In the next instalment of Our Routes series dedicated to sharing travel experiences from our experts all over Latin America, we have a doubleheader treat of pura vida for you! Two of our senior travel specialists, Lydia Groom and Sarah Slocomb, both went to lush Costa Rica together but took different routes across the country to experience the great variation it has to offer. Read on to find out where they went and what really stood out for them there.
Lydia: Turrialba, San Gerado de Dota and Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica.
Sarah: Tortuguero, Arenal and Monteverde in Costa Rica.
Sarah: We overnighted in Madrid from Heathrow on the way out – it was easy enough to navigate through the airport to collect our bags and check back in the following morning. In Tortuguero when coming home, we had a connecting flight and our baggage was checked all the way through.
Lydia: Second time to Costa Rica, but the first time was as a backpacker so it was a very different experience. I also visited different places from where I went before.
Sarah: I have worked with Costa Rica for a long time but this was my first time visiting the country.
Lydia: Very hard to say. Each place we visited I loved for different reasons, but I have to say Golfo Dulce really was incredible – you felt like you were on Castaway or on some remote island! The wildlife, scenery, sunsets/sunrises and the whole experience was magical.
Sarah: It’s so hard to choose a favourite as everywhere had something about it that made it magical in its own right. Tortuguero was teeming with wildlife and was my first rainforest visit so felt very special. Arenal is home to the majestic Arenal Volcano which you just have to see for yourself to appreciate its size and beauty. Monteverde is just beautiful with its backdrop of cloud forest, adrenaline activities and of course amazing wildlife.
Lydia: Again, very hard to say as there were many! One stand-out day for me was when we learnt how to make tortillas from scratch and cook them on an open fire at a lovely ladies’ house in Mollejones – which is a community near Turrialba. Being welcomed into this person’s house to see how they live was really special. She made us a delicious lunch to go with our own homemade tortillas, which we ate in her back garden accompanied by her daughter and brother – it was an incredible experience and setting.
Sarah: On our last night we enjoyed a night walk in Monteverde. This was a great experience in itself getting to see the different wildlife that comes out at night – we saw a firefly, baby side striped viper, a tarantula, sleeping birds, stick insects, and wandering spiders. The highlight, however, was seeing a two-toed sloth up in the top of the canopy with its little baby. My photos make it look like a giant ball of fluff but our guide had a great telescope with him, so we were able to watch them moving around at the top of the tree with our own eyes as well as enjoy a closer view through the telescope where you could see the baby sloth clearly. We must have stood there observing them for a good 15 minutes – it was the perfect way to end our trip!
Lydia: One of the best excursions and days we had was when we were staying at Playa Cativo in Golfo Dulce. We got up at sunrise to go kayaking in the mangroves, which in itself was amazing – but we had heard there were dolphins in the area when we were en route to our breakfast spot after we had finished kayaking, the breakfast spot also was amazing, the hotel had set up a table with some pastries, breakfast sandwiches and fruit on a secluded beach which was only accessible by boat. After we had finished our breakfast, we headed straight back onto the boat to go and spot the dolphins. It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by a huge pod of them, they were jumping and skipping out the water beside the boat was pure magic.
Sarah: Getting up for sunrise for a boat trip through the Tortuguero Canals looking for wildlife. As it was early it was very peaceful and we were able to see lots of wildlife before the temperature got too hot. We saw a variety of birds including the Anhinga, Ibis, Green Macaws, Chestnut Mandible Toucan, and a variety of herons, as well as Iguanas, Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys and Capuchin Monkeys, baby Caiman, two-toed sloth, and an anteater. And all before breakfast!
Lydia: If you are someone like me who gets bitten a lot when in tropical places – Definitely pack some strong mosquito repellent, and plenty of it (preferably the biodegradable kind). And prepare even if you do wear it prepare to get bitten! So I’d also recommend packing plenty of creams and things to soothe the bites. There is nothing worse than being itchy!
Sarah: You definitely need to be prepared for changing weather. Costa Rica boasts so many various microclimates that the weather can vary in different areas of the country – Monteverde was much cooler for example. As it is tropical it also receives a good amount of rain even during the dry season so need to be prepared for some showers! As the temperatures can get hot I recommend taking a cooling towel or water spritz bottle if you need a little refresh to help with the heat and humidity – especially in Tortuguero!
Lydia: We had some amazing meals, but I think the stand-out one for me was the one I mentioned earlier which we ate with our homemade tortillas. We had a delicious home-cooked typical Costa Rican lunch from a local lady out of her own kitchen, we had pork with some sort of salsa made from the hearts of palm (palm tree hearts) gallo pinto (Costa Rican rice and beans), and the most delicious creamiest Avocado I’ve ever eaten – not forgetting the corn tortillas we had made to go with them! The tortillas were used as a type of Costa Rican taco in which you could fill them up with the rest that was on the plate. Totally yum!
Sarah: We had the pleasure of dining at Katonga, the floating restaurant at Mawamba Lodge. The restaurant cruises up and down Rio Tortuguero whilst you eat in an intimate setting observing the beautiful lights along the riverbank at night. The food was divine – we enjoyed a 4 course a la carte meal whilst onboard and they were able to cater really well for Vegan and Vegetarian members of our party. I also fully embraced the traditional Costa Rican breakfast of Galle Pinto (rice and pinto beans), plantain and fresh tropical fruit! Loved it!
Lydia: Leaving Playa Cativo at sunrise.
Sarah: Probably the 2 toed sloth we saw in Tortuguero. It was a great spot by our guide and it was high up in the trees. He was moving around so was able to watch it move through the branches – taking photos was a challenge as he was so far away but was fortunately able to get some great shots! I also had great fun trying to photograph the hummingbirds as they move so fast! I ended up taking some videos and love that you can hear the thrum of their wings as they were darting around past me!
Lydia: Magic, inspiring, (absolutely) stunning!
Sarah: Truly Pura Vida.