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Costa Rica Trip Report Part One

We booked this trip With Odysseys Unlimited in October 2021 - before omicron. We had not traveled internationally or even domestically much for that matter for 2+ years. We were initially a group of 12 to 14. A week before the trip, the tour roster was down to 8. On arrival in San Jose, we were down to 6. I think this was due to the new omicron outbreak and Costa Rica being classed as a 4 by the CDC.
Covid restrictions - You can enter Costa Rica with proof of vaccination and no covid test is required. You apply for a “salud” pass from the Costa Rican government 48 hours before entry into the country and get a pass with a qr code to upload to the airline. You will be asked for the salud pass at immigration at the airport in Costa Rica. I printed the pass and also had copies on my phone and Ipad. We gave United Airline our passport info and uploaded our salud pass before our flight to Costa Rica at the online Travel Ready site. If you are not vaccinated against covid, then you have to have proof of insurance covering a potential quarantine and medical expenses. The specs are on the Costa Rican government website. Applying for the pass online was easy. Before returning to the US we did the same as for entry into Costa Rica except that we had to give the airline our covid test results 24 hours in advance. N95 or surgical masks were required on the tour. We know what happened there per my previous post on Costa Rica so we won’t rehash this.
The Costa Ricans are good about wearing masks (albeit cloth) everywhere you go (tourists not so much) and there are hand sanitizing stations before you enter any venue. These are either sinks with soap and water or hand sanitizer before you go in.

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Part Two
This tour is focused on the natural heritage of Costa Rica - flowers, birds, animals, butterflies and insects, reptiles and amphibians, agriculture (mainly sugar cane, coffee, bananas and plantains). We visited one church in Cartago and the national theater in San Jose but that was it as far as museums and churches go. We traveled through various climate zones during the trip from the tropical rainforest on the Carribean to the top of a volcano (Irazu) to the cloud forest and then to the dry forest on the Pacific coast. Costa Rica is a very colorful country and mainly rural. Its economy is agricultural and tourism based. Ecotourism is a big deal here. Roads are often one lane with lots of twists and curves or bumpy dirt roads. If you are prone to motion sickness, bring meds and perhaps ibuprofen for the aches and pains that might result from the bumpy roads. We had a 24 person bus as our group was really small.

Physically the trip wasn’t too demanding but be prepared to walk on uneven paths with fairly steep inclines in the forests in some spots and one with hanging bridges which sway with every step you and others take. The hanging bridge hike was maybe 3 miles and we crossed 13 bridges. If you are afraid of heights, don’t look down when on the hanging bridges. The hikes are not “death marches” as you stop frequently to view the wildlife. We did boat safaris in Tortuguero so that was easy.
The trips to get to the various locations were sometimes long as the roads are mostly rural and narrow and sometimes unpaved. The bus would stop for snack and bathroom breaks and often if we saw wildlife or a pretty view along the way such as when we spotted a large group of coatimundis by the side of the road, an anteater in a tree, a waterfall, etc. At some stops along the way, feeders were set up to attract the birds and butterflies. It was a good opportunity to photograph these colorful birds up close.

Our guide Odir Morales was an absolute love. He was so knowledgeable about his country, the flora and fauna, agriculture. He knew my husband and I were very interested in getting good photos so he went out with us each day in the morning and evening to look for wildlife. We would not have spotted these things without his expert eyes. We felt he went above and beyond his tour guide duties for us.
Our guide also arranged a night tour for us in La Fortuna to see the creepy crawlies including an eyelash viper and coral snake up close, spiders, frogs, poisonous toads and a bullet ant that has the most painful bite known to humans described as excruciating and akin to walking barefoot over hot coals with a three inch spike in your heel and which lasts for 24 hours. At the outset of the night tour, we were warned not to touch anything including the vegetation as you don’t know what could be lurking there. We were given flashlights and in the beginning I was sweeping the path with the light looking for snakes especially the very aggressive and territorial fer de lance. After a while your fears abate and you start looking for the animals yourself. I hate snakes but was surprisingly not afraid when we got close to the two that we saw. The coral snake was actually trying to get away from us because there was a large group of us crowded around it. And the eyelash viper was just coiled on a branch. This was one of the highlights of our trip and not to be missed if you go. The small tour bus took us there and back. Odir and our bus driver waited for us in town and then came back to pick us up after to tour. We really appreciated that. The tour cost less than $100 for the two of us.

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Part Three
Weather in Costa Rica - We were in Costa Rica in late January/early February during the dry season which runs from late November to April. Dry season doesn’t necessarily mean no rain but we were lucky to only experience one evening of rain in Tortuguero which was quite lovely as our lodging had a tin roof and the sound of the rain on the roof was soothing for sleep. Temperatures and humidity varied on the trip from the Carribean coast (mid 80's and 80% humidity) to Guanacaste on the Pacific coast (90's and 50% humidity).

What to wear - We traveled through various climate zones from tropical rainforest to cloud forest and dry forest. I brought two pair of Columbia cargo pants with zip off legs and two pair of loose fitting hiking pants from Orvis; seven shirts - one long sleeve and 6 short sleeve; bathing suit; hiking boots, sneakers and water sandals (didn’t really need the hiking boots); waterproof raincoat; sweatshirt; skirt and t shirt for dinners when I wanted to looks a little dressier; 2 weeks of underwear; seven pairs of socks; nightgown; swim suit cover up. Make sure that the pants and tops are quick dry and water wicking. I wore knit pants, the boots, the sweatshirt and raincoat on the plane as I didn’t want to chance those items going missing in transit. I packed a small lightweight carryon (The Foldie) with a couple of days additional clothes and essentials for both of us like documents and meds for the plane. We had an opportunity for having laundry done midway through the trip but we had enough clothes with us so it wasn’t necessary.

Bring sunscreen. We got a bit fried in Tortuguero on the open boat wildlife safaris as we didn’t put any on. We did use it after that especially in Guanacaste on the Pacific coast. We brought Deet but didn’t need it. I don’t remember seeing a single mosquito on this trip.
Camera gear - This is a personal decision. My husband and I are photographers so this is important to us. My husband had his Nikon Z7ii mirrorless, a 600 mm lens (aka “the beast”) and a 90 mm lens. I brought my Nikon D5500 and a 300 mm full frame lens which is the equivalent of a 450 mm lens on my crop sensor camera. I also had my Samsung A32 cell phone which has a 48 mp camera and is great for wider shots. I loved that camera and it will be my go to for nonwildlife trips. The photo quality was great. We brought the long lenses because a lot of the time the animals will be high and deep in the tree canopy. And then there are the snakes which we didn’t want to get too close to get a photo. You will not get great shots of those critters without at least a 300 mm. If this isn’t important to you, you can bring a point and shoot and binoculars for viewing the animals. The guide will have a spotting scope on a tripod so you can take photos through that with your cell phone if the animals aren’t moving much. I was happy that my husband brought the 600 mm lens even though it is very heavy. It is a total of 6 ½ pounds with the camera and lens adapter. I seriously don’t know how he was able to shoot the photos hand held and get sharp photos but he did. His old 600 mm died a week before the trip and we ordered him another one which arrived just in time for the trip. I debated about whether or not to spend that kind of money on another lens but I knew how much this trip and the photography meant to him. He had been studying up on the Costa Rican flora and fauna every day since October and was so excited about getting to see them in real life. In the end I was glad he had that lens as his shots were incredible and far better that what I took with my 300 mm full frame (450 mm equivalent on a crop sensor) lens.

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Part Four
Other technical gear - I brought my Ipad and the Samsung A32 cell phone mentioned above. I signed up for Google Fi before the trip. A cell phone is necessary for emergency calls, for scan codes at restaurants as some there don’t have paper menus, copies of documents with qr codes, etc. Internet connections varied in the places we visited. In Tortuguero, it was only available at the main lodge. In Monteverde, connections were spotty. In San Jose, Guanacaste and Arenal/La Fortuna, there was no problem. We seldom went online except at night before bed. We were out and about in the early morning and early evening looking for critters before the tour started for the day or at the end of the day.

Food - We had fresh fruit (pineapple and watermelon) available at every breakfast and it was sooo good! The first few days of the trip in Tortuguero, gallo pinto (rice mixed with black beans) made an appearance at every meal - breakfast, lunch and dinner. Gallo pinto is a staple in Costa Rica and is the equivalent of the potato to the Irish. I like rice and beans but after several days it was too much. Of course, there were other things on the plate but that gallo pinto was ubiquitous. I enjoyed the fried plantains. We also had frozen lemonade with mint in a few places. Yummy! Most of the meals in Costa Rica were really good with the exception of the restaurant in Tortuguero but we didn’t starve there. Tortuguero is in a remote location. You either fly in or take a 2 ½ hours bus ride and then travel by small boat for an hour and half to reach the lodge so based on the remoteness of the location I gave them a pass. The meals at the other restaurants were wonderful and sometimes so beautifully presented you didn’t want to eat them (but we did). Most meals were included on this trip except for about 6.

Nitty Gritty - The toilet situation is Costa Rica is similar to Greece in that the plumbing cannot handle toilet paper. There is a bin by the side of the toilet for the waste paper. But the toilets were otherwise normal. TMI? Sorry.

Where we stayed - Hotel Intercontinental in San Jose - first night and fourth night. Really nice high end hotel, clean comfy beds, great breakfast selection and restaurants on the premises, swimming pool and spa. We were not there long enough to avail ourselves of the pool or spa. We had 4 hours at the hotel on arrival in Costa Rica and one night after visiting Tortuguero. The restaurant menu was a scan code. Breakfast was a buffet and the waitstaff would put your requests on your plate for you. This was due to covid.
Mawamba Lodge in Tortuguero is located on the Carribean side of Costa Rica. This is an ecolodge so the rooms are spartan but clean. There is liquid soap and shampoo in the shower but no hairdryers or closet but they do have hangers. There is no ac but the nights cool down and there is a ceiling fan so not unpleasant for sleeping. The bed was comfy. There is a pool onsite and a little garden where you can see and photograph the red eyed tree frog. The hotel is situated on an spit of land between a river and the ocean. You cannot go into the ocean because of the dangerous riptides and sharks. The beach is a turtle nesting site at a different time of year than when we were there so you can see the turtles building their nests and laying their eggs and the little turtles hatching depending on the time of year that you visit. The hotel is surrounded by gardens where you can see various birds, trees such as cashews, orchids, ginger flowers. We enjoyed that. The restaurant on the premises is open air or you can eat poolside. Our guide took us all for a walk on the hotel grounds to look for critters, etc.

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Part Five
Hotel Lomas del Volcan is situated at the base of the Arenal Volcano. The rooms are individual bungalows with front and back porches. The rooms were clean and beds comfy. The grounds are lovely with lots of tropical vegetation. The restaurant is really good. At breakfast you have to sanitize your hands and wear plastic gloves before handling the serving tongs at the breakfast buffet. They had a really nice selection for breakfast. We chose to sit outside at breakfast. The dinners at the restaurant were really good and beautifully plated. The coffee after dinner was almost like dessert.

Hotel El Establo is in the cloud forest. The rooms are situated high up on a hill. All the rooms have a view. If it wasn’t hazy we could have seen the Pacific Ocean from there. The room was clean and the bed comfy. No ac but it wasn’t needed as we were in the cloud forest and it was cooler than Tortuguero. We were visited by a coatimundi outside our sliding glass door in the morning and there were birds in the trees to photograph. There is a central hallway outside the rooms and voices are really amplified. Some guest were a bit inconsiderate and were talking loudly in that hallway. The breakfast was served at a dining area at the base of the hill and required transportation to get there. It was a long walk down otherwise. The breakfast was pretty spare compared to Lomas Del Volcan in Fortuna and the Hotel Intercontinental in San Jose. Again there was fresh fruit, eggs, toast and the ubiquitous gallo pinto. It was ok. Nothing to write home about.

JW Marriott in Guanacaste is a five star hotel on the Pacific Ocean. Access to the hotel is via a bumpy dirt road before getting to the long paved driveway to the hotel. You have access to the beach and there is a huge pool winding its way around the grounds. Gorgeous! The rooms are very nice, clean comfy beds, ac, all the amenities you could think of. The restaurants on premises were very good. I had the tropical fruit bowl for lunch at one of the restaurants and it was really good. But this place is very pricey if you have to pay for anything yourself. The breakfast had everything you could wish for and we sat outside to eat. Waiters would deliver your drinks poolside. Again we had that frozen lemonade with mint. Odysseys Unlimited arranged our transportion to the airport about 1 hour and 15 minutes away and covered the cost for us. W appreciated that.

We had a list of things we wanted to see in Costa Rica and saw a lot on our wish list. As this is a wildlife tour, there is no guarantee as to what you will see. By our count, we saw 70 different birds, lots of iguanas, basalisk lizards, crocs, caymans, poison dart frogs, two eyelash vipers (one up close), a coral snake again up close, howler, spider and capuchin monkeys, bats, butterflies. But the best was seeing and photographing a mom and baby sloth which was too cute for words and the resplendent quetzal.

All in all, this was a wonderful trip and I would love to go back to Costa Rica again someday. Odysseys did a really good job and we will travel with them again.

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Thank you for the report and sharing your scrapbook. It is amazing! You and your husband are fabulous photographers. The pictures and subjects so nicely arranged. I wish i could have made it big enough to read. Thanks again for sharing.

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Thanks, Barbara. If you have a pc it might be easier to read the daily book entries. It is small on my iPad, too.

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Wow! yes you are amazing photographers. Thank you for this great trip report and sharing the photos. I would have been petrified of the snakes but you handled it so well.

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Mary, lovely TR! Thank you for sharing and loved all the photography details. Now, I am off to see your pictures on my PC.
Question; did the trip meet your expectations in regards to the number of creatures seen and the variety? Was their one creature ( or bird) that you or your husband was hoping to see, but didn’t?
We are doing a 9 day safari in Tanzania and gorilla trekking in Uganda this July so animal viewing is one of my favorite things! ( love watching fish underwater too).

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Great report, thanks. It brings back memories of our trip to CR in 2018.

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Hi Tammy,

We saw the resplendent quetzal which is high on everyone’s list when they visit Costa Rica. So we were thrilled. But we only saw it from the back. It has a beautiful red front. We also saw a boat billed heron and two kinds of toucans. We hope to go back to Costa Rica at some point and get a second crack at it. We would have like to have seen a sun bittern, a roseate spoonbill and a fiery billed aracari as well. And a yellow eyelash viper was on our list as well as a glass butterfly. But we saw a lot at any rate. What we learned from going on two separate safaris to Africa is that wildlife viewing is like going fishing. You never know what you are going to get. It took our second trip to Africa to finally see a leopard. I know people who have been multiple times to Africa and have yet to see one. Yes, seeing and photographing these animals is what we love to do. You will love Tanzania. It is a great intro to African safaris.

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@luv2travel

I surprised myself with the snakes. I would normally run off screaming. And then there’s the bullet ant which I am lucky I didn’t get bitten by as I touched some foliage where it might have been lurking.

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I took a birding/wildlife tour of Costa Rica with cotingatours.com a few years ago, staying in some of the same locations, but different accommodation. Your report brought back happy memories.

We always try and book with local operators, as they seem to work harder for you and tend to be much cheaper. Paco, the owner/guide was one of the best guides we have had anywhere. His wife is American, so he spoke good English.

It’s a fantastic country and we saw so many birds, plants and animals that we wouldn’t have been able to identify ourselves.

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Hi Mary, there is a Canadian company called Quest Nature tours, not sure if you have heard of it, but they (obviously) do nature focused tours. I have heard good things, but have not done a tour with them ( yet).

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Wow, Mary! Very thorough Trip Report and amazing photos.

I'm especially envious because we were scheduled to do this trip with Odysseys in February of last year, but of course got canceled, and weren't quite ready for it this year. We also, were doing the pre-tour option to Tortuguero National Park.

Oh well, we'll get there eventually. I'm very glad that you had a fabulous trip. We've taken one tour with Odysseys, South American Tapestry, and they do an amazing job.

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Tammy and Jennifer,

Thanks for the suggestions. We are looking at a dedicated photo safari to Costa Rica with Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris which goes to different areas than we have been to. Our friends who are amazing (nationally recognized) photographers have done several of his tours and rave about them.

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Hi @va from va -

This was our 6th Odysseys tour. They do a great job. If you get another chance to go to Costa Rica, you absolutely have to do the Tortuguero extension.

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Hi Tammy,

Yes, photo tours are expensive but if you are serious about your photography it’s the way to go. And it’s an expensive hobby. The guides get you to the right place at the right time to get the shot and you have their expertise on camera settings, etc. If you are on a “normal” tour, the guides will help you see the wildlife but they are more geared to the average non photographer vis a vis how early you get up and out each day, etc. We have been on one photography tour before and know the difference in the focus of each. It just depends on what you want.

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Wow!!! Those photos are magical. I love the colorful birds and, especially, the sloths/ baby sloths. Thank you for sharing your trip and photos with us, what a treat!

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Thanks, Agnes. Who doesn’t love sloths? That mom and baby sloth interaction was the cutest thing. I could have watched them all day. They were really high up in the forest canopy and the light was really challenging so not the greatest of photos. But the baby sloth draped over its mom’s tummy like a rag doll, etc. Oh, my. And the howler monkey and its baby were cute as well.

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Wow, Mary! I loved your report, your book, and most of all your pictures! I will have to go through it a second time from my laptop! Thank you for sharing. :)

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@Travelmom Thanks so much. Most of the photos are my husband’s as he had that really long lens. I am glad you liked the book.

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Costa Rica is high on our list of next places to travel. Thank you for the great report. Your photo book is absolutely amazing!

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@BarbaraN - Thanks so much. I am so glad you enjoyed the photos as much as we enjoyed taking them. Costa Rica is a wonderful country with a high commitment to the environment, education (95% literacy rate) and peace (no military). This trip has only whetted our appetite for more travel to see and photograph flora and fauna in other parts of the world.

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Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos. We just returned from Costa Rica on Saturday and had a wonderful trip. Yes, the Costa Rican people took mask wearing seriously. (I wish I could say the same about the people on our American Airlines flights.) The country is beautiful and we too found Tortuguero to be a special place. Capuchin monkeys dined with us breakfast and lunch at our lodge there and provided great entertainment. Looked away from the table one day at lunch, and the next thing I saw was my flan going up a tree. Like you, we saw a momma sloth, with her baby on her belly, in a tree right alongside the road. For us, the only negatives were our visit to San Jose and the long rides between destinations.

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@djk Where did you stay in Tortuguero? I would have been happy to have the monkeys as dining companions. Yes, masking was good in Costa Rica albeit cloth masks but it was not enforced on the airplanes. We wore ours in the terminal and on the plane we just lifted them up to take a sip of water or munch on the airplane snack. I would note that a lot of tourists in Costa Rica were not wearing their masks when they should have been.

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We stayed at the Evergreen Lodge. Had a cabin with no AC or glass windows, just a ceiling fan and screening. The cabins seemed appropriate for the beautiful jungle setting and listening to the rain at night was so peaceful. Parrots and toucans perched in the trees around the pool and the monkeys provided constant entertainment.