Sometimes a group trip is just what a solo traveller needs. A couple of months following hip replacement surgery, I was feeling very spry and ready to take on an adventure but felt, this time, I should probably join a group trip. I also wanted to check out G-Adventures, as I had heard good reviews. They had a special on their 9-day Costa Rica Quest tour. In an unusual move, I even decided to take my chance on sharing a room with an unknown fellow traveller. I added a couple of days to the trip at each end of the tour through G-Adventures, so I didn't even have to change rooms. I chose G-Adventures for several reasons. I had met travellers who provided glowing reports of trips taken with them. They are a Canadian company who employs local guides and they support local businesses and environmental initiatives. There is a lot of flexibility with free time and excursions. The excursions are varied, interesting, and affordable. Finally, G-Adventures does not charge a single supplement as they will match you with a roommate. Travellers can pay extra for a private room.
The tour begins in the capital city of San José. I had pre-arranged an airport transfer to the hotel which went seamlessly. I had booked a couple of excursions and planned on picking up a couple more along the way. So far, group travel was making a lot of my usual planning and organizing redundant, and I have to admit, I rather enjoyed that. Since I arrived earlier than my group I decided to explore the city on foot and will share my meanderings around San José in a later post. The tour does not include any tours in the capital.
Following standard group procedures, group members met with the CEO (Chief Experience Officer) Gabe in the hotel lobby and went over introductions and necessary information for our departure the following day.
On the first full day, our group started our journey to La Fortuna, in a comfortable touring bus. There are 3 places that we would be staying over the next 9 days: La Fortuna/Arenal, Monteverde, and Quepos/Manuel Antonio National Park. This trip loops from San José northwest to the central mountains and south to the Pacific Coast before returning to San José. Longer stretches of travel are broken up with stops along the way. Most of these stops allowed bathroom breaks and places to grab something to eat, as well as see something unique to Costa Rica. This wasn’t planned but a lovely older gentleman was alongside the road with his oxen and cart, so we stopped and posed for photos.
Our next planned stop was to see this waterfall.
An enterprising merchant set up his stall right across the street. It seemed to be doing a brisk business.
Our group was beginning to mix and gel. The ages of the group ranged from young teens to adults 60+; three family groups, a couple, and a handful of solo travellers. I was delighted with my young roommate, Steffi, who was destined to become ATB#2. We had 14 Canadians, 1 Aussie, and my roommate from Austria.
The next stop along the route was at the Mi Cafecito Coffee Cooperative for a fascinating tour and lunch. I had no idea of the amount of work that goes into getting my morning java!
We toured the grounds and buildings and learned about each of the stages of coffee production.
The outer shell of the coffee bean is sweet. This layer is used for coffee liqueur
... which we sampled
The whole process... plant, blossom, green bean, ripe bean, 3 stages of roasting and the ground coffee. I was surprised to learn that the darker the roast, the less caffeine is left. Espresso actually has less caffeine than a light roast.
Shortly after we got back on the road, our van pulled into a grocery store parking lot and we caught our first sloth sighting. We were all very excited to spot 2 sloths snoozing high in the trees. This is a well-known spot for seeing sloths.
A little further along the road, the driver noticed some cars on the side of the road and excited people with cameras. It was quickly decided to stop and see what was happening. I went around the group in the opposite direction and saw this right in front of my face. Sloths come out of the tree once a week or so to poop. I guess it was our lucky day.
Look at that face! Gabe, our guide explained that sloths carry an entire ecosystem on their bodies, which explains the greenish tinge and the millions of insects crawling all over this fellow.
Upon arriving in La Fortuna, we weren’t blessed with great weather for our volcano nature walk on the Arenal volcano. The volcano stayed hidden but we hiked anyways because it’s a beautiful nature reserve. We kept a close eye on the clouds but they never completely cleared the volcano top.
The last eruption was in 1968. The Rainforest has grown around the lava and across the rough paths
One of the things that I appreciated about G-Adventures was the choice of excursions outside of the group activities. Some members of our group were seeking more adrenaline-pumping activities whereas I am more into nature and wildlife. Everyone on the trip was satisfied with the selections. I took off on my own for my first excursion to Mistico Nature Preserve for a hanging bridge and nature tour in the morning. For a more detailed look at this amazing natural area, check out this post.
My afternoon excursion was a slow rafting trip. The more adventurous in our group went on a rapids adventure while I slowly floated along the river.
I enjoyed the slow float and the chance to see some wildlife. I especially enjoying seeing animals I don't see at home. I love little lizards like these geckos.
A Howler Monkey. You can hear and smell these before they are seen. They smell like manure.
The last stop of the day was at an amazing hot spring resort, Los Lagos Spa & Resort. I didn't take many photos of the spring since cameras and hot springs really don't get along well. There are beautiful pools with swim-up bars, lovely trails, restaurants and cafés, and full changing facilities. For those not on a tour and wishing to linger, this is also a hotel.
The next destination on the trip was Monteverde, high in the cloud forest. We took a boat across Lagos Arenal, a man-made lake used to generate electricity. Costa Rica is very proud of their renewable energy. For the past four years, over 98% of power in Costa Rica comes from renewable sources.
On the other side of the lake, we got into our van and started climbing. We stopped to enjoy the amazing view at the top of the mountains. It was a tad windy.
Our adventure in Monteverde was our day spent at Selvatura Adventure Park. It offers a restaurant, hummingbird garden, a butterfly exhibit, natural trails with hanging bridges, and a zipline adventure. I headed straight to the hummingbirds and butterflies.
The hummingbird garden was full of beautiful little birds darting back and forth. There were many colourful species.
I got a lovely tour of the butterfly exhibit from one of the naturalists, who showed me some of the natural defences that various species have.
The big attraction for many at this park is the Ziplining. This park boasts the longest zipline in Central America. The run includes rappelling, seated ziplining, and the "Superman" where the harness puts you in a flying position. There was also a bungee jump that I decided was just too much for me! Once I was harnessed up and ready to zip, I did have some second thoughts but once I was zipping along, I had so much fun.
Later that evening we did a night walk through the forest. We saw many animals, including these frogs, a tarantula, and several scorpions. We also saw an olingo, a 2 toed sloth, a kinkajou, a huge snake, and 2 types of toucans.
We left Monteverde in the morning for our journey to Quepos, with a couple of stops along the way. One of our stops was at a natural river where there is an area with many crocodiles that we could watch from the bridge over the river. This fellow seemed to pose for me (I think he was just trying to figure out whether I would make a full meal.)
As soon as we arrived in Quepos, we grabbed our swimming costumes and headed straight to the beach, via public bus. The entire group decided to spend our beach day together. We had quite the set up of chaises and shelters.
We decided to check out the rooftop pool at our lodgings for the rest of the evening.
The following day started with a lazy morning by the pool and in the afternoon we headed out for a sunset catamaran tour.
The evening cruise was a typical "booze cruise" common in these kinds of places. It included a cruise along the coast with entertainment, dinner, and 8 (!) drinks. The alcohol is poured lightly, so most behaviour was under control.
Time for a stop for swimming and jumping off the top decks. There's also a slide. Everyone on the boat had a good time playing in the warm waters.
Dinner was pretty good for a tour boat buffet but, of course, the main attraction was the incredible sunset.
After docking, we weren't ready to call it a night and so we jumped off the bus to have a nightcap at a bar built in and around an old airplane called the El Avion Restaurant.
This cargo plane and its sister plane were purchased in the 1980s by the US government for use by the Contras and was part of the scandal involving the illegal sale of arms to the Nicaraguan rebels. It was the sister plane that was shot down and began the unravelling of the scandal.
Our final destination on this trip was Manuel Antonio National Park. It was an early start to ensure we had enough time to walk some trails and enjoy some beach time before returning to San José.
The line-ups start early, at least two hours prior to opening. The park is very popular and visitors are limited due to over-crowding. The Costa Rica Guide website cautions visitors to watch out for tour, parking, and ticket scams. Opening hours are fairly short 7am - 4pm daily.
We enjoyed a guided nature walk and saw many different types of wildlife.
The beach is a haven for capuchin monkeys. These crafty thieves may be adorable but they will snatch sandwiches from a pack, beach blanket, and even right from the hand of unsuspecting visitors. Visitors are no longer allowed to bring food into the park. Water is permitted but must be in reuseable bottles.
The waters were warm and refreshing, perfect for a hot day and for feeling ready for the trip into San José.