Our vacation in Costa Rica with Caravan Tours

by mailpound 2/25/2009 3:30:00 AM

My daughters and I recently went on a Caravan Tour to Costa Rica.  This tour was amazing and was well run by extremely professional, knowledgeable, pleasant and caring individuals. 

We started out our tour in San Jose, with the group meeting for the first time at night after all flights had arrived.  By dinner we had already started to find friends among the group of "strangers."  Our first full day started with a trip to Poas Volcano.  We enjoyed the scenic drive, passing coffee fields, roads lined with flowers, and a wonderful view of the valley and San Jose. It was a rainy day at Poas, but that did not "dampen" our fun.  After all, we had all come expecting to experience a Costa Rican rain.  On a quiet walk by myself I saw movement and stopped and waited.  Within minutes, a violet sabrewing hummingbird stopped and hovered a foot in front of my face.

We returned to San Jose and walked to the Gold Museum with its
Pre-Colombian Man exhibit and thousands of different examples of Pre-Colombian gold artifacts, with pieces dating from 500 BC to 1600 AD.

We left San Jose early the next morning for our trip to the Tortuguero rainforest.  On the way, we stopped in Braulio Carrillo National Park to take a tram ride through the lower level and forest canopy sighting toucans, a semiplumbeous hawk, a white-crested coquette hummingbird, a beautiful bright blue morpho butterfly, "broccoli" trees and numerous other exotic plants and trees. Our walking tour found lizards, leafcutter ants and tiny strawberry poison dart frogs.  After lunch, we continued along the scenic rural road, seeing cattle and cattle egrets. We then went to Cano Blanco and got on our boats for the trip to Tortuquero National Park.  We were greeted at our lodge with drinks and snacks and then checked into our individual jungle lodges to settle in before dinner.  Walking around our lodges and dining hall we were often greeted with excitement over another "sighting" such as an iguana or 3-toed sloth or a family of monkeys high in a tree -- a reminder that we were in the middle of a rainforest!

During our 2 days in Tortuguero we were blessed with sunny days, although through the night, the sound of rain lulled us to sleep.  We were greeted early in the morning by birds and the growl of howler monkeys. This group of monkeys spent the morning in the tree outside our lodge eating and swinging from the branches.  We enjoyed our canal cruises where we saw many lovely flowers, caymans, turtles sunning themselves on the logs, needle nosed bats sleeping in a row high up on the trees, lizards, including the Basilisk lizard and web-footed water walking lizard, and birds -- far too many to mention, but including the tiger heron, Montezuma Oropendola, Resplendent Quetzal and Great Green Macaws.  My favorite canal cruise was in the "black waters" where  black-water reflects the mirror image of exotic thick jungle on either side. We also visited the Green Turtle Research Station and a walk along the beach where the turtles nest to the town of Tortuquero.  And each time we returned from a canal cruise we were greeted again with drinks and snacks.

That evening after dinner we were entertained by a calypso band, and although everyone was determined to sit and listen, after a little encouragement everyone was up, dancing and laughing!  We ended the night back in our lodges sleeping to the nature sounds of the rainforest. The next morning after breakfast we once again boarded the boats for our final trip on the Tortuquero River back to the dock where our motorcoach was waiting to take us on our next adventure. 

On our way to our next 2 night stay at Arenal Volcano, we stopped at a banana plantation, and then after lunch, in the Selva Verde Rainforest Reserve to walk the 300 foot suspension bridge over the jungle river.  Then we drove through the beautiful San Carlos Valley to Fortuna.  Our hotel overlooked Arenal Volcano and was surrounded by beautiful gardens. The next morning greeted us with so many rufous-tailed hummingbirds, tanagers feasting on bananas and other colorful birds and flowers.  After breakfast, we headed north for the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge passing sugar cane and pineapple fields, and orange and teak plantations.  We also stopped briefly to photograph the "iguana tree" -- a low growing tree filled with orange male iguanas and many brown female iguanas enjoying the morning sun.  We cruised on the Rio Frio, seeing howler monkeys and spider monkeys, anhingas, cormorants, blue herons and more.  We cruised to the Nicaraguan border and then headed home.  Back in Fortuna we stopped for ice cream, shopped a bit and then headed to Baldi Springs Hotel & Hot Springs, where we relaxed in the numerous volcanic hot spring pools with waterfalls, gardens and water slides.

Leaving Fortuna we drove to the Puntarenas region along the Pacific Coast, stopping for a hike in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.  After another delicious lunch we continued down for a two-night stay at the all-inclusive Fiesta Doubletree Resort on Dona Ana Beach just in time to meet up on the dock, cocktail in hand, to watch the sun set on the Pacific. 

We left the next morning for Manuel Antonio, stopping on a bridge to look down at the crocodiles lounging on the riverbank.  Due to a random accident on the bridge leading to Manuel Antonio, we were unable to continue on, which was a disappointment, but entirely out of the control of Caravan.  Our tour director and driver made every effort to substitute this activity, and we entered the Carara Biological Reserve to enjoy our boxed lunches and were fortunate to have 3 scarlet macaws fly overhead.  Our group was then given the option of staying for a hike through this tropical bird and wildlife sanctuary or returning to our beautiful hotel for a relaxing afternoon of swimming, eating or enjoying cocktails by our choice of many swimming pools.

Our trip just about over, it was time for some shopping, so on the way back through the Central Valley to San Jose, we stopped in Grecia, home
of the only Metal Church in Central America, and to the colorful town of Sarchi, home of the painted oxcart and the Sarchi Oxcart factory, with shops filled with handmade artifacts including oxcarts, painted bowls and trays, natural wood serving utensils, furniture, jewelry and carvings made from the many beautiful native woods, including rosewood, teak, purple heart, and mahogany. Our next stop was at a coffee plantation and the chance to shop for those who wanted to bring home some delicious Costan Rican coffee.

We returned to San Jose for our final night. Our farewell dinner was in a lovely restaurant on the 17th floor overlooking the lights of the city - a delicious meal enjoyed with our new friends. 

We left the next day, many of us with the wish to return to Costa Rica.  The food throughout our trip was delicious and plentiful with many Costa Rican dishes.  There was always a large variety of choices to please everyone, including vegetarians, who would find a lot of meatless choices.  The fresh fruit was wonderful and I especially loved the flavor of their scrambled eggs and potato dishes.  Gallo Pinto, the national dish of fried rice and black beans, was one of my daughter's favorites, along with ceviche, a citrus-marinated seafood appetizer.

Costa Rica is a beautiful and peaceful country which has chosen to concentrate their economy and efforts to the ecology of their special land, and the education and healthcare of the people. It was very interesting to discover that there are many similarities in the issues that concern them and the U.S. 
The Costa Rican people are outgoing and friendly by nature, which added significantly to the entire travel experience.

It was a wonderful experience and we could not have expected or wanted any better treatment by our tour director and driver.  They went beyond the expected to make our trip fun and interesting.  Our personal experience was with Katia and Braulio.  So often we heard the phrase, "Well, my friends, we have a surprise for you..."  whether we were making an unexpected stop to view a two- or three-toed sloth, a family of monkeys or some other special treat.  My daughters and I do not usually take group tours, but I would highly recommend Caravan.  This tour was so well planned and relaxing, despite all the many activities throughout the day.  We were always given all the information we needed for the next day's activities.  There was never a reason to worry, either about where we were going, how we would get there, or whether we would arrive safely.  Our driver was excellent and safety was always the primary concern.

So if you are a nature lover and enjoy the outdoors, if you want a taste of all the best Costa Rica has to offer, I would definitely recommend a Caravan Tour.



3/5/2009 6:32:22 PM

We also just took the Caravan Tour to Costa Rica and can't speak highly enough of the trip. The people were really friendly and we learned a lot about bananas, coffee and pineapples. Our group saw a Jaguar lying on a fallen tree sunning itself on the way up the river to Tortuguero. The guide from the lodge said it had been 5 years since he saw one.

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