La Paz Waterfall Gardens

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We celebrated the inauguration of Costa Rica’s new president Carlos Alvarado (exiting times folks!) by taking advantage of the national holiday and heading to La Paz Waterfall Gardens for a day trip. It’s located near Poás volcano (currently closed due to recent emissions) which is about an hour north of San José’s airport. It’s a beautiful area with green rolling hills and lovely vistas as far as the eye can see. The gardens are part zoo, part rescue center along with typical Costa Rican culture exhibits and part of the exclusive Peace Lodge Hotel with prices starting at $300 per night. Fancy schmancy!

 

I admit I knew the place was a tourist destination and was skeptical of the $44 entrance fee per adult (non-residents) and $28 for kids (seriously!?!), but I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how well done it was focusing on sustainability and natural settings, and I loved how you could actually walk through the aviary with toucans flying overhead and butterfly garden and see the butterflies coming out of their cocoons, and enter the ranarium and look for colorful native frogs in their own natural space, rather than trying to find them in their tiny cage behind the glass.

 

The snakes and jaguars were thankfully behind glass. 🙂

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There are also a number of beautiful waterfalls that you can visit via a couple of very easy trails, a little cafe and lovely gift shop at the end of the trail, and a shuttle bus that will take you back up to the entrance…where there is another beautiful gift shop. We skipped the souvenirs and instead enjoyed the free Britt coffee and chocolate samples. Ha!

 

Good thing we skipped the shopping at the gardens, because we had to stop at this amazing gift shop on the way home! What a riot.

 

Of course, Oscar wasn’t going to lose yet another opportunity of leaving a gift shop empty-handed. What can we say? Nothing says PURA VIDA more than a wooden machete with a painted hummingbird.

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Now to check out that fancy Peace Lodge some day and visit the gardens when all the daytrippers are gone!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase or book a hotel using one of the links, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Exploring Rincón de la Vieja Volcano

Las Pailas trail and landscape view at Rincón de la Vieja Volcano
Hiking in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Costa Rica has 5 active volcanos and over 60 inactive or extinct ones…all lined up almost in a perfect row where the Pacific and Caribbean tectonic plates meet. Arenal is probably by far the most well-known and picturesque volcano, but we decided to get off the beaten path while renewing our visas at the border with Nicaragua and check out Rincón de la Vieja (‘the old lady’s corner or nook’), an active volcano with 9 craters! 

It’s easily accessed from Liberia and there are different sectors which you can visit. Las Pailas is the most popular and offers a couple of fantastic hikes from the visitor’s center. A friendly ranger helped us choose the shorter 3k Sendero Las Pailas which took a good 2 hours (with little ones) and it was perfect for us. It started off extremely hot and desertlike so it was good that we headed downhill stopping at well-marked spots to see the Laguna fumarolica (fumarolic lake), bubbling water pots, boiling mud pots, a ‘volcancito’ and other smoking fumaroles along the trail.

It was really cool and the kids loved it. At about the halfway mark, we crossed a small river and entered a completely different ecosystem that was much greener, lusher and offered shade with tall forest (complete with blue morpho butterflies!) for which we were grateful as it was mostly an uphill hike from that point. Thank goodness for our snack pack to keep everyone going!

We were hoping to relax and enjoy a well-deserved soak in the Rio Negro Hot Springs after the hike but as it was already past 1pm (and well past someone’s nap time), we instead opted for a quick bite to eat and back to our AirBnB oasis for the late afternoon.  There are plenty of hot springs in the area and even an upscale spa (Simbiosis Spa), where you can relax with a mud bath and a massage. Both of  these, the hot springs and the spa, are part of the lovely Hotel Hacienda Guachipelín. Duly noted for next visit also. 🙂

Las Pailas Ranger Station
Las Pailas Ranger Station

There is also a hike to a beautiful waterfall (Catarata La Cangreja) from Las Pailas Ranger Station where you can take a refreshing dip, but as it is about 5k each way and takes about 4 hours AND you have to start hiking before noon, we smartly decided we’d better save that for a day without the kids. The trail to the summit is currently closed due to the eruptions in 2012. The Santa Rosa sector also has a ranger station and over 12k of trails.

We only had a taste of this amazing volcano complex, but there is so much to do here. There are some great hotels in the area that offer hiking and horseback riding, not to mention the hot springs and spa possibilities. Hoping we can return soon!

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Our amazing AirBnB outdoor oasis – maybe better than the hot springs!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase or book a hotel using one of the links, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Exploring Guanacaste: Liberia

Let’s be honest, not many people go to Costa Rica to hang out in Liberia, but it actually has an interesting history. It was once part of Nicaragua, has been nicknamed the “White City” for its historic whitewashed colonial homes and is capital of the province of Guanacaste, land of sabaneros (cowboys), beaches and volcanos. However, as it contains the country’s second international airport, it’s mostly known as a jumping off point to discover the other parts of the province, especially the beautiful beaches of the Nicoya peninsula (Playa Tamarindo, Playa del Coco, Playa Hermosa, etc.) less than an hour away.

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Granizado vendor in the main plaza of Liberia

But, let me tell you, it’s actually a pretty cool ‘real’ Tico town with few tourists and a bit of a Wild West flavor. We spent a couple nights in the area in order to visit Nicaragua and renew our visas, but also to explore Liberia and nearby Rincón de la Vieja National Park, an active volcano (stay tuned for next post)!

There’s not a ton to do there, but it’s definitely worth a stop as there are some historic colonial homes from the 1800s along Calle Real, a lovely main plaza and a modern church (which wasn’t my cup of tea, architecturally speaking, but hey, to each their own).

My highlight was visiting la Ermita de la Agonía, Liberia’s oldest church built in the mid-19th century. It’s a beautiful colonial church constructed of adobe and wooden beams, and there was a wedding going on when we stopped by so we were able to take a peak inside.

Of course, we have to find a playground in every city to let off some steam and right next to la Agonía is a nice park with playground that we enjoyed multiple times. 🙂 This one even had ariel acrobats practicing on their silk fabric which they had hung from the huge trees as well as jugglers. It was like a two for one deal…circus show + playground. Score!

Liberia also offers the Museo de Guanacaste, set in an imposing fortress like structure which was used as a jail currently undergoing a renovation, as well as the Museo del Sabanero (Cowboy Museum) which was unfortunately closed when we wanted to check it out.

As far as food goes, there is a sushi restaurant there. Yes SUSHI! It’s called Sushi To Go and we had to try out as we haven’t had sushi since we arrived. I know…the things we’ve sacrificed! Ha! Palmer and I tried to temper our enthusiasm and keep expectations in check (we even hauled out the iPad and iPhone for the kids…we weren’t going to let anything stop us from enjoying this meal), but we were pleasantly surprised how awesome it was. Good service and delicious sushi! So, if you’re ever in Liberia and need a sushi fix, check out Sushi To Go!

I’m sure Liberia will soon be on the tourist map as it has all the makings of a great destination – rich cultural history, pleasant main plaza and modern church along with the historic La Agonía and a couple of unique museums…oh, and don’t forget sushi! What more could one want?

 

 

The Hidden Gems of San José

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San José, Costa Rica doesn’t have many accolades despite there being so much to see and do all around the country so it has never been high on the priority list, but let me tell you, there are a few treasures to be discovered! Here are my top 5 things to do in San José.

1. Mercado Central (Central Market)

As with many Latin American cities, San José’s central market is easy to get lost in. It’s a huge labyrinth filled with stalls of anything and everything you might ever want or need, from fruits and veggies to fresh seafood to spices, home goods, tools, dried flowers and everything in between. It’s even a decent place to find souvenirs! I love that many people here still visit the central market to buy their goods rather than heading to one of the larger grocery or department stores. Spend some time wandering and get a feel for the ‘old world’. I’m sure you’ll come out with a treasure or two.

2. Feria Verde in Aranjuez (Organic Farmer’s Market)

If you’re ever in San José on a Saturday morning, be sure to check out the colorful Feria Verde at the Polideportivo Aranjuez just north of downtown. It’s a really fun gourmet/hippy/hipster market where you can buy organic produce, but also many specialty items such as hard to find cheeses and spices, but also clothing, jewelry, soaps, yoga mats, and lots more. There’s even a food booth section with all kinds of special goodies including pastries and fancy coffees and juices. It’s definitely worth an hour of two of fun!

3. Teatro Nacional (National Theater)

Located in the heart of the city next to the expansive Plaza de Cultura, Costa Rica’s Teatro Nacional opened in 1897 and is one of the country’s finest architectural buildings with beautiful furnishings inside. It offers regular high quality performances including operas, symphonies, concerts and plays as well as hourly guided tours for visitors and a lovely gourmet café open to the public. We haven’t yet made it to a performance, but it’s definitely worth a visit at least.

4. Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum)

Okay, I realize this may not be for everyone, but if you have little ones , the Museo de los Niños in San José is definitely a must-see. We’ve been there twice so far and we STILL haven’t explored everything yet. There are tons of cool interactive exhibits from dinosaurs to space exploration to optical illusions to whole areas dedicated to the history, culture and wildlife of Costa Rica such as coffee production, the rise of banana plantations and how they function, historic train cars from the national train system, etc. There’s even a double decker bus, an old fire engine, an airplane and a helicopter that the kids are able to explore! We highly recommend a visit..or two…or three!

5. Barrio Amón

Barrio Amón is a lovely historic neighborhood in San José (check out Avenidas 9 and 11 just west of the zoo and botanical garden) that is going through a sort of revival. The beautiful historic mansions lining the streets were originally built by wealthy coffee growers back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of them have been beautifully restored into hotels or restaurants, and others are in total disrepair or covered with vines which gives the neighborhood an authentic…or maybe nostalgic…feel.

With every visit we make to the capital, we discover something new, so I’m sure there are other hidden gems just waiting to be uncovered. It just takes a little digging!

Our Top 5 for Sámara

With Auntie Tay Tay visiting and the kids out of school for Semana Santa, we headed to the beach (along with everyone else!) for some quality R & R.  We chose to explore Sámara, a chill beach town on the Guanacaste Coast that I’ve long wanted to check out having heard lots of good things.

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Here’s our list of what’s not-to-miss:

1. Sunset at Sámara Beach

Everyone heads to the beach at sunset! It’s the best time of day when the heat subsides but still plenty hot enough to enjoy a dip in the warm water, go for a horseback ride, enjoy an ice cream or cocktail, and not risk burning your scalp and every other piece of exposed skin. On our first night, we checked out Lo Que Hay, a casual beachfront restaurant specializing in tacos but with lots of other options and super drink specials. High tide or low tide, there is plenty of beach for everyone…even during Semana Santa. Sunset is definitely our favorite time at the beach in Costa Rica!

 

2. Spend a Day Boogie Boarding at Carrillo Beach (and don’t forget your hammock!)

About 4k south of Sámara Beach is another lovely picture perfect beach called Playa Carrillo. You can park right along the beach for free, hang up your hammock and set up camp along with lots of other picnicking families. It had the most perfect waves for boogie boarding which helped soothe our poor burnt feet after running through the scorching hot sand.

 

3. Dolphin Boat Tour

Sámara offers lots of cool activities such as surf lessons, boat tours, wildlife hikes and hidden beaches, and we opted for a morning dolphin and snorkeling tour (THANKS Auntie Tay!) that was seriously awesome. We saw manta rays jumping out of the water all around us, the spotted dolphins were also fun to watch, and we even saw a couple sea turtles. The snorkeling wasn’t all that great for us, but still fun to give it a try.

 

4. Tide Pooling at Low Tide on Sámara Beach

On our final morning, we headed straight to the beach and it was perfect as there was almost no one there and it was low tide so we had a blast exploring the tide pools on the north end of the beach, and all the critters waiting to be discovered, before having to pack up and head back home. 😦

 

5. Check Out the Town

Samara is small enough to easily get around and find your own little slice of heaven, but big enough to offer some great services, such as some fabulous restaurants (beachfront places such as Gusto Beach, and others specializing in seafood, French, Mexican, etc.) and a couple watering holes (don’t miss Franks and the Flying Taco for live music on weekends), tours for visitors, some decent shopping and even Spanish language classes. There are also troops of howler monkeys that you can’t miss right in and around town, short hikes with lovely vistas that you can take and other nearby beaches such as the secluded Playa Barrigona (“Mel Gibson’s Beach”) to explore.

 

We only had 4 nights here so I’m sure there are other gems to be discovered in Sámara. We sure hope to return!

In Search of the Resplendent Quetzal

On a bit of a whim, we decided to spend a weekend up in the highlands near some of the tallest peaks in Costa Rica and the picturesque town of San Gerardo de Dota (about 2 hours south of San José on the Interamericana). We wanted to explore the cloud forest, enjoy some hiking and possibly even sight the elusive quetzal. So we booked an AirBnB (why don’t they have a loyalty program!?!), a ‘rustic cabin’ in the mountains, and jumped on the road Friday afternoon.

The drive there was gorgeous once we exited the San José sprawl and Cartago (the former capital) and started to climb into the mountains.

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We stayed in the tiny community of La Esperanza at about 7,000 feet and were enjoying the much cooler temps as it was such a change from Atenas and the coasts…until evening came and it got downright chilly. Good thing we brought extra blankets and the cabin had a fireplace so we could stay warm. I secretly wished I had a hat and gloves. Oscar still insisted on wearing shorts except for this first photo. The boy runs hot.

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The first morning we hooked up with a local guide named Luis who lives in the same community where we were staying and took us to his property for a bird-watching hike. There are a number of aguacatillo trees there which is the main food source for quetzals so he sees them often. Unfortunately, we weren’t so lucky, but it was a gorgeous place with amazing views, centuries old beautiful oak trees, and wild blackberries that the kids couldn’t stop eating.

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We then headed to the peaceful town of San Gerardo de Dota also known as the ‘Alps of Costa Rica.’ It’s a tiny town along a dead end dirt road with the beautiful Savegre River flowing through it. It offers cute cabins and boutique hotels, a few restaurants and is well known for bird watching and hiking enthusiasts as well as anglers hoping to catch rainbow trout. The drive was beautiful getting there and we enjoyed a fabulous lunch (as fabulous as lunch out with 2 little ones can be) at the lovely Café Kahawa. This was no ordinary café, but a feast for the senses – listening the river babbling alongside, watching the hummingbirds and butterflies dart around, and admiring the beautiful decor and landscaping, not to mention enjoying the delectable ‘trucha al coco’ (fresh grilled trout with a coconut sauce) which Palmer and I both chose and their delicious adult beverages. YUM!

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Our final day included a visit to Parque Nacional Los Quetzales and a short hike. I was thinking there would be more hiking trails there, but there was just one out and back 2k trail from the main entrance. We enjoyed the cool misty walk and moss covered trees, and are already talking about a return trip. It really felt like we were not in Costa Rica anymore!

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This is what we were hoping to experience:

This is as close as we got:

(A beautiful mural on one of the building in La Esperanza and an Oscar original. Haha!)

 

Colorful Cacao to Delectable Chocolate

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What better way to follow up a coffee tour blog than to post about CHOCOLATE (another of my staple indulgences)! Palmer and I went to a cool place called Choco Tour the other day located in La Garita, Costa Rica (about 20 minutes from both Atenas and the San José airport) which offers an informative hour and a half tour about the cacao plant and fruit, how the cacao is processed to produce chocolate and the history of chocolate dating from Pre-Columbian times.

We were the only ones for the 11am tour so we enjoyed a private tour with our guide Óscar who was very informative and passionate about everything chocolate related. He showed us some of the cacao plants, explained where they grow (i.e. rainy, tropical areas such as the Arenal and Limon regions of Costa Rica), and we then tasted the sweet white pulp surrounding the seeds of a mature cacao fruit. It was delicious!

He then explained how they dry the seeds which takes about 3 weeks before they are able to remove the skin and grind the cacao into a powder which is then used to make chocolate. We learned all about how chocolate evolved in Europe from a tasty beverage to bars of chocolate after being brought to the continent from the New World in the 16th century.

We then poured our own 75% cacao mix into molds and were able to choose our own ‘extras’ of almonds, sea salt and/or chile flakes, which we later enjoyed at the end of the tour. YUM!

In the final part of the tour, Óscar explained the ancient history of cacao, what it meant to the Mayans and Aztecs, and how they used it. The word ‘chocolate‘ is said to come from the Mayan word ‘xocolatl’ which means ‘bitter water.’ At that time, they did not have sugar to sweeten it so it was very bitter.

The Aztecs saw the cacao seed as a gift from Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom. It was served as a drink, cold, and mixed with spices such as anise, vanilla, paprika, and pepper that only the rulers, shamans, warriors and honored guests were able to enjoy. In fact, cacao became so valuable in Aztec society, more than gold or silver, that the beans were used as a form of currency.

Of course Choco Tour sells some of their own chocolate bars and specialty items so we had to buy a few Costa Rican chocolate treats to take home. The sugar-coated toasted cacao seeds are especially unique and delicious!

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If you’re ever near San José or the airport and looking to fill a couple hours, check them out!

El Toledo Coffee Tour

Costa Rica is famous for its coffee (and who doesn’t love a little pick me up?), so of course we had to do a coffee tour when mom and dad were in town. There is an excellent organic coffee producer in the Atenas area called El Toledo so we signed up for a tour and lunch. We did this back in December and I had meant to write about it then, but somehow life got in the way.  Anyways, it was a pretty cool experience.

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El Toledo is a family run coffee farm and our tour was given by Gabriel who works together with family on the farm. He first spoke with us a bit about organic farming and how important it is to keep in mind that all living things are interconnected and that using chemicals or depending on only one product is harmful for the environment and for the future success of the farm and therefore the family’s livelihood. img_2950
Their family seems to be very progressive and throughout the years, they have made adjustments and major changes to the way they farm their land. From using chemicals to going organic and from only growing coffee to diversifying their crops.

We first had fun with a taste test of the different coffee roasts which they made using the traditional Costa Rican chorreador (hot water poured over the grounds which then drips into the cup below) method. img_2949We blind tasted the light, medium and dark roast and tried to guess which was which. It seemed that almost all of us preferred the dark roast, while he explained that the light and medium roasts offer much more complexities in flavor whereas the dark is easier to produce as it is less complex. We also learned how many things affect the flavor when making coffee such as the temperature of the water, if the grounds are fine or more course, the amount of water versus coffee grounds, and how long the coffee brews.

Gabriel’s father was roasting beans in their retro roaster which is a pretty cool machine! It was quite a process and he seemed to just know what the the right temperature should be and when the beans were ready to be taken out of the roaster and cooled depending on which roast he was going for.

We then took a walk through the farm. We were lucky to do the tour just as they were starting to harvest the beans so the coffee plants were ready to be picked, which is all done by hand. Gabriel also pointed out many other plants and trees of interest on the farm and we all learned a ton about farming in Costa Rica.

After our little walk through the farm, we ended up back at the farmhouse for a yummy typical casado lunch and some time to relax…or play and be crazy as was the case for Oscar and Alice.

Driving in Costa Rica

Our 2010 Honda CRV – aka ‘white lightning’

Driving in Costa Rica is a little hairy as most of the roads are two lanes, very narrow, windy, hilly, and not in the best condition…though there are some nice exceptions. On the other hand, for all those same reasons, the drives around here are gorgeous and the vistas are often breathtaking. As we’re approaching the 6 month mark here (!!!), I thought I’d share a few things we’ve learned to watch out for while on the roads.

  • Landslides – As much of the country is mountainous and roads are cut through the mountains, landslides are very common after heavy rains and especially in the rainy season, and it sometimes take a day or two before they are cleared so it’s common for roads and major routes even to close after heavy rainfall.
  • One lane bridges – There are very few two lane bridges in Costa Rica except on a few of the highways, so you will often come across one lane bridges. There is always a “Ceda el Paso” (yield) sign on one side of the bridge and the other side has the right of way so you have to make sure to look for the sign so you know if you have the right of way or if you have to stop.

    ‘Ceda’ en Limón province
  • Potholes – They are everywhere and they can be deep.
  • Deep drainage channels at edge of streets means tricky parking in town and even on the highway so don’t go over the ‘cliff’ as there typically is no shoulder.
Atenas Centro after repaving
  • Use your 4-way flashers. Everyone loves their 4 way flashers and use them for just about everything: making a turn, slowing down, pulling over, and oncoming cars use them to warn of accident, landslide, police or just about any hazard ahead. If you see someone flashing them, best to slow down.
  • Motos are very common and love to pass on the left or the right (!!) especially when there is traffic.
  • Cyclists – Another bogey! I wouldn’t have thought cycling would be so popular here with the steep, narrow roads, but it’s huge! Again, there are really no shoulders here so passing can be tricky if there is heavy traffic.
  • Accidents – You can’t move your car if you’ve been in an accident in Costa Rica for insurance and police report purposes so traffic can back up for literally hours depending on the severity of the accident.
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We waited for over an hour in this spot waiting for an accident to clear.
  • Always be ready to merge. Even the major highways (the Interamericana and Route 27) go from four lanes to two lanes with little to no warning so you always need to be paying attention and be prepared to merge into one lane at any minute.
  • Roadside stands are fantastic. Stop and see what’s fresh and local.
One stand on the Interamericana selling jocotes, honey, peanuts and other local products.
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One of the many coconut oil stands in Limón area. 

And here are just a few more interesting driving related photos. 🙂

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Interesting maneuver – cars going off-roading and through barricades to pass cars on the right in San José.

Tractor trailer hauling oranges from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, banana plantations and truck hauling yucca.

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Beautiful views looking south from the Ruta Vieja (old road – route 3) between Atenas and San Mateo. 

Highlights of Tortuguero

man driving small boat in canal

Palmer and I recently enjoyed a 3 night getaway to the small town of Tortuguero on Costa Rica’s north caribbean coast (HUGE thanks to mom and dad for babysitting and allowing us some time sans kiddos!). Though most famous for its nesting green sea turtles that return to the beach where they hatched during the months of June through October, we had an amazing experience during our early January visit. Here are a few of the highlights:

1. Guided Canoe Trip in Tortuguero National Park

We booked a 3 hour canoe trip with Tortuguero Tours, a local guiding company, in the national park where you can spot amazing wildlife. We woke up at dawn and headed down to the meeting point for some coffee and fruit before being given a pair of binoculars and heading to the park. We were on small boat with 4 other tourists plus our local guide who rowed us through the smaller canals and pointed out some fascinating flora and fauna. We saw howler monkeys, sloths, caimans, iguanas and lots of bird life (green macaws, little blue herons, yellow crowned night heron and northern jacanas to name a few). The highlight for me was a male emerald green basilisk that was perfectly camouflaged on a branch just over the water surrounded by leaves…so camouflaged that you couldn’t get a good pic!

2. Hike in Tortuguero National Park

Since we had already purchased our national park passes for the canoe tour, we headed back to the park later that same day to hike the one out and back trail that the park offers. We were all geared out with our sturdy rubber boots, hiking clothes, hats and even a dry bag. It soon started to rain pretty steadily and we were thankful for our rental boots as it was so muddy…and also the umbrellas we brought. Ha! We weren’t very lucky with wildlife, but we did see a howler monkey eating and a pretty cool great curassow (a large pheasant-like bird strolling the path ahead of us) and enjoyed a walk on Tortuguero beach where the turtles nest.

3. Visit to Sea Turtle Conservancy

Even though it wasn’t turtle season when we visited, we still felt we got the turtle experience with our visit to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, the world’s oldest sea turtle research and conservation group founded by Dr. Archie Carr. He was also instrumental in the effort to protect the region and advocate for the opening of Tortuguero National Park. The small facility is located just off the beach a few blocks from the town center and functions as a research station but also hosts a small museum for visitors to learn more about the sea turtles of Tortuguero, the history of the region, and the work that STC does. We ended up adopting a turtle (named ‘Shelby’ thanks to Oscar) to support their mission. We are looking to return one day when we can actually observe the turtles nesting. That would be amazing!

4. Exploring the Town of Tortuguero

We really loved discovering the town itself and were glad that we opted to stay in town rather than one of the resorts to get a better feel for the community. We stayed at El Icaco, a modest but colorful hotel on the beach side, and had plenty of time to walk the paths of town and just relax. The one main paved pathway in front of the public dock is sprinkled with businesses (restaurants, grocery stores, shops) while the rest of the paths are mainly sand or some combination of boards or stepping stones due to all the rain they experienced. Apparently the rainy season in Tortuguero ends in late January. We enjoyed some good meals at Tutti’s (amazing calzones!) and Donde Richard, and delicious breakfasts and cakes at Dorling’s Bakery. Budda Cafe had fancy cocktails and a lovely canal-side location.

5. Getting There and Back, an Adventure In Itself

Tortuguero is only accessible by plane or boat so we opted to drive to La Pavona (basically a restaurant, bathrooms, small store and parking area in the middle of nowhere) where you can then park your car and hop on a boat for the one hour ride to Tortuguero. The drive from San José to La Pavona is beautiful as you first climb through the misty mountains of Braulio Carrillo National Park and then head north through the banana plantations and ranches north of Guápiles. The road is mostly paved except for the last 30-40 minutes when it turns to gravel, but the views were beautiful and we loved the drive. I’m sure that flying in would be spectacular too as the region is so remote and picturesque, but we’ll have to save that for our next visit.

Overall, Tortuguero totally exceeded my expectations with its raw beauty and unique wildlife and even though the town is mainly dependent on the tourism industry, it still has an authentic small town Caribbean vibe. We are hoping to return again soon during turtle season!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase or book a hotel using one of the links, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.