserve where all sorts of activities are available ranging from a butterfly garden to the canopy tour.
Right after paying, we suited up for the experience in a harness and were given strict instructions on how to act and how to position your body during the tour.
As you are basically suspended above the ground on a zip line, thee is quite some science to the magic, but the guides instruct you well. This being the first time for me, I didn’t know what to expect, but it is great! Zooming through the forest suspended high above canyons is truly amazing.
The tour consists of 13 zip lines and a few pathways which takes you through primary and secondary cloud forest and offers amazing views to the participants. The longest two zip lines are 700 metres and even 1 kilometre, so there is plenty of time to look around you when you zoom along the tree tops.
Canopy tours seem to be the staple for any visitor to the country, so we had to try it. And we both loved it!

After this, we were brought back to the hotel for a short change of clothes. We also packed our cameras for the night walk in the forest with a guide, and were picked up a few minutes later.
Walking through the forest at night is quite something else, as all the noises are unfamiliar and you just don’t know what is making those sounds. Really interesting!
Unfortunately, the forest seemed to be quite empty as we were there. We did however spot a Mottled Owl, a Leaf Mimicking insect, and some glow-in-the-dark moss. The Kinkajou was nowhere to be found, and we searched long and hard for it!
The second and third unfortunate events of the night were that it started raining and that both Kirsten and myself found ourselves standing in the way of Leaf Cutter ants, we didn’t have any issues in trying to chase us away by vigorously attacking our shoes, pants and eventually legs. With the ant soldiers growing to about 2.5 to 3 cm, you can imagine this was not very nice. Quite the opposite actually…

Tomorrow is a full day of us exploring the region, we’ll see what crosses our paths!


Day 8: In Arenal National Park

That is just our luck. 2 flat tires. Just when you least expect it!
Luckily, we were at the hotel still, and the chico from the front desk could communicate with the people from the rental company as they didn’t speak English!

2 hours later, and we were underway!
Walking in the Arenal National Park is generally nice as the volcano is big enough to provide scenic vistas all over the place. The entrance to the NP is, as seems to be the rule of thumb here in Costa Rica, $10 per person or a similar amount in Colones. No credit cards! Just cash.

The walk is really nice, and consists of two parts: the first takes you to several nice panoramic viewpoints, the second runs trough a forest and a big tree named ‘El Ceibo’. This part also gives you the best chances to see wildlife, like birds, small mammals and reptiles.

Today again was a really lovely day, with temperatures reaching well above 30 degrees, but again no rain! The rains only started to fall around half past 4 in the afternoon, giving us plenty of time to do whatever we wanted. But because of the high humidity and high temperatures, I’m running out of short pants and t-shirts faster then expected. Man, it is hot over here! 🙂

At 5, we are expected to be at a place called Ecotermales, where they have all natural hot springs in a few different baths ranging from hot to well over 40 degrees Celsius! Quite unexpectedly. This turned out to be a really nice experience, while I generally cannot stand being in swimming pools. The best part was that because of the low season for tourism over here, we basically had the place for ourselves. It was not nearly as crowded as it would be in a few months. Just great!

Tomorrow, we’ll be off to Monteverde, and we have heard many good things about that place. But first a 3.5 hour drive, and hopefully one without any more car issues…

Day 7: To Arenal

Being the only guest in a lodge certainly has its advantages, as breakfast is served whenever we feel like it. Today, it was around 07:30.
Right after this, we embarked on a small boat for yet another boat safari on the river system.

Caño Negro is a swampy area right next to a lagune which almost completely drains during the dry season. Right now, we are in the wet season and the entire area is flooded with about one metre of water.
This naturally attracts many species of birds, reptiles and amphibians, and that is the main reason why we’re there.

The guide took us around the area in about two hours, along rivers, small waterways and on the lagune. The amount of birds in this area is simply staggering! Hundreds of cormorants, Anhinga’s, Egrets, Herons and Kingfishers have passed our lenses, many of which played nice and posed for us.
Many cayman also call this place home, as do quite a lot of Jesus Christ Lizards and Green Iguana. It is a marvellous place!

The only downside of it is, that it sits in the middle of a 50km dirt road, of the worst kind imaginable. The drive there is quite an adventure, but with our new and trusty 4×4 Rav4, everything is fine!

From Caño Negro to La Fortuna (the village right next to the Arenal volcano) is about 120kms and the drive is great! The first 30km is dirt road, but after that everything is tarred and just fine. It is not Dutch quality, but we managed just great. After about 100 km the majestic volcano is visible as it stands way taller than anything around it.

We booked a frog watching tour through the hotel garden the moment we arrived, and have seen around 10 species of frogs! Including the very Costa Rican Red Eyes Frog. Great frog, and very picturesque at that.

Tomorrow we’ll walk the Arenal National Park, to get some more scenic views of the grand mountain.


Day 6: To Caño Negro

We start the day in Sarapiquí like many others before this one in Costa Rica, with a big breakfast. I have started each and every one with a good sized portion of Gallo Pinto, the local rice and beans recipe, and today was not different. I can get used to breakfasts like these! Fresh fruit, Gallo Pinto, freshly pressed juice, Costa Rican Café Negro and scrambled eggs: a good way to start the day.

We start off by driving to the main docking area of Porto Viejo De Sarapiquí to get on a boat (again) for a river tour to see whatever wants to be seen.
Today it is Kingfishers, Flycatchers, Cayman, Herons, Egrets, Swallows, and much more.
And rain. A lot of it. It started after about an hour, and basically didn’t stop until around 3pm. Luckily the boat has a closed top!

After yesterday’s and this morning’s rain, today is a much nicer temperature at around 25 degrees and with a little bit of fresh wind it is not searingly hot. A good day for some driving!
We will travel from Sarapiquí to Caño Negro, specifically to Hotel De Campo. At around 160kms it will take us the better part of 4 hours as the maximum speed is around 60km/h and the route is straight through many small towns where the speed limit is much less. Also, we need to have lunch somewhere!

The drive takes us through many pineapple and banana plantations, and really showcases Costa Rica’s agricultural history.
The last leg of the journey takes us through swamps and wetland and over an unpaved road for about 20km’s. I hope all parts of the car are still in their correct order, that was one bumpy ride!

We are the only guests at the hotel, and with it having around 40 cabañas, it feels really empty. Tomorrow, we’ll be the only guests when the owner of the facility takes us on a boat to see the wetlands!


Day 5: To Sarapiquí

05:00 am, you know the drill. Get up, curse at yourself for having to wake up this early, dress up for the canoe trip, grab a cup of coffee and wait for the dude in the boat to arrive. 05:45: Rey junior shows up and we are off!

Being in a group of 6 today instead of a private tour like we had yesterday is a little different, but the animals don’t mind. Luckily for us, they all show up to show off!
Cayman, frogs, egrets and herons, spiders, cuckoos, toucan: they all turned up and we got good looks at them. Rey junior is also very knowledgeable and even tries to crack a few jokes! Like his father, he knows an impressive amount of German words reminiscent of the number of tourists gracing their boats with their presence and foreign languages.

A quick, flying pests infested, breakfast later we are ready to leave Tortuguero NP and Evergreen Lodge altogether to start the next leg in our journey, this time by car.
The journey back is in reverse order to the one we made on the way in: first by boat, and then by coach. We stopped at Restaurant El Ceibo where the rental cars met us, and off we are.
A white Rav 4 is what we’ll call our means of transportation for the next two weeks.

The first leg of the trip is to Sarapiquí, most famous for it pineapple plantations and white water rafting, here, we will not visit the pineapple plantations, but will jump in a raft tomorrow.
Upon arrival at the Ara Ambigua Lodge, the lady at the front desk informed us a tour would start at 6 PM to find the Red Eyed Frog from the reception. We immediately signed up, because… Well, just because.

Between us checking in and 6PM however, the skies opened up big time, and we experienced our very first tropical rainstorm. Everything they told us about it is true. The rain is really heavy, it seems to go on forever and our storm even got spiced up a little with heavy thunder!
Right before 6, the skies cleared and it stopped pouring down.
So, on the trip we went and we found a grand total of 6 different species of frogs!
We found the Red Eyed Frog, Marked Frog, Hammer Frog, Bull Frog, a Camouflage Frog and an unidentifiable type of the same family as the Red Eyed Frog, and all that within an hours and about 400 square metres!

Tomorrow, we will be on a boat again, and after that we need to drive for a few hours to the next destination: Caño Negro.

Day 4: Tortuguero National Park

Wow. Early mornings and I will never be good friends. Even with my jet lag getting up at 05:00 am is not a good start to the day.
The reason however is really nice: we will be in a canoe with a local guide to get a completely different look at whatever we can find out there!

We spent the night in a room on stilts, with no windows in it. As we are right in the middle of the jungle you can imagine noises at night. It makes for a very interesting night! Luckily, the windows are not open but each one is equipped with mosquito nets to keep the creepy crawlies outside. And there are a lot of those around, I can assure you!

With high anticipations we arrived at 05:45 at the main dock, but no guide. A short phone call to Rey later learned us that his boat was stolen, and he eventually arrived apologising about 100 times but nearly an hour late.
Floating down the river banks looking for anything that moves with a very knowledgeable guide is a great experience, and something I would recommend to everybody in the neighbourhood. To make it up to us, we even got the same trip the next morning for free!

Right after the boat trip, breakfast was served and a few hours later we were scheduled to go bush walking. Rubber boots and all. This turned out to be mud walking instead of bush walking. Several rubber boots were lost during the trip, and hilarity ensued every time. We escaped completely unscathed, albeit soaked because of the scorching heat and awful humidity. At around 30 degrees with humidity above 80%, Tortuguero is not for the faint of heart. But a wonderful place nonetheless!

This afternoon, we would go out on a boat tour to go into the Tortuguero National Park itself. We have only spent time in the Tortuguero Refuge area so far, and have high hopes for the National Park! It is wonderful. Filled with jungle and small canals it is quite easily navigated by boat. With a small canal, and the jungle overhanging it is quite a thing to see!
Loads of birds, monkeys and flora is to be seen in the park and it is well worth a visit.
The only down side we have found was that it is really busy with boats with tourists, and that these boats are filled to the brim. Safari wise, they are not doing the best job. As there is lots to see, it is only a minor nuisance.

To cool down, we decided to lounge in the swimming pool, to get ourselves ready for dinner and a well deserved night of sleep. Yes, this is quite the life.
Tomorrow, we go out in the canoe again and we have to check out. We will receive the rental car somewhere and the real adventure begins!


Day 3: To Tortuguero

After a short night of sleep in Le Bergerac because of the noise of the city of San José and our jet lag, we got up around 05:10 to pack and get our breakfast at 05:30.
We were to be picked up at 06:00 from our hotel by the Tortuguero people to be brought all the way to the National Park. Yes, that is really early!

The breakfast was quite odd, as we were told we could get a cup of coffee, but as the chef in the kitchen would only start his shift around 6, no tea could be arranged. 🙄
The toast however was good enough to last us a few hours until we were given a proper breakfast while on route.

The small van that picked us up was half an hour late (not nice!) after which we got dropped off at a bus stop to transfer into a large coach. (Also, not nice!) Now we are trapped in a coach, on holiday, with a load of Dutch, Spanish and American tourists. (Definitely not nice!)

The driver took us on a 2.5 hour ride to a dock, where we transferred into small boats which would take us to our lodges. We are staying in Evergreen Lodge, so we found our boat and got in. The very scenic boat tour definitely is the highlight of the day so far!

After arriving at the hotel at 1pm we immediately were served lunch and were told we would go out on a tour to the nearby village of Tortuguero. The rest of the day was arranged as well, as the lodge is only accessible by water and nothing else is available for entertainment apart from the swimming pool.

Tortuguero is named after the sea turtles nesting along its beaches. Watching the turtles either hatch or lay eggs is just one of the things you need to do when you are there. Lucky for us, it is the egg laying season of the Green Turtle, and it is right at its peak at the moment.
We have been on the beach at night between 8 and 10, and have watched two of the turtles lay eggs! Also, quite a few tried to come ashore but were mainly startled by our presence and returned to the ocean. We were told they would come back later that night to lay their eggs.
Seeing them is just amazing!
And they are huge!  Tabletop sized, dark grey and mostly covered in sand, they are as mysterious as ever as they come ashore under the cover of night and leave the same way leaving behind a huge hole and about 100 buried eggs.

Tomorrow we will be in a kayak with a local guide to explore these wonderful surroundings in a much quieter fashion than today, so I’m eager to see what this will bring us!
Oh: weather wise it is not ok: it is reaching about 35 degrees with high humidity. Not Maarten proof by any means!
Let’s just hope it does not start raining, and all should be well.

Day 2: Taking it easy in San José

When I say easy going, I mean easy going.
After an early start we had an appointment with the local travel agent for some more background information on our trip and Costa Rica in general.

The travel agent advised us to walk through the center of San José as most touristic destinations are within a few hundred metres of each other. Unfortunately, as today is a Sunday, most of them were closed or otherwise occupied.
The market for instance, closes really early on a Sunday, and the national theatre houses a local festival with concerts of Costa Rican orchestra’s.
We decided to relax some more and just enjoy the scenic town itself.

The afternoon was for the majority spent sitting around the hotel. How easy going can you be?

Tomorrow an even earlier start for us: Tortuguero is the next destination!
Loads of means of transportation: ranging from buses to boats it is going to be a long haul.


Day 1: The planes

Day one of our holiday starts off like many of them: by plane.
We arrived at Schiphol Airport around 10 in the morning as our flight was scheduled to leave at 1PM.
As a severe rainstorm just happened to pass over Schiphol right around the time we would take off, this event was delayed for about 15 minutes as the rain caused some traffic buildup on the airport.
Being the fifth in a row, all we could do is sit tight and wait.

Everything went well afterwards, and a short 11 hours later we found ourselves in Panama!
The layover only took 90 minutes, and so we embarked on the short flight to Costa Rica. Luckily, our luggage arrived in San José as well, so all we had to do was find our driver who was going to take us to the hotel.

It is called Hôtel Le Bergerac, and is about 2.5km from the main town centre. I guess we’ll be visiting the town tomorrow!
For now: I’d like to get rid of my jet lag, so we are turning in early today, after all: it’s nearly 4AM in Europe right now…