Spotting wildlife... in Costa Rica

| February 22, 2018

As this was my second trip to Costa Rica in three years, I was thankful that British Airways’ new direct flight meant I could now fly direct ­– taking 11 hours – rather than flying via Newark.  Cox & Kings’ Natural Splendours of Costa Rica escorted tour is primarily designed for those who have an interest in the natural world and I would recommend taking sturdy walking shoes or boots for walking through the jungle. Due to the high humidity in the jungle, some of the walking did, at times, prove to be a little taxing. Also be prepared for some long days and early starts: we had breakfast most mornings around 7am and were travelling by 8am.

Arenal volcano

Arriving into San Jose, the city is typically Latin American and is pure chaos. Keep an eye out for banzai motorcyclists as mirrors and indicators here seem to be optional! Leaving the capital, our first destination was Tortuguero, which is reached by a boat ride along the canals and backwaters. When the weather is good, it is fantastic, with lots of animal spottings along the way. We arrived at Mawamba Lodge, which sits right on a canal. Each wooden lodge has a veranda, one main room, with two single beds and a basic – but perfectly acceptable! – en suite toilet and shower. Getting up early is not an issue here as the howler monkeys announce day break for you and you may even hear iguanas walking on the tin roof! The food is simple: the ubiquitous rice and beans for breakfast alongside plenty of delicious, fresh fruit.

Boat trip to Tortuguero

Boat ride to Tortuguero

The trip to Arenal takes a several hours, during which the view from the coach is breathtaking. We arrived at the Arenal Paraiso hotel, where I took advantage of the opportunity to use the hotel’s laundry as my clothes wouldn’t dry in Tortuguero due to the humidity. It’s also the cheapest laundry on the trip! We had an early start for the Caño Negro boat trip, which was great for spotting bird species and well-worth the early start!

In Monteverde, we enjoyed spending time simply sitting quietly in the Hotel Fonda Vela’s gardens and watching the wildlife come to you. There were also extra trips available from the hotel including a night walk. The food here was probably the best on the trip. We visited an Italian restaurant in the local town that served very good food, and at a good price (approximately $7 -12) and the beer was $2. The cloud forest is a unique environment, but the bridge walk can be a bit difficult if it’s raining. I chose to spend a happy half-hour in the hummingbird garden being used as a perch! However, photography with a mobile phone was tricky because not only are they quick, but they perched on the phone.

Monteverde cloud forest humming bird feeder

Hummingbirds in Monteverde cloud forest

I would recommend taking advantage of the tour extensions on offer. We went on to the El Parador hotel in Manuel Antonio, which was the best hotel on the trip. There are several restaurants serving very high quality food and it was the perfect opportunity to unwind and relax. Don’t miss the organised trips from the hotel, the walk around the grounds at night can be quite illuminating. The national park itself is a must-do, with an abundance of wildlife to be spotted. Just make sure that you keep an eye on the white-faced capuchins and the racoons otherwise they’ll be in your bags in a flash: you’ll probably need to keep checking for the bandits behind you! You also get a chance to swim in the Pacific, off a beautiful sandy beach.

Capuchin monkey

The largest is 8ft10 of my suggestions for an enjoyable holiday:

  1. Take a waterproof case or wet bag as there’s a lot of boat travel and things can get wet.
  2. Take a PVC poncho – there’s no such thing as drizzle in Costa Rica – it’s dry or stair rods.
  3. Take flip flops for the boat trips and the beach.
  4. Take antihistamine gel pens for bites. My first visit I was bitten once. This time I got 47 bites in one night... lovely. Fortunately, malaria is not a significant risk.
  5. You can drink the water out of the tap, except in Tortugero.
  6. Though they readily take US dollars, it’s actually more cost effective to use colones, as you avoid a second exchange rate. They do take debit and credit cards almost everywhere.
  7. Let your bank know you are on holiday to avoid getting your card blocked.
  8. Turn roaming data off on your phone.
  9. A long camera lens is a must on a monopod or tripod. Alternatively, take a spotter scope and a tripod and use your mobile phone. I would recommend practicing with the scope before travelling.
  10. Bank on $40 a day pp. Evening meals are $15 - $30 generally. Beer is $4 a bottle (Imperial) or $6 for imported (Corona).


A tree frog in Manuel Antonio

A tree frog in Manuel Antonio

Enjoy Costa Rica! I will definitely travel again with Cox & Kings.

To find out more about Costa Rica, see here . Alternatively, take a look at Cox & Kings’ Costa Rica group tours, private itineraries, or speak to one of our experts about organising a tailor-made trip.

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One thought on "Spotting wildlife… in Costa Rica"

  1. Margaret Sharpe says:

    Very illumimating!!