February 7, 2013. We flew into San Jose in the middle of the afternoon. Took a taxi to La Ribera de Belen to the Dollar Rental Car place (if you take a taxi you don’t have to pay airport tax). It takes some time to pick up the car, but finally we are on our way to Cartago. We probably didn’t get started until almost 4:00. It was only about 50 miles across the city to where we were going to stay close to Irazu, but it took about 3 hours. The traffic through San Jose was terrible – incredibly slow. So, we did the one thing everyone says not to do – drove in the dark. We saw a lot of accidents along the way, but finally got there. Got slowed down by a detour at one point. We stayed at Grandpas Hotel on the road to Irazu. We ate dinner next to Grandpas Hotel at the 1910 Café. A really nice place with good food. It was a good choice, as we got up, had breakfast, and made it up to the volcano early. It was a beautiful day, with the clouds below us and we got a clear view of the crater. We went to Poas last year, so it was interesting to see Irazu this time around. The drive up to the park is also interesting – lots of agriculture, including onion fields. Be sure to drive up the bad road to the overlook beyond the first parking area for a great view of Turrialba Volcano. After our visit to Irazu we headed for the Orosi Valley. We stopped at Sanchiri to eat lunch because everyone on Trip Advisor said to. It is a stunning view from there and well worth a stop. We then drove the loop road through the valley, stopping at the church in Orosi and the ruins of the old church in Ujarris. We found the agriculture really interesting. Lots of passion fruit and sugar cane. We had hoped to also visit Guayabo in the afternoon, but there wasn’t time. It closes early. So, we headed to our next hotel, Turrialtico, beyond Turrialba a few miles. Turrialtico has stunning views – a great place to stay on the way to Puerto Viejo. We stopped here for two nights so we could do a rafting trip on the Pacuare River. They have a nice sitting area above the dining room with couches and an incredible view. We had time to relax. Because we had eaten at Sanchiri we weren’t really hungry, so didn’t have any dinner at Turrialtico. Our room was above the dining room and was very noisy during the evening.
Day 3 – In the morning after breakfast Rios Tropicales sent a taxi to pick us up. One of the guides came with it. We were dropped off at a reserve on the road to Siquirres. The bus was going to be late coming from San Jose so we started to walk down the dirt road to the river where the boats put in. It turned out to be a delightful bonus nature walk with the guide. The bus finally came and picked us up and took us to the river. There was a lot of waiting – for some additional buses. We got our helmets, paddles, and life jackets and finally were ready to take off. There were many boats in the group. We were with four men from Slovakia. Our guide ended up being the same one who rode from the hotel with us – he was great (Guapo). I would highly recommend this river-rafting trip. Because it was February and the water was low, the technical difficulty of rafting was high. It is 18 miles and took about 5 hours. Class IV rapids. We did most of it before stopping for lunch. I sure was ready to eat. The guides put out a sandwich buffet and fruit. My husband and I sat in the front of the raft, which was definitely the most exciting place to be (but not for the faint at heart). It was a blast. I got thrown out once. It was hard work and a bit scary at times. The river is stunningly beautiful and completely wild. It was one of the highlights of our trip. We were given a ride back to Turrialtico by one of the employees. We had some dinner at Turrialtico – food was good.
Day 4 – We left Turrialtico around 9:00. The road is good to Siquirres. I had contacted the developer of the Grand View Estates housing development past Siquirres to see if we could stop and see it, but it was Sunday morning and I couldn’t make arrangements. We drove up their road but the gate was locked. It looks like a lovely piece of property, but I think too low in altitude for us (too hot). We continued on through Limon to the Sloth Sanctuary before Cahuita. We ended up going on their 2 hour $25 tour. It was really fun to meet Buttercup and see all the baby sloths, and other sloths in captivity. We were taken on a nice relaxing canoe ride on the river. Then we continued on to Puerto Viejo and arrived at the Banana Azul resort around 3:30. What a great place – highly recommended. We drove into town looking for a place to eat. Ended up driving almost all the way to Manzanillo and ate at El Refugio. Very small open air place – quite pricey, but excellent food and ambience.
Day 5 – This was a busy day. In the morning we drove out to Arrecife and snorkeled. It’s a beautiful beach but the snorkeling was not too great. We didn’t see many fish. Then we drove to Cahuita and took a hike. Parked past the ranger station away from town and walked to the point and back to our car. We definitely didn’t feel like we would have wanted a guide and didn’t see any. We saw an anteater driving in, but didn’t get a good look at it. We saw a capuchin monkey steal a granola bar and scramble up a tree to eat it. We also saw a huge sloth moving around. It’s a nice walk, but we felt like 2-3 hours was enough. Then we had an early dinner at The Point Sports Bar near Banana Azul and went on a night hike with one of the ATEC guides – just the two of us. About 2 hours. We saw several snakes – a yellow eyelash viper up close (very poisonous), a beautiful vine snake and something else. Lots of ants and spiders, frogs, toads. We watched kinkajous in the trees – that was really cool.
Day 6 – We had arranged to go on a hike in the Gandoca-Manzanillo reserve with Abel Bustamente this day. We drove into Manzanillo to his house to meet him. There were four other people. He is a great guide, lots of fun, and incredibly knowledgeable. It was a long hike – about 5 hours. This is a place where you want a guide. We wouldn’t have seen much and probably would have gotten lost without him. We saw lots of sloths, toucans, other birds, a tarantula (that he coaxed out of his hole with a stick), frogs, ants, spiders, snakes, and lots of howler monkeys. We went down to the beach at the end – absolutely gorgeous. Picture postcard perfect. We went to Maxis for a late lunch/early dinner. Food was great. I had shishkebabs and cold beer. We could only get a reservation for 2 nights at Banana Azul, so we had to move for our third night. We dropped off our luggage at Physis B&B in Cocles on the way to Manzanillo. What a beautiful B&B. Jeremy and Emily are great hosts and were very helpful. We left our rental car there while we were in Bocas del Toro. We went into Puerto Viejo that evening to go to the bakery and the farmacia.
Day 7 – Emily made arrangements for us for the shuttle to Bocas del Toro through Mozes in Puerto Viejo. It worked great. At $55 per person round trip it is a great deal. They picked us up at the B&B and took us to Sixaola. Someone met us and made sure we got through the customs process on both sides of the bridge, then loaded us in another van to go to Almirante. When we got there we were loaded onto the water taxi for Bocas Town. When we got to Bocas we wandered around a little, found the ATM machine (the only one in town – long line) at the bank, and had lunch overlooking the water. Helene from Playa Bluff Lodge was supposed to pick us up, but we couldn’t get in touch with them, so took a taxi out to Playa Bluff. Takes about 25 minutes because the road is sand most of the way, so very slow. Beautiful beach, lovely garden in back, and nice restaurant.
Day 8 – Reinier gave us a ride into town at 7:30. Helene made us an egg sandwich to take along. We went and signed up for the catamaran sailing trip – got the last two spaces. It was a fun day and I enjoyed the sailboat instead of bouncing around in a motor boat. But, you can’t cover as much ground. We couldn’t find any dolphins, but spent quite a bit of time looking. We snorkeled in two places. The coral was quite nice in the first place. The second place was interesting, but nothing really exciting. I was hoping for better snorkeling in Bocas. Maybe if we had taken a motor boat we could have gone someplace better. The Captain made us big turkey sandwiches and had beer in a cooler. It was fairly late in the day by the time we came back to Bocas Town. We had dinner at Buena Vista and then got a taxi ride back to Playa Bluff Beach around 7:30pm.
Day 9 – We got a ride into town at 7:30 again. We went to the bakery for donuts and coffee and then grabbed a water taxi to Bastimentos – Old Bank. Quaint little town, if you can call it that. No street really – more like a sidewalk that runs through it. We walked to the Point and then took the trail to the Up the Hill shop. We didn’t stop, but kept going to Wizard Beach. Probably took at least a half hour to get there. The trail was muddy and slippery, but interesting to see the interior of the island. The beach is beautiful and wild and I really enjoyed going for a swim. We only saw 4 other people. There is no way back except to walk back over the trail. We walked over to the Firefly because we had seen it on House Hunters International. Talked to the owner for a few minutes. They weren’t open yet because it was only about noon. Beautiful spot. We took a water taxi back to Bocas Town ($3 each way) and had lunch at a pizza place (bagel paninis) and got a taxi back to Playa Bluff. Went swimming in their pool and had dinner at the restaurant there and hung out on the beach a bit.
Day 10 – We got a ride into town at 6:15, since that was when Reinier was going. We had tickets for the 8:00 water taxi to Almirante. We got back to Puerto Viejo by about 10:30 (it is an hour later in Panama than Costa Rica). We picked up our car at Physis and stopped at the bakery for some snacks for the drive to La Virgen, up past Sarapiqui. We had a reservation for the night at Tirimbina Lodge for the last night my husband would be in Costa Rica. We made it there in the afternoon – what a lovely place! My husband took a nap and I went for a hike on their really great trails that are available if you stay there. We had dinner in their open air dining “hall”. It was good food – no choice. In the evening we went on a night hike with a biologist. Saw a 2-toed sloth with a baby hanging from a vine, spiders, kinkajous, frogs/toads, and other stuff.
Day 11 – We went out for an early morning walk on Tirimbina trails and then headed down to drive through Braulio Carrillo on Route 32. I dropped my husband off at the airport because he was going home and I was staying on for a few more days. I got a taxi over to the Pavas airport where Nature Air flies out of and caught my flight to Tambor. The flight was really fun. You fly low so really get to see everything. I got a taxi at the Tambor airport to Montezuma. Very hot and dry. I stayed at El Sano Banano right in town – very convenient location. I took a walk down the beach to Ylang Ylang Resort – beautiful beach. I ended up eating my breakfasts (included) and dinners out on the patio at El Sano Banano. They have an interesting menu and good food. There is a movie night each evening at Sano Banano.
Day 12 – I had made a reservation to take the Zuma Tours boat trip to Tortuga Island. It was a fun trip. We stopped and watched dolphins on the way down the coast and went to two different spots snorkeling. They cooked us a nice lunch on the beach on the island and we hung around for a couple of hours before riding back to Montezuma.
Day 13 – My last full day in Costa Rica. I walked up to the Montezuma waterfalls. I had read a lot of different things about going up there and I wasn’t sure about walking up there on my own. There are lots of people going up there and it wasn’t a problem. I only went as far as the first big pool and waterfall. It is a beautiful walk and a great place to swim – really refreshing. There were people going on, walking almost straight up the rocks, but I didn’t feel any need to go beyond that first pool. Because I was staying at El Sano I had access to the facilities at Ylang Ylang. So, for my last afternoon I went down to Ylang Ylang and hung out at their pool. I was pretty much alone. It is beautiful and was relaxing.
Day 14 – I took a taxi back to Tambor in the morning and flew back to San Jose. A bunch of us shared a van to the international airport. I had a few hours to wait for my flight back to the states. Don’t forget to pay your exit tax before you get in any lines to check in or go through security.