We ventured to El Remanso Lodge with our two kids, 12 and 15 years of age, in July 2010 during the “rainy season”. The first leg of our flight was into San Jose, a mid-sized but perfectly functional airport in the center of the capital city. Due to the frequent afternoon thunderstorms, flights from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez, the nearest town to the resort, take off twice daily before noon, so we stayed the night in San Jose itself (don't even dream of driving from San Jose to the Lodge on your own if you're new to the country). It is fairly small but very friendly city – at least we didn't have any problems. We stayed at one of the hotels recommended by El Remanso, and it was a welcome introduction to the people and environment, replete with great views of the city and countryside, orb spiders, and the "Marilyn Monroe" bar and restaurant. The people were warm and eager to engage in conversation, and the vast majority speaks much better English than we did Spanish.
The following morning we set off for San Jose airport, to the Sansa terminal next door, one of two local airlines serving Puerto Jimenez. Be very explicit when directing staff and taxis, however, as it’s easy to confuse one commuter terminal with the other in a rush, and due to language differences – they are several miles apart. We eagerly boarded a 12-seat single-prop and set off right on time. The flight was great and only lasted an hour and a half, but there was plenty of scenery to take in during the flight including the multitude of rivers and villages the 7,000 feet or so below. We landed in torrential rain, but El Remanso staff were awaiting us on the ground with umbrellas, and they whisked us to the airport (an elaborate corrugated aluminum structure) and on to the El Remanso shuttle – a Land Rover Defender, for the trip to the lodge itself.
The ride to the Lodge was an experience in itself. Many thanks were due to the drivers, who expertly navigated the hour-long journey along the pock-marked and river-crossed road to El Remanso, chatting amidst the jostles while pointing out local wildlife along the way. What begins with a dash through Puerto Jimenez, the nearest town with a population of 5,000 and only opened to roads in 1986, continues along the potholes and rivers through the flatland replete with cattle farms, a billionaire’s personal project along the coast (local ecology in-mind, we were told), and on upward into the rainforest, to the lodge. If we felt on unfamiliar territory in Puerto Jimenez, the feeling was compounded tenfold as we approach the lodge – we plunged into the rainforest before long, finally arriving at El Remanso itself.
The lodge is comprised of several structures - a reception office, a large dining/entertainment/bar area jutting out over a forested crevice, a pool area filled with local rain/spring water, and a series of bungalows, many of them two-story to accommodate four or more, including our family. There is also a small massage hut, a separate viewing platform, a yoga hut, and Chonta, the resident rotweiller, who can appear a non-moving structure herself, at times. There are a number of paths connected to the lodge which are rife with plant and animal viewing opportunities, and a path down to the beach which is about a half-mile long. The path up from the beach can feel twice as long. All buildings on the property are attractive, built of local wood that resembles dark bamboo, and that are in places exposed to the elements aside from screens and fabric curtains.
Rooms are quite comfortable, including decks with hammocks and chairs. The property is on micro-hydro power, so there is electricity for very basic needs including charging small appliances, iPods, etc., but not much more. No television, no internet, or the like – however, if you wanted to come here you’d already be prepared for something truly unique. It doesn’t disappoint.
Once settled in we were oriented to our selection of activities (the more the better!), and select your lunch and dinner meals for the day (you’ll do this each morning). We were given a map and guidance with regard to local trails, dangers, and attractions, and left to our own devices. We did take advantage of this to explore some of the smaller trails, which was still exciting as we hiked around waterfalls and saw some wildlife not seen elsewhere during the trip.
Meals were wonderful all-round, and according to other guests we spoke with who had been elsewhere, have no match on the peninsula. Lunch and dinner was usually a choice between local dishes and more standard fare, where available. All of it was great, and the chefs were very accommodating to ad-hoc requests. There’s a focus on beans, rice, and fruits and vegetables local to the area, with proteins primarily consisting of chicken, pork, or beef from nearby farms. The wine list is robust enough to easily cater to most tastes, and the bar well-stocked. Breakfast is a thorough range of local and primarily American dishes – eggs, French toast, fruits, cereals, and so on. However the main attraction is the huge range of wildlife you’ll see in and around the restaurant – so always bring your camera. Our first afternoon there we saw three species of monkey wandering about, toucans, and scarlet macaws. That’s aside from the snakes, spiders, and lizards (iguana, geckos) hanging around the pool area at night.
Ironically, while nothing dangerous or dangerous-looking bothered us in the least – indeed most were happy with our close proximity and photography – a couple of things bear mention in the dining room. First, what appeared to be flies bothering our meals were actually stingless bees. Initially met by constant swatting, we soon took pity on them as, though they could occasionally bump into us, they most often ended up flying straight into the nearest liquid on the table and trapping themselves. We tended to rescue them, help them dry off, and sent them on their way – you’ll get used to them. Second, what appeared to be huge, nasty looking ants with iridescent gold abdomens were actually totally harmless. One can, if so inclined, pick them up and though they may protest, won’t actually sting or bite – again, we quickly considered them part of the meal experience, along with the geckos hunting along the rafters.
The activities we chose included dolphin-watching, the long hike, the night hike, and the zip-line. We also took the odd hike to the beach to see the tidal pools and “cayman” lagoon, and around the lodge.
The dolphin-watching involved a trip to Puerto Jimenez and onto a 25-foot fishing boat. We quickly saw bottlenose dolphins, and upon venturing out, spotted and came up close to the first humpback sighting of the season (confirmed via many radio conversations by our guide). We then went further down the bay to find some more playful spinner dolphins, which came within touching distance of us. Finally, our guide took us to a shallow bay so those so inclined could snorkel (hints covered below). It was a great time, with some spectacular wildlife sightings.
On the zip line and hiking tours, Gerardo, the resident biologist accompanied us throughout. He was an invaluable source of local enthusiasm and knowledge, and couldn’t wait to tell us “everything there is to know about….” And he pretty much did. We not only learned about parasitic plants, suicide trees, and some yet to be named, but interacted with a variety of other animals including leaf-cutter ants, several lizards and snakes, spiders, birds big and small, bats, and of course, monkeys (spider, squirrel, howler, capuchin).
On a few occasions we were able to quite closely observe monkeys in the trees above without being spotted ourselves for some time. When one group of howlers realized that we were maybe 60 feet below looking at them, they became a bit perturbed, flaying their limbs and seemingly taunting us with hoots and gestures. One of the males crossing directly above decided to take his angst out by urinating on us from overhead - thankfully the leaves above absorbed most of the insult. It seems the comments around the boards alluding to similar acts of anti-human expression are indeed true.
In any event, the outings truly made the whole experience, and are not to be missed. One of the most memorable moments occurred as we were coming back from the beach night hike. As we approached the first set of huts, Gerardo launched himself into a nearby bush and pulled out a retreating coral snake (highly venomous). The hook fell out of his snake stick but he deftly tired it out enough so that everyone was able to get some very close-up photos. He seemed to spot everything big and small, and truly did seem to know everything about everything! His tours were a particular highlight and very much recommended.
As for the practicalities, what follows is a list of “do’s and don’ts” that we learned along the way – follow or don’t at your own discretion:
- DO – bring light ankle-covering hiking shoes/boots. Hiking sandals are not enough protection for some activities.
- DO – pack light – around 25 lbs. in your checked luggage, as the local flights have weight limits and charge one dollar per pound over that. You won’t need much more anyway.
- DO – bring one flashlight per person. Small LEDs are fine, but one yellow-light (better spectrum) per family is ideal. These really help on the hikes where you need to scan up, down, and everywhere constantly.
- DO – bring insect repellant, but there are surprisingly few mosquitoes around – between four of us we had perhaps, four bites in total over the week.
- DO – welcome the geckos in your room! They chirp occasionally, but moths and other bugs will get into your room during the day and evening – the geckos appear to keep them in check, and we found ourselves wishing they’d perch themselves on our foreheads while we slept.
- DO – bring plenty of t-shirts and moisture-wicking clothes. Between activities, the sun, and the unpredictable rain, you may change once or twice a day, and clothes have a difficult time drying out, even overnight due to the humidity. The Lodge does have a cleaning service for $10, however, which we recommend using at least once.
- DO – take a handful of $5 bills (or the local equivalent) for tips – amazing how quickly these can go, but deservedly so. Beyond that and the odd souvenir, you won’t need money once at the Lodge.
- DON’T – worry obsessively over the food and water. Two of us had very mild GI complaints, but were not a hindrance - who knows what they could actually have been attributed to. Food was excellent day-in-day-out. The lodge was clean and well-kept.
- DON’T – pee while snorkeling in the bay. This "seemed" to attract jellyfish in the immediate vicinity and resulted in some stings (no, we didn’t try using it as pain relief afterward). Additionally, visibility in the water isn’t great – maybe a few feet – so if dark shapes (there are barracuda, sharks, etc.) in the water freak you out, give it a pass. It’s perfectly safe, however.
- DON’T – forget to take your camera – EVERYWHERE! Fair warning. If you ever thought you might want to pick up that zoom lens, now is the time – you won’t regret it. You'll get great shots of monkeys, in particular.
- DON’T – expect to wake up late (unless you’re a teen, in which case ours slept through the seemingly impossible). Most folks go to bed a couple hours after sunset, and awaken involuntarily to the “sounds” of howler monkeys at 5am. If it isn’t monkeys, it’s birds. Or something scratching outside. If nothing else, you’ll quickly find yourself forgetting the world you left behind – and that was something we were grateful for.
One last word about the staff at the Lodge, and all Costa Ricans we met along the way – they made the whole vacation a totally unforgettable and enjoyable experience. Everyone was extremely helpful and accommodating, and communication was not at all an issue. Everyone at El Remanso from the managers, reception staff, restaurant staff and chefs, cleaning staff, garden staff, Gerardo, the drivers – heck – each and every one, was so friendly; all of them seemed to carry a clear pride in this gorgeous country and its amazing natural diversity, and of course the Lodge itself.
In sum, between the people and the awe-inspiring array and proximity of the wildlife and activities, El Remanso created a truly unforgettable experience for all of us. Incredible.
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- Also Known As:
- El Remanso Hotel Osa Peninsula
- El Remanso Osa
- El Remanso Lodge Costa Rica/Osa Peninsula