Wednesday, April 11, 2018
We arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica late in the morning and were met as soon as we exited the plane by a very nice young man who escorted us through the airport and introduce us to our private driver (we were the only passengers).
The drive to Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Spa was a pleasant one hour. We began to realize just how remote this location was going to be as the roads went from paved to gravel to dirt.
Located in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel is a boutique “green” certified hotel great for nature lovers, birders, i.e.; couples like us. The hotel, originally a mountain-home of former president Rodrigo Carazo Odio, offers guest rooms set along 75 acres of rolling hills. We would be having all meals at hotel’s El Sendero Restaurant since the hotel was so secluded. The hotel/restaurant grows most of the produce used in their cooking, they even make their own cheese!
The resort is situated on a mountain, so there are lots of ramps and stairs to maneuver, but we are in reasonable shape for overweight 60-year-olds, so it wasn’t too much for us. Although, sometimes I have to admit, I’d have to stop at least once on the way up to the main lodge to catch my breath.
The first thing we did once we got settled in was find and hike one of their short (a little under two miles) trails in El Silencio de los Angeles Cloud Reserve, which is where the hotel is located. This turned into quite an adventure because we started spotting wildlife right away. Our first big animal spotting was a wild Coati, which seemed oblivious to our presence as we snapped several photos of it eating up in a tree.
Further on, toward the end of the trail, we came upon a hummingbird feeding station and enjoyed watching these fellows.
After dinner, we met up with a guide and small group of people and did a night hike in which we went out with flashlights and looked for all sorts of stuff; frogs (mostly), bugs, and snakes. This turned into a lot of fun. One of our fellow hikers was excellent at spotting things. Alan was pretty good too. I was terrible. Nonetheless, we saw all of these critters while on the hike.
Notice the blue on the side of the Red-eyed Tree frog above. Apparently this is unique to these frogs in the cloud forest. The frogs that are closer to the coast have yellow/gold on their sides.
We saw a couple of these Black Masked Tree frogs (above), and were very happy to find the Glass Frog (below). This fellow’s
I found the best way for me to take a decent photo of them was by holding my flashlight next to my camera, aiming both at the animal, then shooting. I was able to get a good system of this going about a quarter of the way through the hike.
Later that night we slept like babies.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Our first full day started with an early morning guided tour of El Silencio De Los Angeles Cloud Forest. While we didn’t observe as much wildlife, we did get a good education on the forest and the different environments/biospheres within it. This tour was on the same trail we had taken, but then detoured along a longer route. Our itinerary speaks of the cloud forest, “With only 2.5% of the planet’s cloud forests remaining, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a vanishing ecosystem. The cloud forest is a unique forest habitat that continues to amaze guests, guides and even researchers at the Villa Blanca José Miguel Alfaro Research Station, located right on hotel property.”
After the hike we rested, then took off on our own to check out other areas. We ended up seeing a young Great Black Hawk walking around the property – and he didn’t seem to care or understand about people yet. I was able to get within eight feet of him. He seemed more intent on finding food. We were told that he was probably now on his own and trying to figure things out.
We saw an array of other bird species while walking around the grounds too. Alan saw more than me because he went out on his own several times. The Passerini Taniger, a.k.a. Scarlet Rumped Taniger (below) was one of our favorites for its bright red color.
Friday, April 13, 2018
We left Villa Blanca in the morning, heading to our next destination (private driver, again). This drive was a longer one, about four hours. Along the way he asked if we wanted to stop and stretch with an option for souvenir shopping and lunch. We said yes and availed ourselves of the facilities then shopped a bit. We weren’t hungry, so we skipped lunch. The souvenir shop did have some really cool Boruca masks. The indigenous Costa Rican tribe Boruca is known for its vibrant, intricately carved and painted masks, we really like these, but decided to wait and pick one up that really “spoke” to us and our experience in Costa Rica later.
We arrived at Si Como No Resort & Spa mid-afternoon. This resort is nestled in to the lush rainforests of Costa Rica’s Central-Pacific coast. We could even seen the Pacific Ocean from our room’s balcony. The resort has its own restaurant, and a sister restaurant right next door, along with a gift shop, which I checked for the masks. While they had a few, none were what I was looking for.
We had an early dinner and then packed it in for the night.
Saturday, April 14, 2018
We got a quick breakfast very early in the morning before being picked up at around 7:00am to be taken to Manuel Antonio National Park for a guided tour. Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest national park in Costa Rica at 683 hectares and combines rainforest and beaches. In 2011, Manuel Antonio was listed by Forbes among the world’s 12 most beautiful national parks. With over 100 mammals to be found and 184 species of birds, this is a great excursion for anyone looking to experience the abundance of wildlife that is found in Costa Rica. (itinerary info).
A bilingual nature guide, with a spotting scope, led our small group on a very informative three-hour hike through the park. This guy knew his stuff and was able to easily spot things we missed. We saw howler monkeys, three-toed and two-toed sloths, white-faced Capuchin monkeys, a coati, agoutis, deer, land crabs, butterflies and birds of all sorts, including a Stick Bird and a nighthawk.
Once we reached the beach we were treated to a light snack of fruit – mostly pineapple, papaya and watermelon. The capuchins were very much the beggars and tried all kinds of tactics to get people to feed them.
The rest of our afternoon was spent chilling out, and then exploring the resort a bit.
That night we went on another night hike/tour. This one was across the street near a butterfly exhibit. We walked across the crazy-busy street and waited in the shelter with a few other folks before being taken out on our tour. The location was ideal for frogs and boy did we hear them all! Our guide picked up a couple of hand-sized stones and, after testing several together, started making the same sounds as the Red-eyed tree frogs! Amazing! We saw all kinds of critters this night – so glad we went.
Monday, April 15, 2018
This morning we slept in (ha!) and had a leisurely breakfast then headed out for an ATV Tour. Neither of us has ever been on an ATV, so this was going to be a whole new adventure for us.
Manuel Antonio is where the ocean meets the rainforest, one of the most stunning areas of Costa Rica. The ATV tour gave us the opportunity to explore the area in an adventurous way by driving along unpaved roads through African Palm Plantations, Cattle farms, and typical Costa Rican towns. This was a great tour off the beaten track for adventure and discovering the natural beauty of the rain forest.
There were four of us; a nice young woman and (we think) her step-daughter, Alan and me. Once we got the hang of the ATVs (very easy) we headed off for about a six-mile journey before stopping to take a short (1.5 miles) nature hike through a rain forest. We wound up at a pretty waterfall where we got to swim in a natural pool. Oh boys was it cold! But it was refreshing too since we’d gotten hot during the hike. Our guide cut up a fresh pineapple for us to snack on while we got back into our dry(er) clothes, then we hiked back to the ATVs and drove back to the ranch we started at.
While my right hand got completely numb from operating the ATV, once I mentioned this problem, our guide told me that I was holding the control too tight – just loosen up a bit and I’d be fine. He was right. The trip back was just fine.
At the ranch we were treated to a home-cooked Costa Rican lunch of rice, beans, chicken and some fruit. We ate lots of fruit in Costa Rica. Lots of fruit.
One thing of note at the Si Como No Resort – this location has lots of steps – I don’t think it would be an ideal setting for someone who might have physical challenges. We managed very well, but in case you are considering going, if you have any walking issues, this may be one to skip.
Tuesday, April 16, 2018
Time to move on to the next location in our trip. At 9:00 AM we were picked up by another private transfer for the drive to a dock on the river in Sierpe. From here we boarded a small boat with another couple for a ride up the river to the mouth of the Pacific Ocean and out onto the ocean to our destination for the next three nights at the Aguila de Osa Inn next to Corcovado National Park, a very remote park along the coastline. The whole trip took us a little over three hours.
Here is what the itinerary said about this place: On the outskirts of Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Aguila de Osa Inn is a captivating little eco-lodge perfect for families and couples looking for a relaxing jungle retreat with limitless access to the surrounding rainforest, ocean & wildlife. Aguila de Osa’s property spans an impressive 28 acres of protected rainforest. The hotel’s 11 rooms & 2 suites are terraced up the lush cliffside overlooking the picturesque bay. Rooms maintain the lodge’s rustic style with natural wood furnishings & basic amenities like ceiling fans, minibar & hot showers. Rocking chairs & hammocks line the patios with the most stunning ocean & jungle views.
This place is remote – a no kidding kind of remote. There is no AC in the rooms, and toilets required one to dispose of used toilet paper in a receptacle next to the toilet. While we were used to this from our travels to Peru, Ecuador and China, it surprised us here since we’d been so spoiled at the other resort locations.
Aguila de Osa Inn is also on the cliffside of the ocean, so the rooms are accessed only by lots and lots and lots of stairs. After the first three flights, upon seeing the next level of stairs leading up to our room, I turned to Alan and asked, “Did you not tell Jill (our travel agent) that we were two fat out-of-shape sixty-year-olds?!?” Of course I was joking with him, but my brain just about seized at the thought of all those steps – ninety-plus of them by the way.
All dining would be exclusively at the Rio Selva Restaurant located on the property, and the food was great.
The upside is we could sit out on our little deck and watch hummingbirds and other birds throughout the day.
Wednesday, April 17, 2018
Breakfast was early and while we ate someone yelled, “Toucans! Toucans in the trees!”. Breakfast was forgotten as we hastily worked to position ourselves for the best shots.
A little while later we went on the Corcovado National Park tour. This meant about a 40 minute boat ride out onto the ocean and then on to land at the park for about eight of us. It was what is known as a wet landing, which means the captain got the boat as close to shore as possible, the mate got out and pulled with all his might onto the boat, and then we all got out up to our knees in the water and waded to short. Once on dry land we switched to walking/hiking shoes.
The hike was about two miles through the jungle and our guide brought along a spotting scope because most of the wildlife lives in the upper canopy of the jungle. The first thing we saw was a beautiful Tiger Heron. He just stood there in the river while people milled about trying to get pictures of him.
After this we saw a Great Black Hawk (adult), but were told by the guide that this variety had been renamed as a Mango Hawk because of its unique habitat.
We saw lots of lots of Leaf-cutter Ants marching in a line along the jungle floor with their little bits of leaves. We came across these busy fellows constantly and warned each other to “watch out for the ants”, stepping over them so as not to disrupt their work. At one point we walked along the beach and the Mango Hawk sort of stuck with us, flying a little ways, stopping on an outcropping of jagged rocks, or perching on a large palm leaf overhead. The hike afforded us sightings of a sloth, lots of Scarlet Macaws and a few other animals, but none were easy to photograph due to the heavy leaf canopy.
When we arrived back where we started we had a light snack of – guess what – fruit. The fruit was always fresh and always, always refreshing.
After about 45 minutes we headed back out, this time to go to a waterfall where we would be able to swim. This hike turned into one of the most challenging I have been on. Perhaps it was the bad knees, or that I was already a bit tired from the first hike, but the trails here were not well set, some only about a foot wide on a steep embankment, with steps up of about 18 to 20″ and around trees and roots. I’m used to trees and roots on trails, but slippery clay on those steep inclines was tough for one so wobbly on their feet already. Along the way we saw more jungle animals, like a big ol’ crocodile, and one of which was what our guide called a Costo Rican Turkey. It was actually a Great Curassow.
After about a mile or so, we arrived at the swimming hole and stripped down to our swim suits and got in. It was cool and refreshing. We stayed until the next group of hikers came along, then reluctantly got out to give them their turn. From there we hiked a bit less than a quarter of a mile to a larger waterfall, but it wasn’t for swimming – just for viewing. A pretty sight indeed.
I was proud to have made that trek, but glad it was over too. Lunch was on the beach and consisted of delicious foods prepared by the restaurant at our resort. We got back on our boat the same way we got off, and were taken back to the resort in the afternoon in time to freshen up, rest a bit then go down to dinner and compare the days’ notes with the other guests at the resort.
We availed ourselves of the resorts wifi – available only in the lobby/restaurant – and sent an email to our travel agent’s company. We’d noticed that we were to fly out to San Jose in two days and didn’t have any plane tickets.
Thursday, April 18, 2018
Up early again, we joined about ten others and went snorkeling at Cano Island, but before we left I checked email and found a note about how we were to proceed from the resort to our plane ride and on to the next location. Costa Rican Vacations could not have been better, or quicker, at answer our questions.
The waters were clear at first, but then they turned cloudy. There where severe thermals going on, you could even feel them as you would swim; cold for a bit, then suddenly quite warm. Apparently these played havoc with the water clarity and the rest of the expedition was a bust (through no fault of the guides).
We took a break on the beach between snorkeling locations, then were once again treated to a nice lunch on the beach after the snorkeling was done.
We were relieved to get back to the resort as it had been a hot outing. But when Alan and I got back to our room, we had a surprise in store for us – our bathroom door had accidentally been locked by the maid. We tried a few times to get it open, but finally had to give up. Since there are no phones in the rooms, and our cell phones didn’t have service, we looked at each other as if to dare the other to head back down the 2,000 stairs to get help. Alan finally caved in and hiked down to the lobby. Before too long, and just as the contents of my bladder were starting to back up into my kidneys, two young people arrive and knocked on the door. I showed them the problem and after much discussion with each other, and some gesticulations, the young man headed up and over the partial wall to our bathroom, then opened the door from the inside. By the time they left Alan showed up. I took first turn in our newly opened facility.
As I said, it had been a very hot day, and little did I realize that I’d gotten pretty badly burned across the top of my forehead. A relatively small area, but I felt stupid for it later. Add that to the weird reaction I was having to some bug bites in the same area that I received at Si Como No and I looked like some weird poster child for a jungle disease. I laughed it off, and tried to treat the problems with tea tree oil and aloe.
Friday, April 19, 2018
We said good-bye to the staff, vacationers and steps at Aguila de Osa Inn and boarded a very crowded boat with another couple for our trip back across the ocean and up the river to Sierpe where we were met by a driver who took all four of us to Palmar Sur Airport. This was a singular air strip (asphalt paved runway) with an outdoor kiosk-style terminal. Our tickets were laminated (each person’s was the same) so that they could be reused over and over again. Because we would be flying on a small 15-seater plane, everything, and everyone, had to be weighed. We placed our checked bag on the scale first, then we each had to stand with our carry-on on the scale. At least the weight display didn’t face anyone other than the young man checking us in.
The flight was about 45 minutes long and we taxied to some back area of the San Jose airport and waited for our luggage, saying good-bye to the couple we’d met and chatted with the most during our stay at Aguila de Osa Inn.
We were picked up and driven about 30 minutes just outside the city to Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn. Our itinerary described it like this: Finca Rosa Blanca Inn & Coffee Plantation is an authentic Costa Rican boutique in the Central Valley Highlands, just 20 minutes from the San Jose Airport. This intimate inn is an ideal option for families, couples and coffee-connoisseurs looking to experience authentic Costa Rican culture in a sustainable and enriching setting. Finca Rosa Blanca Inn is set on 7.5 acres with 30 acres of hard bean coffee fields and breathtaking views of the Central Valley. It was a beautiful little place and very, very comfortable. I hated that we only had one night there.
Alan and I decided to take a walk around and do some birding, but not 200 feet from our room my right knee gave out. I had to hobble back and rest it. Alan went on without me.
Dinner was delicious at the plantation’s own restaurant.
Our flight the next day was scheduled for 7:00 AM, so we had be be picked up at 4:00 AM. Our driver must have confused the timing because he picked us up at 3:35 AM and got us to the airport at 4:00 AM. We certainly weren’t going to miss our plane!
We only had a glitch at Atlanta’s airport when our carry-on bags were flagged because of our camera gear, other than that the flight was uneventful and we made it home by 6:30 PM with Papa John’s pizzas in hand.