To be honest, I was pretty lost when it came to my Costa Rica trip planning. I had been busy exploring the USA with 10 cities in 30 days and getting around by yourself turned out to be a little bit tricky. I couldn’t just hop on an overland bus like I did in the USA and let it drop me off where I needed to be. So I was mighty glad to be able to team up with Anywhere Costa Rica to test out their many tours free of charge to review for you.
Anywhere had set up an impressive itinerary for me to explore the jungle heart of the country for over six days with lots of activities and nature highlights. Unlike regular tour companies, Anywhere pieces together tours, shuttle services and hotels from all over the country to suit your needs instead of providing their own.
Rain, Forest and a Shy Volcano
And so I was shuttled off from San Jose to Arenal and its volcanoes. The morning I spent basking in the sun by the pool underneath giant palm trees and once the shuttle came around, the clouds decided to make an appearance as well and made the word rainforest proud. It was a curtain of drops crashing to the ground, splashing me even underneath my raincoat.
During our Arenal Volcano History Walk, the weather gradually got better and I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of volcano Arenal in all its glory for literally a minute. Then, the clouds and the constant misty vapours shrouded it away from sight again. So here’s the lesson for you: whenever you happen to see the volcano fully, instantly stop and snap a picture because 80% of the people visiting will not get that chance. It is a rather shy volcano.
That might also be why it erupted so unforeseenly back in 1968. It basically blocked itself and with the increasing pressure, it formed a new volcano on the side and blew away a huge area of the rainforest (over 15 square kilometres, to be exact) and took the life of 87 people as well as 3 whole villages with it. What was left was volcanic debris with rocks and ashes covering the land. Even now you can climb over the rocks and see how the young forest is trying to recover to its original grandeur.
During our volcano base walk we were told exactly how nature managed to grow on insanely infertile sandy grounds, fertilised it and over time stacked layers of layers of vegetation on top of each other until now we can find big trees again and animals returning. We even saw one of the most venomous snakes, the eyelash peat viper casually rolled up on a root of a fallen tree.
We didn’t get too close because once bitten, you have four hours to write your testament and call your beloved ones. Did you know they are faster than hummingbirds, which is their favourite snack? It only takes her three quarters of a second. Now, I call that efficient. But that’s how I feel I am eating chocolate. One second it is there and then it is gone. Ninja snake skills right there.
During our walk, I had lots of questions, which our guide was not reluctant to answer. I encourage you to always try and find out as much as you on your destination as that is the best way to get to know the world. And look around you, especially above! We saw a colourful toucan, a sloth and th Montezuma Oropendula birds with their golden tail feathers in the distance.
Wet, Wetter, Thermal Baths with Rain
The rain had started again and the volcano’s location was anyone’s guess by the time we returned to our shuttle but even though the day was over, mine wasn’t nearly. Half an hour later I found myself getting comfortable in the Eco Termales Hot Springs in La Fortuna while the cool rain kept dripping on my head. It’s a weird experience but also very special and you should never skip on a thermal bath in a jungle when it rains. It adds to the experience!
There were several pools to choose from as well as a non-thermal waterfall, which was way too cool for my taste and so I just climbed over the small waterfalls and into the other basins. One more secluded one reminded me of my Japanese onsen experience with its much warmer temperature, but even so, it never was that hot, which is good when you want to paddle around to explore.
It was a deep dark around me by now and the clouds high above reflected the lights below in an ominous grey but floating on my back while blinking away water droplets is just the best feeling. If you ask me, hitting the swimming pool at night is so much better. Less crowds, less blinding sun and more mystery.
It wasn’t long before my stomach was claiming my attention and we made off between the palm leaves and jungle vines to dry up and hit the buffet. My thermal springs tip: don’t hop into the shower after bathing in a natural pool as the crystals and minerals will stay on your skin and thus provide you with a longer treatment. Wash it off hours later and just dry yourself down with a towel.
The buffet was phenomenal, even though small, but it covered the essentials of Costa Rican cuisine and so I could try it out all at once instead of hunting local food down throughout my trip. It included typical casado (rice, beans, plantains, white cheese and tacos with filing), different salads and meat in sauce as well as the most delicious sweets. If you see a passion fruit cheesecake, try it (and I am not only saying that as I am on a global chesecake mission)!
I roamed the different paths next to the springs some more as it evokes a much different feeling than doing it in full daylight. Imagine pushing away leaves and following the lamp lit wooden path through a jungle canopy and hearing lone frogs in the distance. I didn’t spot any but that’s alright, I would at a later point.
On top of the Forest and Below Waterfalls
My frog moment came when I joined my new group for the 2 in 1 Hanging Bridges and La Fortuna Waterfall morning tour. Costa Rica is well known for its many hanging bridges high up in the jungle canopy and so I was extremely excited to walk across the 15 brightly green painted suspension bridges and look down on a completely different world. Your best chances for seeing Cost Rican wildlife are on top of the tree tops and at night. The walk could be done with or without a guide but I preferred local knowledge and I am terrible at spotting animals.
It was also great that our knowledgeable guide had a big telescope (as they do in Costa Rica) to help us blind tourists spot the animals as well. We saw some noisy monkeys play in the tops far away and spotted another eyelash peat viper (this time a rare yellow one). We also had several encounters with a dark grey racoon who was not at all concerned with us humans but had his eyes set on our pineapple, which was beautifully arranged to welcome us back after the walk. But guess what, once the racoon actually managed to sneak away one piece, he instantly abandoned it. Picky!
Our tour guide was also one of the ones that would poke a stick at a tarantula’s hole to lure her out. We did see the big hairy spider and made sure to stay clear of it. It just made the guide laugh. I guess we were quite the sissies. He also caught one poisonous frog for us, called blue jeans due to his blue legs. It was the cutest and my little frog lover’s heart rejoiced.
It was just a short drive past Lake Arenal, which by the way is manmade and flooded a whole village and on a calm day with low water level you can even see the top of the church underwater, and then we were near the La Fortuna Waterfall. It was very much like the iconic Millaa Millaa Falls near Cairns in Australia and many visitors had switched into their swimsuits to explore it more up close.
I climbed among the big rocks by the riverside to get a great view from below (and stay dry – the water was somewhat chilly) and avoid the crowds by the small sandy shore. It sometimes is great to find a little nook for yourself and watch life around you and soak up the atmosphere. This was a great place to do just that.
The day’s trip was not yet over, however, and we got to experience lunch away from the touristy city and at a local house with real Costa Ricans and a self-made traditional meal. While we were feasting on casado, cake and freshly pressed juice, we were watched by little colourful birds and a big green parrot. (If you make a Costa Rica trip, drink as much fresh juice as you can! It is the absolute best I’ve ever tasted. ) A sloth was dozing off in a high up palm tree but we still spotted it.
Crawling in the Dark
Like I mentioned before, spotting animals is so much harder during the day with many creatures being nocturnal or out during dusk (especially those annoying mosquitoes) and so Anywhere Costa Rica put me on two night walks to increase the likelihood of seeing more animals. I wasn’t very lucky as the weather was not too kind and my river floating adventure turned into a rain front with thunderbolts lighting up the sky in the distance. And we were on a rubber boat in the middle of a now muddy brown river on our Twilight Safari Float Tour.
While I could barely see and rolled myself up under my raincoat, occasionally paddling when instructed with my two fellow travellers, the guide was all confident and knew where he was going. It seems Costa Ricans in Arenal have become immune to the constant rain and don’t even use raincoats or umbrellas. Rain is so natural, our guide seemed to have super rain vision as well.
We spotted some birds, a camouflaged giant lizard and definitely smelled wet monkeys (without seeing them) but the highlight apart from the fascinating yet scary sight of rain, river and thunderclouds was the meal at a local farm afterwards. Again, very traditional and with yummy juice but the best part was learning about the different ways of life in the region. The owner’s daughter was a high class horse riding artist, competing and winning all over the world. I think she had been dancing around and on horses from the age of four. Now if that isn’t impressive, I don’t know what is.
My next animal night tour during my Costa Rica trip took place in the cloud forest of Monteverde, the Hidden Valley Night Tour. We stayed on the ground this time and did not see much apart from crickets, bugs and a petrified bird trying to put on an imaginary invisibility cloak when we spotted him in the branches of a low hanging tree. It was beautiful to walk in the dark though and I liked being silly with my torch light – especially since my fellow tour members were super boring and preferred to blind all animals (including me) around with a giant flash on top of a giant camera.
What was absolutely epic in Monteverde’s CLoud Forest, however, was the ziplining. If you remember, I had already done ziplining in New Zealand as my birthday gift to myself last year and was still raving about it. Time to do it again, I say and Costa Rica is one of the best places to do so. Monteverde itself had the longest and fastest lines in all of Central America and it did frighten me a little bit. That was particularly true when I had to pair up with a random person so that we wouldn’t get stuck in the middle of the zipline due to the strong winds.
I did not get stuck and had a blast getting up high into the dense clouds with the SkyTram and then racing down on the Sky Trek for two hours with its eight ziplines with 40 miles per hour and down heights of over 328 feet. It was definitely crazy and I loved it! It was the highlight of my Costa Rica trip. The best part is when you just race towards a big cloud that is completely shrouding your vision of where you are going, trusting you will land on the ground (or the tree top) and then further down, you can gaze all over the lands, seeing the sparkling lake in the distance. My tip for you: bring warm clothing, don’t take your camera if you can’t strap it on you (I know it sucks) and have a weather proof jacket on.
Becoming a Costa Rica Coffee/Chocolate Expert and Being Belittled
I don’t drink coffee, and I still don’t see its appeal but learning all about it and showing off just a little is something I am totally ok with and so I did one must-do Costa Rica trip to a chocolate, coffee and sugar cane plantation in Monteverde. It might sound a tad boring but, trust me, you will not regret it. Not only will you get treasured coffee as the perfect souvenir for friends and family at home but you will also learn a ton and find out why you are drinking coffee all wrong.
Did you know that Robusta is forbidden in Costa Rica? You can only get Arabica due to its better quality and due to the fact that it is not grown in such big quantities (Costa Rica is small, y’all). I learned all about the whole processing, from picking the right beans (the red ones, not the white -and you can eat them right there and then, too!), over drying and raking them, then squeezing the them out of their shell and roasting them over the right amount of time.
The longer you roast, the more it loses its taste. So, lovely people, the espresso you are so crazy about is really not good at all (or you should go get a real Italian one). Did you know that coffee is even ok to give to kids? It actually doesn’t have that much caffeine in it and is heaps better than Coca Cola (#saysthiswhiledrinkingCoke).
What surprised me was to find out why I don’t like coffee, red wine nor dark chocolate (but you can still get my tips on the best wine tastings in Australia’s Barossa Valley). I was told that you have to develop the taste for it as there are bitter flavours to it and without those buds in place, there is no hope for me. I have to develop them I guess I still stick to chocolate as it saves me more money for more travels than to develop any more sins. Oh, and before I forget, I also rode in the world heritage listed ox wagons. It was literally a very bumpy ride and I would not want to trade jobs or vehicles.
What I missed out on during my Costa Rica trip was the Guided Tour through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve as the shuttle that was supposed to take me there was not booked and even though a representative of the tour company personally showed up to apologize and telling me they would do “everything to put me on another tour that day”, Anywhere Costa Rica did not want to put me on a later date and said “they could not do anything”.
It later turned out that since I was “only” a media representative and my contribution “minor” to them, they did not want to focus too much time on me as they do with clients. Now, being a blogger and writing about these tours as well as asking all kinds of questions up front serves the point of giving you an authentic experience of the services from the point of view of the client you might want to become. So, that experience left me extremely confused and I felt rather let down being told I wasn’t valued much. That put quite a sour spin on the overall experience, which had been so positive until then.
Plan Your Costa Rica Trip here
So now that you have been introduced to some options on how to conquer Costa Rica and not go crazy over bus schedules and switches in non-English speaking towns and all the different tours you could take, here are the contact details of Anywhere Costa Rica in case you are interested in your own Costa Rica trip adventures. There are toll free numbers for different countries all over the world, but let me just list a few:
Web: Anywhere Costa Rica
Mail: [email protected]
US Toll Free: +1-888-371-0214
UK Toll Free: +44-800-088-5758
AU Toll Free: +61-1800-645-938
I would like to thank Anywhere Costa Rica for its great itinerary and letting me experience such a wide variety of activities in Costa Rica’s rain and cloud forests. It was a great way of getting a first impression of the country and as always, my opinion remains my own.