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A brilliant introduction (you dance very well:))

Looking forward to the report!

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18 minutes ago, TonyQ said:

A brilliant introduction (you dance very well.)

 

@TonyQ Hey that's me of course!

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That is Michael, of course! It will be continued, do not worry, but you all need to get into the groove first :D!

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well its about time! We've been waiting for this one! So, get it really started already! :)

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PLANNING & LOGISTIC

 

Planning for our (Zvezda and mine) fourth visit to Costa Rica has started shortly after our 3rd one which took place in June of 2013. That one was an unexpected and unplanned so a return trip was obvious. However, after we have been bitten by that well know to members here African bug while visiting Namibia in 2014, Costa Rica was put on the back burner where the fire was really low and slow.

 

Another boost it gets after we have joined the Big Year group; birding in Costa Rica is over the top excellent, and after a couple of years I have realised that only way to come close to the best will be to include a trip to Costa Rica.

 

Once Michael and Andreas expressed their interest into same country and same activity, it all went very fast. Lufthansa has announced a new direct flight from Frankfurt (FRA) to San Jose (SJO), and I have had a couple of possible itineraries already at hand. With only a few adaptations we have decided on the below one:

 

16.7.2018    Arenal            Arenal Observatory Lodge
17.7.2018    Arenal            Arenal Observatory Lodge
18.7.2018    Arenal - Sarapiqui    Posada Andrea Cristina
19.7.2018    Sarapiqui        Posada Andrea Cristina
20.7.2018    Sarapiqui - Manzanillo    Congo Bongo
21.7.2018    Manzanillo        Congo Bongo
22.7.2018    Manzanillo        Congo Bongo
23.7.2018    Manzanillo        Congo Bongo
24.7.2018    Manzanillo - Turrialba    Rancho Naturalista
25.7.2018    Turrialba        Rancho Naturalista
26.7.2018    Manzanillo - SGdD    Quetzal Valley Cabins
27.7.2018    San Gerardo de Dota    Quetzal Valley Cabins
28.7.2018    San Gerardo de Dota    Quetzal Valley Cabins
29.7.2018    SGdD - Cabo Matapalo    Bosque del Cabo
30.7.2018    Cabo Matapalo        Bosque del Cabo
31.7.2018    Cabo Matapalo        Bosque del Cabo
01.8.2018    Cabo Matapalo        Bosque del Cabo
02.8.2018    CM - Manuel Antonio    La Posada Jungle Hotel
03.8.2018    Manuel Antonio        La Posada Jungle Hotel
04.8.2018    MA - Alajuela        Pura Vida Hotel
        
05.8.2018    Alajuela - Bijagua    Casitas Tenorio
06.8.2018    Bijagua            Casitas Tenorio
07.8.2018    Bijagua            Casitas Tenorio
08.8.2018    Bijagua - Cano Negro    Hotel de Campo
09.8.2018    Cano Negro - Monteverde    Rainbow Valley Lodge
10.8.2018    Monteverde - Alajuela    Pura Vida Hotel

 

My original starting date was first week in August however due to job requirements we have anticipated it to mid July. Back in 2017 I was not much concerened as July is known also a "veranillo" or "little summer", a relatively dry month in otherwise rainy season. And as we have had great weather twice in August, what to worry about?!

 

Starting that early also gave Zvezda and me the opportunity to extend the trip for one week; that is why there is a space in above itinerary.

 

To pick up locations and lodges was easy. Costa Rica is a birding destination, and just reading through a couple of birding tour itineraries and related blogs and reports is enough to find out where are the best places to go. Some of those were more on the expensive side, and to counterbalance the budget, we have also stayed at some more basic accommodations. Every accommodation has its own web site so whoever is interested in details, I will post a link as we will move along the trip report.

 

All 4 of us we met at Frankfurt airport, and boarded the plane in time; we have our seats together so first part of flight was quickly passed by; thereafter each tried to make the best out of the economy class. To be reported that Lufthansa has a very comfortable seats in economy class, at least they were such on this specific flight. Also the food was OK; in every aspect the flight experience was much much better then what we remember when flying with Iberia.

 

As we were there for 3 (4) weeks, four persons, renting a car was obvious, and many of our accommodations were chosen because of self-catering options. After all, we did have three excellent cooks in our party! By doing so, we were able to keep our budget inside a very reasonable limits.

 

On each location we have planned to hire a guide for a day, to show us the best places for birding, and to help us with ID (although, as those of you that have followed the Big Year by Michael have already realised, he is an expert in neotropical birds!).

 

This report will try to present each location we have been to, and the associated birds and mammals and other funny things that have happened to us! Happy reading.

 

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DRIVING

 

 

This is how our itinerary looks on Google Maps. One would ask why not driving a shorter way between Manzanillo and Bosque del Cabp?! Because there is no way, no road and not even a path there!! Satellite image gives a little better understanding of how inaccessible is the very large part of Costa Rica. That is where the La Amistad (Friendship) National Park is, "joining" Costa Rica with Panama. The total length of our route was not that long, about 1400 kms; 90% of it on paved roads but only a couple of sections that were constructed as highways, most others were normal country 2-lane roads with added bonus of 1-lane bridges. "Puente angosto" and "Ceda passo" are two warnings a driver in Costa Rica has to learn very quickly. As far as driving is conerened, average driving speed is relatively low, say between 50 - 60 km/h; there is a school with its 25 km/h limit at about every 5 km. Bigger towns are a maze of 1-way streets however using a decent navigation tool they are not difficult to cross or drive through. San Jose, as a capital city, is another story altogether. One word of wisdom: avoid San Jose at all costs!

 

Renting a car in Costa Rica is another story, and for some unfortunate folks, a very sad (financially) story. A couple of years ago Costa Rica governemnt introduced the Third Party Liability insurance to be obligatory when the vehicle gets its "marchamo" (registration or in Europe, road validity inspection). What is normal for Europeans is not normal for North Americans as they have a different insurance system. And because only a few of local companies has disclosed the fact that paying between 15-20 USD per day for this mandatory insurance is not part of the promoted daily rate visible when booking the car through internet, you can imagine the number of complaining posts that has flooded forums like Tripadvisor! Today many companies have change their habits, and are more clear about the mandatory fees on top of the car daily rate.

 

Rental car is not cheap, some says it is expensive. Well, those people never rented a car in Iceland. However, for what I consider a must to have if exploring some nooks and crannies of Costa Rica, an SUV type of vehicle is highly recommended. If it has a 4WD or AWD it might help but that is not that important. The sturdy suspension, higher ground clearance, and more robust tires are important. I have only rented cars in Costa Rica from a small, German-owned company Wild Rider - www.wild-rider.com . They have a typical no-nonsense approach, what you see (as a quote) is what you will pay. Highly recommended. Although we have done a couple of very rough sections (the road towards Arenal Observatory Lodge, short section to Rancho Naturalista, road between Puerto Jimenez and Cabo Matapalo) the vehicle performed flawlessly, and the driver did not put any extra scratches or damages on it. As for the passengers, they will have to comment by themselves.

 

 

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@Xelas - Having recently returned from Costa Rica myself (National Strike and roadblocks and all!) I'm very much looking forward to hearing about (and seeing pictures of) your adventures!

 

 

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ALAJUELA

 

 

Alajuela is of strategic importance to anyone flying into Costa Rica and using Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO). Why? Because although everyone refers to SJO as San Jose airport, the capital city of Costa Rica is at best 30 min bay car away. Alajuela is the closets town, cca 10-15 min by car. And it is also excellent starting point for all destination but the Caribbean coast, as one can avoid driving through or nearby San Jose.

 

Alajuela is a typical Tico town; densly populated, 2-storey high houses, and with a maze of 1-way streets. Difficult to navigate by car so a good navigation map is essential. From Wikipedia: "Alajuela is the third largest city in Costa Rica. It is also the capital of Alajuela Province. Because of its location in the Costa Rican Central Valley, Alajuela is nowadays part of the conurbation of the Great Metropolitan Area." It is located in Central Valley, which is the most populated area in the country, and also the most popular with expats due to its cooler weather. This is the map of the Great Metropolitan Area; left is to Pacific and right is to Caribbean:

 

image.png.37ed12be5cb4962cd2cead1b38fb84c9.png

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On our previous visits we have stayed at Adventure Inn. This time I have decided to change the venue. I know the owner of Pura Vida Hotel - https://www.puravidahotel.com/ - as he is a fellow member of Tripadvisor, and since this lodge is receiving glowing reports from returning customers, it was not difficult to pick it up. Another point in favor was that it has several chalets in the quite big garden, and that fact promised us to start birding right away.

 

Ours was a 2-bedrom 2-bathroom chalet positioned at the bottom end of the garden. Rooms were spacious, bathrooms well equipped and with hot water. A small fridge and a coffee machine with excellent local coffee are part of the package. There is secure parking inside the walled area of this hotel.

 

Its position is on the far north edge of the town itself. Not that optimal if one would like to visit the centre of Alajuela, and definitively not within walking distance to anything important in that town. So having a car is quite useful; otherwise Bernie (the owner) is always around, and has an extensive list of trustworthy drivers.

 

As said, the hotel's garden is well "equipped" with local plants and trees to attracts a whole set of local birds. The first light has barely broken through clouds when Michael was alread out and scanning the perimeter. That was the fill rouge of all 3 weeks we have spent together. No matter how hard I tried, he always was first out and ready for action.

 

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For this type of birding, there are two essential tools: a camera with a long lens, and a cup of strong coffee.

 

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Although we have only a limited time at the gardens, while waiting for our vehicle to be delivered, we were happy to be able to start the trip with some great photo opportunities. 

 

Clay-coloured Thrush deserves to be posted first, as it is a national bird of Costa Rica:

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And the Blue-capped, sorry, Lesson's Motmot was the most colorful one:

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Another strong point of Pura Vida Hotel is its breakfast; only locally grown, if not even garden grown fruits, all very smartly presented, and they taste even better then they look! Something that I really miss back home.

 

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A really great start!

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There are 2 options to get from San Jose/Alajuela to La Fortuna; a faster route via San Ramon (grey on map) and a slower route via San Miguel (blue on map); don't be fooled by the driving times posted, they are usually way off i.e. too optimistic for what can be done when on the ground. The blue route is going past Poas Volcano and La Paz waterfall and as such is more scenic one. It was not very popular since it was in a bad shape a few years ago; after the earthquake in 2009 a large section near the village of Chincona was destroyed, and after repaires, this is now a good and safe road.

 

Poas Volcano is one tourist magnet on this route. Specially its blue-coloured lagoon. However, after starting to emmit dangerous gases the area was closed to visitors for over a year in which time modern sensors were installed, and emergency shelters for visitors were constructed. All this also reflected in new rules for visitors: total no. of visitors inside the park is limited, and one can stay on observation deck for no longer then 20 minutes. Not bad, someone would remark. Yeah, only that the lagoon is often shrouder in clouds, and only opens for a brief moments! In 2008, at our first visit to Costa Rica, Zvezda was adamant to photograph the lagoon. After about 10 minutes of enduring cold gusts of wind I have had enough and went to explore the rest of the trails (which are now currently closed - safety first). Zvezda did managed to get a brief opportunity for a quick shot down the lagoon. Tanja and me have had a pleasant walk in the cloud forest. Anyway, the Poas was closed when we were there (it has opened on 31st of August) and thus I we were not even driving up to it.

 

This is how the lagoon looked in 2008 (photo by Zvezda 2008)

TGsjWCfjhb0YwU7WnjN7Z80nwcuYvIXjxWIUQ6ysztbGu_FrIUZPgTVwn2F-ilJkXsflrE1jb0fVvUPzk_wuOCDFEEvJ68ikAUSlSeDybBpZn1QzWKSAYa5Qh6q-wcCSWy4Lq0JIZzNy9CAWfiv4HpAYbgb9MhvO4dwePEA9ttFIagr_P8cHLQ9WlxhK2ZgXFCqfGj5Mg4xPJLMoYo0kjzepiqlwALT2k-GB8umUK4IJrtFT3aXYwI8fXDDrlkoOCiA2iQc5TGreYNDKvw5jARtcRNZrGzIWDLOWZHQtqn1eXL_JX28i4Ku6OiTrRGcxmEP0l-WmK26kMq176FE5GsPgl3Ub6gg7WII5AY6WeuhCoy5g-dx-LRln3rOVVIC9Yv_UoZXgPT5_pXkOr_ao9glRxKQ2YWHTEyTilH6RhyGT_eLNqQHu2oXYlyEd4gH3spQ57ROtovGd3XZV0yfmFYPFawBS5Fi3Hd4rOz5UbAsAX6v6imn14nNi0c5u0LFkaMDpWq4eNzZeo0HTFSagxArgD6OqvOgppMCt-jAT4R6KzeOd2C6kVs792qW-wbE5clPCjvpY7gMNQ7sW3O9VQ7gkS10YHPUFMejgH54-_8_M_149leD1_8ptTe13CqU=w1024-h685-no

 

 

Next on the route is La Paz waterfall. An upscale lodge (Peace Lodge) has extensive gardens up the waterfall, yet the entry fee is quite steep. And when we have arrived there it was raining quite hard, no useful photo from our side. 

 

Bernie gave me an useful tip, an off-the-beaten path place that only a few knows about, and even less are visiting it. So that was our main target on this day: Laguna Hule

 

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While the yellow roads are paved ones (not always), and white roads are gravel roads, thin white lines are nothing more then a dirt tracks. If not told by Bernie that our vehicle will manage to reach the lagoon, I would turn around at the first complicated section. Luckily I did not, and we have enjoyed the rarely visited old volcano lagoon.

 

There is a local restaurant on the edge of the crater. Perfect position, and very good food also. Some data about the place you can read on below photo, for others use Uncle Google.

 

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Our very first casado

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Locals knows the state of the road so they are using proper transportation

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Rain was on and off most of the time, but this did not made our birders less eager to get out and to try photographing as many birds as possible (Big Year syndrome ... anyone knows for a cure?). They were rewarded for their efforts!

 

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Great Kiskadee And The Droplets

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Northern Jacana ... not mirrorless

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Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

CR2018-015.JPG.d05b8c731e35827ddb3e3e3db132d68a.JPG

 

 

 

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Thanks for the wealth of travel tips @xelas!

 

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Everything is looking beautiful: birds, lakes, flowers.

What's in a cassado also?

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Great that you’ve started. I’ve been waiting on this report ever since I first saw the epic itinerary!  

 

You're braver than I for self-driving. It’s not just the one-way streets that are forbidding, it’s the lack of street signs altogether that swore me off. But I always have the sincerest admiration for travelers who are more intrepid than I am, so salud!  

 

I’m eagerly looking forward to the next installment. 

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Our first trip to Costa Rica we also used Wild Rider for a rental car and also drove from SJO to La Fortuna, so this is sounding familiar, though we had them meet us with the car at the airport and just drove to La Fortuna from there as I recall. Great start - really looking forward to this!

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13 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

Thanks for the wealth of travel tips @xelas!

 

 

Good to hear that, sometimes I think too many details might be boring to readers. 

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11 hours ago, Big_Dog said:

Everything is looking beautiful: birds, lakes, flowers.

What's in a cassado also?

 

A casado is a typical Costa Rica food. One can translate it in "married": gallo pinto (=rice&beans) is the main ingredient. A piece of a meat, could be chicken, fish, or veal. Usually from the grill. The plantain (the thing on the top of the rice). And depending if you are eating casado in the morning or in the afternoon, scrambled eggs or vegetables or mixed salad. Of course it could be prepared also in many other ways but gallo pinto must always be presented.

It is a one-platter dish that you can get at every soda (local restaurant) for anywhere between 2000 - 3000 colones.

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7 hours ago, Alexander33 said:

Great that you’ve started. I’ve been waiting on this report ever since I first saw the epic itinerary!  

 

You're braver than I for self-driving. It’s not just the one-way streets that are forbidding, it’s the lack of street signs altogether that swore me off. But I always have the sincerest admiration for travelers who are more intrepid than I am, so salud!  

 

I’m eagerly looking forward to the next installment. 

 

The lack of the road signs is urban legend. 10 years ago the paper map and road signs were good enough tools for us not to be lost. Streets, yes, outside of bigger towns they do not have names. But those smaller towns and villages, they have really only one main road, so also this is not a problem. And with today's widespread use of smart phones, navigating through Costa Rica is easier then ever ... only do not just blindly follow that sweet voice of the navigator or you can end driving into a 1-way street ... from the wrong side. Or worse.

Edited by xelas
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6 hours ago, SafariChick said:

Our first trip to Costa Rica we also used Wild Rider for a rental car and also drove from SJO to La Fortuna, so this is sounding familiar, though we had them meet us with the car at the airport and just drove to La Fortuna from there as I recall. Great start - really looking forward to this!

 

Wild Rider still is as serious of a rental car company as it was last 10 years I know for them. This year, one of the co-owners, Thorsten, has left the company and started his own business: https://offroad-costarica.com . I am sure that from now on we will have 2 excellent providers to chose and to rent from. 

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Hope it is ok for me to add a little more detail to what is already an extremely helpful trip report?  

 

Regarding navigation, as has been mentioned, modern smartphone based applications work well in Costa Rica.  

 

We used a combination of MAPS.ME (which has the advantage of not needing a cell signal to work if you download CR maps to your phone in advance), Waze and Google Maps which both need a local SIM/signal or roaming plan without your home service provider - I think dual SIM phones are tremendous and would recommend one to anyone who travels regularly).

 

We ended up navigating some very, very minor roads (especially after 14", of rain in 6 hours caused landslides trapping is in the hills!) and a combination of the Apps worked well - bit beware, no one app was always able to find a route).

 

 

 

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Absolutely OK, and appreciated, @Whyone?! In fact you have used same apps as we did, bar the Google Maps as I dislike both how they work and what they are offering as possible routes.

 

Maps.me is by far the most useful app we have, working well not only in Costa Rica but also on our previous drives through South Africa, Namibia, Sri Lanka, Scotland, to mention just the latest ones. That this one is free o charge, including maps, is also positive.

 

I will touch the road blocks and current strike in about a week, when posting the Caribbean part of our trip. Please be so kind and add your updated experiences on top of what I will report there. Muchas gracias!

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ARENAL

 

 

Arenal is one of the top destinations in Costa Rica. It encompasses the area around Volcano Arenal, with the volcano, the lake and the town of La Fortuna. Arenal is dubbed as the "adrenaline capital of Costa Rica" with its many ziplines, rappeling and canzonig tours, rafting and, for more timid, hanging bridges. Volcano Arenal is an active volcano. Very much active it was in 1968 when, on Monday, July 29, 1968 at 7:30 AM, the Arenal Volcano suddenly and violently erupted. The eruptions continued unabated for several days, burying over 15 square kilometers with rocks, lava and ash. When it was finally over, the eruptions had killed 87 people and buried 3 small villages – Tabacón, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luís – and affected more than 232 square kilometers of land. Between 1968 and 2010, the Arenal Volcano was extremely active – it spewed hot rocks, smoke, ash, and lava from its top almost every day.

After 2010 the activity has settled down considerably, with only an occasional cloud of fume visible. But, one never knows when the next eruption will took place. Today, the entire volcano is off-limits as there are many special equipments measuring its activity.

 

The lure of the active volcano has brough many visitors to this area, and what previously was just a small village became what we know La Fortuna today. The road between La Fortuna and Lake Arenal is lined with hotels and lodges and spas and hot springs. Tourism has become a huge thing in Arenal.

 

For those that would want to spend several days in that area, there are options to visit both Tenorio NP for Rio Celeste, and Rio Frio (aka Cano Negro) from Los Chilles side. Both are a full day tours, and can be either done by yourself or bzy joining a tour group.

 

With all that many tourists and tourist related infrastructre around, there is not much space for wildlife, specially for mammals. With two exceptions: the Arenal Observatory Lodge property, on the other side (from La Fortuna) of the volcano, and the small patch of secondary forest named Bogarin Trail almost in the town itself. Below is the map of the area.

 

Arenal.png.9e67e9dbb812e32e3a85a3a23a8d2e51.png

 

 

 

 

 

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