Saturday, January 13, 2024

Costa Rica Days 15-18: Arenal Attractions

We left the coast behind and headed inland towards the Arenal Vocano. The drive estimated to be about four and a half hours so we departed early with lots of snacks and high spirits. 

Erin picked out a lunch spot that promised gluten-free and vegan desserts most of the way through the drive, along the narrow hairpin turn filled mountain route we had selected. Things were going smoothly and we hit the 15 minute warning that we were approaching the restaurant so we started gathering our things and putting on shoes. Moments later, we were brought to a stop by a line of cars on the road ahead of us. 

We were stuck for about 15 minutes before we saw someone walk by. We asked them if they knew the situation and they informed us that a bus and truck had collided. It was anticipated to take hours for the road to be cleared. Word started to spread and cars began turning around. We joined in and had to retrace our steps all the way back to the previous town. We had just lost two hours. 

It was dinnertime when we pulled in to our next rental property, in the town of La Fortuna, close to Arenal and all its attractions. Our accommodation was a rustic a-frame cabin. Super cute...but, definitely rustic. There were many windows with only a large mesh screen and we began to have a bit of a panic about mosquitoes. Some spots in the house didn't have a screen at all, only a big gap between the logs. we plugged these with towels as the wooden beams seemed like perfect bat habitat.

Craig and Erin looked at each other, a little down-and-out, but too exhausted to make a Plan B. They kept their reservations quiet and Adventure Girl settled right in to picking a room and making it her home. In the end, the property was fine; it just led to a couple of sleepless nights with all the trucks decelerating into town at the end of the property's road. 

The view from our window (volcano in behind)

During the two days that followed; however, we made the most of our location and the amazing weather that continued for us. We were fortunate to get unobstructed views of the volcano on both days and we spent some time in the surrounding jungle. 

We went on another hike with hanging bridges (these ones looked much more up-to-standard than our wobbly, more adventurous ones in Quepos!). We were treated to spottings of a pit viper camoflagued on the trunk of a tree (at a safe distance!), a sloth, and....a troupe of Spider Monkeys!!! That's four for four of Costa Rica's monkey species for us! Woohoo!

Not only did we see them, but we were lucky enough to get a great viewing! They swung from tree to tree and even climbed up and down a vine directly above us. We found a little offshoot trail where there was no one else around and enjoyed every minute of it. 

At the end of another hike in the jungle, we caught a glimpse of a new mammal crossing the road. After some research, we discovered that it was a tayra. We also saw many, many coati on and beside the road. 

Our time in Costa Rica ended with an uneventful drive back to Liberia and a very smooth experience at the car rental place and airport. One more stop was ahead before this trip would come to a close.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Costa Rica Days 11-14: Manuel Antonio Part Two: Hanging Around

Outside of Manuel Antonio Park, we had lots of fun, too. We ate at several spectacular restaurants with incredible views of the ocean, coastline, and jungle in between. Most notable was La Luna, where we went for a sunset dinner after our first day in the park. We'd highly recommend a stop here! We had checked out the menu online and thought the photos looked nice. When we arrived, we were a bit surprised by just how fancy it was (like, a golf cart picks you up from the parking lot and drives you up to the resort fancy). The meal was oustanding, complete with a complimentary bread plate (they brought grilled zucchini with a balsamic drizzle for Erin), and a homemade passionfruit sorbet palate cleanser. Yum! And the views? Well, we think they speak for themselves. 

Photo courtesy of Adventure Girl :)

There was another amazing moment when a group of scarlett macaws flew by, only this time, we were actually above them, looking down on their spectacular colours.      

We also had some fun at the public beach, and lots of time by the pool at our place.            

Building a sand taxi

Our typical homemade dinner: taco bowl

We considered going zip lining but Adventure Girl had her hesitations and we knew from experience that you have to be ready to step off that platform or else it could be a pretty unsuccessful outing! 

Instead, we opted for something that's more difficult to change your mind on at the last moment: parasailing! We had watched many people take off and land, while we were lounging on the public beach. It looked so smooth and relaxing, and Adventure Girl was game! So we signed up for a sunset ride and before we knew it, we were getting strapped into the wet harnesses. 

We were given a quick run-down on the steps: walk quickly forwards, hold up the bar, then drop our hands to the straps and sit back. It all happened so fast - one moment we were standing on the beach; the next, we were flying up, up, up! 

Craig had paraglided a few times previously and he was right in his description - it was more like floating than flying because it was so effortless. It almost felt like we were sitting on a couch in front of a green screen, it was so relaxing and surreal!

We flew along the coast of the National Park, where we got to see the three beaches clearly, and the spots where we'd seen the capuchins, then the three troupes of monkeys earlier that day. We floated above a V of pelicans, and watched our own shadow dance along the treetops. We filmed the whole experience on our go-pro and will be re-watching it many times, for sure. 

Then, we prepared ourselves for the landing, which didn't end up being all too stressful. Lots of frantic unclipping of carabiners but all heads stayed above water. Note that our go-pro footage is way more harrowing because it was strapped to Craig's chest which did go under water! 

The next moment we were on the back of a jet ski, hanging on, being shuttled back to shore. 

It was an incredibly expensive 15 minutes but such an amazing experience. And, Adventure Girl? She was joyful throughout and immediately wanted to go again, quoting that the take off and landing (ie: the most thrilling parts) were her favourite! 

2024 sure has been off to an exhilerating start!

To follow along with Adventure Girl's recount of Costa Rica, visit:

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Costa Rica Days 11-14: Manuel Antonio Part One: Monkeying Around

Manuel Antonio beach 

Why return to Costa Rica? Craig and Erin travelled here 12 years ago (pre-blog days) and the allure of venturing someplace new is always hard to resist. However, we loved it so much last time. We knew there would be amazing wildlife viewing, the flight wasn't too far, and we appreciate the stance Costa Rica is taking on sustainable tourism and environmental protection. Plus, there were parts we hadn't gotten to last time on our "travel-like-a-local, hike-our-butts-off backpacking trip" from our late twenties. Manuel Antonio was the main one.

At the top of our lists for what we hoped to see this trip were macaws and squirrel monkeys. Having checked both off over the past week, we now focused on finding the big names for F to see: Sloths and Capuchins. 

We decided to join a guided tour for our first visit to the park. Andrew was fantastic - great sense of humour and a wealth of animal knowledge! He led us (very slowly) through the park trail system (from the Main Gate, along Sloth Trail to Manuel Antonio beach). Along the way, he showed us a huge variety of animals through his scope. There were 9 of us in the group; everyone was very kind and quiet, and we got lots of viewing opportunities. Here are some of our top pics: 

A mother hummingbird on her nest

A rainbow grasshopper 

A patriot crab

A two-fingered sloth

A sleeping bat

A demon spider

A three-fingered sloth

A slaty-tailed trogon (cousin to the quetzal)

The following two days, we opted to go without a guide and explore on our own. For each of our visits, we got up at the crack of dawn (thanks, in part, to our friendly bird alarm clock that could not be deterred from a 5 am call out), which meant we were always in the 7 am park opening arrival window (you must pre-book park tickets online). We also would have chosen that time anyways because we hate crowds and love that early morning hour of the day.

On Day Two, we were surprised by the lack of crowds. We didn't pass any tour groups as we retraced our steps from the day before. We wondered if it being a Saturday morning actually meant there would be less people (we knew many would be heading back home on the weekend after New Year's). 

We took a different trail once we reached the main junction and headed towards Playa Gemelas. Craig had read that there was a little connector trail in that area that was popular for monkeys sightings. We paused at the fork in the trail, debating which way to go (Adventure Girl was not keen on taking the "monkey" path because it headed uphill). As we stood there, we suddenly heard loud screeching from the non "monkey" route and without needing to consult each other, we turned right and headed towards the noisy outburst. 

There was no one else on the path (that was human). We quickly spotted rustling in the leaves and discovered that there were monkeys in the trees on either side of the path - and above! There were both howlers and capuchins. As we stood in one place, twisting our necks back and forth, trying to decide where to look, we spotted another family in the mix - there were squirrel monkeys, too! It was a feast for the eyes! We stood there, entranced, watching all three troupes search for breakfast and interact in their own unique ways. We ended up sitting on the ground and just taking it all in; we were there so long watching. 

We have lots of great video footage...sorry for the crummy photo quality

When we finally had our fill, we deemed that a roaring (well, howling) success and continued the short distance left for the Gemelas Beach. We walked down a few steps and were in paradise! 

This private little cove looked out of a movie set. A few people came and went but there were moments when we had it all to ourselves. 

On our walk back out of the park, the atmosphere had changed. There were people EVERYWHERE. Large tour groups completely blocked the paths. We heard many people saying the word "sloth" in numerous languages, and were able to spot what all the fuss was about: there was a mother slot in the tree with a baby. We don't have amazing pictures because we only had our phone cameras with us and we didn't have a guide with a scope this time, but it was pretty cute! 

On Day Three, we were feeling pretty tired, and also satisfied with the amazing animal viewings we'd had over the trip so far. We opted for the mangrove path to avoid the many tour groups and get ourselves on the other edge of the National Park. Along the way, we did see a new mammal for Adventure Girl - a raccoon. It was sniffing its way along the edge of the boardwalk and looked up at us curiously. 

We spent a couple of hours at Espadilla Beach, in the park. It was the sandiest beach so far on this trip. There are rip currents so we stuck close to shore and played a lot in the sand. It is really nice to be at the beaches within the park because they are void of people trying to sell you stuff, dogs, loud music, jet skis...The downside is that you are not allowed to bring any food into the park. There is only so long you can last without nourishment on a hot day with a half hour walk ahead of you to get back out of the park. Something to consider if you're planning a visit here. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Manuel Antonio and Quepos area. Stayed tuned for Part Two where we'll share what we got up to outside of the National Park. We can assure you...we were flying high from all the fun we had! :)

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Costa Rica Days 8-10: Whale Watching

We moved on to our next accommodation outside of Quepos. It was a small complex with a great-sized pool that was almost always empty. We passed a fair bit of time here, enjoying swimming and bird-watching. A real highlight was watching four scarlett macaws fly just overhead our first evening here. 

Standing on the whale tail

We also did a day trip to Uvita, home to Ballena National Park and the famous whale tail sand formation. Not only does it look like a whale, but there are many actual whales that migrate by. We hopped aboard a boat and skimmed our way across the water towards a reported spotting.

Adventure Girl had been a bit nervous about the idea of going on a boat and wearing a life jacket. But her face spread into a wide grin as we bounced along the waves. Then the boat stopped, solitary amongst the rise and fall of the ocean. We waited patiently where our captain had heard a mother and baby humpack had been seen. We listened intently, hoping to hear that unmistakeable puff of air of a whale clearing its blowhole. There were 14 of us aboard the boat and everyone wanted to be the first to spot a whale. 

Then, all of a sudden, there they were - mother, then baby, rising to the surface, showing us their backs. We got lots of views of them, since newborns can't hold their breath for long yet. Our guide told us that this mother looked very relaxed with us closeby (that some mothers only rise once, then move on when they see boats). We enjoyed our time watching them, then headed onwards towards a dolphin spotting.

Our guide had told us that we were unlikely to see dolphins because they live further out in the ocean where they can hunt their favourite fish: tuna. But our luck continued and we got a great show of the spotted dolphins (probably 20 or so) surfacing over and over. There was also a baby with this group - so small and sticking right beside its mama. It was a real treat to see them interact. 

From here, our boat took us to some nearby caves, then to a swimming spot. There was coral but it was 8 meters down so it was a bit too cloudy to try to snorkel. 

La ventana

Back on land, we headed onwards to a lovely lunch spot up in to the jungle hills. We were pleased to find gluten and lactose-free pizza (as well as an extensive cocktail list), but even more excited when we heard, then spotted, two howler monkeys outside the restaurant. After hearing them so often, it was great to finally get to see them. We got a great view of them munching on some leaves. 

Yes, the cocktail is smoking!

Howler monkey munching 

We crossed our fingers that our luck would continue on our next adventure: into Manuel Antonio National Park.