Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica - January 28-30, 2018

We stayed at the Grano de Oro Hotel in San Jose.  This was the hotel in which we spent the very brief first evening.  The hotel is quite pretty and the restaurant is very good – apparently a destination spot.

On our full day in San Jose we were escorted on a city tour.  Rose-Lynn had arranged for us to see the Jewish Museum.  We had to send in our passport information in advance and information on our synagogue affiliation.  When we got there we entered through a security gate and were met by a security guard who hung with us the entire time.  A representative of the museum met with us and explained that the purpose of the facility was partly to explain Judaism to the school kids and tell them about the holocaust.  The temple is orthodox and quite pretty and well designed.  Also much larger than I thought it would be.

The rest of the day was spent seeing San Jose.  It is a city, much like any other city.  I was quite surprised to see so many American fast food places including a Hooters by the University of Costa Rica.

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For some reason they ask you to be at the airport 3 hours before your flight.  It took us minutes to check in and get through security so our experience does not explain the need for an early arrival.  They do have a number of stores and food venues after security.  I do not mind resting at the airport rather than at the hotel.  I just relax more.  We had also read about needing to pay a departure fee but apparently it was rolled into our ticket.

We entered the United States through Newark.  We had obtained global entry so we were TSA preapproved and were able to use the special global entry kiosk.  It seemed to be well worth the effort to obtain.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica - January 26-28, 2018

Driving to Manuel Antonio began with another unpaved rock strewn road.  Obviously this was slow going.  The speed picked up once we hit paved roads again – about 45 minutes after the start.  We stopped for lunch near the Rio Tarcolitos which is known for its crocodiles.  A lot of people, including us, walk along the bridge to view them.

Our hotel, Si Como No, was actually in the city of Quepos about 7 km from the entrance to Manuel Antonio.  The room had an odd layout with two queen beds, one by the patio looking out over the Pacific and one up a step.  Not a problem just odd.  Enjoyed looking out – saw a lot of soaring vultures and as dusk was approaching a group of white face monkeys started moving about.  The temperature in Quepos was about 5 F warmer than the other areas and quite humid.

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I had probably heard the most about Manuel Antonio but was ultimately disappointed.  It is very popular and many groups are there at the same time, at least in the morning.  You all go on this 1.5 h walk with frequent stops as wildlife is spotted then to the beach for 30 minutes.  This did not allow for a quiet and reflective nature experience.  Without the people it would have been more to my liking and the beach is quite nice but popular. 

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Next week San Jose

Monteverde, Costa Rica - January 24-26, 2018

The drive from Arenal to Monteverde goes around Lake Arenal and is about 4 h or, as we did, you can take a boat ride across Lake Arenal then picking up your ride the rest of the way to Monteverde.  This cuts off about 45 minutes.  The captain of the small boat we were on would detour the boat as he spotted birds along the shore.  The drive to Monteverde from where the boat docks was on an unpaved road for 1.75 hours with more stops for wildlife views.  The unpaved road was not graded dirt but rocks.  Made me glad we were being driven – I could imagine getting a puncture or putting a rock through the oil pan.  Would not be fun.

We were in El Establo Hotel.  It was significantly colder in Monteverde than Arenal.  The various groups of rooms were built up the side of a hill and you could see the Pacific Ocean in the distance.  As a consequence of the location on the hill you either had a healthy walk to the dining room at the bottom of the hill or you would call for the courtesy car.  They had a second restaurant much higher up which definitely required the courtesy car.  They had a very large dining room which seemed out of proportion for the number of rooms the Hotel had – it turns out many tour buses you it for breakfast.

We spent most of the 25th at Selvatura Park.  We first did a canopy walk.  As was true in Arenal not a lot of wildlife to be seen.  We then went to the hummingbird garden.  This I really enjoyed.  A lot of different species of hummingbirds came to the feeders.  In the Midwest we only see the ruby-throated hummingbird.  We stayed until a large group of people came into the area.  We also did a walk through the butterfly habitat and the reptile area.  The butterfly habitat was very nice but I am struggling with how I feel about showing pictures of butterflies from this type of environment.

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At the end of our stay at El Establo Hotel I became aware that they had a feeder near the reception area.  This seemed to attract a variety of bird species.  If I had known this earlier I may have hung out there with my camera.

Next week Manuel Antonio

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica - January 22-24, 2018

We were taken by boat back to La Pavona then on to Guapiles for lunch at Suerre (same place as we had breakfast on the way in) and finally Arenal (the town at the base of the volcano is La Fortuna).  We stayed at the Tabacon Grand Spa and Thermal Resort.  The suite we had was the most grand hotel room I have ever stayed in.  It was larger than many of the apartments I have lived in.

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The key thing here is the Arenal Volcano that erupted in 1968 after a long period of dormancy.  It has been dormant again since 2010.  And for this hotel specifically the attraction is the thermal springs.  The thermal springs were a short walk or curtesy car ride from the hotel.  It was amusing to see people walking down the street in their bathrobes.

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We chose to do a canopy walk on the 23rd with Sky Adventures which was not part of our tour package.  This turned out to be with a group and we went up and down for 4 hours.  After 3.5 hours I had had it and pretty much would go a short way then have to stop and rest before repeating.  Was somewhat surprised we did not see more wildlife on the walk.  I probably would have been much happier doing a much shorter walk at a slower pace looking for things to photograph.  I also was not that impressed with viewing the canopy.  Not all that much to see except the tops of trees.  I must admit I have acrophobia and did not linger on the walkways but no one else seemed to spot anything.

In the afternoon we did a walk up a trail near the Arenal Volcano.  We had our own guide who was made aware of my morning struggles so he was very conscious of not having me overdo it.  We actually saw more wildlife than on the morning walk so I was much happier.

We did tour the spa area which was very large with numerous pools.  But we are not really pool people so I just put my feet in.  There were just too many other things to see.

Next week Monteverde

Tortuguero, Costa Rica - January 20-22, 2018

We got in late to the Grano de Oro Hotel in San Jose then had an early 6:30 pick up for the drive/boat to Tortuguero.  This was the only time we had such a short turnaround.  We stopped along the way in Guapiles at the Hotel Suerre for breakfast about 8.

The road ends at La Pavona.  There you wait for the transition to the boat to take you into your place in Tortuguero.  There are no roads leading in – you either go by boat or fly in.  I read a lot of online complaints about them charging a dollar (or 500 Colon) to use the bathroom at La Pavona but thinking about it I can understand how they have to get some money to pay the personal to keep it clean.  A lot of people go through there each day.

Our guide Luis led us to our boat for the transfer to the Manutus Lodge.  Luis would be our guide for the 2 nights of our stay and he was fantastic.  Manutus is a small complex of 12 bungalows all with air conditioning.  Unlike many of the other lodges, they have a menu you order off of.  There was a variety of items and the food was good.  Since there are no roads you eat at the lodge you are staying in or you get a boat to the town of Tortuguero.

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An advantage of the smallness is that there are fewer people in the boats.  We were one of three couples staying there.  Our first tour was of the town of Tortuguero which has a population of about 1200.  Our guide is a native of the area and had interesting stories of how the establishment of the national park and arrival of tourism changed their lives.  Many people come to the area (and the reason for the name) to see sea turtles lay their eggs.  This was not the right time of year for that.  Good advice whenever you travel is to check when things are open and when the events happen.

The next day we went on two rides.  Saw a lot of animals and birds – loved it.  One thing is you are in an open boat – if it rains you are rained on.  We were lucky in that the rain happened either while we were sleeping or eating.  Also picture taking was a little tricky because the sky was bright (but gray) while the animals were in deep shadow in the trees.  Some of the flowers were quite spectacular (and for certain people I am calling them simply flower)

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We also took an optional night walk on a path by our lodge.  Walking through water and mud was not easy but it was enjoyable.  I just wish I had taken my good flash with me.  Missed a lot of shots.

Next week Arenal

Costa Rica - January 19-30, 2018

General

Over the next several weeks I will blog about the specific places we visited during our trip to Costa Rica.  But I would like to start with some general comments.

We did an individually planned tour.  Thus we had drivers meet us and transfer us to the various locations.  This was done through our travel agent (A & S Signature Journeys) who we had used for a number of other trips we had enjoyed.

Getting out of passport control in San Jose, Costa Rica took us an hour.  A number of international flights had landed at about the same time. 

English is widely spoken and at the hotels and on the various tours it was 100%.  I could understand some of the Spanish.  It was not as fast as when it is spoken among my Spanish speaking friends and it seemed clearer.

Although the Colon is the official currency American dollars are widely accepted and prices are often quoted in both currencies.  I was told that the exchange rate they give you when they charge you in dollars is not as great as when you charge in Colons and have your bank do the conversion.  I would really suggest bringing American dollars for various tips.  Just much easier.

In the Eastern part of the country it rains. – this was the dry season in the Western part  Much of the area we were in was  rain forest.  Since it is not cold (temperature in the 70s) it just requires some cover.  But if you are out and about you can get rained on.

The food we had was very good and not “exotic.”  Breakfast always had gallo pinto (rice and beans - quite good), fried plantain (loved it), fresh fruits, etc.  We did have casada for lunch a couple of times – rice, beans, fried plantain, salad and some protein or vegetarian.  Quite frankly dinners would be familiar to any person from the United States.  A frequent condiment was Salsa Lizano – hard to describe its flavor but have used it with fish since we returned.

Had heard bad things about the traffic and roads. Did not find the traffic different from here.  Most of the roads were fine with one lane in each direction.  The road to La Pavona where you transfer to a boat for transfer to Tortuguero was badly rutted.  Also the roads to Monteverde were unpaved.  Really a surprise to find the roads to a major tourist location unpaved in this day and age.  Many of the roads in Monteverde were paved.

Next week Tortuguero