Our Costa Rica loving chum, Paula, recently visited this rugged, rainforested country and is home to tell her tale. Have a read of her top picks for this central American gem for a trip that gets off the beaten track to give you a truly meaningful adventure…
“I’ve been lucky enough to travel to the wonderous land of Costa Rica twice now and each time, I feel like I’ve discovered somewhere new and exciting”
Arriving in San Jose
My first visit was when I was 27 and travelling with little more than the backpack I was carrying (albeit stuffed to its 65 litre capacity!). It was March and during the peak season for travel, so the days were hot during my time there. I arrived into San Jose with little clue as to how I was to get to my accommodation, let alone explore more of this eco-friendly country. With a little Spanish and a lot of patience I managed to make my way round, visiting not only San Jose, but Monteverde and La Fortuna too, before travelling to the Caribbean coast where I visited Puerto Viejo.
My second visit was in May last year (I won’t divulge my age this time round…) when I embarked on my first Rickshaw Adventure. The Tico’s (as Costa Ricans affectionately call themselves), call this the ‘Green Season’ and I would soon find out why! Warm sunny days led to afternoons and evenings with the occasional tropical downpour. I loved this weather system as it meant far more refreshing evenings and with my trusty compact brolly, the rain was no problem! Plus, the mixture of sunshine and rain meant lush, green landscapes and with this, an abundance of wildlife!
This trip was a chance for me to discover some new places for both Rickshaw and myself, to test them out and see if I thought you guys might enjoy a visit and the chance to explore the road less travelled!
1. Boca Tapada – Bird Watching Paradise
Drive 3 hours north of San Jose and you’ll find yourself not only close to the border of Nicaragua, but also in a bird watcher and nature lovers paradise! Both lodges we offer are family run and you can really tell in the service you receive, from a welcome drink on arrival to hearing how the lodges started, it’s a wonderful way to find out more about Costa Rica’s history with Nicaragua.
What can you expect?
The food here is wonderful (and included, result!) and the cocktails are pretty yummy too (not included, but worth indulging in!) and you’ll get to spend a morning spotting wildlife on the lodges walking trails and head out on a night walk too – get ready to see what nocturnal creatures are lurking. One of the lodges here also helped to start up a local charity which provides schooling on Environmental Education as well as Sustainable Development, which just goes to show how important protecting the area is to them, and to making sure the next generation is just as dedicated to this too.
Heading up river…
If you’re lucky enough to stay 3 nights (and I’d really recommend you do), you get to venture out on a boat trip to the border of Nicaragua. You’ll get the chance to spot crocodiles on route and if you’re lucky, the ‘Jesus Christ Lizard’ running across the water! On the way back, you’ll stop at a local farm for coffee and traditional Costa Rican snacks of fried yucca and plantain, as well as homemade cheese. We even got to munch on sugar cane straight from the plant! Staying here was a highlight of my trip and I’d happily visit again – with no Wi-Fi and rare frogs, toucans, and macaws waiting to be spotted, it gave a perfect sense of escapism.
2. Juanilama Community, Santa Rosa de Pocosol
We self-drove on our last trip to Costa Rica but this was so off the beaten track, we had to call the community and ask one of the ladies that lives there to come and get us from shops nearby and with a smile, they willingly came to find us. This warm welcome was present throughout my stay. Not a lot of English is spoken here, and I speak only ‘poquito’ Spanish, but this didn’t hinder my stay at all – a little Spanish phrasebook, some (polite) hand gestures, and a lot of smiles and I was well fed, watered, and entertained – perfect! A stay with the Juanilama is brief at only 1 night, so we tried to cram in as much as we possibly could. We started by settling into our accommodation for the night – a cabin separate to Eli’s house (our host) with a private bathroom and a little living area too. The community try and share out the visitors they receive so everyone gets chance to host and you’ll always have your own bathroom. There were 6 of us travelling and all 3 accommodation types were of a really similar standard so there are no worries about getting the raw end of the deal!
Dinner, dancing and learning from the locals
It was quite late in the day by the time we arrived here so we were soon heading back into the main hub of this small community – a small, open air hall that had been set up with tables and chairs where we were to have dinner, all cooked by the locals from their own produce. That’s one of the great things about this community, they’re dedicated to raising cattle, milk production (and all those yummy side products like cheese and nutella – not the chocolatey spread, but a sweet yoghurt served with fruit… delicious!) as well as goring pineapple, bananas, plantain and tubers. Before we ate, we realised we’d been lucky enough to be staying on a day when the local children perform traditional dances, so while the older generation were making us soup, tortillas and “casados”, we were treated to a performance from their children, unlike any other I’ve seen in Costa Rica!
The following morning, we were awoken by the sounds of nature – birds singing in the trees and cattle grazing nearby,we got ready and headed in for breakfast at Eli’s house. Here we were treated to omelettes, toast, some of the freshest fruit I’ve ever tasted, as well as coffee and tea (which was posher than that I’d drink at home!). We then headed out back to the main hub to grab our walking sticks (they handily provide these!) and meet our local guide who took us on a walk to the local waterfall. The walk normally takes around 1.5 hours and is of medium difficulty with some larger steps (I’m only 5’2” though!) and some steep inclines, but the waterfall itself was wonderful to see and had it not been raining so much, we’d have taken a dip! As it was, it was too muddy and fast flowing water meant we were advised against it – in the hotter weather though we were told you’d see most of the community down here swimming.
On our return to the village we started an agricultural walk around one of their gardens, seeing what they grow, learning about how they’re self-sustainable and trying our hand at pressing sugar cane. In this community, anything that isn’t used straight away is either made into something else or stored until later in the year when the crops aren’t as abundant. Following this, we went to a house nearby where we took part in a cooking class, learning how to make tortilla as well as traditional gallo pinto… rice and beans!
After this, it was time to say goodbye to our host families. We were given a wonderful send off with hugs all round and with kids running around playing football together, it would be a great destination for couples or families alike. Psssst… If a self-drive trip seems a little daunting, you can still visit the Juanilama with transfers – just let us know!
3. Snorkelling Coves & Tropical Rainforests – Corcovado National Park, Drake Bay
Getting to Drake Bay is an adventure in itself, and one that I loved taking part in! Arriving into the little town of Sierpe, it may seem odd to have stopped at a restaurant for the next part of your adventure, but grab your bags and head down to the purpose built wooden port, where the boat to your accommodation awaits!
A boat along the river
With your luggage loaded into the hull to protect it from the elements (unless you have a large suitcase, in which case they’ll keep hold of it at the back), sit and take in your surroundings as your speedboat meanders along the river, spotting mangroves and birds along the way. You’ll notice that after a while the waters might get a little choppier – but this is only because you’re about to head out onto the pacific ocean and make your way around the coast, past the Isla de Cano and onto Drake Bay. As I was travelling during the green season I was quick to make sure I had a poncho on before we left the dock and I was glad of it! Though we only experienced light rain, the sea was a little splashy so I’d recommend a poncho be kept at hand, at any time of year!
Travelling along the coast with the wind in my face and taking in the rugged coastline was a boat trip like no other, the contrast to smooth river only moments earlier was really something special. As the boats slowed, we could see a few people on the shoreline, ready to help the back the boat up and help us and our luggage disembark. I would mention at this point, it’s best to wear flip flops and attach them to your backpack for getting off the boat as it’s a ‘wet landing’ – for anyone not in the know, the captain waits for the tide to go back out and then you jump off the boat and head up the shore. I did a few of these during my travels in Costa Rica, and not once did I come away without a wet bum! Thankfully not only was there a room with an ocean view awaiting me, there was also tea and cake in the restaurant area, which in my book fixes everything!
The hotel we use here is right on the beach so I quickly changed and headed down to lay in a hammock and watch the sunset over the sea. With only a few locals around it was a peaceful and relaxing start to my stay here and one I won’t forget in a hurry. The stay here is always full board so after a quick shower and change we all headed down to the large open-air restaurant to listen to the break of the sea against the sand, time to enjoy a homecooked meal before an early night to prepare for tomorrows adventure.
The following morning was an early start to breakfast so we were ready to jump back on the boat and travel a little further along the coast to Corcovado National Park. Visitors to Corcovado National Park must have a guide at all times and as it’s situated right down in the south of Costa Rica, visitor numbers are a lot less than to many of the other National Parks this country has on offer so it’s a great one to say you’ve been too as I bet most others haven’t!
Every kind of monkey (and lots more!)
The wildlife spotting here was out of this world – with the assistance of our guide and his trusty telescope we saw squirrel, howler and capuchin monkeys as well as their larger relatives, the spider monkey! A baird’s tapir crossed our path out of nowhere and we saw agouti’s around the Ranger Station as well as a white nosed coati climbing up a tree – it was spectacular and photo’s can’t do it justice!
The walk was pretty easy, mostly flat and with lots of stops to view wildlife at every turn. The time soon passed and it was time to hop back onto the boat to stop a little along the coast for a lunch of meat, bread, salad and fruit, where again… we were joined by those cheeky monkeys after scraps of our picnic!
We only had 2 nights in this wonderful area of unspoilt nature and beauty, but when you travel with us, you’ll get an extra night and get to head out on a snorkelling excursion around the Isla del Cano, which reportedly has the largest amount of coral building organisms along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and is therefore regarded the best spot to dive and snorkel in the whole of the country! You’ll be able to take the opportunity to spot manta rays, barracuda and at certain times of year Olive Ridley sea turtles!
Drake Bay and Corcovado National Park are a wonder of natural beauty which I hope continues to stay a little under the radar… so if you’re lucky enough to visit, do tell your friends – but don’t let everyone in on this precious secret! I couldn’t mention all of the places I visited (there are so many amazing places… and some didn’t make the cut!), so believe me when I say those listed above, are definitely worth a visit!