What Are Cloud Forests?

This information about a cloud forest Costa Rica location is provided by Caravan Tours.

A cloud forest (aka “fog” forest) is similar to a rainforest except that they have high humidity and less rain. Cloud forests can be found in nearly four dozen countries around the globe that have either tropical or sub-tropical climate conditions.

The cloud forest Costa Rica location exists in a forested mountain area with high humidity and is persistently shrouded in low-lying clouds (usually at the forest canopy level). This is usually caused when warm moist winds push up against mountain terrain. As the air rises and cools the cool air can’t hold as much moisture and clouds or mists are formed by the excess humidity.

Costa Rica cloud forests can be found in a number of locations throughout this small country. These cloud forest regions have the right combination of geography and weather and many are designated as national parks.

Places like Braullio Carrillo National Park, Irazu’ Volcano National Park, J. Castro Blanco National Park and Monteverde Biological Reserve all display the unique characteristics of cloud forests and are major tourist attractions.

Escallonia Cloud Forest Trail

There is a cloud forest near Poas Volcano National Park, which used to be part of our Caravan Tour until the volcano became active. Escallonia Cloud Forest Trail is a favorite tourist destination primarily because of the cloud forest Costa Rica is so famous for.

There is an abundance of small cypress and myrtle growth plus orchids, tropical ferns, and Escallonia plants that give the Escallonia Cloud Forest Trail its name.

Escallonia Plants

The varieties of Escallonia plants that dominate many of the Costa Rica’s cloud forest sites include more than three dozen varieties of small evergreen trees, along with many ferns and shrubs. Escallonia plants are native to South American but obviously they do well in many other tropical and subtropical locations like Costa Rica.

Escallonia plants flower at various times throughout the year, with primary colors appearing in summer and autumn. This makes a cloud forest trail hike a perfect escape for visitors wanting to get away from winter weather in the Northern Hemisphere and immerse themselves in tropical flora and fauna.

Biological Curiosities

Unlike many other locations, this cloud forest Costa Rica location stands apart as a biological curiosity because it differs slightly from many other rainforests, especially those in lowlands of tropical countries.

Biologists have found that some of the species in certain Costa Rica cloud forests are found only in that one place. This is reason enough for many travelers to include an Escallonia Cloud Forest hike on their Costa Rica vacation itinerary.

But even the cloud forests of Costa Rica are changing. As rising world temperatures affect plant growth, many animal and plant species move to higher elevations, which eventually affect the biological map of the mountain forests.

As mentioned earlier, this cloud forest Costa Rica site is a result of a unique combination of factors that come together perfectly in the mountains of Costa Rica. With the right humidity levels and elevation, the thick green forest vegetation becomes shrouded with added beauty and mystery when engulfed with low-level clouds and fog that move in and stay, depending on strength and direction of the winds.

Costa Rica All Inclusive Tours

Due to recent volcanic activity in the area, trips to Escallonia Cloud Forest Trail and Poas Volcano have been temporarily suspended and at present, are not part of Caravan’s Costa Rica Natural Paradise tour.

See this Costa Rica Guide page for an update on Poas Volcano activity.

This is a fully guided 9-day tour that is affordably priced and includes all accommodations, meals, land travel, itinerary activities, and gratuities.

Visit Caravan’s Costa Rica Tour Reviews page to read what others have said about Caravan’s fully guided tour and for the most recent updates on the Costa Rica tour itinerary.

To book your Costa Rica Trip call 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826)

Is Poás National Park Open?

Yes, Poás National Park is Open!

For years, visiting Poás Volcano has been a top highlight for many guests of Costa Rica tours by Caravan.

Located in the second most-visited national park in Costa Rica, Poás volcano enjoyed over 250,000 visitors each year. Visitors came from all over the world to marvel at the two craters of Poás volcano, which are bordered by lush tropical rainforests and rises more than 8,000 feet above sea level.

However, in April of 2017, Poás Volcano National Park closed to visitors due to increased volcanic activity. The park was only expected to remain closed for a couple of days but since subsequent violent eruptions on April 22 and again on June 6, 2017, Poás Volcano National Park was closed indefinitely.

UPDATE – On August 31, 2018, Poás National Park opened to the public – partially. However, the Park experienced a 2-day closure in February of 2019 due to ash emissions. Poás Park has since re-opened but with restrictions in place.

Damaged Poás Volcano Trails

The multiple violent volcanic eruptions of Poás volcano in April of 2017 propelled hot rocks (some as large as 2 meters wide) into the air. They damaged parts of the dome around the volcanic crater plus some of the Poás Park trails and infrastructures such as fencing and water pipes. Emissions of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide gases, plus other toxic vapors made it too dangerous to allow visitors.

Local authorities continue to closely monitor the situation at the volcano’s crater as well as surrounding areas including Costa Rica’s capital San Jose, which is less than an hour Southeast of Poás Volcano.

Poas National Park Open But With Restrictions

Scientists continue to monitor the volcano’s activity. Safety is of the utmost concern for visitors to Poás Volcano National Park. For now, the area has been deemed safe from further volcanic activity. Local officials continue to assess the damage and make any necessary repairs to the infrastructures before permanently re-opening Poás Volcano National Park to the public.

Poás Volcano has only had about half a dozen eruptions in the last one hundred years or so. In 1989, Poás closed briefly for a minor eruption and closed several times again in 1995 due to lesser volcanic activity.

Even though Poás National Park is open, in light of these recent volcanic eruptions and park closures Caravan tour guests now visit the Wildlife Rescue Center instead. They also enjoy a guided coffee plantation tour as part of their fully guided, all-inclusive Costa Rica tour.

For more up to date information about the current Caravan Costa Rica Tour itinerary, please visit our Costa Rica tour page that also lists current hotels, FAQs, and Costa Rica customer reviews.

To book an all-inclusive tour with Caravan Tours, please call Caravan toll free at 1-800-227-2826.

Order your free Caravan Tour Brochure now!

Mangrove Forest Importance

In this blog post, Caravan offers a number of interesting facts about the importance of the mangrove forest Costa Rica, which will help make your fully guided tour all the more enjoyable.

Our all-inclusive Cost Rica tour includes a guided Tarcoles River float trip through the Carara National Park mangrove forest, Costa Rica.

What is a mangrove forest?

Located in the province of Guanacaste, the mangrove forest Costa Rica consists mainly of mangrove plants. These are primarily salt-tolerant shrubs or small trees that live in the coastal intertidal zone. A Mangrove forest creates a unique habitat for migratory birds, mammals, Crustacea, and fish; like no other tree species can.

It is quite easy to spot the dense tangled root system of mangrove trees. Some even describe mangrove trees as looking like they are standing on stilts (actually roots) above the water.

Where are mangrove forests found?

Mangrove forests can be found around the world in the tropics and in subtropical areas. Typically, you will find mangrove forests between 25° N and 25° S of the Equator. Mangroves can’t withstand freezing temperatures so are limited to areas within these latitudes.

As of 2000, the total area covered by mangrove forests around the world is 53,200 square miles. The largest mangrove forest in the world is called The Sundarbans and exists on the delta of Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers in India.

Did you know that 75% of the world’s mangrove forests exist in just 15 countries around the world? North and Central America make up just 15% of these mangrove forests. The mangrove forest Costa Rica trees exist on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

How are mangrove forests useful to man?

The mangrove forest Costa Rica is a significant biome creating a highly unique and productive ecosystem. The mangroves provide several useful goods and services to humans, including:

  • Fisheries – Mangroves are home to fish, crab, shrimp, and mollusk species.
  • Timber and plants – Wood from mangrove forests is insect and rot resistant.
  • Coastal protection – The dense root systems of mangrove forests act as nets to trap and prevent sediments from flowing down the river and out into the ocean. Mangrove forests also help prevent erosion of the coastline.
  • Eco-tourism – Several countries now take advantage of showcasing their mangrove forests to tourists who are wowed by marvelous snorkelling, wildlife, flora, and fauna.

Mangrove forests also provide shelter and food for fish and organisms needing protection from predators.

What lives in the mangrove forest Costa Rica?

In Costa Rica, there are 7 species of mangrove trees (out of the 80 species that exist around the world) including:

  • Red Mangroves
  • Black Mangroves
  • Tea Mangrove
  • White Mangrove
  • Buttonwood Mangrove

Wildlife that you can spot in the mangrove forest Costa Rica:

  • Crabs
  • Caimans
  • Crocodiles
  • Boas
  • Tree frogs
  • River turtles
  • Iguanas
  • Whiteface capuchin monkeys
  • Squirrel monkeys
  • Howler monkeys
  • Herons
  • Parrots

About Caravan Tours

As a family run business, Caravan Tours has been offering fully guided tours throughout North and Central America for over 67 years, since 1952!

This Caravan tour includes an afternoon float trip through the mangrove forest Costa Rica in the Guanacaste region on the Pacific coast. The float trip offers guests a once in a lifetime opportunity to spot all kinds of exotic birds and wildlife, including tropical caimans, boas, and several monkey species.

To start planning your trip to Costa Rica with Caravan Tours, please order your free Caravan Tour Brochure or call Caravan toll free at 1-800-227-2826.

View from the top of Manuel Antonio Park

In this blog post, Caravan Tours has compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions plus additional Manuel Antonio National Park facts.

For instance, despite being Costa Rica’s smallest National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park remains a favorite must-see Costa Rica destination.

In fact, since Poas Volcano National Park Was Closed for a while due to recent volcanic activity, Manuel Antonio National Park is now the most visited park in Costa Rica, receiving 150,000 visitors each year, (on average, about 410 visitors each day).

You can also read a firsthand account of the Manuel Antonio National Park tour as told by a recent Caravan Tours’ guest.

Where is Manuel Antonio National Park?

Manuel Antonio National Park is located south of Quepos in the province of Puntarenas, on the west coast of Costa Rica. The park consists of 1983 hectares (7.66 square miles) of land and is situated within the Central Pacific Conservation Area.

How far is Manuel Antonio from San Jose?

Manuel Antonio Park is 106 miles (170 km) from San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, which is just over 3 hours by vehicle.

How far is Manuel Antonio from Jaco Costa Rica?

Manuel Antonio is just over 45 miles (73 km) from Jaco in the Puntarenas Province of Costa Rica. This is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes by vehicle.

How many people visit Manuel Antonio each year?

Manuel Antonio National Park welcomes approximately 150,000 visitors each year.

Where to eat in Manuel Antonio?

One of the reasons Manuel Antonio is such a popular Costa Rica tourist destination is because it is easy to access and offers a variety of local food and dining services.  You can visit Fodor’s Travel guide to Manuel Antonio Restaurants for ideas on where to eat. On our Caravan fully guided Costa Rica tours, all meals and bottled water are included within your all-inclusive tour package.

Where to stay in Manuel Antonio?

There is actually only one hotel next to Manuel Antonio National Park called San Bada Hotel. Conveniently located right at the Park entrance, this Costa Rica hotel is also only a short walk from the park’s public beaches.

There are other hotel options while visiting Manuel Antonio but most are built on the hillside and require numerous flights of stairs and walking. San Bada Hotel is the hotel of choice by Caravan Tours while in the area, as it is built on level ground and is located just short distance from the park entrance.

What kind of wildlife is in Manuel Antonio Park?

The diversity alone of Manual Antonio’s wildlife rivals many of the other larger parks. Manuel Antonio National Park is home to 109 different mammal species and 180 bird species including:

  • Brown-throated three-toed sloths
  • Hoffmann’s two-toed sloths
  • Mantled howler monkeys
  • Central American squirrel monkeys
  • White-headed capuchin monkeys
  • Green iguanas
  • White-nosed coati
  • Many different snakes and bat species
  • Toucans
  • Woodpeckers
  • Potoos
  • Motmots
  • Tanagers
  • Turkey vultures
  • Hawks

Can you snorkel on the beaches of Manuel Antonio?

There are four beaches within Manuel Antonio National Park offering large light sand berms. Two of these beaches (Manuel Antonio and Espadilla Sur) offer tidal pools where you can snorkel at times. Beware, riptides can occur. Other popular watersports at Manuel Antonio include scuba diving and sea kayaking. From November to April, Manuel Antonio also offers world-renowned deep sea fishing opportunities.

Can you surf in Manuel Antonio?

Yes, you can surf in Manuel Antonio National Park. Although not a major surfer’s destination in Costa Rica there are some good breaks to check out near the town of Manuel Antonio. If you’re a beginner, look up some local surf schools to learn how to get up on the board.

What is the entrance fee for Manuel Antonio?

Currently, the Manuel Antonio National Park entrance fee is $16 for adults. Children under 12 years old are free. Additional options for guided tours and private tours are available at adult and child rates. The park fees are included with the cost of your Costa Rica all-inclusive tour.

What are the hours for Manuel Antonio?

Currently, Manuel Antonio National Park is open 7 am to 4 pm Tuesday through Sunday. Note the park is closed on Mondays. For those wanting to avoid crowds, the park is typically less busy in the afternoon.

What should I do in Manuel Antonio Park?

Besides spending time at the beach or snorkeling, there is plenty to do on land! Explore the Park’s natural rainforests, walk through spectacular beach coves, take an aerial tram tour or zip line tour with an eco-tourism company, visit local artisan shops, visit a butterfly garden, or catch views of wonderful local waterfalls. The list goes on and on for what you can see and do while visiting Manuel Antonio National Park.

About Caravan Tours

Caravan is one of Costa Rica’s leading all-inclusive tour companies and has been offering fully guided tours throughout the USA, Canada, and Central America since 1952. Our all-inclusive Costa Rica tours include a one night stay at San Bada Hotel with ample time to explore Manuel Antonio National Park and the surrounding area.

For more Manuel Antonio National Park facts or to book a Costa Rica tour, please call our Caravan offices toll free at 1-800-227-2826.

Request a free Caravan Tour Brochure.

After leaving the JW Marriott Hotel in Guanacaste, our Costa Rica tour took us south towards the province of Puntarenas where we get to enjoy a guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park. Along the way we stopped to take a bird watching riverboat cruise on the Tarcoles River (Rio Grande de Tarcoles), which was next to the Carara Biological Reserve. Also known as the River of Crocodiles, this Tarcoles River area of mangrove forest is literally a bird watchers’ paradise for anyone who loves birds.

River crocodiles near Jaco Costa Rica

Our tour guide Paul gave us a bird guidebook that had photos of no less than 58 different bird species that can be found in the area. I’m sure we saw nearly 2-dozen of them including the Scarlet Macaw. Many of the birds migrate here from the United States and other parts of Central America. We also saw dozens of caiman (crocodiles), plus green turtles, iguanas, water walking lizards, and even a boa constrictor nestled in the riverbank!

San Bada Hotel

We then headed down to Manuel Antonio National Park to stay at the Hotel San Bada, the Park’s closest hotel, right next to the park’s entrance. San Bada was uniquely situated, backed up against the rainforest and overlooking the Pacific Ocean. A 3-foot lizard greeted us as we came into the hotel and just before dinner we watched a 10-minute video (another video produced by Caravan Tours) on the uniqueness of Manuel Antonio National Park. This gave us a lot of background information about what we would be seeing on our guided rainforest tour tomorrow.

Our most unique greeting here at San Bada Hotel, however, was perhaps the very loud wakeup call we got just before daybreak from the local howler monkeys (it seemed like they were just outside our window and my son even got up to go check). Although the howler monkeys were well camouflaged in the Manuel Antonio Park rainforest it certainly wasn’t a problem hearing them.

Sunset double parasail photo above Manuel Antonio Beach

Double Parasail Sunset Ride, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

The San Bada Hotel is also quite close (just 4 minutes) to the local beachfront and open vendors in the area so we did get a chance to walk along the beach and do a little souvenir shopping before dinner. The top floor of the San Bada hotel includes a swimming pool, a wet bar, and an incredible observation deck with a perfect view of the Pacific Ocean. Before retiring we enjoyed a free open bar and an absolutely beautiful view of the bay. With Manuel Antonia Park right behind us and an incredible Pacific Coast Lagoon before us, it doesn’t get any better than this! We even snapped a photo of someone double parasailing with an amazing Pacific Ocean sunset as a backdrop (see photo).

Beach Lagoon near Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park Tour

Our tour guide Paul took us up to two different lookout points (overlooking the bay and beach area) as well as a quick hike down to the lagoon with an expansive white sandy beach. Paul gave us a very informative tour with detailed explanations of the different kinds of flora and fauna of the primary and secondary forest in Manuel Antonio, as well as information about the wildlife we saw including howler monkeys, toucans, bats, turkey vultures, lizards, a leafcutter ant nest, the 2-toed sloth, and the 3-toed sloth. Many of the Manuel Antonio Park animals were so well camouflaged that getting a good close up photo was nearly impossible (unless you have a telephoto lens) and certainly would have been missed without Paul’s help.

List of Costa Rica Wildlife Refuges, Parks, and Protected Areas

Important Facts About Costa Rica

Aerial Tram Ride

Following the Manuel Antonio rainforest hike, we had time for a quick lunch before heading off to take a guided aerial tram ride through the rainforest canopy not far from Jaco, Costa Rica. The tram offered exceptional views of the dry rainforest, the transitional forest, and the valley below, as well as a close-up view of a mountain waterfall.

At the beginning of the tram ride they had posted some important facts about Costa Rica and how 34% of the country was protected:
– 75 Wildlife Refuges
– 31 Protected Areas
– 28 National Parks
– 13 Wetlands and Mangrove Forests
– 9 Forest Reserves
– 8 Biological Reserves
– 5 National Monuments

Summary

We absolutely love this area of Jaco and we’re so glad that Caravan included Manuel Antonio Park as part of their Costa Rica tour. So sad that we have to back to our last hotel in San Jose to spend a final night before our flight back to Canada. Along the way, our guide Paul made a formal announcement that Costa Rica’s Turrialba volcano (just 8-miles east of San Jose) had a small eruption the day earlier. Although westerly winds had blown volcanic ash towards the airport, only a few flights had been delayed or canceled. Thankfully, the wind direction had changed so the ash was blowing in the opposite direction from the airport.

We were able to check online and were relieved to find that our flight would be leaving Costa Rica as scheduled.

~ Lee K

Well, after nearly a week always on the move and doing day excursions as part of this Caravan Costa Rica tour, we get to stay at the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort and just take a day for ourselves to relax at our leisure.

We feel really privileged to be able to spend 2 nights at the 5-star JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort and Spa in Hacienda Pinilla, Costa Rica. Some of the guests we spoke with today said that this is the high season and rooms are going for somewhere between $400 and $800 US!

Watching the Setting Sun at JW Marriott Guanacaste

It’s unbelievable that this 2-night stay is included as part of this Caravan all inclusive tour. The tour price also includes all meals, and all itinerary activities…simply amazing.

This particular Marriott is only 5 years old and simply stunning with an infinity pool, exceptional food, large rooms and the most comfortable mattress and pillows I’ve every experienced at a hotel. The view of the ocean and the incredible sunset were simply stunning. The JW Marriott Hotel is an oceanfront hacienda style resort located next to an 18-hole golf and country club in the exclusive community of Hacienda Pinilla. It was really cool to be able to beachcomb right in front of the hotel. One of the young fellows from our group even managed to get a coconut right off the tree and crack it open to drink fresh coconut juice.

Surfing near JW Marriott hotel in Guanacaste Costa Rica

Surfing lessons Guanacaste Costa Rica

Our boys spent the entire evening in the pool last night and today we booked them for a 2-hour semi private surfing lesson at the beautiful sandy beach in front of the resort’s country club. The weather was perfect, the waves were up to 5 feet high and the boys said they had a fantastic time.

We really took advantage of the down time on this part of our Caravan tour, hanging out at the pool or in one of the many hammocks around the property, and enjoying the exceptional food. I feel so sad that we have leave the JW Marriott tomorrow, but I’m really looking forward to heading down to Manual Antonio Park just south of Jaco on the Pacific Coast in Puntarenas.

~ Lee K

Lowlands of Guanacaste Costa Rica

Today, on the first day of 2017, we are making our way to Guanacaste Province in Costa Rica to visit the leatherback turtle nesting beaches. As we pulled out of La Fortuna we headed away from the wet tropical rainforests of Central Costa Rica, traveling northwest across the continental divide and then down into the lowlands of Guanacaste; an area known for its dry rainforests and white sandy beaches.

Tarantula – Hanging Bridges Tour Costa Rica

On our way to the leatherback turtle nesting beaches, our first stop was to take a tour of Costa Rica’s famous Arenal Hanging Bridges in the mature wet forests of Mistico Park. According to Wikipedia, this area receives up to 250 inches of rain each year. The 243-hectare wildlife reserve features a series of suspension bridges along easy to navigate paths through the tropical rainforest.

Here, it’s possible to see many species of Costa Rica’s trees, mammals, reptiles, and birds in their natural habitat. There were three paths to choose from with varying levels of difficulty, depending on your comfort level. The easiest path was the shortest and crossed just one hanging bridge. The second path was a little more challenging, and the third path was 3.2 Km long with 6 German designed suspension bridges (and 9 stationary bridges) that allow you to move across the forest canopy. Seeing the rainforest from above gives you a whole different perspective of the diversity of this rainforest. Closed shoes like runners are mandatory for your own protection.

Venomous snake, Hanging Bridges Tour

On our hanging bridges tour, we saw a yellow venomous viper snake, several tarantulas, a number of birds, and even Costa Rica’s wild boar, which we could easily smell before our guide pointed him out beside the creek below. On clear days you can even get a view of Arenal Volcano from here but the weather was still overcast today and it started to rain, which meant that the local sloths and monkey species were all hiding and keeping still, trying to keep out of the rain. This made it very difficult for us to see them today. Although our guide said he could smell the monkeys and knew they were near, they were well camouflaged.

View of Arenal Lake Costa Rica

After leaving the Hanging Bridges area our tour bus took us around Lake Arenal towards the leatherback turtle nesting beaches of Guanacaste. Lake Arenal is not only a man-made lake but also the largest landlocked lake in Costa Rica, covering 33 square miles. It was created to support the new hydroelectric dam, which now supplies up to 12% of Costa Rica’s electricity. Lake Arenal is also an important year-round recreational area for Costa Ricans that like to windsurf, fish, kayak, go boating, or do land activities like hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding.

Once around Arenal Lake, we headed down into the lowlands of Guanacaste Province. Our tour guide Paul, provided us with a wealth of knowledge about Costa Rica on this trip, including the history of the province of Guanacaste (which used to be an independent state) and how Guanacaste eventually became a part of Costa Rica and how the government has worked hard to protect the leatherback turtle nesting beaches.

Playa Grande Beach, Leatherback Turtles National Park

Costa Rica is widely considered to be the birthplace of ecotourism. In this area, located on the northwest coast of Costa Rica, Guanacaste is world famous for its beautiful Pacific Coast sandy beaches. We headed over to Playa Grande, an area that so far has been able to ward off what could have been very lucrative commercial development, in favor of preserving these natural leatherback turtle nesting beaches. In fact, as many as five different species of turtles nest here, including the green sea turtle, the Olive Ridley sea turtles, and of course, the most impressive (and most endangered) species, leatherback turtles.

Leatherback Turtles National Park monument

I was really quite impressed at how Caravan Tours is taking an active role in supporting the preservation of these leatherback turtle nesting beaches. Caravan has taken the initiative to create an educational center, even producing a short video on the efforts that Costa Ricans have taken to preserve these turtle nesting beaches and help ensure the survival of the Leatherback Turtle.

In the video, one of the oldest long-time volunteers remembered seeing as many as 200 leatherbacks come ashore in one night to lay their eggs. But last year, he only saw 37 return here. In fact, the population has declined up to 90% in the last two decades. Leatherbacks have been around for over 150 million years and can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh up to 2000 pounds, so the exceptional work the volunteers are doing here is essential to their survival. The volunteers actually gather the turtle eggs and care for them in nurseries until they hatch. On their own, only 1 in 1000 Leatherbacks survive to adulthood but the work that is being done here has helped raise the survival rate to three times as many.

We must give kudos to Caravan for pitching in and doing their part to raise awareness and support this amazing turtle preservation program. It was also really cool to see our naturalist guide, Paul, as one of the featured commentators in the video.

After leaving the leatherback turtle nesting beaches, our last stop was at the amazing JW Marriott Resort, which opened only 5 years ago. We are here for two nights and tomorrow we have the day to ourselves to relax and enjoy this 5-star resort. Really looking forward to it.

Until tomorrow…!!!

~Lee K

Costa Rica Rio Frio River Cruise and Hot Springs

Today we get to enjoy a guided Rio Frio river cruise up near the Nicaraguan border. Unfortunately, however, when we got up today, Arenal volcano was still covered in cloud, with no view of the volcano possible. This area of Costa Rica is still beautiful none-the-less.

White-faced monkey in Costa Rica

One of Costa Rica’s Many Bird SpeciesAfter breakfast, we boarded the tour bus to head north towards the Nicaragua border to enjoy a guided wildlife Rio Frio river cruise. For the river cruise, our tour guide Gary, and his riverboat driver were both exceptionally good at spotting hidden wildlife and birds that we would have otherwise missed. We saw a wide variety of birds on the Rio Frio cruise including cormorants, toucans, a perfectly camouflaged stick hawk, and the piano hawk, but we also saw howler monkeys and white-faced monkeys up close (pictured here). We even got to see a white-faced monkey with a baby clinging to her back. The weather was good (just a little rain) but unfortunately the river was quite high, too high for us to see any caimans or water walking lizards that rely on dry riverbanks for sunbathing.

Nicaragua River Border Sign

What was most unique about this Rio Frio river cruise was that we actually got to cross into Nicaragua … at least for a moment. For several hundred feet on either side of the river border, the waters are considered “neutral” territory, so our Rio Frio cruise was able to actually glide by the Nicaraguan border sign.

Enjoying Rio Frio River Cruise Costa Rica

Following the Rio Frio river cruise, we headed back to La Fortuna to enjoy some leisure time at the Baldi Hot Springs Resort, which is also at the foot of Arenal volcano and boasts the “Largest Thermal Waters of the World.” Baldi hot springs has 25 thermal pools, many with crystalline waterfalls to create an oasis of healing. The thermal pools are located right in the heart of the tropical rainforest of La Fortuna Costa Rica. Some of the thermal pools even feature swim-up bars. The water temperatures between the thermal pools varied a lot so no matter how hot or cool you like your hot springs, there was something for everyone. This is the ideal way to unwind and relax after enjoying our Rio Frio cruise.

Finally, we headed back to the Magic Mountain hotel for dinner and to bring in the New Year! The Magic bar had a DJ and dancing, and just before midnight, they opened the terrace so we could all go outside and watch the hotel staff set off their amazing display of fireworks.

So far this has been an incredible Costa Rica tour! What a way to bring in 2017! Happy New Years everyone!

~Lee K.

Today, we left San Jose and headed north to stay at the Magic Mountain Resort in La Fortuna Costa Rica, at the foot of Arenal Volcano. Along the way, we made a few stops at the Wildlife Rescue Center on Zoo Ave, as well as a visit to the small mountain town of Sarchi, famous for making hand built and hand painted Ox carts.

As we left for La Fortuna Costa Rica, our tour bus drove by the Plaza de la Cultura and the National Theatre of Costa Rica (Teatro Nacional) in San Jose, which was completed in 1897. Modeled as a smaller version of the Paris Opera House, the National Theatre is the San Jose’s most cherished building, complete with neoclassical columns, a marble lobby, and a statue of Beethoven. According to the Costa Ricans, to truly appreciate the interior’s opulence and architecture you really need to see a live performance.

Rescued Toucan Costa Rica

Along the route to La Fortuna Costa Rica, we stopped at the famous Wildlife Rescue Center on Zoo Ave, a non-profit organization dedicated to animal rescue, rehabilitation, and release. The main objective of the Wildlife Rescue Center is to help injured and unwanted endangered Costa Rican wildlife, nursing them back to health, helping them to recover, and if possible, releasing them back into the wild. Along with toucans and dozens of wild birds we got to see owls, an ocelot, a puma, a crocodile, emus, and ostriches. They also had a wide variety of monkeys including howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys and squirrel monkeys. The Wildlife Rescue Center does amazing work and is not funded by the Costa Rican government so they are currently raising money to build a new animal hospital.

Ox Cart Artist in Costa Rica

As we headed back out on the road to La Fortuna, our Costa Rica tour group got to visit the country’s oldest ox cart factory in the lovely mountain town of Sarchi. The town of Sarchi Costa Rica is also famous for its concentration of artisans who make all kinds of unique artwork and crafts. Sarchi ox carts are world famous and are all hand built and made to order. Every ox cart is also hand painted by talented artists so no two carts are alike! The painted ox carts of Sarchi are more than just works of art; they are essential tools of the trade used by farmers and plantation owners all across Costa Rica.

Ox Cart Factory in Sarchi Costa Rica

Before heading into La Fortuna, we also stopped by the Parque Francisco Alvardoa, a Costa Rican topiary park next to the Zarcero city’s large ornate church. Gardner Evangelisto Blanco is the same visionary artist who has been shaping the hedges and shrubs in the park for over 50 years, creating human figures as well as various animals and even dinosaurs. Lining the center of the park is a row of green arches creating a natural tunnel that leads towards the church.

Topiary Tunnel, Zarcero, Costa Rica

Our last stop on today’s Costa Rica tour was to Hotel Magic Mountain at the foot of Arenal Volcano near La Fortuna, in the central lowlands of Costa Rica. The volcano was covered in cloud today but hopefully, we’ll get a good view of it tomorrow. Tomorrow, we also head north towards Nicaragua to enjoy a wildlife Rio Frio cruise and some time in the natural volcanic hot springs. Really loving Costa Rica! Caravan has done an amazing job.

Will have more to report tomorrow!!

~Lee K.

Tour of San Jose, Poas Volcano & Coffee Plantation

San Jose Costa Rica

Our tour of San Jose in the Central Valley of Costa Rica was a fantastic way to start the day! Paul, our Caravan tour guide, shared his love and pride for the history of his beautiful country. Paul taught us the term Pura Vida. While it’s literal translation means “pure life,” it is a term that Costa Ricans (or Ticas, as they like to call themselves) use to express their optimism for life. It’s also a term that can be expressed in a multitude of ways. It’s so nice to do a guided tour of San Jose with someone who was born and raised in the area. Our guide was so knowledgeable and passionate about his homeland. Paul even told us that as a child he picked coffee beans on his family-owned coffee plantation.

Costa Ricans are very proud (and rightfully so) of the fact that they abolished the army back in 1948-49 and used their military budget to fund education, security, and the culture of their people. All medical and educational needs of the people are provided at no cost and senior citizens are issued a “gold” card that allows them certain privileges. In fact, seniors are permitted to move to the front of the line or ride the local transit for free!

I also find it quite remarkable that this tiny country had the foresight and courage to protect nearly a third of their homeland in national parks and wildlife preserves, ensuring the protection of over 16,000 different species of flora, fauna, and wildlife. According to Wikipedia, Costa Rica has only 1% of the world’s land mass but an astonishing 5% of the world’s biodiversity. Simply amazing!

In front of the cloud shrouded Poas Volcano

After our tour of San Jose, we also headed to Aljuela to visit Poas Volcano and the Escalonia Cloud Forest (literally a mountain forest that gets very little rain but is mostly covered in cloud). The road to Poas volcano is quite narrow and winds up to an elevation of over 8800 feet above sea level. Near the top, Poas volcano and the surrounding forest was completely engulfed in cloud…so it was really quite cool and humid, which meant we needed to wear a light jacket or hoodie. Unfortunately, the clouds hung around so all we could see was a blanket of white but it was quite unique all the same. (See the picture of my two boys in front of the cloud-shrouded Poas volcano.)

Other excursions while on our tour of San Jose and Central Valley included a visit to a butterfly garden and a tour of the Doka Estate coffee plantation. The butterfly garden was a domed refuge that was home to dozens of species of beautifully colored butterflies including the incredibly beautiful Blue Morpho Butterfly.

Butterfly Gardens near San Jose

Our guide for the Costa Rica coffee plantation explained the whole coffee growing and harvesting process. After growing the coffee plants and picking the fruit to separate the coffee seeds from the fruit, the coffee beans are graded and separated based on size and quality. Then the coffee beans are dried in the sun. (See photo)

Drying Costa Rica Coffee Beans in the sun.

Only the largest, top quality coffee beans are dried out in the sun. The majority of those are then shipped to international markets. The medium and lower quality coffee beans are usually dried in large heated ovens.

Doka Estate Coffee Planation

At the end of the coffee plantation tour, we got to taste some of the finest coffee in Costa Rica. The country only produces 100% Arabica coffee (the absolute best kind) and only keeps about 3% of what they produce for themselves. The other 97% is shipped to markets around the world. Today I bought some 100% Costa Rican espresso whole bean and some Peabody coffee beans. Peabody beans grow as a whole bean instead of two half-beans inside the fruit. These are considered to be quite rare and produce a much smoother, sweeter coffee taste.

We loved our tour of San Jose and we love traveling with Caravan Tours. On tomorrow’s leg of this Costa Rica tour, we head north to La Fortuna where it’s supposed to be sunny and in the mid-80s. Really can’t wait! Will tell you all about it in tomorrow night’s blog!

Til then…

~ Lee K