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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.

If you seek spectacular scenery with a panoramic view of Costa Rica’s most active volcano (Arenal Volcano), the city of La Fortuna de San Carlos (La Fortuna Costa Rica) may be the place for you.

Located in the northern part of Costa Rica, La Fortuna is one of only a few sizeable towns and small cities in what is known as Costa Rica’s Northern Lowlands.

But La Fortuna is far from isolated. The city offers all the amenities that a traveler could desire and is easily accessible from San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital.

Things to Do In La Fortuna Costa Rica

There is plenty to do and see in and around La Fortuna Costa Rica. Common tourist attractions include:

  • Arenal Volcano
  • Lake Arenal
  • Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve
  • Tabacan Hot Springs
  • Arenal’s Hanging Bridges
  • Arenal Observatory

In the town of Fortuna a morning shopping trip could include the regular Friday farmers’ market where you can purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and delicious baked goods plus select from a range of cheeses.

If you plan your La Fortuna trip for the month of February you can catch the annual La Fortuna Civic Festival that lasts for two weeks and includes bull fights, food, karaoke, concerts, dancing, and more.

La Fortuna Arenal Volcano – Costa Rica’s Biggest Attraction!

Arenal Volcano is this country’s biggest tourist attraction and because of its proximity, many travelers stay in La Fortuna Costa Rica.

Arenal is the country’s most active volcano, with ash and smoke visible on a regular basis in recent years. In fact, Arenal volcano makes the top of many lists as Costa Rica’s most popular tourist attraction.

Comfortable hotel and guesthouse accommodations are available; however some travelers prefer the newly established resort/spa services near the volcano. Many visitors have witnessed glowing red-hot lava flows from the Arenal mountainside at night!

La Catarata de la Fortuna Waterfall

Near La Fortuna Costa Rica is La Catarata de la Fortuna, a glorious waterfall that drops more than 200 feet (70 meters) and features a favourite swimming spot for locals and visitors.

The waterfall is surrounded by lush green vegetation and orchids. In addition, tourists can also enjoy nearby Tabacon Hot Springs, a quiet, relaxing naturally fed volcanic hot-springs.

Other La Fortuna Activities

Costa Rica is well known for its nature preserves, parks and protected areas. In fact, one-quarter of Costa Rica’s land mass is now within protected reserves, refuges and parks.

The La Fortuna area is considered by many to be the most visually spectacular location in all of Costa Rica. Travelers with a taste for outdoor activity regularly come to the La Fortuna region to enjoy many of the other outdoor attractions in the area.

Tourists visiting Fortuna can enjoy horseback riding, hiking, boat tours, fishing, white water rafting, and much, much more.

For example, the magnificent Lake Arenal is a perfect place for windsurfing and is also frequented by avid fishermen.

Another popular destination is Cano Negro, a nature reserve north of the Arenal and La Fortuna where tourists can get close to the abundant wildlife. Among the sites will be dozens of bird and animal species, including monkeys and toucans. You may even see an alligator or two!

Costa Rica All Inclusive Tours Includes 2 Nights at Fortuna

La Fortuna Costa Rica is part of the Natural Paradise all inclusive Costa Rica vacation.

You’ll enjoy these fully escorted 9-day tour packages at one low price which includes all accommodations, meals, activities, ground transportation, gratuities, and more!

Visit Caravan’s Costa Rica tour reviews page to read what others have said about Caravan’s tour of Costa Rica or call 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826) to reserve your spot today.

(Editor’s Note – This original post from December 2011 has been updated to reflect current Costa Rica tour activities.)

Costa Rica in Central America is home to over 10,000 species of different plants and trees making it one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world. The forestation consists of unique flora and fauna in luscious virgin rainforests, mysterious cloud forests, and unique tropical dry forests.

Costa Rica vacationers can enjoy the exceptional natural beauty of Costa Rica thanks to excellent rainforest eco tours by Caravan including:

1. Rio Frio Cruise and Rainforest Tour

On this Costa Rica rainforest cruise, tour guests drift through Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge on a fully guided river cruise along Rio Frio. As you pass through virgin Costa Rica rainforests your naturalist guides will help you watch for all kinds of rainforest wildlife including elusive jaguars, caimans, howler monkeys, black turtles, and even water walking lizards.

2. Tarcoles River Cruise and Rainforest Tour

Also known as the “river of crocodiles”, the Tarcoles River winds through Guanacaste’s protected Carara Biological Reserve, home to the rare and endangered Scarlet Macaw. A fully guided Costa Rica rainforest cruise is the best way to view this protected sanctuary and makes an ideal bird watching cruise.

3. Aerial Tram Rainforest Canopy Tours in Costa Rica

Eco conscious aerial tram tours through the rainforest canopies of Braulio Carrillo Park and Manuel Antonio National Park are definitely the ultimate way to see rainforest canopy wildlife, plus flora and fauna up close, with minimal human impact on the natural environment. Braulio Carrillo Park boasts virgin rainforests and outstanding cascading waterfalls. Manuel Antonio National Park was recently named one of the world’s Top 12 most beautiful parks and includes a number of outstanding accessible Pacific coast Costa Rica beaches.

4. Escallonia Cloud Forest Trail Tour

Cloud Forests (or Fog forests) have a higher humidity and less rain than the typical rainforest. The unique ecosystem is found in less than 50 tropical and sub-tropical countries around the world, including Costa Rica.

The Escallonia Cloud Forest Trail is situated near Poás Volcano National Park in central Costa Rica, less than an hour’s drive from the capital city of San Jose. This Costa Rica rainforest features lower woody plants with an abundance of small cypress and myrtle growth. Escallonia Cloud Forest is also home to dozens of hummingbirds and large stunning orchids.

Plants along the trail flower at various points throughout the year but the best time to visit is in the summer and autumn when primary colors emerge. Because of this, the Escallonia Cloud Forest Trail is a popular destination for North Americans on winter vacations in Costa Rica.

5. Guanacaste Tropical Dry Forest Tour

Guanacaste National Park is situated on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. It was originally created as a biological corridor for the migration of birds and insects between the dry forests, cloud forests, and rainforests. The founder of Guanacaste Park also had the vision of encouraging locals to become involved in Costa Rica environmental programs.

Caravan’s Guanacaste tropical dry forest park tour features hiking, nature walks and bird watching. If visiting in the afternoon, guests should be ready for a short rainfall (especially during the rainy season that lasts May through November).

Tours along Guanacaste National Park trails interweave through several ecosystems as the elevation increases from the Pacific Ocean up to Orosi and Cacao volcanoes. For Cost Rica vacationers with more time to spend in Guanacaste, a hike up and across the Continental Divide will lead to a typical Costa Rica rainforest.

The most popular Costa Rica wildlife visitors see in the dry forest include howler monkeys, white-tailed deer, long-tongued bats and capuchin monkeys. Birds such as the Orange-Fronted Parakeet and Crested Caracara are common and easy to spot up in the trees as well.

Caravan Costa Rica Vacations Include Rainforest Tours

All of Caravan’s Costa Rica vacations include glimpses into the country’s amazing rainforests, cloud forests and dry forests. Very affordably priced for a 9-day tour, these are fully guided, all inclusive Costa Rica vacations and they book up fast!

Read more about Caravan Tours’ current Costa Rica Paradise vacation or take a look at a few Caravan Costa Rica reviews to see what others are saying.

Call 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826) to reserve your space today!