It’s been about a week since we returned from Costa Rica and I am still daydreaming of jungle lined canals, monkeys flying through the treetops and constant 360 degree breathtaking views. It’s not that we planned this trip “on a whim” (it was actually booked more than a year ago) but the location was one neither of us had really considered going to until we were looking through a travel website. So the destination was kind of random, but it had the promise of nature, lots of hiking and wildlife, which it totally delivered on. I couldn’t be more happy that we picked to visit there! We spent nine perfect days in areas all across the country which would likely make for one very long blog, so I thought I would split it up between each of the major destinations we visited!
We arrived in Costa Rica pretty late at night. We booked the trip with a company called Go Ahead Tours. They plan out an amazing itinerary and take care of all of the transportation, lodging and some of your meals at local restaurants through all the destinations. They also give you a professional guide so you can learn all about the places you’re visiting. We were part of a group of about 20 people. We were picked up at the airport that night and stayed at a hotel in downtown San Jose. We were pretty pleased when the sun rose and we finally got to see what the city looked like.
We were up bright and early and on our way to our first destination of the trip: Tortuguero. We stopped at a restaurant on the way in the Limón Province called El Ceibo. That’s where we had our first Costa Rican breakfast including rice & beans and strong coffee served only with hot milk. Not pictured: the most delicious fresh pineapple I’ve ever had.
After another hour or so of driving we got to a port where the group piled into a small boat necessary to get to the town that we were heading to. Tortuguero is not technically an “island” but it is completely surrounded by water. You cannot drive there; you have to take boats through canals and rivers to get from home to home or around the area in general.
We had such a warm greeting once we got to The Pachira Lodge. It’s nestled quite literally inside the rain forest with monkeys howling and jumping around as you’re walking through the grounds. The staff welcomed us with glasses of fresh papaya juice and lunch! Everyone in our group had their own little bungalows surrounded by plants and trees. It was a gorgeous first stop of the trip.
A small group of us went with our guide down and across the canal into town. We spent about an hour walking around the lanes where fresh fruit, coconut water straight from the coconut, local artwork and typical touristy trinkets were being sold.
The area is not even a mile wide from one side to the other, but on the other side of the land is a beach touching the Caribbean Sea. Unfortunately it wasn’t sea turtle season or we may have gotten lucky and could have seen some little babies flop out to the water after hatching. Tortuguero translates to “The Region of Turtles” after all.
The small town had such quirky and cute statues and art all around it. Right before the sun started to set, we took a boat back to our lodge.
The next day the weather was perfect! Although we were visiting towards the end of the dry season (on purpose) there’s still a chance of rain, and a lot of it, depending on the day and where you are in the country. Our main activity for that day was to go on a canal tour and search for wildlife in all the vegetation lining the water.
This area of Costa Rica is known as the “Wet Forest” which I think is pretty self explanatory. The tour group had to be split in half so we could fit in the small open boats that were taking us around. Luckily the half we were with got a local guide to come with us. He grew up in Tortuguero and swam the canals when he was a kid, yet still, when we saw any animal, he was easily the most excited and passionate person in the boat. He and the boat captain had eagle eyes and spotted so many cool creatures for us.
Later that day we went back to the main town stretch of Tortuguero which is also where the National Sea Turtle Conservatory is. Since it wasn’t sea turtle season there wasn’t much to do but it was interesting to learn the history of how sea turtle research and conservation really took off there. The beach is actually one of the most important nesting sites for sea turtles on this half of the globe.
The Conservatory had a screening of a video explaining that sea turtles in that area were almost nearly extinct by the 1960’s due to over-hunting. Researchers eventually came to the area to study turtles, realized the risk the species was facing and worked with the local people to shift some of the cultural priorities. They were able to teach the importance of saving turtles, created a protected area for them and encouraged an ecotourism industry surrounding the turtles to help regain some of the lost revenue from cutting back on hunting. Fast forward 30 years or so, and it worked. Researchers still travel to Tortuguero to study these important animals! …obviously so do tourists.
Once we got back to the lodge, S and I lounged and caught up on some reading by the turtle shaped pool before wandering around the property again. The lodge has a nature trail set up which was so gorgeous. We didn’t see many creatures other than blue crabs scurrying about, but when we got back, the sun was starting to set over the canals and it was so beautiful!
Looking back, the two days spent in Tortuguero flew by! It was such an amazing start to an incredible trip and I’m so glad it was the first place we were able to see. Next stop was the Arenal region where volcanoes and incredible views were on our itinerary. See ya tomorrow!