Costa Rica

*This is a blog post relating to a past trip. The trip was undertaken in August 2014 (7 years ago at the time of writing). So details are going to be a little foggy, but it’s more just for completeness of the blog so I can capture everywhere I have been.

I had just finished my A-Levels and was 18 years old. I’d been toying with the idea of taking a gap year before heading to university but ultimately decided to do a little trip over the summer before returning home to start my degree. I’d say this trip has a real significance as it’s ultimately where Everitts Adventures was born and begun. I had always wanted to travel for as long as I can remember, likely in part due to my experiences as a child where I would go on holidays with my parents. It was never anywhere too extreme or exotic, but at 3 years old I was on my first plane, probably a reason why I’ve always been so comfortable flying. My first real memories of family holidays are in the US and the big theme parks but then also travelling down and relaxing in South Florida. I remember holidays in Turkey, Cyprus, and various Greek Islands. And while these were always about relaxing for my parents we would still go out outside the resort to see and do a few things. Then from 11 years old every school holiday I would be in beautiful southern Spain as my parents had brought a little holiday apartment. Although I’d classify them as relaxing holidays as opposed to “travelling” I think this taught me at a very young age that was a big wide world out there, with lots of wonderful and amazing things to see. I was also comfortable on my own and very independent at a young age too. Likely the result of being an only child, which would also force me to make friends while away. I even flew solo at 16 to Spain and made my way through the airport with no issues. All qualities that would stand me in good stead for my future travels. 

But Costa Rica in 2014 was my first real travelling experience without my parents or a school trip. However I wouldn’t be travelling alone, I would be accompanied by my girlfriend at the time Alice. Although we planned and sorted everything ourselves it’s safe to say we did ease ourselves into things. We made use of the amazing company STA Travel (R.I.P) who helped organise our flights and booked us onto a 16-day group tour run by G Adventures. Nowadays I wouldn’t really dream of booking onto an organised tour and would sort and arrange everything myself. But the art of travelling is also a journey and skill, the more you do it, the more you learn how to do things. You learn what works for you, what you enjoy and what aspects you don’t. It’s like any skill, you can only get better at it with practice. An organised tour though is certainly a great way to get your feet wet travelling. And I would recommend this type of trip to those looking to get a bit more adventurous but are maybe slightly worried about organising everything yourselves. It also takes away some of the stress. 

We departed from Heathrow and flew to Houston, Texas for a 3-hour layover, before flying onto San Jose the capital of Coast Rica. However, things didn’t go initially as planned. At Heathrow airport, we didn’t realise we needed an electronic travel authorisation to enter the US, even though we were only passing through for 3 hours. So got turned away at check-in, but luckily completed this online in 10 minutes and went back.  Then after getting through security at Houston airport, we went to hand in our customs cards together, the officer asked if we were together, we responded yeah, boyfriend and girlfriend. Which for some reason she wasn’t happy with, and therefore sent me for further screening in another room. While Alice was told to continue. I entered another room where there were about 10 people in front of me and only 1 customs officer. I had 3 hours till my next flight and upon asking the guy ahead how long he had been waiting, the calculation pointed towards me missing my flight. I asked if others had already missed there’s and if I could go ahead, I even offered to pay, but people were having none of it. Thankfully after about 20 minutes of waiting 2 more customs officers came and sped things up. After a few further questions, a bag check and most likely reading some kind of CIA file about me they were happy I was just an 18-year-old tourist and let me on my way. Understandably myself and Alice were a little shaken up as neither of us knew what was going on. But we made the connecting flight with ease and arrived in Costa Rica for the start of our tour. 

Day 1: San Jose

We arrived in San Jose and checked into our hotel ready to start the tour, we met our guide for the tour Danny, who was amazing the whole trip, full of knowledge and loved his country! He could also spot wildlife anywhere and was always pointing things out, I still have Danny on my socials. Additionally, we met the rest of our tour group which consisted of around 12 of us, again several I still have on Facebook and I even ended up reuniting with a german couple from the trip several years later when I visited Stuttgart where they live. We explored San Jose a little bit on foot, but I do remember being probably over-cautious and scared thinking around every corner someone dangerous was lucking. Over the years though, I’ve learnt that why you still have to have your wits about you in foreign lands, 99% of people are lovely and welcoming.  

Days 2-3: Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

After a welcome dinner the night before and meeting all the tour group we travelled by minibus 5 hours to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca which is a picturesque little seaside village on the Caribbean coast. There were a few things to do here such as surfing, or various nature hikes. We went on a coastal walk with the group where Danny the guide pointed out all sorts of different wildlife including, sloths, snakes, spiders and various other insects. We then took a boat back to town after the hike and I remember that evening it absolutely bucketed it down. That would be a theme for Costa Rica, the weather would be hot and humid resulting in a big downpour mid-afternoon/evening before it would clear. I guess it’s to be expected though seeing as 51% of the country is rainforest.  

Days 4-5: Tortuguero 

Next, we journeyed to Tortuguero, which as the name suggests is famous for turtles, Tortuguero translates from Spanish to “region of turtles”. The journey was special in itself, travelling via minibus through the rainforest, before boarding a boat and sailing a few hours downriver into the national park of Tortuguero. During the voyage, we saw numerous birds, monkeys, a common basilisk lizard (famously called the Jesus Christ Lizard due to its ability to run on water) and even a crocodile sleeping on a log. We arrived at our accommodation for the night via boat and the following morning were woken to the sound of howler monkeys almost directly above our heads in the trees above the roof. After exploring the town during the day that night we headed out to the beach to try and catch a glimpse of turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs on the protected sand of Tortuguero beach. The only light allowed was the red light of the lead rangers torch so as not to disturb the turtles. Entry to the beach was also guarded by rangers positioned along the shore. While being an awesome job you’d have to be pretty brave seeing as jaguars live in the forest and had even killed a turtle coming ashore the night prior. Seeing these majestic creatures come ashore, dig themselves a nest and then enter a trance as they lay their eggs is a sight that will stay with me forever. I challenge anyone to witness it and not want to project these beautiful creatures! We also came back early the next morning in the hope that a turtle had timed their exit a little late and would still be there at dawn laying eggs. Amazingly we were greeted to such a sight as well. Before we left the area we cruised around via boat spotting a multitude of flora and fauna in the waterways of the national park. It was a magical place.

Days 6-7: Sarapiqui Rainforest 

After Tortuguero, we travelled to a remote lodge called Magsaysay in the heart of the Sarapiqui Rainforest. The journey to the jungle retreat was half the adventure as we began by travelling along two rivers, the Tortuguero and the La Suerte. Before completing the land section of the journey first by van then a tractor-drawn cart along the jungle rugged uphill terrain to the lodge. Along the way, it was evident to see first-hand how rainforests have been cut down whenever they are near roads. But as we approached the lodge we entered into primary rainforest bordering Braulio Carrillo National Park. The lodge was basic but being so remote it only added to the charm, at night all you could hear was the sound of the nearby stream and noise of the forest. We were able to explore the forest again on foot with Danny acting as guide and the pinnacle of the hike was enjoying large crystalline pools in the pristine river of the rainforest. The biodiversity of the places was evident everywhere,  treetops were full of vines, lianas, bromeliads, and orchids, in fact, there are more kinds of plants, birds, and butterflies here than in all of Europe. 

Upon leaving the lodge we also visit a coffee cooperative in the small village of San Miguel de Sarapiquí where we took a traditional coffee tour and had a delicious local lunch, of fresh tilapia farmed on-site. We toured the grounds of the cooperative to learn about the coffee process from bean to cup. Tourism can be beneficial if managed correctly not only for the economy but the environment. It’s all well and good telling locals not to cut down the rainforest when we live 1000’s of miles away and don’t depend on it for our source of income. Without other ways for locals to obtain an income sometimes the only way for them to survive is through harmful deforestation. By engaging in sustainable tourism and visiting such places as the coffee cooperative it provides economic support to a region, that not only protects the natural habitat there but supports the humans who call it home as well. 

Days 8-10: La Fortuna & Arenal 

The next stop was La Fortuna, the town a gateway to the Arenal Volcano. First off we undertook a horseback ride to the La Fortuna Waterfall which is 70m in height. Safe to say the experience wasn’t the most enjoyable for me. Alice had been riding horses all her life and the others in the group were also pretty experienced, so when they took off on a trot my horse just followed and I simply held on for dear life. I actually don’t think I’ve been on a horse since and to be honest, I don’t plan too haha. But the stress was well worth it with the views and subsequent swim in the waterfall, beautiful. The following day we also kayaked on Lake Arenal, which offered stunning views of the volcano and were even greeted by a glimpse of the submit which is covered by cloud 99% of the time. 

Days 11-12: Monteverde

From the central valley of La Fortuna, we ascended into the cool, misty mountain air of the Monteverde cloud forest region. The highlight here was certainly the canopy walk, ziplining and Tarzan swing at Selvatura Park, where we truly got a birds-eye view of the cloud forest below. On one of the ziplines you flew headfirst like superman, however, sadly I didn’t have enough speed so ended up stopping 30m short of the end. Plus being suspended by my torse and legs made it impossible for me to propel myself forward so I just dangling high above the forest below. By far worse places to be stuck enjoying the view, but one of the staff had to strap onto the zipline from the end pull himself out to me and then drag me back to solid ground. We also visited the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, where all proceeds from the park profit the local community. A cloud forest is much like a rainforest, but much of the moisture comes not from falling rain but from the condensation left by the nearly constant cloud cover that blankets the tops of mountains in many parts of the tropics. Monteverde Reserve covers 1600 hectares of forest and is home to a great variety of wildlife. More than 2,000 species of plants, 320 bird species and 100 different species of mammals inhabit this small area. Such incredible biodiversity in such a small area. 

Monteverde Reserve sign highlighting the current altitude of 1725m / 5696ft

Days 13-14: Quepos & Manuel Antonio 

The final stop on the guided group tour was Quepos. The small town on the Pacific coast is the gateway to the Manuel Antonio National Park. Here we enjoyed a sunset cruise around the sea of the national park, where we were lucky enough to see a whale. I’ve seen many since but I think this was the first and as they say you never forget your first. The boat trip was also pretty eventful in other ways. While onboard we had dinner where the options were chicken or fish, I elected to have the fish which was tilapia as I had come to really like it in Costa Rica. All those who had chicken got food poisoning either that night or the next day and were bedridden. Some people also got pretty seasick on the boat ride home. However, I didn’t fully escape. At one point we stopped to swim, I decided to go down the slide at the back of the boat and smashed my tail bone on the lip of the slide as I entered the water. It was terribly painful and troubled me for months after the trip. So much so I even had an X-ray months later in the UK and it ultimately forced me out of playing American football in my first year of university. All that from a stupid slide. We also went white water rafting at some point during the trip. I’m not quite sure if it was here or one of the previous two locations, but it was great fun. I remember a poor Canadian girl on the trip, I think she was called Steff, being attacked and stung by 3 wasps as she changed after the rafting bless her. Thank god it wasn’t a tarantula hawk wasp though, thought to be one of the most painful stings on the planet who do inhabit the area.  

Day 15: San Jose

We returned to San Jose and had a farewell dinner with the tour group. It had been an amazing fortnight and a great introduction to travelling and Costa Rica. For most people this was the end of the trip however for us we added a few days at the beach to relax. 

Days 16-19: Samara

We headed out west to Samara on the Pacific coast of the country for a relaxing few days before heading home. In hindsight, I don’t think we would have bothered if we were rebooking as the weather wasn’t that great, plus we were both just ready to head home by this point. On the whole, though we made the best of it watching the surfers down at the beach and stayed in a lovely little hotel where our room opened right up to the pool.

View of swimming pool from hotel room window in Samara, Costa Rica

Day 20: San Jose & Home

After our little beach retreat just the two of us, we made our way back to San Jose for the night, before flying home via Houston, this time without a hitch and giving our custom cards individually.

Overall all Costa Rica was a wonderful country, the true beauty of the place is in the country itself, its wildlife, incredible biodiversity and stunning natural landscapes. Which on the whole the country is actually doing/trying pretty hard to protect and many countries could learn a lot from Costa Rica. For example, Costa Rica channels funds from a fuel tax, car stamp duty and energy fees to pay for nature reserve management and environmental services like clean air, fresh water and biodiversity protection. All the while still finding the balance to allow tourism and people to co-exist alongside the environment. The trip only fueled my appetite to travel and I think it’s where I first dreamt up the idea of travelling all of South and Central America up to the USA. I’ve yet to do so, but it’s certainly still on my to-do list. And while the trip was pretty expensive for an 18-year-old and nowadays I would have likely made the money go much further. I don’t think I can put a price on the desire to travel which the trip instilled within me and the lessons it taught me for future travels. It was the most exotic and furthest place I’d ever been from home and I only wanted more. Everitts Adventures was truly born. 

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