Trying to escape from both the excessively long winter and the pandemic restrictions, Colin and I found ourselves in Costa Rica once again. Our last visit was in 2019 (read about it here) with a small tour group. We decided to come back and revisit a few areas as well as discover some new ones.
Costa Rica is a beautiful country with amazing biodiversity. It is a bird-watching paradise for sure. The long, narrow land stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Ocean and you will find tropical rainforests, cloud forests, areas with deciduous trees and mangrove forests.
Costa Ricans (known as “Ticos”) are very passionate about their beautiful country and safeguarding its diversity. Some 25% of the land is protected and there are national parks galore including wild-life reserves and biological reserves. Costa Rica is a favourite place for biologists studying all sorts of wildlife and plants.
This particular trip had us first visiting the rainforest of in the Sarapiqui River region of Selva Verde. We enjoyed several outings with the local nature guides both during the day to see the birds and at night to see the forest come alive with poisonous frogs, snakes, spiders and other fascinating creatures.
Our Sarapiqui River cruise (just the 2 of us and our guide who spoke little English) was magnificent! Colin will be sharing some amazing photos of the birds and other wildlife there.
We stayed at the Selva Verde Lodge which has 500 acres of pristine property to explore. From there you can arrange tours including white-water rafting, zip-lining, all sorts of nature hikes and bird-watching.
Selva Verde Lodge consists of rustic cabins on stilts with long walkways into the garden areas. The Sarapiqui River is right outside your door. One of our favourite things to do there was to have our breakfast outside overlooking 4 bird feeding stands where all sorts of colourful creatures turned up to munch on the banana pieces.
After Selva Verde we journeyed to the Mount Arenal area to enjoy the biodiversity and breathtaking views of Costa Rica’s most famous volcano. Arenal is a dormant volcano that stretches over 5300 ft into the air. It erupted unexpectedly in 1968 and was active until as recently as 2010. Arenal is geothermally active and has produced numerous natural hot springs which are a feature of many of the hotels and resorts in the area.
Arenal is 90km northwest of San Jose. The nearest town is Fortuna, but we stayed very close to the volcano at Arenal Manoa Hotel & Hot Springs. This particular resort was spread out over a large area and required a lot of walking to get from our hotel room to the restaurant, pools and hot springs. For us, the exercise was welcomed but it might be more difficult for some visitors to get around. The last time we were here we stayed at Arenal Kioro which is also fabulous and boast hot springs throughout the property.
The Arenal area is stunning! The top of the volcano is often peeking out from behind clouds and rain is more frequent here. We spent a fun afternoon in the pouring rain sitting in the hot springs with margaritas.
The property is fabulous and the restaurant was open to the outside enabling the patrons to enjoy the views, the birds and other wildlife denizens. We particularly enjoyed a tropical jungle walk through the Mistico Hanging Bridges Park.
After several days of hiking, birdwatching and relaxing in the hot springs it was time to leave. Our last stop on the agenda would be the West Coast town of Tamarindo. The 4 hour drive went by quickly as the scenery changed from tropical rainforest to the arid, semi-desert topography on the leeward side of the mountains.
Tamarindo is noted for its pristine beaches and big waves. It is a surfer’s paradise and there were certainly lots of people surfing and beachcombing while we were there.
We stayed at the Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort a lovely hotel in the middle of town with all of its hustle and bustle. There are two sides to the resort: beach and garden. The beach side is highly coveted for the Tamarindo sunsets. Across the street is the garden side – where we were. We loved the private, quiet pool right out side our suite. The terrace was perfect for our 5 o’clock (ish) gin and tonics.
Tamarindo is a town full of ex-pats (Canadian and American) as well as scads of tourists learning to surf, parasail or just lying in the sun – and there was plenty of sun. We were there in late March and there hadn’t been any rain since the beginning of January! Temperatures ranged from 33 to 35 degrees celsius. The afternoons were for definitely the best time to be lounging on the beach or by the pool.
We enjoyed a variety of great food in Costa Rica especially seafood and fresh fruit. Costa Rican cuisine is not spicy and rice and beans are staples. You can get just about anything to eat from a burger and fries to sushi, pasta, steak, and fish tacos.
Sunsets were breathtaking! As the colours intensified in the sky, it was finally cool enough to walk along the beach and grab dinner at one of the many restaurants offering “el fresco” dining.
And not only dining – there was all kinds of live entertainment on the beach. Live bands, duos, mariachi bands and fire dancers. Something for everyone, really.
Colin and I love to take our music on the road when we travel. Tamarindo had jam sessions Wednesdays and Sundays at a funky little place called Hotel Pasatiempo. We made some new friends – including the fabulous saxophonist, Joe Hrbek! Here’s a clip of him playing on Tamarindo beach with guitarist Luiz Paes Leme.
We spent lazy days in Tamarindo – lounging reading, swimming, eating, drinking, walking and exploring. There are many activities locally and within a short distance to keep you amused. Like this:
And of course, this:
Getting to Costa Rica is a bit trickier than flying to Cancun or Puerto Vallarta. We had to travel from Vancouver to Toronto before heading down to San Jose, CR with Air Canada. WestJet does fly through Calgary down to Liberia (the other international airport in Costa Rica), however, we booked during COVID and WJ wasn’t flying regularly. If you live in the Toronto area, it’s a quick 5 hr flight down.
The money in Costa Rica is the colon although US dollars and credit cards are accepted everywhere.
Sunscreen is essential. Bug spray may be needed at certain times of the year but we didn’t use it in March.
Best time of year to go? Probably November through March. After that you will be getting into significant heat and more rain.
Costa Rica is a fabulous place to get away from the long, cold Canadian winters with the added bonus of amazing wildlife and incredible vistas! For further information about booking your vacation to Costa Rica, check out this link.