Contrasts of Central America Saga Tour: Part 2 – Costa Rica

STE’s Holiday Editor, Tony Taylor, reports on his experiences on a Saga Holidays tour of Central America. After travelling around Panama, the tour moved on to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica: Mt Arenal
Mt Arenal

After a short flight from Panama, we landed at San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, and were taken to the Barcelona Palacia Hotel for an overnight stay. This is a very busy hotel with large bedrooms, a pool, and a self-service restaurant offering a wide range of food for dinner and breakfast. After breakfast next day the coach took us to Monteverde.

The original tour was scheduled to spend four nights in Nicaragua after visiting Costa Rica, but following Foreign Office advice that only essential travel was recommended to Nicaragua, Saga rearranged two nights in Monteverde and two at Dos Rios, both in Costa Rica. This was understandable, but disappointing.

The drive took about four hours and the final one and a half hours was on poor, bumpy, unsurfaced roads. After lunch at the Monteverde Hotel we had a leisurely afternoon exploring some of the extensive grounds and the swimming pool. It was noticeably cooler than Panama and an extra layer of clothing was required after 5 pm.

Costa Rica: Hanging Bridge
Hanging bridge in the cloud forest

A full day at Monteverde was spent in the cloud forests. In the morning we went to the Monte Verde Cloud Forest Reserve for a two and half hour walk with a local guide. Jackets were required for this as it was cool in the morning but fortunately it did not rain!

The walk was along well-defined paths and the guide stopped to show us a number of birds (including three sightings of the famous quetzal), plants and insects. Before returning to the hotel for lunch, we saw hummingbirds at a feeding centre by the reserve entrance.

The afternoon was an optional excursion to the Selvatura Park in the cloud forest which has a walk with eight hanging bridges in and above the forest canopy. This two hour trail was again on a clear path, and although I am wary about heights I found no problems with the secure hanging bridges. This provided an interesting different perspective to the forest but it was still rather cool!

Dos Rios
Dos Rios

Our next hotel was the Blue River Resort at Dos Rios in northwest Costa Rica about twenty-five miles from the border with Nicaragua. This hotel had gardens, a butterfly house, hot springs and pools. Our accommodation was in log cabins in the lovely garden.

The next day we went in an ex-army lorry very slowly over unsurfaced roads and tracks for about 20 minutes to Dino Park. This contains a number of life sized models of dinosaurs complete with movements and noises – fantastic for children, and we found it mildly amusing.

We went on through the forest to waterfalls, with a guide pointing out flora and fauna of interest. This walk was again along paths of reasonable quality, but with several sets of steps – 90 in one place. The group chose the long walk which took about two hours.  At the end of the walk there was a calm pool and a few of the group decided to take a swim.

Immaculate Church of Concepcion de Maria, Liberia
Immaculate Church of Concepcion de Maria, Liberia

After breakfast the following morning the coach departed at 9 am for the three and half hour drive to the Pacific coast and Hotel Bosque del Mar, part of the Tiliari group. On the way we stopped at Liberia for a break and a very brief look at the colonial area of the city and the ultra-modern Immaculate Church of Concepcion de Maria.

The Hotel Bosque del Mar, is situated by the beach at Playa Hermosa, a lovely peaceful  sandy bay. After lunch in the restaurant overlooking the beach we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon with a walk along the sands of the bay, with drinks in a bar with beautiful views.

On our full day there, we took the option excursion ($72 per person) to the National Park of Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, one and half hours away. The two mile walk was fairly easy on a good path but included a series of steps.  It went through forest to the bowl of the volcano with bubbling boiling mud pools and vents.

Playa Hermosa

The following day we travelled to La Fortuna to stay three nights at the Tilahari Resort. The four hour journey was broken by two scheduled stops, the second at a cafeteria with views over the second largest man-made lake in America namely Lake Arenal.  Additional halts were made to see a group of coatimundi who appeared by the roadside, and then for a photoshoot of the Aranel Volcano – very high with a typical volcano shape.

On our first full day at La Fortuna, we took a four hour ‘Safari Float Trip’ along the Rico Pieno Blanco. This was in inflatables, each holding four passengers and a boat man. It was a beautifully peaceful paddle down the river for four miles. There was a vast range of different flora along the river and fauna included monkeys, birds and iguanas.

We also had a break at Peria Blanco, a traditional home and farm where we were provided with coffee, home-made bread, cheese, plantains and the use of a modern toilet! The rest of the house and farm was basic with electricity only providing lighting.

Laguna Lodge
Laguna Lodge

The second morning we were taken into La Fortuna, thirty minutes away for a short tour of the town. We then returned to Finco Burio, a self-sufficient ecological farm. This interesting place was made very enjoyable by a humorous guide, who explained and demonstrated the bioreactor, medicinal plants, food plants, dyes and ended up with sugar cane pressing with tastings of cane sugar and liquor. A typical Costa Rican lunch was provided there, but I must admit we preferred the hotel food.

Sunday morning we left La Fortuna at 7 am for the long journey to Tortuguero. We had a breakfast stop for an hour and also visited a banana processor before boarding a boat from a very crowded quay for the final two hours to Laguna Lodge. There are no roads to Tortoguero! On this part of the journey we saw a caiman and a two metre long crocodile.

The hotel in Tortuguero has a riverside location with the Caribbean Sea on the other side. As it is in the National Park, it had a fan but no air-conditioning, and the windows had mosquito meshes with shutters in place of glass. We did not find this a problem.


After lunch we visited the Sea Turtle Conservancy Centre at Tortoguero for an informative film followed by questions and answers prior to a ten minute stroll to the village. This was surprisingly large with a number of shops and tourists. A boat returned us to the hotel.

Monday included a canal boat tour in the National Park, on quiet waterways with views of the wildlife. It was very successful with sightings of monkeys, caimans, otters and many birds – a delight for wildlife enthusiasts.

After a relaxing afternoon when we looked around the hotel gardens, Tuesday was spent travelling to San Jose (two hours boat ride and then four hours coach travel, much on poor quality roads).

On Wednesday the group taking the tour extension to Columbia (including us) left at 5 am to fly via Bogotá to Cartagena. The majority of the group departed later in the day for their return trip to England.