This year, my sister and I officially won the ‘Best Daughters Ever’ award, as for Mother’s Day we didn’t just buy our nature-loving mum a bunch of flowers, or even a puppy. We bought her a holiday to Costa Rica, the most biologically diverse country in the world and home to some of earth’s most exotic flora and fauna!
After the purchasing of insect repellent and copious amounts of sun cream, and months of excited speculation, the day of our flight to San Jose finally came. I could easily write reams and reams about this holiday – about the adventures my sister and I had trekking around Arenal Volcano astride lovely little guava-loving ponies, or our night time trail through the mysterious Monteverde Cloud forest, amidst flickering fireflies and sleeping hummingbirds. However, in the interest of keeping this blog under a billion words, I’ve decided to concentrate on the part of the holiday all three of us unanimously voted the most magical – our time in Tortuguero National Park.
The day began at dawn with a picturesque drive out of San Jose and through the lush central basin and across the Guápiles Highway. The long journey didn’t faze us, there was so much to see out of the window, as the charming downtown streets of San Jose gradually transformed into the spectacular cloud forest of Braulio Carrillo National Park, where waterfalls ran down the rock face and toucans glided overhead.
We stopped for breakfast at the El Ceibor restaurant. After enjoying what we soon came to know as a classic Costa Rican breakfast: rice and beans with scrambled eggs, watermelon and banana bread on the side, we went exploring around the restaurant grounds. As with everywhere in Costa Rica, it was nonchalantly beautiful, with bright bodacious flowers and a sloth and iguana-laden canopy of trees. To cool off from the relentless sunshine, we wandered down to a shaded river, which meandered through the property, and were lucky to spot a sunbathing iguana and an exquisitely small and perfect poison dart frog.
Filled and refreshed from our breakfast break, we continued on our way to the Caribbean coast. The further we drove the ‘junglier’ the view outside the window became. As we gazed out of the window, scenes of picketed wooden fences and floppy eared cows gave way to lush rainforest and swamplands.
On arrival at the port, where we were to deposit our luggage – and ourselves – into the motor boats for our waterway voyage to Tortuguero, our guide warned us sternly “it’s going to be pandemonium out there, everyone shouting and loading up their boats, make sure you stay calm and stick with me”. However our guide had clearly never caught the tube at rush hour, or tried to haggle at a Sunday market, as us Brits found the whole process rather friendly and civilised in comparison. After a couple of false starts in the shallow water, the engine was on and we were cruising down the network of tropical canals.
Lush vegetation densely packed the riverbanks on either side of us and huge Jurassic ferns and exotic tendrils reached out across the water and brushed our boat as we motored past. Jesus Christ lizards sunbathed on beachy outcrops, butterflies played just above the water’s surface, sinister caiman snoozed and packs of scarlet macaws soared and chatted above us. The sheer amount of creatures we saw was overwhelming. A feat all the more impressive when you consider that this wasn’t even a proper wildlife boat excursion, this was simply the boat transfer from A - B!
After around two hours on the water we reached the lodge and were greeted with some very welcome cocktails and the keys to our room. Heralded by a huge turtle shaped pool, the Pachira Lodge is an extended complex right in the heart of the Tortuguero jungle and like nowhere we had ever been before.
When we found our room, we realised that “room” was not really the right word, our accommodation was more like a cabaña, a stand-alone little home with our own porch and patch of jungle. The interior was like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, simple bamboo furnishing, mosquito net window shutters and a large ceiling fan. We loved it!
It was difficult to tear ourselves away from our comfy dwelling, but it had to be done as after lunch it was time for our trip to the village of Tortuguero, across the waters. As we took the weaving walk from our room to the docks, we saw a lizard dart across our path, a green snake stealthily coiled around a tree and, marching along the bannister of a bridged walkway, a line of bullet ants carrying leaves and flowers. However, these were just the warm up acts! When we got to the docks we were treated with the delightful sight of a family of howler monkeys, complete with adorable babies, playing in the low tree branches just an arm stretch away from us. Amazing! Once again I must emphasise that this was no special nature hike, just a normal walk through the hotel grounds which these amazing wild animals just happen to call home. Brilliant!
The trip to the town was a nice way to see a different side to Tortuguero. We sipped coconut milk and strolled through the collection of houses, cocktail bars and gift shops and soaked up the wonderfully laid back Afro-Caribbean vibes. We briefly considered staying late and partying the night away in the village’s sole “discoteca” and then thought “No, to bed for us”! We strolled back across the lovely soft sand beach, side stepping around a couple of errant blue crabs, and took the return boat journey across the bay. An early night was definitely in order, especially considering our nature cruise was at the crack of dawn the following day...
That concludes Part 1 of Mai's adventure in Costa Rica. Check back in on Monday to read about the nature cruise through the canals of Tortuguero.
If you have been inspired to experience Tortuguero for yourself, check out our Best of Costa Rica holiday. You can find out more information on all of our amazing Latin American holidays by visiting our Llama Travel Holidays page, by ordering our brochure or giving us a call on 020 7263 3000.