Guide to Costa Rica : Monte Verde & Tamarindo

Part one of my trip around Costa Rica can be found here and part two can be found here!

Whilst driving down the roads of England you may be lucky enough to see a badger or fox crossing the street. In Costa Rica however we often stopped on the road to look at sloths or iguanas loitering by the roadside. On the journey to Monte Verde we were also welcomed by the most beautiful views of the rolling hills, something so different to the other landscapes we’d experienced thus far.

The windy roads did lead to a couple of upset stomachs along the way but a few pit stops later we made it to Hotel Belmar. It almost looked out of place in Costa Rica, the wooden panels and scalloped edges of the window pains suited it more to a ski resort in the Alps. An incoming tropical storm however soon reminded us of where we were as we darted into the hotel for shelter. My family shared great amazement in the storm that illuminated the whole horizon but as a person who is petrified of lightning I stuck my head under a pillow and gave that show a miss. My interest was sparked again however when the mention of a hot tub arose. Cosies’ on we sprinted through the rain to the bottom of the garden where nestled amongst the trees was a glasshouse. We could see the steam filling the windows and the vibrations of the bubbles tickled out toes as we crossed the patio. Were it not for the infestation of, what I could only imagine were, mosquitos that also lay claim to the hot tub I could’ve easily stayed there all day.

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All suitably heated and reenergised it was time to leave the compound of the hotel and head back into the rainforest. We were taken on a Cloud Forest tour through the canopy, spotting the likes of snakes, tarantulas and bats harbouring high in the safety of the tree trunks. The species that stole the show however were the birds. Likened only to the noise of bees around a hive, we were swarmed by hummingbirds drawn to the sweet aroma of the sugar water. In the blink of an eye they would flutter from one drinks post to the next, their wings stopping only for a millisecond to rest before taking off like planes in the night. Flashes of sapphire and emerald lit up the canopy and if you stood still enough you could feel the brush of their tiny wings against your ears. The highlight came for us however when we were lucky enough to spot a Quetzal, the national bird of Costa Rica, taking refuge on a nearby power cable. Almost like a robin mixed with a parrot, I had never seen so many bold colours on a bird and the way its blue wings shone against the sun as it took off was unforgettable.

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Having had so much success in the daytime we decided to return in the evening for a night tour. With nothing but a torch we followed a guide deep into the rainforest. It is crazy how much your other senses heighten when your sight is restricted, every rustle and rumble made me jump out my skin but in the end it all seemed to be for nothing. The only animal we came across was a mouse. Scary stuff! At that point we decided to bank the amazing sightings we had already had over our holiday and draw a line under our animal tours. To end our tour in Monte Verde on a high, or in hindsight a low, we partook in a yoga lesson in the wooden halls of the hotel. As someone who has taken a couple of classes before I found it rather enjoyable but, as I watched my own father crawl out the hall when the instructor turned her back, I gathered it wasn’t for everyone.

By this point we had wandered museums in the capital city, searched for sloths by boat in the rainforest, zip lined over volcanoes and ventured deep into the unknown in the dead of night. It was definitely time for some TLC and relaxation! We hoped on board a plane and before long were kicking up sand between our toes as we dived into the warm ocean water surrounding Costa Rica. Our accommodation for the last few nights of our trip was the Hotel Capitan Suizo, located directly on the beach and within walking distinct of the vibrant town of Tamarindo.  Monkeys and racoons traversed the tress above us whist we swayed in hammocks to the sound of the crashing waves, pure bliss.

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Failing to sit still for longer than an hour or so however we were soon back on our feet, following the curves of the ocean around to the town of Tamarindo. Brightly coloured buildings and quirky market shops lined the roads. We took refuge under the shade of the palm trees as the difference in temperature outside the cover and dampness of the rainforest was overwhelming. My favourite purchase from the market place was a small wooden surfboard, no bigger than a dinner plate, with the words “Pura Vida” engraved by hand into its edge. It now sits proudly above my cupboard and reminds me each day of the pure and happy lifestyle embraced by the people of Costa Rica.

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The only downside of the beautiful paradise we found ourselves in was the mosquitos. I have unpleasant memories of smothering the 50+ bites that plagued my legs in cream each night, just to get some relief from the constant itching. On our final night I could barely walk and didn’t want to face another night eating out on the beach where the bugs seemed to have me on the menu. It turned out to be one of my favourite dining experiences of the holiday however when my dad turned the storage trunk at the end of my bed into a table and we spent some lovely quality time together over a room service meal. The food was just as delicious, I got to spend some one-on-one time with my dad and my legs weren’t masquerade by a raging fleet of mosquitos, it was perfect! When the rest of my family returned from dinner, the holiday was rounded off by more competitive card games and laughter shared long into the night then I drifted off to the sound of the ocean. I couldn’t ask for a better end to the most amazing holiday if I tried.

On our journey home the next day we first had to fly to Miami and then catch the long flight back to London. Warn out from the adventures I’d been so lucky to experience I slept for a majority of the flight, woken only once by a friendly flight attendant who offered me warm milk and cookies before drifting back into a deep slumber. A smorgasbord of landscapes, climates and adventures waiting to happen, Costa Rica is a country destined to be explored. Whether its spotting wildlife, relaxation or an adrenaline rush that you seek to accomplish from a holiday this breathtaking island has endless opportunities to offer. Its true beauty however lies in the simple joy that radiates from all who live there, their infectious smiles can light up even the darkest of tropical storms as they embrace the “Pura Vida”. I implore anyone and everyone to visit Costa Rica and embrace the pure life that radiates through the entire island. Just make sure to pack the bug spray!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Guide to Costa Rica : San Jose & Tortoguero

Pura Vida. In English “Pura Vida” is simply translated to “Pure Life” but in Costa Rica itself it means more than just words, it is a way of life. It means to live life with a smile, to embrace any new adventure but most importantly to find joy in the simple things in life. It shines out through any local you meet and gives the whole country a sense of peace and joy that I had never experienced before.

We landed in the capital city of San Jose where a friendly driver eagerly awaited to transfer us to our accommodation for the night, the Hotel Gran de Oro. The corridors were all laced with thick wooden panels and hanging plants dangled from every crevice. The building centred around a grand courtyard restaurant where we gathered for a quick snack before setting out to explore the capital. For me the highlight of San Jose was the National Theatre of Costa Rica, founded in 1897 it is one of the most breath-taking buildings I have ever seen and I would’ve loved the chance to experience a performance there under the hand painted dome and blinding chandelier.  Whist reflecting on the trip as whole, San Jose felt quite underwhelming, but it was interesting to learn more about the history and culture of the country at the National Museum of Costa Rica. It was a great kick-start to our holiday but I wouldn’t prioritise it as a place to spend a large chunk of your holiday in.

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The morning light brought with it our first introduction to a tropical down pour and I think the next 2 weeks were spent in a constant state of dampness. We drove for what felt like hours down bumpy country roads and past rushing waterfalls till we reached our transfer to Tortoguero at the local harbour. The boat sped through the winding rivers blanketed by dense tropical trees, an American Crocodile watched us with one beady eye from the bank, and before we knew it we were out of civilisation and into to the depths of the rainforest. We stayed at the Manatus hotel, named after the old manatee scientific monitoring station that used to be situated there, but we only had time to drop our bags off at our huts before heading back on the boat to the local town. I think if anywhere was to sum up “Pura Vida” it was the town of Tortoguero. It wasn’t a place of wealth or blinding beauty but children ran playfully down the streets whilst their parents gathered under corrugated shelters, sharing food and stories of days past. The sense of community was overwhelming; our tour guide lived locally and was welcomed by everyone with open arms and bright smiles. Even the gushing rain couldn’t dampen the carefree feeling that enchanted the town, it did however leave us shivering so we made our way back to the hotel to hide out from the storm.

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That night I was awoken to a noise that I can only compare to a hailstorm (well if boulders were falling form the sky).  The rain trickled silently down the window pains but above us came a whole series of crashes that made the entire roof shake. Had the risk of getting soaked not been so high I would have ventured out to investigate but it was a good job I didn’t. After raising the issue at breakfast the following morning I was told by a waiter it was a pack of howler monkeys that often used the metal roofs of the huts to crack open nuts and fruit for their dinner. Talk about noisy neighbours!

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For the rest of the day we got to experience the majesty that is the Costa Rican rainforest. All loaded onto the boat our guide Luis took us deep into the lush green canopy, his eyes so fine-tuned to the surroundings that he could spot even the most camouflaged of creature. Three fingered sloths draped from trees, giant Christ lizards lapped up the sun on overhang leaves and monkeys flew through the sky like trapeze artists in a circus.  There truly isn’t anything more captivating than seeing an animal in their natural habitat, though I definitely wouldn’t want to get any closer to the Caymans than we did.  The guided tour finished around lunchtime but our feet didn’t stay on solid ground for long. If I’m ever asked to recall my most memorable moment traveling this is always the one I turn to. Accompanied by my dad, we were kayaking back down the river when a rustle in the trees caught my attention. Camouflaged by his algae ridden fur the three toed sloth was certainly hard to spot but luckily, due to their laid back approach to life, we were able to sit and watch him for what felt like hours. I decided to call him Cedric.

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Tortoguero stands for the “Land of the Turtle”, something that we were lucky enough to experience first hand. Instead of a comfortable evening tucked up in bed, we clambered back onto the boat and sped across the river in the dead of night. Our destination was a beach on the edge of the national park. Our purpose was giant turtles. In the warmer months of the year, female turtles clamber upon the beach to lay 100s of their eggs in the sand. Seeing as turtles don’t have schedules we sat in a hut in the dark for around an hour or so before one was spotted. Following the glow of a red light (Turtles use the white moon light as a guide back to the ocean so torches aren’t allowed in case the turtles get them confused) we tiptoed across the beach. Deep in the sand lay a humongous female turtle who was kicking up a sand storm with her back legs. They dig holes in order to lay their eggs then fill them back in with sand to protect their children from predators. It was an emotional experience to then watch the mother turtle crawl back to the ocean knowing that only 1/1000 of her offspring have a chance of making it to adulthood. The people of Costa Rica put in a great effort to protect these beautiful creatures and it was such a humbling experience to see them in their natural surroundings and contribute to the cause.

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Just as quickly as we had arrived it was time to get back on the trusty boat once more and head out of Tortoguero.  The sound of the rainforest stayed with me long after my feet were back on solid ground though. The trickle of the rain, the rush of the boat along the river, the rustle of the wind through the trees and the constant hum of the life rummaging around the forest floor echoed through my ears. The calmness of Tortoguero amongst the madness of the environment it was situated in was something very special and after only 3 days there I can honestly say that I now truly understand the meaning of Pura Vida.

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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