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   Costa Rica Vacation...

In the first week of June we traveled to Costa Rica for summer vacation. The Costa Rican rainy season begins at the end of May and we did have concerns about traveling during this time, but as you can see rain was not really a factor during our trip. The few days that it did rain it only rained for an hour or so in the late afternoon or at night.
 
A friend in the adventure travel industry with Natural Habitat strongly suggested that we hire a driver/guide to enhance our trip. While initially skeptical of the added expense, we can unequivocally say that having a guide made a huge difference in the quality of our experience. Without a guide we would have missed nearly all of the wildlife that we encountered and we would have missed out on learning an endless amount about the culture, politics, and history of Costa Rica. Through our guide we also met lots of local colorful characters in the various towns that we visited - not too mention that we always ate at the best local places.
 
Don't miss the Zip Lining Video!
 
Also see the condensed Costa Rica Vacation Highlights photos: Activity Highlights and Wildlife Highlights...
 

Day 1 - Arrival and Ecocentro Danaus Preserve - We took a midnight flight from Denver and landed in San Jose, Costa Rica around 5:00 am. But there was no time to rest as we met our guide, Eric, and immediately departed to the Arenal Volcano area. After getting some ice cream at a road side market, our first excursion was to visit the Ecocentro Danaus Rreserve near La Fortuna. Ecocentro Danaus is a small preserve with a series of nature trails and a butterfly garden. There we saw a Sloth and a number of species of birds, insects and frogs - including the famed Red-eyed Treefrog. Unfortunately the Red-eyed Treefrog is nocturnal and he was not inclined to move much and thus did not expose his brilliantly colored underside.
 
San Jose, Costa Rica
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Three toed Sloth
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Blue Jean Poison Dart Frog
Boat Billed Heron
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Red-eyed Treefrog
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Brendan with our guide Eric
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Cayman Alligator
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Agoutit
 

Day 1 - Arenal Observatory Lodge - After Ecocentro Danaus we traveled to our first night accomadations at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. The Obvervatory Lodge is the only property located on the Arenal Volcano National Park grounds. In fact it is located on a hill directly across the volcano offering amazing Volcano views. The Arenal Volcano is among the ten most active volcano in the world and on a daily basis offers excitement in the way of grumblings, explosions, ash columns and potential nightly lava displays (if its clear enough to see). In 1968 the Arenal Volcano awoke from a 400 year dormant period with a major pyroclastic erruption that buried three small villiages including the town of Tabacon and killed 87 people. The surving village on the other side of the mountain was renamed "La Fortuna" for its good fortune.
 
All the rooms at the Observatory Lodge are situated such that they offer a full on view of the volcano from large sliding glass doors. There is no airconditioning in the rooms and so you will sleep with the windows open giving you a wonderful soundtrack of nature to sleep to. Of course on this night, the Volcano exploded with such force that the windows shook and it was a scary way to be awoken in the middle of the night. The next day we discovered that the explosion was large enough that it even gave locals reason to pause.
 
In the evening of our first day at the Observatory Lodge we took a small nature hike and with our guide's help we were able to track and intercept a group of Spider Monkeys making their way across the canopy. We watched as a whole troup went by in their amazing acrobatic fashion. Spider monkeys are the most acrobatic of the Central American new world monkeys.
 
Arenal Observatory Lodge
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Leaf Insect
Room with a Volcano View
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Howler Monkey
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Spider Monkey
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Lake Arenal
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Tiny Hummingbird Nest
 

Day 2 - Arenal Observatory Lodge - We awoke to rain in the morning, but it quickly gave way for the most part and we decided to do a horseback ride through the expansive grounds of the Observatory Lodge and the Arenal Volcano National Park. It was the boy's first time riding solo on a horse and it was quite fun. Brendan kept us amused with his high pitch squeals every time his horse decided to pick up the pace. Afterwards we went for a small hike to a waterfall on the property. We also saw two varieties of Eyelash Pit Vipers a small, but very venomous snake very common in Central America and so named because of scales protruding over the eye and resembling "eyelashes".
 
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Colorful Eucalyptus Tree
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Yellow Eyelash Pit Viper
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Green Eyelash Pit Viper
 
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Day 2 - La Fortuna Waterfall and Tabacon - Later that day we traveled to La Fortuna and visited the La Fortuna Waterfall, a 210+ foot waterfall and adjecent swimming holes surrounded by lush rain forest. Getting to the waterfall required a pretty good hike down a long series of rocky steps.
 
After the waterfall, we checked into the Tabacon Springs Thermal Resort and the kids spent the evening playing at Tabacon's natural hot spring water pool.
 
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Day 3 - Arenal SkyTrek and Hanging Bridges - Our third day in Costa Rica featured a memorable Zip Lining adventure. Zip Lining has become extremely popular here and there a quite a number of zip line operations around the small country. We opted go with Sky Trek in Arenal which is puportedly the best. The Sky Trek facilities looked very well engineered and features 11 cable runs that offer specatular views of the canopy and of lake Arenal. The longest run was about 1/2 mile and about 600 feet above the canopy top! It is fast too as you reach speeds of nearly 60 mph on some runs. (By the way, you can zip line in Colorado too.) Don't miss the video!
 
After an exciting morning of zip lining we headed off to the Arenal Hanging Bridges which is a series of suspension bridges that connect with trails that wind their way through the rain forest. The bridges are a great way to capture the full scope and majesty of the rain forest and its massive trees and thick vegatation. Thanks to our guide, Eric, we identified many species of insects birds and reptiles, including lots of Leaf Cutter ants and another Green Eyelash Pit Viper. The highly venomous snake was sunning itself on a large leaf hanging over the trail - we passed right under it the first time (as did all the other visitors) without seeing it.
 
In the late afternoon, we finally saw the top of the Arenal Volcano.
 
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See the Video!
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Leaf Cutter Ants
Eyelash Pit Viper
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Russet Crowned Motmot
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Top of Arenal Volcano
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Day 3 - Tabacon Thermal Springs - After a day of adventure, we relaxed all night at Tabacon's thermal hot springs. The hot springs are a series of pools and meandering waterfalls. We ate dinner at the swim-up bar and spent the evening trying out the different secluded thermal pools and falls.
 
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Day 4 - La Fortuna School - As Central American countries go Costa Rica is very well off and there is a very healthy and modern middle class that lives in the larger cities such as San Jose. However, there are still areas of relative poverty. Our guide, Eric Gomez, allowed us to visit a school in a poorer community in La Fortuna. This particular school we were told has a high number of orphans and a large number of children from Nicaraqua, the much poorer country to the north which has not enjoyed the political stability that Costa Rica has. Eric works with the school and helps to coordinate fund raising and volunteer efforts to help them out.
 
It was intersesting to watch Ethan and Brendan react to the excitement of the Costa Rican kids. It was good for them to get some perspective and it was interesting to see how enthusiastic the younger children were in the classroom about learning English.
 
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Day 4 - Journey to Monteverde - After the school visit we began the 4 hour drive to Monteverde which is a small town that straddles Costa Rica's continental divide. The drive was very scenic, not that the boys would know as they reclined their seats and devoured a number of books. Along the way we got our best view of a pair of Chestnut-Billed Toucans and spotted a group of Howler Monkeys including a small juvenille. The ride was also very rough as the last 2 hours or so of the drive was on unpaved road.
 
It was raining as we arrived in Monteverde and pulled up to the Hotel Fonda Vela where we stayed for two nights. The town of Monteverde sits at a high altitude of about 4600 feet above sea level and in this region this gives Monteverde a spring like climate all year long. Because its Monteverde, the pool was covered so despite the showers we could still enjoy the evening pool side.
 
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Chestnut Billed Toucan
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Young Howler Monkey
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Day 5 - Monteverde Cloud Forest - In the morning we ventured to Selvatura Park and the Selvatura Treetop Walkways. These are interconnected suspension bridges that meander through the Cloud Forest. A Cloud Forest is characterized by frequent cloud cover and the vegatation in a cloud forest has adapted to removing moisture from the air (although it still rains frequently). The Monteverde Cloud Forest contains an impressive amount of organic material with massive 200 foot tall trees. There is so much organic material continually falling from the canopy that plants grow on the trees themselves. Some trees have as many as 150 species of other plants growing on them -- making each tree their own entire eco-systems. At the entrance of the walkways there was a hummingbird garden with feeders featuring 14 different species of hummingbirds. They were buzzing all around like insects and they are incredibly fast and fascinating to watch.
 
In the late afternoon, we went the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve where Sheila was adept at spotting the famous and elusive Resplendent Quetzel. This bird is the most sought after sight in Costa Rica and if were not for our guide's knowledge of where to look we would have joined those legions of tourists who failed to see one. We actually saw two together - male and female. We also got really close to a group of Howler Monkeys for some decent pictures.
 
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Howler Monkeys
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Transparent Winged Butterfly
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Male and Female Quetzals
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The Resplendent Quetzal
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Day 6 - To Tamarindo - On day 6 we left Monteverde and drove to Tamarindo Beach, a small beach side surfer town on Costa Rica's Guanacaste coast. Guanacaste is generally drier than the more southern Pacific Beach coastal areas. Thus we chose Guanacaste over Manual Antonio for our beach portion of the trip.
 
The drive down from Monteverde featured some specatular views, but stopping on the narrow busy unpaved roads to take pictures proved difficult.
 
We arrived around noon in Tamarindo and said goodbye to Eric our guide and companion for the past 5 days. Our accomadtions were at the Hotel Capitan Suizo located at the south end of Tamarindo and directly on a nice quiet section of beach. It is a whimsical place that may not be for everybody and there are resident families of Howler Monkeys and Racoons on the grounds. At any moment a racoon or monkey may causually stroll across the lobby. We did fight quite a battle with ants that were getting into our room, a not uncommon problem with all the insects in this region.
 
A View from Monteverde
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Resident Poolside Iquana
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Resident Howler Monkey
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Day 7 - Tamarindo - This was our first full beach day at Tamarindo. The kids enjoyed boogie boarding and alternating between the beach and pool. At night we caught a beautiful sunset before the mosquitos chased us off the beach.
 
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Day 8 and Day 9 - Tamarindo and Back to San Jose - Our last full day at Tamarindo was surf day. We rented a couple of boards and the kids did their best to try to surf on the very small waves. Ethan got pretty good at it and got up regularly and Brendan managed to get up once or twice as well. We pretty much surfed all day minus a lunch break into town.
 
The next day we returned to beach and to the surf boards until noon when we took a shuttle back to San Jose arriving in a rain storm late in the afternoon. We stayed at the Hotel Bougainvillea which was a bit far from the airport considering were not going to spend much time there. But it was a very nice hotel with extensive grounds and gardens.
 
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In Town at Tamarindo
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Bougainvillea Grounds
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