Costa Rica has long been regarded as the “Switzerland of the Americas”, with its peaceful history, lack of armed forces and scenic pasturelands; but it also boasts magnificent wildlife, a rugged Pacific coastline, as well as Caribbean beaches, 800 species of bird, four types of primate, two species of sloth, numerous snakes and insects. A nature lover’s paradise, where the countrywide emphasis on protection has allowed species to flourish.
I visited in June and flew directly with BA to San Jose, staying overnight at the peaceful Hotel Grano de Oro, converted from a tropical Victorian mansion. An early start the next day (with breakfast boxes provided) was followed by a drive along the Pan American highway towards the Caribbean coast to Torteguero and the riverside Pachira Lodges (short flights are also an option). The last leg of our journey was by boat, a great way to start spotting wildlife – we saw caiman, geckos and red dart frogs.
On arrival, we were immediately introduced to more of the celebrated Costa Rican wildlife, as monkeys can spring out at you at any moment! Boat trips along the river gave me the opportunity to spot more animals (such as armadillo, howler and spider monkeys, white-faced capuchins, lizards, turtles and a variety of birds) – I recommend either the 6am or 4pm trips for the best chance to see them active. July and August is the best time to go if you want to see the turtles laying their eggs.
An alternative hotel I also recommend was the Evergreen, which has 66 rooms and bungalows, a good pool area and plenty of activities on offer, as well as a canopy tour, kayaks and river guides.
After a short flight with amazing views of Torteguero, the river and national park, we arrived back at San Jose and a nearby coffee plantation, before reaching Poas Volcano. One highlight of our stay at Relais & Chateaux property El Silencio in Bajos del Toro (approx. 1.5 hours from San Jose) was a walk to the waterfall; it is set in a 550-acre cloud forest reserve close to Poas Volcano Park.
Next on our fascinating trip was Arenal, a very active destination for adrenaline junkies, activities range from hiking up Arenal or zip wiring to Zorbing. I chose to visit the hanging bridges of Mistico. Our first attempt was thwarted by an amazing thunder and lightning show; the guide was very informative about both flora and fauna. The Arena Springs Hotel is great for families, with 3 restaurants, some interconnecting rooms and pools heated from the hot springs. I partuclarly liked the Kiora Hotel, with rooms which have hot tubs and full views of the volcano.
Following a drive down the Pacific coast – via a stop at Monteverde to see the wonderful sloths – we arrived in the town of Manuel Antonio, with a chance to relax by the sea. But wildlife is still never far away, with an early morning visit to the national park offering us the chance to see more sloths and especially capuchins, who seemed to know when we were due to eat our lunches on the beach and raided our backpacks!
Arenas del Mar is a boutique hotel within walking distance of the national park and a good choice for those seeking relaxation. Si Coma No hotel has its own conservation programme of rescued alligators and is very popular with couples, as they boast amazing honeymoon suites with stunning views of the ocean. My hotel for two nights, The Parador Resort, is built high over the coastline in 12 acres of tropical rainforest with a resident sloth, another good option for families with 4 pools and a swim up bar for adults, tennis courts, spa and babysitting. Once again you have to be prepared for wildlife to carry on with their busy lives around you…
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