Picking up where we left off – Heliconias Nature Lodge in the La Fortuna region was our first stop of three on our trip. We got settled in our first night and were so pumped that this place had their own restaurant. This time of year is slow for tourism, so we were one of only two couples staying at the Lodge, during our Monday through Wednesday stay. This allowed us to really get to know the workers: a married couple accompanied by their entire family that filled various roles throughout the lodge. They built the place from the ground up and have upwards of 20 treehouses to date. Be sure to click their link above to read their whole story!
We were able to practice our Spanish and ordered our first Costa Rican cuisine: their version of “Surf N Turf.” Nothing on this trip struck us (mostly Clint) as overwhelming tasty, but all we had eaten were some fruit and nuts on the plane, so this tasted like gold to us.
Our first full day in Costa Rica was set aside for our one paid excursion: White Water Rafting. We booked this prior to our vacation on Trip Advisor, and it was through a company that outsourced all of their trips to other local companies. Hence, we drove ourselves to the travel agency’s office, were transported to another travel agency location about an hour away, and then were taken to our drop off at the river. Being that it was the slow season in Costa Rica, we were only paired up with one other couple, in addition to the tour guide. We opted for the Level 4 rapids and sat in the front of the raft, both of which I highly recommend.
When our rafting concluded, we were told we would have to wait about 20 minutes before heading back to the secondary location for lunch, due to protestors. The newly elected president wanted to raise tax rates, so the citizens would close the streets in protest. It was strange to us that this seemed so common to our tour guide, as if it were a routine practice that everyone engaged in. We didn’t think much of it; we waited the 20 minutes and headed back for a homemade Costa Rican lunch. These meals always consisted of fresh fruit (especially mamóns and plantains), rice, and some sort of root that was acceptable to eat.
Arenal Volcano National Park
On our drive to our second destination, Puntarenas, we stopped for a hike at the Arenal Volcano National Park. The entrance is not far out of the main area of La Fortuna, but make sure to get cash before you leave the city! ATMs are few and far between, and you have to use cash to enter the National Park.
We ended up hiking both trails: Las Coldadas and Los Tucanes. Las Coldadas is a shorter hike and leads up to a lava field lookout of the volcano. We also walked up on guided bird watch and were able to eavesdrop of sorts to see a few toucans. If seeing wildlife is important to you, I would recommend a guide. There is not a chance that we would have spotted them if it weren’t for our happenstance.
The Los Tucanes trail forks off of the Las Coldadas trail right at the bottom of the lookout and is easily a less traveled trail – we didn’t see a single person on this two-mile trail. This was the trail that we spotted numerous lizards, a snake, two turkey looking birds, and an unidentified creature that we later classified as an anteater. We also came upon a huge ceiba tree that was absolutely stunning.
DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Central Pacific
Our next few days were spent at the all-inclusive DoubleTree Resort on the West Coast of Costa Rica. If you are wanting an adventurous vacation, Costa Rica is the place for you. If you want to chill on the beach all day, this resort and part of the country is not for you. Don’t get me wrong, we had a fine time watching the waves from the pier and drinking the free booze, but the food was subpar, all inclusives have shotty wine, and the beach was REALLY dirty. While the food could be improved, the beach is really no fault of their own; the water rolls down the mountains and collects all kinds of debris, that then fills the beachfront. This is the only Hilton all-inclusive in Costa Rica, so we were very limited on options.
The resort was nice though, and it worked in nicely to our itinerary. We front-loaded our trip with adventure so that we could just chill during the second half. It was also closer to two animals we wanted to see during the trip: crocodiles and monkeys. Insert protest encounter numero dos.
The drive to Crocodile Bridge was quoted at around an hour according to Google Maps. But, the citizens of Costa Rica had other plans. A couple miles out from the bridge, we came to a stop, one that last for over an hour. We saw people swarming the road selling their fruits, coconut water, and even pre-packaged lunches. After a long while of waiting, Clint made friends with of the bystanders, and discovered that the protestors, in addition to the police, only let traffic pass for five minutes, once an hour. When the traffic flow started, as many people raced across the bridge as possible. As for us, we stopped in the town and waiting for the road to be closed again. What would typically be a tourist covered bridge, was completely empty. We enjoyed looking at the crocodiles with the entire bridge to ourselves. Some of the tour guides did offer a crocodile watching excursion that entailed getting up close and personal on a boat in the river, but we declined since we were able to see so many without a crowd.
A tour guide that roamed the beach had tried to sell us on an all-day excursion during our time at the resort. He mentioned the Crocodile Bridge, a few hours on a nice beach, lunch, and monkeys. He talked like the monkeys were right down the road, but we never saw any signs. We had chalked it up as a loss. On our way out of Puntarenas, we stopped in to a travel agency with a small glimmer of hope that they would point us in the right direction. They offered their tour to us, but after a few minutes, finally told us how to find the location. Bless them. This was the absolute highlight of our trip.
With the directions, we were in tow to see the monkeys. We were led down a narrow, gravel road, and advised to turn right at the end of the road and drive through a wooden gate. We were told that it would cost three dollars each, so we were expecting a toll booth of sorts. We passed a house, and a man sitting outside of his garage tootling with something. We rolled down the window and asked where the monkeys were, and he pointed toward the mountain. We proceeded down the road, but not long after he was walking up behind us. He advised us to park and started whistling. Monkeys emerged from the forest like there was a wild fire chasing them. The man started cutting up bananas and put them in a ramekin for us to hand-feed them. They were hesitant at first, and we would have to feed them from the branches, but before too long they were jumping and climbing on us to try to grab a bite. I think they have a master plan where one sits on your shoulder to distract you, and another comes up to wipe the bowl clean before you realize what’s happened.
This was THE COOLEST experience! For three dollars, we got to hang out with a slew of monkeys, by ourselves, in their natural environment. We couldn’t help but think about how much this would have cost at a nursery or zoo back home. We loved that it was such an organic experience; there weren’t any signs to advertise, this man just lived in the right place and wanted to share the monkeys with anyone that heard by word of mouth.
Thanks for following along. This trip was loaded with memories that will last us a lifetime! Comment below if you have any questions about your upcoming Costa Rica visit.