For guidebooks, I used the Lonely Planet Guide to Costa Rica - also "The Essential Road Guide to Costa Rica" which has the bus schedules etc, and was necessary if you were driving to anywhere off the beaten track (before the GPS era). I also had THE bird book for Costa Rica, "Birds of Costa Rica" by Stiles and Skutch., the Costa Rica half of Fodor’s Belize and Costa Rica, "The New Key to Costa Rica" by Blake and Becher (a kind of so-so book) and "Costa Rica’s National Parks" by Franke, which should have been good, but basically was a waste of space.
View of San Jose in 1996 from the Jade Museum
San Jose -1996 Feb 18-19
We flew in Sunday 1996 Feb. 18. We did not have to pay for our tickets because we got passes from our daughter who was then a flight deck officer at a major airline. That made the trip very affordable although CR is more expensive than some southern countries. Thirteen days in Costa Rica NOT counting air fare cost the same as 5 days in Bermuda including air fare. We booked the land portion through Pat Hewitt of Costa Rica Travel. 1-800-256-0124.
Initially and between trips we stayed at the Hampton Inn across from the airport for about $71/night. There was a pool, a free shuttle to the airport, and a free shuttle to local restaurants, and free breakfast. You can make a reservation with their 1-800 HAMPTON number, or call the hotel directly. The girls on the desk were amazing, and very helpful. We left our extra cash and passports in the hotel safe deposit box and stored half our luggage when we went off on trips. We each had two carry-on bags. I took two cameras, and Bob had one. We each had binoculars, hats, sunscreen, insect repellent, and canteens. We took about 18 rolls of film-5 of slides.
Sea and Engines out window (and my finger) in 1996
After we landed, in the afternoon, we took a taxi to San Jose (the capitol) for $8.00,
Taxi in San Jose - San José
and went to the serpentarium ($2.55 @), and walked around and saw some of the sights of San Jose. Since my job at the time involved health and safety violations, I took photos of construction sites to bring back to my workplace.
Construction on a San Jose street
We had dinner at a little chicken place Avicola Portela ($2.68@ for a quarter chicken combo with a flour tortilla, and a coke)
Chicken sign 2015
near the bus station in the CocaCola district, and took the bus back to the airport (45 cents @).
------1996, Feb. 19th Monday
We took the shuttle to the airport and took the city bus in,
Bus stop - San José
Looking into a shop from the bus - San José
Market area from the bus - San José
Crowded street from the bus - San José
walked through the street markets, shopped (but didn't buy anything), changed some money (cashed traveler’s checks at the bank),
did a tour of the National Theatre (which was being renovated, so it wasn’t really a tour, and we didn’t pay for it because the guard at the entrance wasn’t there) and had lunch there ($12.91 for 2 including tip), and
walked to the Jade Museum (free)
Ceramic Horse in the Jade Museum
which was then on the 11th floor of an insurance building, and was very interesting as well as having good views of the city.
The Gold Museum, which I wanted to see was closed on Mon., and we got there too late to get in on Sun.
Then we took a taxi ($1) to a butterfly farm (in the city behind the zoo) call Spyrogyria. The admission was $5@ which I thought was steep. They had lots of butterflies and hummingbirds, but I couldn't focus on the hummingbirds enough to identify them.
Foliage and bird feeder
(The 'farm' is an area covered with screening.) They export butterflies. We saw a tape on butterfly culture and there were exhibits of the various stages of butterfly development. Then we took a bus back to the center of the city, had a milkshake ($3.96 for two) at Pops, and took the bus back to the airport.
Buses across the street from the bus terminal - San José
We had a pizza delivered from Pizza Hut ($10.59 including tip).
Pizza Hut - San José
1996 Tues., Feb. 20th- Tortuguero
We checked out of the Hampton Inn at 5:00 am,
Hampton Inn sign in 2015
and took a taxi (which we were reimbursed for) to a hotel a little closer to San Jose. The bus then picked up additional people in San Jose and proceded through Braillo Carillo National Park. The tour had breakfast at 9:30 (gallo pinto which is beans and rice, scrambled eggs, toast and Guava jam, melon, juice and coffee or tea). At that time some folks that missed the bus in San Jose caught up with us. Then we went through banana plantations to a boat, and took the boat to Parissima Tarpon Rancho. The guide didn’t know a lot about the route as he was a substitute and thus didn’t show us all the stuff that the brochure said we would see.
The whole trip, all transportation, all food, all tours and 1 night accommodations cost $330 for two. Among other people besides us on the tour was a Swiss man with not much English although he could speak some Spanish, a Costa Rican couple and 18 month old son, a Dutch couple, a Frenchman, and American couple, two American men and a (Swiss ?) girl. This was a pretty typical group for a Costa Rican tour. We met some Canadians and Brits too, as well as other Europeans.
Horses in a field near the boat dock
Canals in 1996
We switched from the bus to the boat.
Trip to Parismina in 1996 - Bob's elbow and monkey
On the boat trip in we saw a white-faced monkey, and some howler monkeys (which we saw many of, and heard them too at the Lodge). I also saw a gallinule type bird that I never identified (Northern Jacana?). I saw birds which could have been Crakes (Ruddy or Uniform), and possibly a Rufus Backed Wood Rail. We had lunch immediately on arrival (meatloaf), and then rested during the heat of the day (we'd gotten up really early). Then we walked down a jungle path, and along the beach (Caribbean),
Water tower From porch of the lodge with flag
There was too much undertow for much swimming (although I waded), and walked through the village.
Dog on Beach in Parismina
Beach at Parismina
The only way in or out is by boat or helicopter. It was VERY hot and humid. On the beach we saw two sandpipers that I couldn’t identify, one small and one large and pelicans
Cabins - Parismina
Then we sat on our veranda and identified (with the help of Birds of Costa Rica). flycatchers, a woodpecker, and a Hepatic Tanager. We also saw hummingbirds, a woodpecker, a redstart or an oriole, a small bird like a titmouse (Dusty Antbird?), a grackle, and 2 kinds of swallows which went too fast to be identified. Our room had a shower, and a ceiling fan, but no plug for an electric razor, and no screens. There were mosquitoes in the rain forest areas, but we weren't bothered at the Lodge. We had fried chicken for dinner.
Then we took a night boat tour. The guides had powerful search lights to find alligators and crocs, but they also ran down the river in the pitch black with NO lights. We saw a small crab (in the water), and some Yellow Crowned Night Herons, and a Boat-billed Herons. They also captured (and released) several caimans- one a good 5 feet long.
Guide catching a cayman
Caiman caught on night boat trip
Guide with a small caimen
We also saw bats, one bat flew through the searchlight with a raptor in pursuit. The guide said it was a falcon, and I suppose it could have been a bat falcon, but I suspect it was an owl.
1996 Wednesday Feb. 21
After breakfast, we took another river and canal tour and saw the Yellow Crowned Night Herons, Cattle Egret Great Egret (Casmerodius albus), Green Backed (Green) Heron , Ringed Kingfisher (Ceryle torquata), and Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon), plus anhingas holding their wings out to dry. In the forest we saw lots of mosquitoes (the back of Bob’s pants were black with them), some poison arrow frogs, (2 kinds)
Poison arrow frog
blurry photo of a poison arrow frog 1996
Seen on the forest walk 1996
and a toucan (Canphastos swainsoni) eating fruit and dropping the seeds down onto the path. We also saw trees with long nasty spines on their trunks.
Unusual tree trunk 1996
I sweated so much I got sweat up my nose!!
Along the river, we also saw a crocodile about 5 feet long, spider monkeys and when we came back to the camp, there was a huge (3 foot) iguana in a tree over the landing, and also howler monkeys. After lunch, we took the boat back to the bus. Because a bridge was washed out, and there were strikes because of the floods and bad weather a week previous, the bus had to ford a stream. We saw a two-toed sloth. The guide whistled at it to make it turn its head. The bus dropped us off at the hotel (we were late because of the detours and fording the stream, and the bus driver lived in the next town so he didn’t make us find our own transportation), and we had Big Macs for dinner (delivered on a motorcycle). ($9.39 + tip).
1996 Thurs. Feb. 22, Arenal
We got a tiny 4WD car from Elegante, which was about $54/day (45372 colones for 4 days with two drivers and insurance - the colones were about 190/$ when we were there). All are standard shift cars - ours was too small for more than 2 people.
We picked up the car about 0945 to drive to Arenal to see the volcano. At 1045, we stopped at Sarchi,
Painted bridges - Sarchí
and I bought gifts for everyone,
Cocktail server sized ox cart - Sarchí
decorated ox cart
and we had lunch. We parked in a guarded lot, and tipped the guard.
Church in Sarchi
We got underway again at 1321 and after 33 km, we stopped at Zacario at 1404 for about 15 minutes to take pictures of the topiary in the square in front of the church.
Bear on bum and street
Playground next to the church - Zarcero
Nativity Scene by the church - Zarcero
We parked on the street next to the square and Bob more or less stayed with the car while I wandered around to take photos. Then we left to go to Arenal
Eight km farther on, we had to stop for roadwork as they were paving the road.
road paving traffic jam
Long distance bus in trouble
We passed El Tanquie (a bull ring) at 1615 and the Tabacon baths at 1631.
We arrived at the Arenal Lodge gate (with the one way road) at 1647 (87 km from Zacario). There is a guard at the bottom of the hill so we don't meet anyone coming down when we were coming up. It took us 10 minutes to get up that road.
We had a room at Arenal Lodge (2 tortuous km up from the main road) which faced the volcano. We could sit on our porch and look out at the garden,
Our porch at the Arenal Lodge
Another balcony view
and see lots of birds, humming birds and butterflies but none I could identify.
Iris in the restaurant courtyard
We could hear the volcano rumbling, and twice we saw the lava which the clouds cleared away for a couple of minutes - once right after we’d arrived and once at 3 am, we were able to go out on the balcony and see the lava and eruptions. (I had been warned that the time the volcano 'unclouds' are usually 4-5 pm, 11pm, and 3 am. We saw the afternoon one, but were unlucky at 11 pm. I slept with on eye on the volcano, and so was able to catch it. Unfortunately, neither time did I get a picture. The first time I was unpacking, and at night I just couldn’t find the camera in the dark.
Room from the balcony
Looking out from the bed
Bed in the Arenal Lodge
After dinner, we took a tour and went swimming in the hot springs at the foot of the volcano There were two places to swim - one was at a hotel with a swim-up bar which was much more expensive. We went to the less fancy cheaper place across the road. That was fun. ($4@). The water was almost too hot.
Another tourist pulling his SO out of the water
After we got dressed, we went and waited for the clouds to go away so we could see the volcano erupt at 11 pm, but it didn’t happen. Probably because I had my camera ready.
1996, Feb 23 Friday, Monteverde
We left the lodge at 0830 and drove on down to Monteverde. At 1015, after 26 km, we stopped at the Arenal Botanical Gardens.
Plants in Arenal Botanical Garden
Native Costa Rican Begonia
Costa Rican plants
Road from Arenal Gardens
Lake Arenal from the garden
We left the gardens at 1104 and circled Lake Arenal. I saw a big bird with a crest by the side of the road, but couldn't identify it.
windmills on the hill
Lake Arenal from the road
Lake Arenal with kayaker
Road by the lake
Lake from across the drivers seat
After 2 hours and 15 minutes and 31 km (an average of 14 km/hr), we stopped for lunch and fuel in Tiliaran. We had a hard time figuring out how to get the gas cap open.
We picked up the Tico Times twice a week at hotels, the airport or whatever and I think Tiliarun was one of the places..
Landscape in Costa Rica
Fence by the road from the car
We left Tiliaran at 1320 and it took us 2 1/2 hours to drive 74 km because the roads were so bad. Bob said it was like a cobblestone street with many cobbles missing. You have to go slow because otherwise you risk breaking an axle, because if it has rained (which it does - this being a rain forest area) you don’t know just how deep that puddle you see is.
Hills from the road
Looking over the barb wire fence
You can get a bus to Monteverde, but the buses will take a lot of time - only one a day- and the area at Monteverde is pretty spread out,
Map of area - Monteverde
so that you almost need a car to get around (there is no local transport). We arrived in Monteverde at 1604 and checked into the Golden Frog Hotel, and had dinner there that night.
Golden Frog cabins
Bob walking down to the parking lot
Banana tree next to our room
1996 Sat Feb. 24,
The next day, we left the hotel at 0636 and went to Stella's Bakery early for breakfast (I had a sort of garlicky bagel which I didn't like). It cost 1240.5 colones which I think at the time was about $6.55.
We left Stellas at 0709 and went to the Monteverde Cloud Forest (admission $16 @). I also bought a guide book, post cards and a map (about $1.50).
Because I can't walk very far, we went into the rain forest on our own without a guide, and did not hike up to the waterfall from whence we could have looked back at the Arenal Volcano. We went early because they limit people in the rainforest at any one time to 100.
We saw a semi-tame coati mundi at the entrance,
Coati Mundi at Monteverde
and also saw a tinamou crackling among the leaves, but I'm not sure which one. (It reminded me of a schmoo from L'il Abner, only brown) We also saw various orioles, a large crow -type bird with a light belly, a thrush-sized bird with a yellow-green back, and blue (?)swallows. I'm sure if we'd gone with a guide, we would have had more plants and animals identified for us.
Bob in raincoat ahead of me
Bob's photo of me
We left the reserve at 1035 and we visited the cheese factory. It was pretty much like cheese factories I inspected at home.
Then I tried to mail some things at the PO at 1129, but it was closed because it was Sat. We bought some bread, butter, peanut butter, cheese and pasteries, and went back to our room for lunch. (We had a refrigerator in our room. We also ate breakfast and lunch the next day from things we bought.) We also went to the Artesanias gift shop, but didn't buy anything.
After lunch, we visited the Children's Rain Forest, which is at a lower altitude. The entrance fee was $4.00, but they were out of printed guide material!
They had tree trunk cross section as path stepping stones, and I stepped on the edge of one, and it flipped up, and slid me off the end of it, and I fell on my butt. In the children's rain forest, in addition to the usual strangler figs,
and epiphytes, we saw a Blue Crowned Motmot (Momotus momota), (which was gorgeous but no photo) and a variegated squirrel which was the size of a large cat.
Varigated squirrel above us in the branches
Stable area in the evening
That evening. we went down to a nature talk at another hotel (Monteverde Hotel) passing the stables on the way. It is primarily a large tour group hotel and the food was OK but sort of ordinary. After dinner we saw slides of the things we saw (or didn't see). We've driven 16 km since we checked into the hotel yesterday.
1996 Sunday Feb. 25,
Before we left, we took a walk into the forest reserve behind the hotel,
Who lives here?
Bob ahead of me on the trail between banana plants
and then at 1030, we started driving down. The first section of the road was a toll road (120 colones).
Toll booth on the way out
The distance down to the highway was 35 km. and it was 1221 when we got down to it. There were people on horseback on the road and a lady tried to flag us down to take a woman and her luggage down to the highway, but there was no room in our car. Once we were down off the mountain, it was hot again. We ate lunch next to a river at 1255.
After we got back (1455), we fueled the car (we've driven 242 km since Tilaran) at the airport. It took 27.48 liters for a fuel usage of 8.8 km/l), and checked back into the Hampton Inn.
I didn't feel like doing any more sightseeing, so we relaxed at the hotel all afternoon and watched a movie with Shelley Long in dubbed in Spanish. It was the one about ghosts. The actress who dubbed the Spanish for Shelley Long had a deep rich voice - not the light soprano voice that Shelley has. Since we had a car, we drove to a local restaurant for dinner. (Tipping the parking lot attendant)
1996 -Monday, Feb. 26th - Drakes Bay
Airport hangers in 1996
Waiting for the flight in the hanger
We returned the rental car and the rental car van took us to the airport. I left my coat in the van and had to go back and get it.
Then we flew in a tiny (7 passenger) plane to Palmar Norte.
Fields around the airport
At the airport in Palmar we saw doves and a Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus). (We had also seen this bird in Bermuda.)and a Nicaraguan grackle (Quiscalus nicaraguensis) . Then we got a school bus type bus bus
through banana plantations to a dock,
English couple at the waterfront
and a boat through the estuary to Drake Bay Wilderness Camp. This establishment has now changed its name. The boat ride was somewhat exciting because we had to go through our the river entrance where there was surf, and our boat motor wasn’t working quite right. So we went back and put all the luggage in our boat, and all the people in other boat.
After we got to the camp, we checked into our little screened hut.
Small cruise ship anchored in Drakes Bay 1996
They had solar hot water.
At Drake's Bay all food, lodging, laundry, transportation and tours were included for $1040 for two for 4 days (3 nights). At the camp you could canoe, or kayak or SCUBA or fish or swim or ride horseback or sit in a hammock and watch the sunset. They had happy hour each evening, and the meals were family style at big tables. One night one of the fishermen shared his catch with their whole table.
Monument to Sir Francis Drake
Then, we took a canoe ride (just the two of us) and saw Jesus Christ lizards (so-called because they run across the water).
Suspension bridge from the canoe
Also saw kingfishers again. Bob went and poked around in the tide pools along the shore, and I went swimming. There were three spider monkeys that hung around the camp which were pretty tame. We had to be sure to keep our doors shut as they were pretty mischevous and would get into your stuff if they could. At
Drakes Bay we saw both Black Vultures - lot of them, and Turkey Vultures. The Black Vultures hunt by sight, so they hang around places where they may find dead things to eat. The Turkey Vultures hunt by scent - they are the ones that circle around in the updrafts.
1996-Feb 27 Canos Island
On Tuesday., we took a 40 minute boat ride to Canos Island. On the way in, we saw Magnificent Frigatebirds (in the air) and dolphins (in the water).
Twelve Miles by Boat
The way they get in to a beaches is a little strange. They come in, and then turn the boat backwards just before they hit the beach, and pull the outboards up so they don’t hit. Then people jump out of the boat and wade in.
wading out to get on the boat
Bob's hat for sun that I bought him for Costa Rica
The whole beach was covered with hermit crabs. We had a jungle walk which was supposed to be to see some of the mysterious round stones,
but I chickened out and we went back. After lunch we went snorkeling. That was fun, and I saw some fish.
Underwater at the beach
Fish from above
rocks and fish
Angelfish - maybe a King Angelfish
After I’d done more snorkeling, I realized that what I saw here was not such a big deal, but it was fun at the time.
Beach at Canos Island
When we were eating lunch on Canos Island, an immature Common Black-Hawk (Butegallus anthracinus) grabbed a sandwich out of a lady's hand, giving her a scratch, and hitting Bob on the head with his wing. We saw flying fish on the way home.
1996, Feb 28
The next day, Wednesday, we went to Corcovado National Park.
Map - Corcovado National Park
Boat trip to the park
Some English folk who were very snooty apparently didn’t want us on the trip with them, so the camp was forced to send another guide with another boat so they wouldn’t be held up by how slow I was. In addition to Bob and me, another couple was in our group. They were highly indignant at how the English couple had behaved.
Bob with the other couple
The main objective of the English couple was to see a scarlet macaw. Their group went up to the waterfall, and our group took a hike along the beach to the river in the morning.
In front of the park headquarters, hanging from a tree over a picnic table were a bunch of bats. We also saw some in tree cavities on the Caribbean coast. We saw white faced monkeys
and coati mundis (wild). Bob said he saw Violet Ear (hummingbird- Colibri delphinae), and Black-tailed Flycatcher (Myiobius atricaudus) which had nest in a tree on an offshore is land, along with Brown Boobys (Sula Leucogaster). We walked along the beach and through the forest next to the beach, and then swam in the river pool.
In the afternoon the other couple with us did the hike to the waterfall, and the group with the English couple did the forest walk. Bob and I stayed around headquarters and watched the grackles.
Sitting around park headquarters - Corcovado National Park
Beach at park headquarters
On the way home, we saw a flock of Scarlet Macaws (Ara macao) in the trees along the shore. The other group didn’t see any!!
Back at the camp,
one of the group, a French-Canadian played with the baby spider monkeys
Baby spider monkeys at our cabin
Me relaxing while spider monkeys fight
1996 Thursday, Feb. 29
We returned to San Jose in the same manner that we went - boat, bus, plane.
Boatload of people back to the airport
One of the stone balls near the Palmar Norte airport
Although we had a long wait for the plane because one of the pilots got sick,
waiting at Palmer Norte airport
Bob and 2nd passenger walking to the plane
and one of the little planes which had a pilot had to make two trips for the 6 of us because it held only two persons (one of each group sat in the co-pilot's seat).
Leaving Costa Rica -1996-March 1
Our daughter called and advised us that we should fly home Friday because the planes were full Sat. and oversold. So we took the free ride into San Jose to the jade selling place on the Friday morning March 1st (I bought a jade fish for our son-in-law), and had the driver drop us off in the shopping area afterwards. We did our last souvenir shopping. I had been told to get wooden carved creche figures and one problem was figuring out how to explain to people what we wanted.
We then took the bus back to the hotel
last photo of Construction in San Jose
and flew out that afternoon. It was a wonderful trip.
Statue of Juan Santamaria -airport
By March 2nd, we were back
We could have identified more birds if we had been dedicated birders (of which there were many). But we were interested in doing a variety of things, and I think we managed to do that
For Thanksgiving 1996, we went to Barbados