Like other trips the travel blog is presented as an 'email' string with the first entry at the bottom.


We made the decision to take a winter break in Costa Rica this year, for 17 days from February 5th through February 22nd.  We rented a vehicle out of San Jose which allowed us relatively easy reach of a number of places that we might otherwise have not been able to see or stay at.

Our itinerary took us south from San Jose, as opposed to north on our three previous visits to Costa Rica.  This trip ultimately reached the remote Osa Peninsula before returning north and then east to the Continental Divide.

As you will no doubt tell we very much enjoyed our trip to southern Costa Rica.  So much so that we are considering returning next year, either to the Caribbean side or possibly Panama.

We spent time both in the cloud forest and on the coast and left with many:

Memories of Costa Rica

There were many memories – here are our highlights

Santa Juana Lodge

  • sitting on our balcony listening to the birds and gazing over the countryside
  • the toucan on the tree just outside our cabin
  • the hike through the rain forest, then cooling off swimming under the waterfall
  • the friendly local staff
  • the quality of the coffee and the interesting way it was strained

Saladero Eco Lodge

  • being totally ‘off the grid’
  • the calm bath-like water of the Golfo Dulce, perfect for swimming
  • the peace and tranquility of the short jungle paths
  • the blue morpho butterflies
  • delicious wood-fired pizza
  • the fresh ingredients from the lodge grounds used in our meals
  • the interesting, well-traveled guests
  • the heat with no air conditioning or even fans

Lookout Inn

  • our accommodations, i.e. the open air Monkey House
  • waking up every morning at 5:00 am to the sounds of the birds
  • the loud crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean
  • the scarlet macaws and other birds 
  • the monkeys, coatis and tapir, along with the lizards, insects, moths etc.
  • the hour and a half happy 'hour' with Pina Coladas and the company of Terry, Kattia, Esteban, Paulina, Joel, Ryan and others
  • the Jesus Christ lizards walking on water
  • the beauty of surrounding rain forest, including our visit to Luna Lodge and the haunting sounds of the howler monkeys

Alma de Ojochal

  • like Santa Juana sitting on our balcony enjoy the views over the rain forest to the ocean
  • the parrots and other birds
  • the frog in the plant glass
  • John’s music
  • the ceviche for lunch

Paraiso Quetzal Lodge

  • the drive from Dominical to San Isidro de El General and then along the Continental Divide
  • the cool, moist environment of 8,700 ft; at times in sunshine but then shortly thereafter in dense clouds
  • the hummingbirds on the deck of the lodge
  • the photographers and their equipment
  • the very early morning tour and actually seeing a Quetzal
  • the welcoming and cozy lodge, including a nice chat with Alonso and great service from Marco
  • the trout

Vista Linda Montana

  • the scenic drive through the coffee region (Santa Maria, San Marcos etc.)
  • dinner at La Cucina de Celina

Overall

  • the tasty breakfasts often with plantain but always with gallo pinto
  • the numerous spectacular sunsets – at Saladero, Lookout and Alma de Ojochal



Expenses:


In terms of costs this February 2017 trip to Costa Rica was in line with our other trips.  At $8,200 (Cdn $) it was much the same as a similar length trip to Hawaii.  Of course it all depends on where one stays.  Our lodging varied from $67 to $288 US$ (including meals).  No doubt one can find less expensive places and certainly there are those that cost more.  That said we tend to upgrade to nicer (more expensive) rooms.  For example, at Lookout Inn one can stay in the Tiki Huts at $225 (US$) where we stayed in the Monkey House at $288.

Costs were (all converted to Cdn $ with the US $ exchange rate being on average $1.35 –all lodging in Costa Rica is priced in US$)

$1,488        airfare

$4,840        lodging (average of $285 per night but this often included all meals)

$   520        food (average of only $31 per day in large part due to meals being included in the lodging)

$   703        vehicle rental, tolls and gas

$   269        tours

$   204        miscellaneous, primarily tips

$   165        souvenirs

$8,189        Total

Following is a list of where we stayed, with the cost (US$), including in many cases a 10% discount available through Adventure Hotels of Costa Rica

$221           Santa Juana Lodge*                Quepos                      www.santajuanalodge.com

$  81           Hotel Inn Jimenez                     Puerto Jimenez          www.hoteljiminez.com

$278           Saladero Eco Lodge*               Golfo Dulce                www.saladeroecolodge.com

$288           Lookout Inn*                             Carate                        www.lookout-inn.com

$124           Alma de Ojochal                       Ojochal                       www.almacr.com

$144           Paraiso Quetzal Lodge             San Gerardo              www.paraisoquetzal.com

$  67           Vista Linda Montana                 Tambor                      www.vistalindamontana.com

* includes all three meals

After converting to Cdn $ lodging averaged $285 per night.  This is considerably more than our lodging on trips to Europe, effectively double the $145 we will pay on average in the fall while in Greece and Istanbul.  


Overall not the cheapest vacation but we certainly felt as if we got great experiences and value for what we spent.

As we had an early morning flight out of San Jose we needed to spend our last night near the airport.  We chose Vista Linda Montana, a B&B about 15 minutes away.  Rather than drive directly we decided to go via the coffee route, through Santa Maria de Dota, San Marcos de Terrazu and on through the mountains.  The drive is very scenic, albeit also very slow as we wound our way up and down the mountains.  We passed by a family picking coffee beans along with a few other groups of workers.  Somewhat surprisingly we didn’t see any places to actually buy coffee, at least nothing advertised.  There had been a lot of choice at Paraiso Quetzal but none along our route.  Fortunately we had purchased some back at Santa Juana Lodge.


Roadside melons and fruit.


An  intricately painted traditional Costa Rican cart.






The scenic drive through the mountains did not need the bright colours of the flora to make it impressive. 


Yet here there were, gorgeous flowers all along the route.




Hills and hills of coffee plants.



Coffee plant flower and beans ready to be picked.









Once we got to the suburbs of San Jose the traffic got ridiculously bad as we tried to make our way north to the B&B.  Then I admit we got a bit twisted about going through Alajuela but with the help of a fellow at a gas station eventually found our way to Vista Linda Montana.  Sabrina indicated we were the first guests who found her place with printed maps, i.e. without GPS.  She seemed to be somewhat amazed.


We were again warmly greeted.  The B&B, with a good view over the countryside to the Poas volcano was nice enough.  As mentioned Sabrina was wonderful, very helpful.  The room, while large was somewhat basic but then again the price was reasonable.  Although dinner is available at the B&B, not having lunch and needing to get up very early the next morning we wanted to eat a bit earlier.  Sabrina pointed us to a small restaurant – La Cocina de Celina, a small typical rural place about five kms away.    Unfortunately we forgot our Spanish dictionary that made ordering a challenge as staff spoke zero English.  But we managed.  I had a large interesting plate of assorted things (a Sortida) – chorizo, chicken, pork, yucca, pico de gallo, beans.  Unfortunately Gayle’s Platano (plantains) and cheese were heavily fried, not her preference.  Service was excellent with lots of smiles filling in for the absence of words. 



A colourful motmot just outside the Cucina as we were enjoying our meal.



Although we left before breakfast Sabrina was up with coffee and a couple of sandwiches to get us on our way.  Her directions back through town were very clear and easy.  We had no trouble getting back to the car rental office, from where we took the shuttle to the airport.


February 19 – 20, 2017 - Paraiso Quetzal Lodge

We left Alma, driving north to Domincal from where there is a windy but scenic road up a valley and through the hills to San Isidro de El General and the Continental Divide.  Although Hwy 2 is part of the Inter American Highway and the primary route through Central America it is still only two lanes.  Being the truck route it can be very slow if one is stuck behind an 18-wheeler ascending.  Shortly after leaving San Isidro that is exactly what happened to us.  At least 20 minutes at 20 kph until the truck had any opportunity to pull aside to let us through.  Not that some did not pass in zones where they should not have.  We guess that is why there are accidents here.  But we were patient, enjoying the wonderful scenery of the drive.  We made our way past Cerro de la Muerte, the highest point along the highway In Costa Rica.  The name means ‘Mountain of Death’ or ‘Summit of Death’ due to experiences before the era of automobiles when many succumbed from cold and rain during the three or four day journey over the mountain.


There were a number of roadside fruit and vegetable stands along our scenic drive inland, selling of bananas of course, and the tart mandarin lemon - nice squeezed on fish.



With the drive taking somewhat longer than expected we arrived at Paraiso Quetzal, elevation 2,650 meters (8,700 ft) late afternoon in a light rain.  During the last stage we were literally driving through the clouds, so appropriate given this is known as the ‘cloud forest’.  We checked in to our superior cabin at the far end of the property necessitating an invigorating but interesting with a variety of birds and flora 10-minute walk along a decent path but still up the mountainside to the lodge.  The superior cabin was quite nice, wood paneled with large windows providing expansive views of the valley beyond, at least when the clouds dissipated.  At times we were in bright sunshine, at times below and at other times above the clouds.  The cabin has a nice large Jacuzzi but otherwise was somewhat cold with only two space heaters.  That said there are blankets, blankets and more blankets making sleeping actually quite comfortable.


At these elevations (8,700 feet) visibility can often be somewhat limited.



... and when the clouds had dissipated the somewhat better view across the Continental Divide and down the valley from Paraiso Quetzal Lodge.



The outside ... and inside of our cabin.



Just a small sampling of the flowers we would see along our walk to the lodge.



Most who come to or stay at Paraiso Quetzal do so for the birding, primarily the resplendent Quetzal, a fruit-eating member of the Trogon family.  Their preferred fruit are wild avocados.  The recommended best time to see a Quetzal is early in the morning.  Assuming this was our one opportunity we did sign-up for the 5:30 am tour.  We met in the lodge where a call came in from a farmer that a Quetzal had been spotted.  We drove eight kms to some rolling hills where things did not initially look too promising due to the mist and clouds still hanging over the countryside.  But it soon cleared and our expert guides – Alonzo and Jorge, along with the farmer eventually did find one male Quetzal – only one but still one.  It was hard to get a good photo in spite of his bright plumage.  Even with their famous bright colourful feathers they can be hard to see in their natural wooded habitats.  And then to get focus at a distance was a challenge.



Best I could do.  Cropping loses some of the focus but we did see this guy during our tour.



OK so the photo of the female Quetzal below is a bit of a cheat.  It is actually a photo of a photo on the wall of the lodge.  One has to do what one has to do.



Wildlife including this bee seen while walking to the lodge.



Like many of the birds we saw we have no idea what this little guy is ... other than cute.



Not sure of the birds on the left but on the right is the Clay-coloured Thrush, the national bird of Costa Rica.   The resplendent Quetzal is actually the national bird of Guatemala.  the Clay-coloured Thrush is generally common, found in all manner of lightly wooded areas, often in close proximity to mankind.



After an informative adventure we returned to the lodge for breakfast.  Actually all the food here was quite good, much better than we were led to believe by reviews that indicated it was somewhat plain.  Enjoying the Costa Rican tipica breakfasts as we do this was our ‘go to’ option (we can have pancakes here at home).  The gallo pinto, eggs, cheese and plantains were tasty and filling.  For lunch / dinner the local trout was particularly good.  The many varieties of fresh juice were excellent as was the coffee.  Service was also extremely friendly, especially Marco who we had for a number of our meals.


As it is cool at these elevations in the cloud forest the lodge always had a fire burning to warm it up.  It was cozy and welcoming.






As well as the quetzal and much more numerous to photograph are the many hummingbirds that are attracted to the lodge by the feeders.  During our stay there were a number of, at least judging by the size of their cameras and gear, very professional photographers including a group of eight or so from India.  But beyond them everyone with a camera, me included, spent considerable time on the deck, snapping photo after photo.  Although I have deleted many I am actually quite pleased with a few of the ‘keepers’.









Two days, rather than three as originally planned, was sufficient.  But we are very glad we chose to experience this different aspect of Costa Rica.  It certainly is not as hot or sunny as the coast but different and interesting.  And in the cool evening filling the Jacuzzi with hot water is a nice way to end the day.


February 17 – 18, 2017 - Alma de Ojochal, Ojochal

After breakfast, a morning walk along Shady Lane – did not see any monkeys but certainly heard the howlers - and a final dip in the pool we left Lookout Inn for the bumpy drive back to Puerto Jimenez.  We stopped a few times along the way in an effort to see a sloth (others saw them on the drive to the lodge) but we were unsuccessful.  However each stop was welcomed by the sounds of the cicadas and howler monkeys.

A young boy on the roadside and a small Costa Rican school, of which there are many.



Shortly after heading north from Puerto Jimenez we saw a chocolate plantation, Finca Kobo (Kobo meaning ‘dreams’ in the local Guayami language, that of the indigenous people of the peninsula) and decided to stop to get a piece of chocolate for lunch.  As it turned out there was no chocolate for sale – which seemed a bit strange but apparently the heat makes it difficult to store – but we did each get a drink, a hot chocolate for Gayle and a cold chocolate for me.  Both were delicious.  We also enjoyed a nice chat with the tour guide, a young biologist from Belgium.  But as well there were a group of spider monkeys in the trees, including one young one who was literally asleep on a branch.  He was certainly very cute enjoying his mid afternoon nap.



We continued our drive around the top of the Golfo Dulce back to Chacarita and north through Palmar Norte until we arrived at Ojochal.  We were originally only going to stay one night but after finding Alma de Ojochal we decided to swap a night in the subsequent cloud forest for two here.  


Some of the colourful vegetation and flowers at Alma de Ojochal.





Immediately upon arriving we knew the decision to stay a second night was an excellent one.  The hotel has beautifully manicured grounds and a decent size pool – much appreciated in the heat.  



This small five-room boutique hotel was updated in 2016 when Janet and John packed up their lives in Toronto, purchased Alma and moved to Ojochal to live their dream.  The restaurant and music venue, the Bamboo Room, was also added.  John is quite the musician playing on his own the first night and with two others the second.  His music was appealing to us, of our era – including among others songs of The Eagles, Beatles, and Billy Joel.  As evidenced by the photos on the wall John often has high profile guests perform.


John performing and us enjoying dinner listening and John's performance.



The hotel is situated on a plateau with views of the Terraba River, Garza Island and the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Ojochal mountains to the east.  



As in the Osa there were lots and lots of birds at Alma de Ojochal.



Although at first look Gayle may appear a bit grumpy but she is actually intensely scouring the skies for birds.  It is amazing how, when there are so many, one can be so fascinated.




We chose the end King Room on the upper level, with better views over the rain forest.  Each room has a large balcony with comfortable chairs to sit and enjoy the vistas over the trees to the coast, all the while watching and listening to the birds, and then in the early evening the bats.  The sunsets, as they were in the Osa were so spectacular.




At $180 Cdn ($132 US less 10% Adventure Hotels of Costa Rica discount plus 13% tax plus 35% exchange) the room was fairly priced.  In our large room there was air conditioning, a small fridge, and reliable WiFi.  The large balcony and pool offered areas to relax.  Breakfast was top notch with juice, coffee, fruit and a choice of three main plates – we both went with the tipico both mornings. 




At breakfast the second morning we were greeted by this creature of the wild who decided he wanted to cool off in the water in the flower vase on our table.  Our waiter was aghast but we took it in stride – after all this is the rain forest and there will be critters, like the little lizards on the ceiling of our balcony at night, bats (perhaps not the best photo but those guys are some quick - I'm shocked I caught him at all) and our friendly frog.



The afternoon of our full day we took a short drive in search of some ceviche.  We had seen a few signs driving up and I thought given we were on the coast it would make for a good lunch.  We eventually ended up at Restaurante Terraba.  Perhaps not the most ideally located being right on the highway and perhaps not the fastest delivery of food (although no big deal as we were in no hurry) the wait at least for me was worth it.  I very much enjoyed an excellent bowl of ceviche. Unfortunately Gayle was less excited about her Caesar salad but still it was a nice place to stop.  


We also took a small side road to Playa Tortuga, an expansive beach where turtles (hence the name Tortuga) frequent. 


The end of the lane approaching the beach and an interesting tree washed up on shore. 



We enjoyed a nice chat with Janet and John who filled us in on their background and journey that brought them here to Ojochal.  We are glad they did, providing us the opportunity to experience Alma de Ojochal.


February 13 - 16, 2017 - Lookout Inn, Carate

After a final breakfast at Saladero we took the boat back across the gulf to Puerto Jimenez where we picked up our vehicle and headed the 46 km along another gravel road to Carate on the west coast of the Osa Peninsula.  The drive, including crossing a few streams that were fortunately low due to the absence of rain for the past month, took a full 1 ½ hours.  Carate is not so much a town as a collection of lodges to accommodate those who want to experience the pristine natural area, including one of the entrances to Corcovado National Park.  There is an airstrip, a long wild beach, and a small pulperia.  Corcovado, which many consider the ‘crown jewel’ of Costa Rica’s parks boasts a huge amount of biodiversity.  We did not take a tour of Corcovado as there really was no need given the wildlife we experienced right at the lodge.

The roots of a common tree here in the rain forest and the road in front of Lookout Inn, with a canopy of palms.


We arrived at Lookout Inn just before lunch.  After settling in to our Monkey House, and even before sitting down to lunch a band of coatis that took full advantage of the fruit (bananas, papayas etc.) placed on the railing of the deck.  All of meals are served at tables of six or so providing an opportunity to meet other guests.  That said if one wants to be on their own there are smaller tables to so accommodate.  Meals are buffet style, always with a salad, rice, beans, fruit and the day’s special – in this case pizza.  Terry, who landed in Carate 20 plus years ago with a tent and subsequently bought some land and over the years developed Lookout Inn to what it is today, joined us, making us feel very welcome.


45 steps through lush primary rain forest gets one to the top of the property and the Monkey House.




Upon climbing the steps and reaching the Monkey House one is immediately struck by the fact there is no 'front' - it is as open air as it could be.  It turns out it is equally open on the back and the far side.  We're not sure what it would be like in the rainy season but at this time of the year it was perfect, at least for us. One with nature - listening to the insects and birds, watching for wildlife and constantly hearing the crashing waves of the Pacific.  Perhaps not for everyone but certainly for us.


As soon as we arrived we knew we were going to enjoy our stay.


A climb of 45 steps brought us to a spot high enough for a perfect view of the Pacific Ocean and the waves crashing on shore.  As one approached the cabin there was of course a wall.  But that was it. Upon entering there was also a wall separating the bedroom from the bathroom / shower but otherwise it was wide open.  Behind was lush vegetation as the cabin hugged the hillside.  To the far side was more vegetation looking directly into the rain forest - take a look at the view from the shower.  Again to the front there was nothing but a few two by fours with a railing, otherwise wide open with expansive views to the water.  We could hear wildlife rummaging below the cabin and on occasion monkeys swinging in the trees.  While there were no episodes of monkeys entering the cabin, in the early morning Gayle did see bats flying to and fro.  The constant sound of the birds and/or insects was music to our ears.  In addition to a couple of comfortable chairs there was a hammock right inside the cabin that Gayle particularly appreciated.  Both the shower and toilet were open to the jungle.  In addition to the limited light from the stored solar heat there was also a very small fan at the end of the bed, just enough to provide some relief during the hot nights.  We spent considerable time in our cabin just enjoying the view out our front ‘window’.


At $320 US per night ($425 Cdn) this was the most expensive place we stayed.  Many other lodges in the Osa, particularly those in the northern gateway of Drake Bay are considerably more expenses.   Without a doubt it was well worth it.  We would not hesitate to return.





And finally the view of the ocean and the crashing waves from the Monkey House.



If one is going to wake at 5:00 am there is no better way to do so than to the songs of birds.  There are so many here in the Osa Peninsula.  The sun was perfectly positioned to have me capture the shadow (ok so it was pure luck) of this heron gliding over the ocean.



And then there were the vibrant Scarlet Macaws.  They are so prominent Terry offers a free-stay if you don’t see one.  I think it took us < 10 minutes to see our first of many.

  





We met a number of well-traveled and interesting people while at Lookout Inn.  First were Paulina and Joel from San Luis Obispo in California.  This was their 7th visit to Lookout Inn with plans in the works to return next year.  Both love the wildlife and nature, which Joel captures as an accomplished photographer.  Then there were Russ and Ryan – two brothers.  Russ, who has a famous local hot sauce named after him, is a photography teacher who was working with two clients while Ryan tagged along, and with less to do spent considerably more time chatting with us and other guests.  In his early 30s Ryan has had a number of experiences, including teaching in Thailand, and now living out of a tent in Panama where he hopes to buy some land.

  

Monkeys, monkeys, they're everywhere, they're everywhere.







Coatis (left), a member of the raccoon family, were quite common around the lodge.  Known for their long pig-like snouts they are omnivores, easing ground litter invertebrates such lizards, rodents birds eggs and fruit. 


On the other hand the tapir (below), shaped like a pig but whose closest relatives are horses and donkeys can grow to 700 lbs.  They primarily eat fruit, berries and leaves rummaging for such below the deck.  They don't often frequent the lodge which made us fortunate to see this fellow (or gal?) our first night at Lookout Inn.



Directly across the road from the Inn is a wide expansive beautiful beach.  Unfortunately the waves were massive and with signs of rip currents swimming was not in the cards.  From February to April one can experience the endangered Green and Carey turtles that frequent these beaches.  A mile or so down the road from the lodge is Shady Lane, a narrow road that heads back into the rain forest.  The lane is known for the many monkeys and birds that frequent the area.  




One does not need to leave the Inn to experience wildlife.  Perhaps it is the food Terry and Kattia leave for them but the monkeys are regularly present, as are the coatis.  We were also fortunate to see a tapir that wandered through the first evening to gather up the fruit and veggies discarded off the deck.  There are lizards, big and small, snakes (Joel got a great photo of one but we did not see any … which is ok by us), and bugs – after all this is the jungle.  National Geographic describes the area as “The most biologically intense place on Earth”.  Below are some of the lizards, bugs, flying creatures and butterflies we saw during our stay.







One afternoon we drove up the Carate River to another lodge – Luna Lodge.  After a challenging drive of a few kilometers we reached this oasis.  The owner gave us a tour of the property including one of the bungalows – beautiful, with a high thatched-palm roof.  We first thought it must have been a recording as literally when Lana opened the doors for a jaw dropping view of the valley and rain forest we were greeted by the loud howls of a group of howler monkeys.  Another (less expensive) option is the enclosed ‘nature-lover’ tents with balconies overlooking the canopy of the rain forest.  The lodge is a yoga retreat and spa with a more ‘formal’ feel than Lookout Inn.  Although at a price the lodging and facilities were very impressive.  We’re glad we made the trip to check it out.



Food at the Inn was generally very good, especially dinners.  There was lots of choice, particularly for vegetarians such as Gayle.  For those of us who enjoy our meat barbeque was popular.  One evening I enjoyed an absolutely delicious octopus pasta salad.  Being buffet style one could eat as much or as little as they wished.  With soup, salad, rice, beans, vegetables, fish and/or meat there were lots of options.  The food was fresh and tasty – very well prepared.  Plus a fully stocked bar provided lots of choice for drinks - both alcoholic and non (and no that is not a fruit smoothie; rather one of Kattia's well made double Pina Coladas. 





In addition to driving in to Carate many take small planes, usually from San Jose.  There is a small landing strip adjacent to the beach.  Alternatively there are these other helicopter like things that brought guests to the lodge.  I think we'll stick with the bumpy drive.



Another nice feature of Lookout Inn is a small pool at the foot of the property.  Given the heat we found the need to cool off twice a day.  Being in the rain forest the property is of course very lush, with extensive landscaping.  We enjoyed the privacy of our Monkey House along with time by ourselves at the pool / hammock area.  At the same time Terry and Kattia are experts at having guests interact.  Daily happy hour and a half provides a great opportunity to chat with other travelers, while enjoying a beer or a double Pina Colada.  But happy hour was not just for snacks and drinks as guests enjoyed and photographed the wildlife that regularly dropped or flew in.  One evening the ever alert Joel even noticed a whale offshore – just when it couldn’t get any better.




We would be remiss is we did not mention Esteban who was wonderful throughout our stay, constantly interested in how we were doing, was there for anything we needed and on and on.  Even when leaving he wanted to show us his garden where he was growing vegetables and herbs for the lodge.  A very guest focused employee.


If it is gorgeous sunsets you want there are few places better than the Pacific Ocean as seen from Lookout Inn, particularly when a Scarlet Macaw finds its way into ones field of vision.


This was the best wildlife experience ever.  We hit a home run by coming to Carate and staying at Lookout Inn, and look forward to a time when we may return.




February 09 – 12, 2017 - Saladero Eco Lodge, Golfo Dulce

For the next four days we were truly off the grid.  Saladero Eco Lodge is in the northeast corner of the Golfo Dulce (Sweet Gulf), adjacent to Piedras Blancas National Park, a protected primary rainforest as well as an important marine area.  The Golfo Dulce is one of only three tropical fjord-like estuaries in the world with depths exceeding 200 m.  The ride across glass-like gulf waters takes a little over 30 minute from either Golfito or in our case Puerto Jimenez.  Harvey arrived right on schedule.  We crossed the gulf listening as Harvey explained the marine life and eco systems.  We saw a couple of dolphins for a fleeting second although they did not resurface.


Harvey arriving in Puerto Jimenez to drop off two departing guests, then to pick us up and transport us across the gulf to Saladero Eco Lodge.



As we crossed to the east side of the Golfo Dulce beaches, palms trees and dense rain forest came into sight. Then a few buildings, our home for the next four days.



We arrived at the lodge – an expansive grassed area cleared out of the primary rain forest where we met Susan.  After settling in Susan took us on a tour of the property, pointing out a wide variety of flora, spices and fruit much of which is used in their daily cooking.  She also directed us to the three self-guided nature walks through the rain forest as well as the rubber boots to wear given the presence of poisonous snakes in the area.  In fact Susan, in a moment of lapse when not wearing boots while out in the evening was bit by one such poisonous snake late last year, the result being a stay of a couple of weeks in the hospital.  Saladero has a biologist on staff for guided hikes but unfortunately she was off this week, a great disappointment to Gayle.  


Harvey and Susan, our wonderful hosts, and through opening their property to travelers the reason we have the opportunity to experience a place like Saladero.



The environmentally sensitive preserve sitting on the edge of the primary rain forest includes considerable coastline and gardens.  The philosophy of Saladero is one of providing travelers with an opportunity to observe wildlife and natural wonders in a pristine and sustainable fashion.  Saladero employs local staff, educating them in English and best eco practices.  Waste reduction, recycling, energy management, composting and water conservation are all focuses of the operation.


The Saladero gardens were full of produce and colour, including hundreds of pineapples. 


The fruit and spices were constantly being used as part of the meals. 


Palm trees and coconuts - a tropical paradise.




With no electricity – everything is run off solar – WiFi is available for 1 1/2 hours late each afternoon when Harvey uses his phone to create a hot spot.  Not enough to do a blog but sufficient for checking emails and news if one wishes.  Light snacks are provided as guests gather around the lodge prior to dinner.  All meals are served at a communal table resulting in guests getting to know each other.  The first evening it was just the two of us along with Susan and Harvey.  Unfortunately Gayle was not feeling well during this period, experiencing an aggravating cough.  To compound the misery our first day at Saladero was Gayle’s birthday – never a day on which one wants to be miserable, but if one is going to be miserable being so here in paradise is as good as it can be.  



In spite of being isolated in the rain forest we certainly ate well.



The area is known for its birds.  In fact this is considered to be one of the better bird watching locations in the country.  Although we did not see any toucans or scarlet macaws during our stay there were a number of other birds that caught our attention.  What was especially enjoyable was to hear them sing in the early morning.



The area is a wealth of nature - snakes (which we fortunately did not encounter) and lizzards like this fellow (or gal).  With the pineapple, fruit and flowers there were many butterflies, including a number of sightings of the blue morpho.  Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of a blue morpho but did get this one butterfly shot.



We were surprised when Harvey explained guests usually call it a night shortly after dinner, i.e. 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm.  But right he was, in part because morning comes early here, shortly after 5:00 am when not only the sun, but also the birds and monkeys begin to rise and chatter.  Without fans, during these hot days it can be somewhat uncomfortable sleeping if there is no breeze.  This was the case most nights.  We were fortunate to have the Beach House our entire stay due to a cancellation.  It is large, perhaps even too large for two, with beautiful wood floors and a great view out to the gulf and Corcovado beyond.  The other cabin that looked appealing, in spite of the 88 steep steps, is the Tree House, isolated but as a result very private.  Joe who was staying in the Tree House had photos of monkeys and a toucan, not seen down at the lodge level, although from our Beach House we did see dolphins in the calm morning waters.  Another nice aspect of our Beach House was the outdoor passive solar water shower where (if you are tall enough) you can shower while looking out over the gulf.


The lodge with the Beach House being the entire upper level, providing nice elevation for the view out our window to the gulf and beyond.



The lodge is perfectly situated for spectacular sunsets, in large part due to the Corcovado hills on the far side of the Gulf.  The orange sun setting over the hills, with palm trees in the foreground is a sight to behold.


The second day was much like the first starting with another tasty breakfast of eggs, gallo pinto, fresh picked fruit and plantains.  Late morning the heat ‘necessitated’ a swim and soon it was time for lunch – delicious vegetarian bean tacos with fresh avocado.  Early afternoon we enjoyed a walk along Trail 2, the Jaguar Path followed immediately by a return to the water.  




A tiny sliver of the rain forest.


Gayle dwarfed by a somewhat larger tree.


And a termite nest.


An anteater along one of the jungle paths.



Although we did not see any sloths here at Saladero, or anywhere on our trip for that matter, our regular afternoon naps, and sitting around with Maya and Lulu, the lodge dogs or simply admiring the birds and views certainly made us feel like a pair.  Soon it was time for dinner, with red snapper caught just offshore, being tonight's highlight.


Lulu (left) and Maya.



Our last day was again much the same with one exception.  After our morning swim we did the last trail.  While ambling through we encountered Joe, another guest who had noticed an anteater up in a tree.  In the afternoon a few of the other guests had arranged for Harvey to take them out into the mangroves and up the river into Piedras Blancas.  While Gayle was still struggling with her cough and generally not feeling well I decided to join.  It was a pleasant two-hour excursion, along which we saw many birds, a group of monkeys and the interesting mangrove swamps.  Harvey was very informative, pointing out the birds/animals and explaining the contribution the mangrove makes to the ecosystem.  However at $65 US it did seem somewhat expensive, given there were five of us.


Saladero Eco Lodge is actually within the Piedras Blancas National Park.  The park is bordered on its north/west by the Esquinas River which we went up on our tour.  The park itself is a large tract of primary rain forest with many plant and animal species.  Within the Golfo Dulce fjord are coral reefs for snorkeling and swimming.  Due to the more than 200 inches of rain per year that falls there a number of rare trees. The park hosts all five of Costa Rica's felines, toucans and scarlet macaws, kinkajous and coatis, white-faced capuchin and spider monkeys, two-toed sloths, anteaters, and many bats.  Bird life abounds.  And then there are the snakes including the dangerous fer-de-lance, coral snakes, boa constrictors, vine snakes and pit vipers.  There are red-eyed leaf frogs, poison-arrow frogs, tree frogs, rain frogs, glass frogs and cane toads along with caiman and American crocodiles in the rivers and mangrove swamps.  In other words a wildlife bonanza.



The mangroves swamps and some of the birds indigenous to the area. 

 




A boat-billed heron and a couple of woodpeckers.


One of the white-headed capuchin monkeys we saw on our boat trip - common in Costa Rica, Central and the north of South America.




Surprisingly dinner tonight was from scratch wood-fired pizza, baked in an outdoor oven.  


Who would have ever thought that isolated out here, with no electricity we would be enjoying quite excellent pizza?  


Gayle (and the rest of us) was in heaven.



One of the things we really enjoyed and appreciated about Saladero was the interesting and well travelled other guests.  We consider ourselves reasonably well traveled but don’t hold a candle to some.  Joe, from upstate New York is certainly a nature guy, having enjoyed similar eco-trips to Ecuador and Peru, along with journeys to Morocco, Cambodia and Turkey.  Then there were Deb and Dave, a British couple.  After retiring from their profession as teachers (professors?) they spent two years training teachers in Nigeria.  They enjoyed the experience so much they repeated it in Nepal and after that another two years in Papua New Guinea.  And here they are in Costa Rica.  Finally there was Kevin and Julie, along with their nine-year old daughter Gabrielle.  Although they live in France their ‘go-to’ vacation spot is the Falkland Islands.  They shared stories of a trip to the South Georgia Islands – five days by boat from the Falklands – where they participated in an expedition to capture reindeer to bring back to the Falklands.  They have also been to Madagascar, Iceland and who knows where else.  All were fascinating people with a wealth of experiences and stories.

Four days was about right for our stay at Saladero.  There was a lot to do if one chose to, with the hikes, tours, kayaking, snorkeling and swimming.  We may not have done all these activities, in part due to Gayle feeling under the weather, but also in part because our goal is not to fill every minute.  The Beach House was a beautiful, large accommodation although if returning we would likely try the Tree House, in spite of the effort to climb up to the cabin.  We so much enjoyed the tranquility, peace and quiet, the hospitality of Susan and Harvey, the smiles of kitchen staff Paulina and her daughter, and the stories of the other guests.  Our stay at Saladero was a great experience.



February 08, 2017 - Santa Juana to Puerto Jimenez


We left Santa Juana on our way south to Puerto Jimenez.  Along the 20 km gravel road drive to the coast we encountered a group harvesting the palm kernel pods of the African Palm for their rich oil.  The weight of the kernels is such that ox or water buffalo are often used to transport the heavy containers of pods.  The African Palm was introduced to the area in the 1940s to replace the banana industry decimated by the Panama banana plight and continues to be big business to this day.







We drove south first detouring into the town of Quepos.  As we got closer to Manuel Antonio National Park the pressure from locals to park, to buy souvenirs, and to take tours increased exponentially.  While it may be wonderful once one enters the park (we did not) it all felt too crowded and too commercialized.  It was then along the coast past Dominical, Uvita, Ojochal and Palmar before turning west at Chacarita to enter the Osa Peninsula and its main town of Puerto Jimenez. 


Puerto Jimenez has grown to become an important gateway to Corcovado National Park.  It has been described as a ‘frontier’ town and certainly felt that way.  With few streets paved cars stir up the dust.  Sidewalks mostly don’t exist.  Being the go to place in the area the town has a reputation of being a bit rowdy at night.  However while there are numerous bars we felt perfectly safe when we went out for something to eat in the early evening.  There are many tour companies in town, organizing sport fishing excursions and eco adventure tours to Corcovado or the Golfo Dulce.



Christopher directed us just around the corner from the Inn to Carolina's for dinner.  Decent food including a nice portion of locally caught fish.


The welcoming 'Mi casa es su casa' greeted us as we arrived at Hotel Inn Jimenez.


As we had a morning boat to catch we needed to stay in Puerto Jimenez for the night.  We chose the Hotel Inn Jimenez, the sister hotel to Lookout Inn where we will be staying later in the trip.  

The Inn itself was nice enough although our room was very small.  Unfortunately the air conditioning was not working which made for a somewhat uncomfortable sleep.  Christopher did his best by providing us a small fan but it was noisy and not particularly effective.  Although breakfast is not included there was coffee and juice in the morning.  

WiFi was good which allowed us to catch up on emails, having had no access for the first three days of our trip.  One great thing about staying here is that we were able to leave our vehicle while away the next four days.  

The hotel does have a small pool among some nicely landscaped gardens.  As a result a number of colourful birds frequented the property.

The Inn felt like a bit of an oasis in what seemed otherwise as a throwback to the old west.  If only the room was a bit larger and the air conditioning worked.  Without breakfast and given the tiny room value did not seem great at $110 Cdn.  

Although we arrived too late to use it, given the heat, the pool is certainly a nice plus to staying at the Hotel Inn Jimenez.  Plus the water attracts many birds.


The grounds of Hotel Inn Jimenez were nicely landscaped with bright colourful flowers.


February 5 - 7, 2017 - Halifax to San Jose to Quepos to Santa Juana

We landed in San Jose on schedule, easily picking up our rental vehicle.  We then embarked on our three-hour or so drive first out to the Pacific coast, then south to Quepos and finally 20 km inland to Santa Juana Lodge.  We did the drive pretty much non-stop without much to see other than fresh fish being sold roadside near Esterillos Este.  After turning off the main road the drive to the lodge takes about an hour - 20 kms at 20 kms per hour along a reasonably graded but bumpy gravel road.  The first few kms are through groves of African Palm trees, followed by valleys, pasture (there were cows) and rain forest.  We were thankful to have a high clearance 4x4 for both the road and the two streams we needed to drive through - thank goodness it was dry season as the streams/rivers would be considerably more challenging after a rain.  As well it was good that it was still light as this is not a drive one would want to do for the first time in the dark.  The final three kms ascended steeply until we reached the lodge perched on a small plateau.


Allan, a local who grew up in Santa Juana and manages the lodge, greeted us upon arrival.  A nice guy who was helpful and informative throughout our stay.  Allan showed us our casita/cottage and the common area / restaurant before leaving us to relax, something we needed after our very early (5:50 am) flight to Montreal followed by a five hour flight to San Jose.


Santa Juan Lodge presents itself as ‘A Rustic Mountain Retreat’.  Mountain yes but our casita was well in excess of ‘rustic’.  Quite large at 65 sq m there was a king bed, a couple of comfortable couches (that could be used as beds) and a full kitchen.  But the best part of the casita was the large open extension to the balcony, with a hammock and two rocking chairs on which one can enjoy the vistas across the jungle all the way back to the coast while listening to the birds, including toucans, as they rested and sang on the tree branches just outside.  Although the lodge has electricity (and therefore fans) there is no WiFi for Netbooks or iPads.  In some ways this was a nice break, consistent with spending time in this isolated location.


Allan, the manager of Santa Juana Lodge.


Children of some of the staff of the lodge.



Included in the $298 Cdn ($196 US$ plus 13% tax plus 35% exchange) are three hearty meals.  Each meal included rice (white for lunch and dinner and the traditional Gallo Pinto for breakfast), beans, a salad, vegetables, plantains and choice of beef, chicken, pork or fish (the local tilapia).  Breakfast provide a choice of eggs – fried or scrambled, Gallo Pinto, plantain and a tortilla.  Gallo Pinto is a traditional breakfast dish of Costa Rica and Nicaragua – essentially a mixture of rice and beans.  Black beans are soaked overnight and then combined with cilantro, onion, sweet pepper, broth and rice.  Some add hot red peppers or salsa Lizano, a common Costa Rican condiment – sweet but not too spicy.  The gallo pinto was something we looked forward to each morning.  Lunch and dinner, while the salads and vegetables varied were healthy and tasty, although perhaps a bit repetitious by the third day.  Dessert was quite interesting – a brown sugar syrupy squash that I quite enjoyed, which was a good thing as it was served day after day, for both lunch and dinner.  All meals were served with fresh juice and local coffee, filtered through these simple but unique ‘bags’.


Making coffee in traditional filter 'bags' - a little unorthodox but it worked.


A traditional Costa Rican breakfast - eggs, gallo pinto, a tortilla and plantains - delicious!


A vegetarian lunch and fish (tilapia) for dinner.



All smiles enjoying dinner ... it's evening and short sleeves.


When it comes to relaxing Gayle is the master, whether it is passing the time of day in a rocking chair or going on her version of a 'horseback' ride.


We originally considered driving into Quepos one of our two full days but after experiencing the ‘road’ decided it was not worth the two hours of slow, bumpy drive there and back.  Rather, as we so enjoyed just sitting on the balcony of our casita (Alegro the one at the front with a completely unobstructed view) we decided to stay put.  The first day we went for a walk up the road past the school to a ‘pulperia’ – a small grocery store / cantina, but otherwise lazed around – watching the birds, eating, napping, and just admiring the views.


Our Casita Alegria as seen from in front of the restaurant.


... and our nice large balcony overlooking the jungle / forest.


There's nothing much more relaxing than sitting in a rocking chair (or hammock) sipping a cup of Costa Rican coffee, gazing out over the countryside to the Pacific Ocean beyond.


Not sure of the type of bird but very brightly coloured and photogenic.


Nothing better than getting a nice photo of a toucan, this one sitting on a branch of a tree just outside our casita.



A ripe starfruit and a toucan, a fruit eating bird, silhouetted against the morning sunrise.


Although there were two other couples staying at the lodge during our time (and we were alone the last day) a number of tours from Quepos came through and stopped for a snack and/or lunch.  On the second day we decided to join a couple for the Santa Juana Adventure Tour which first took us to a sugar cane mill where oxen pressed the sugar cane in the traditional way.  This was followed by a guided hour plus trek through the jungle during which we encountered some wildlife (a poison dart frog and leaf cutter ants) and the sounds of birds before reaching the Los Saltos waterfall and swimming area where after the humidity of our hike we welcomed the opportunity to cool off in the refreshing swimming hole.  Afterwards we strolled through the community’s Oasis gardens and Norm fished (catch and release) for tilapia in the ponds.  Although we didn’t take the tour one of the other couples spoke highly of an all day excursion over the mountains to a coffee plantation in San Marcos where they participated in the harvest picking the coffee beans.


Oxen working the sugar cane mill and a local cow.


A traditionally painted Costa Rican cart.


The poison dart frog and leaf cutter ants hard at work.






After a humid trek through the rain forest we enjoyed a very refreshing swim below a waterfall. 

Afterwards we strolled through the Oasis gardens (a few flower photos below) followed by some catch and release fishing for the local talapia.






 

Due to the moisture and elevation flowers are abundant around the lodge.  On our walk up the road there were a number of these flowering trees, while in the Oasis gardens and around the lodge there were torch flowers and ginger, along with many other flora.

Around and beyond the lodge is the continental divide, the cloud forest where clouds roll in both above and below the elevation of the lodge.



Vida, Amor, Alegria y Paz’ is the motto of Santa Juana Lodge. ‘Life, love, happiness and peace’ are certainly appropriate although so are quiet, relaxing, off the grid and restful.  Santa Juana Lodge is not for everyone.  There is not a lot to do here other than enjoy the surroundings.  But as a first stop, after a long day of travel the lodge was perfect for us.


Costa Ricans are known for their wood carvings as demonstrated by this beautiful piece of artwork at the lodge.


Vida, Amor, Alegria y Paz - the motto / mantra of Santa Juana Lodge.