After a month in Mexico, of beaches and swimming, we wanted a change of scenery, so Costa Rica with it’s wildlife and jungles felt like the perfect next destination. We had discussed with the kids before we left what animals we might see and so Edward had a very clear check list: have a picnic with a sloth and trick a monkey. So off we flew from Cancun to San Jose via San Salvador. Easy journey, and 3 travel tips: 1. don’t change money at the airport (obvious but true), the exchange rate was 20% worse than a cash point. 2. Avoid the official taxi queue and just walk out of the airport, you’ll meet a local taxi that will be cheaper and much faster. 3. avoid Easter Week (the most popular holiday in Costa Rica) if you can as your choice of hotels becomes very limited.
The taxi brought us to the hotel we were staying at near San Jose, we took his number and texted it to Julian’s parents, that would be arriving later that evening. The hotel was cowboy ranch themed, good value with huge rooms, a decent children’s playground and the right side of the city for our long drive the next day. There was a big tropical garden and you could feel the humidity in the air. Julian’s parents arrived late that evening, the kids were totally over-excited but we all went to bed quite quickly (the children insisting on sleeping in the grandparent’s room!), wary of the long drive ahead. The next morning, we had breakfast together, the cars we had rented arrived at the hotel and off we went, having been warned about the terrible traffic on the first saturday of Semana Santa (Easter week being the most popular holiday in Latin America).
The drive was surprisingly smooth, we both had GPS, and drove along the coast down to Jaco and then along the Pacific all the way down to Dominincal where we had booked our first hotel. Once we drove past Jaco, the rain started… We had never experienced anything like it but imagine lightning, thunder, roads with potholes and driving through a never-ending waterfall. The noise on the metal roof of the car was deafening, the visibility was horrendous even with the windscreen wipers at full speed and trees were lying across the road having been hit by lightning. The road looks like a river and it was starting to feel very scary! After a while, we stopped on a hill for a tactical lunch stop. Timing is everything and of course 2 of the children were fast asleep! So Andrea was stuck in the car with them while the others were accompanied to the restaurant by the kind owner under his umbrella. Being tourists, we were worried the car might be carried away in a crazy mudslide so we woke up the sleeping children and carried them into the dry restaurant. Just the 5 metre walk from the car to the restaurant resulted in us being as wet as if we had jumped into a swimming pool fully clothed.
We had a lovely lunch, discovered batidos (Costa Rican equivalent to Aguas Naturales), where any fruit is blended with ice and either water or milk for a deliciously fresh smoothie. Everyone had their favourite! Costa Rica is famous for its nature and animals but not for its food! Gallo Pinto (rice and beans) are served with literally every meal. The rain eventually stopped and we drove the rest of the way to Dominical, half way down the Pacific coast, a small surfer town, close to many anaimal adventures and beaches.
Along the way, we drove through what felt like an eternity of palm oil plantations. We later found out that Costa Rica is the largest exporter of Palm Oil of the Americas, which has lead to loss of rainforest (although a lot was banana plantations previously), endangerement of jaguar population and terrible labour practices for local and Nicaraguan temporary workers. The positives from the Palm Oil plantations were for some bird species that thrived on the high trees, the Fer-De-Lance snake (the most dangerous in Costa Rica responsible for 50% of all snake bites with horrible symptoms including death) loves the dry palm leaves and of course the plantation owners, such as Palma Tica make a tidy profit. Suffice to say there are a LOT of palm oil plantations along that Pacific coast near Quepos.
We arrived at our hotel Rios Del Mar, just outside Dominical, driving a dust road along what looked like a crocodile infested river. The heat and humidity of the air was almost suffocating. Iguanas basking on the hot stone paths and howler monkeys screaming in the trees above greeted us on arrival in this amazing hotel. The hotel was in the middle of the jungle with no main building, just cabins spread out in nature each with their own little terrace. We split up the families so that Elisa slept with Julian’s parents and we had the boys. A lovely restaurant served a breakfast buffet and really nice Costa Rican food (quite rare!). The highlight of the hotel was the huge pool, so hot from the tropical heat but very fun to swim and play in at night listening to the jungle all around. A jungle frog even jumped in for a dip, which we had to rescue…