Life, Travel

Baby Sea Turtles, Creepy Crawlies, Noisy Monkeys, Sunsets and Sustainable Tourism – My Amazing Trip to Costa Rica

ed7606c0-8307-448f-9fa8-76cce2d83242

A few weeks ago I returned from one of the most epic and challenging trips of my life. I went to Costa Rica – I know. Living the absolute dream. It’s top of so many people’s bucket lists, and definitely a destination that packs a punch.

Imagine a concoction of dense wildlife, volcanic beaches, lush forests, mighty mountains and some of the warmest people you’ve ever met.

I’d say Costa Rica has definitely left me with a bit of a Pura Vida attitude. It basically means life is good – and you should live it to its fullest.

I headed out to Costa Rica with Eco Companion with one main goal in mind, to see whether Costa Rica really deserves its ecotourism crown. And also to see all the incredible wildlife, obviously. These two things kinda go hand in hand.

You don’t get to see wildlife flourish if you don’t look after the animals that reside on your turf. Thankfully, from what I saw, Costa Rica is nailing sustainable travel and I felt privileged to see this in action.

This trip had many highs, a few lows (hello dodgy rash and super dodgy tum) and some mesmerising moments. We rescued a green sea turtle nest, relocated it to safety and then released baby turtle hatchlings. We ventured into the depths of the rainforest and came face to face with both ugly and fascinating creepy crawlies.

We saw some of the most colourful and coolest bird species on earth (Mr toucan, I’m talking about you). We went from basic bunk beds and cabins in the middle of the forest to five-star luxury, and from the sweltering moisture of the rainforest to the cool dry air within reach of a volcano. Yes, this was definitely a trip of contrasts.

monkeys in trees costa rica

beach waves costa rica blue skies

horse in rainforest costa rica selva bananito

costa rica infinity pool hotel gaia

Image by Andy Trace. 

costa rica beach osa peninsula conservation palm trees sunrise

Image by Andy Trace. 

 

river osa peninsula costa rica

costa rica view blue skies tree monteverde

El Establo Mountain Hotel In Monteverde Cloud Forest

After a long flight we arrived in at Liberia airport and got a two-hour private transfer to our hotel, El Establo Mountain Hotel in Monteverde. The hotel was nestled on a hill, boasting impressive views of the surrounding cloud forest. When we arrived we went straight out on the balcony to take in our surroundings and we were greeted with the most breathtaking rainbow. It was as though Costa Rica was welcoming us with a magical display of colours.

The rooms at this hotel were very large, with huge beds and a spacious bathroom. The decor was quite plain but what the room lacked in character it made up in location and comfiness. We began our trip the only way you can, by drinking cocktails by the pool. The pool sits at the top of the hotel and boasts scenic views of the beautiful landscape.

This is quite a chilled out hotel. It seemed as though people used it as a base to go out on tours and then they’d return to the pool in the afternoon for some downtime. Dinner here was just what we needed after our flight, we had a dish called ‘Emma’s chicken’ which consisted of refreshing lemon chicken wrapped in panko breadcrumbs.

eco companion eco sustainable travel costa rica hotel eco friendly mist

Image by Andy Trace. 

girl in pool costa rica hotel monteverde cloud forest

Image by Andy Trace. 

sunset costa rica monteverde el establo hotel

el establo hotel monteverde costa rica trip eco friendly

Image by Andy Trace. 

costa rica trip planning by the pool hotel

pool shot el establo hotel costa rica

Image by Andy Trace. 

A stop off in the city – Studio Hotel San Jose

Next up we headed to the capital and cultural hub of Costa Rica, San Jose. We stayed one night at the Studio Hotel. If you’re flying into San Jose, this is the perfect place to stop off, take a moment and recuperate before embarking on some adventures. It’s a five-star boutique hotel on the outskirts of the city with an incredible art collection. Paintings are displayed throughout the hotel, so you can stroll around glancing at each and every painting as you pass by. Probably the main thing I remember from this hotel was the fairytale tree outside reception. It looks like a tree from the Elf Forest in Lord of the Rings.

The rooftop pool overlooks part of the city as well as the green hills in the distance. We spent a few hours by the pool before heading out into the city centre for dinner. We were treated to a magnificent feast at Sofia Mediterraneo. I treated my taste buds to barbecued squid for the first time (I was defo a little hesitant but it was packed with flavour and very tasty).

I then had a seafood pasta for my main and the boys had a lamb dish which they both raved about. The strip of bars along this road looked lovely and it seemed like a good place to spend a night out, but we were still far too tired for any partying.

studio hotel costa rica sustainable with pool san jose

studio hote costa rica tree lord of the rings the hobbit studio hotel costa rica san jose pool

My first experience of a rainforest at Selva Bananito Lodge

I’ve never set foot in a rainforest before, so I was eagerly anticipating our stay at Selva Bananito Lodge. Now this place is most definitely in the depths of the dense forest, about an hour’s drive down an extremely bumpy road where you have to cross a river in a 4×4. Now that’s remote. I’m not sure you can get much closer to nature than that.

The rainforest here is very lush, beautiful and mesmerising. Some parts feel a bit like a scene from Jurassic Park. It’s like stepping back in time and this place truly allows you to get away from it all. It’s the beating heart of ecotourism. Eco-friendly lodges perched in the rainforest, conservation-focused wildlife tours and most importantly, educating guests about the impact of their stay.

I will never forget arriving at this place and being greeted by a full on pack of German Shepherds. One of the most peaceful moments was when I was laying in my hammock on my veranda with a German Shepherd and Old English sheepdog by my side. I felt an overwhelming sense of calm and a release of pent-up energy as I absorbed the sounds of the animals in the forest. It was as though they were calling to me, asking me to let go and join them in nature.

To truly get a sense of what Selva Bananito Lodge represents, you need to meet the owner, Jurgen. My god he’s a passionate man. It was fascinating learning about his family and their journey into ecotourism. His father used to use the land for logging, until Jurgen and his siblings convinced him green tourism was a far more ethical alternative. So now, instead of wrecking the land, they’re nurturing and protecting it.

We were only at Selva for two and a half days, yet we managed to pack so much action and adventure in. Our cameraman Andy was treated to a flight in a gyrocopter, we went horseback riding cowboy style through the rainforest and on a birdwatching tour. One of the days we ended up hiking a total of eight or nine hours across Jurgen’s lands.

I’ll be honest, staying in the forest wasn’t easy for me at first. The thought of staying in a lodge where any of the local critters, birds and animals could get inside was scary. I don’t think I slept the first night at all. It was a personal challenge that I had to get through. Mind over matter.

Plus, the lodges were obviously beautiful and I had a mosquito net to protect me, what could go wrong??? Well there were two enormous locusts in my room the first night, that didn’t go down to well. But after a while you sort of get used to it. The next day I voluntarily let an enormous spider crawl up my arm, and trekked through the rainforest like an absolute pro (if I do say so myself).

costa rica flower bright

horse riding costa rica rainforest selva bananito lodge

german shepherd in rainforest costa rica selva bananito

selva bananito reserve nature costa rica scenery misty

poisonous frog selva bananito costa rica wildlife rainforest

Image by Andy Trace. 

crab in rainforest costa rica

strawberry frog costa rica rainforest selva bananito

old english sheepdog costa rica rainforest selva bananito

selva bananito lodge eco friendly costa rica travel

cool frog picture poisonous costa rica rainforest

Image by Andy Trace. 

girocopter selva bananito costa rica Cayman pond costa rica

costa rica selva bananito lodge

Image by Andy Trace. 

costa rica rainforest excursion selva bananito

DSC06509 DSC06275 DSC06260

Image by Andy Trace. 

Beautiful Poas Volcano Lodge

We went from the humid depths of the forest to the cool fresh (and slightly stinky) volcanic air. It was a wonderful relief to spend a night recuperating after the jam-packed schedule at Selva. On the way we squeezed in a trip to the Jaguar Rescue centre near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. It’s a surf town with a very hippy/relaxed vibe and beautiful Caribbean beaches.

At the rescue centre we met an injured baby sloth, some adorable monkeys, a very friendly deer and the resident peccary (wild pig). As far as we could tell the rescue centre was doing some great work caring for injured animals and attempting to release them back into the wild. My favourite part of our visit was watching a pig playing with his best buddy, a domestic dog. Oh, and the pig opening a door with his snout. #skills

I think of all the hotels we stayed in, Poas Volcano Lodge had the most impressive interior. Rustic yet luxurious rooms and a grand reception area with striking wooden beams. And the suit the boys were in – well that was epic. I think as well as all the obvious things, a marker of a quality hotel is the breakfast. The Insta-worthiness of the granola here was off the charts.

poas volcano lodge costa rica eco friendly hotel

Working with the conservation team at Osa

Our next stop was the research centre on the Osa Peninsula. We got a private transfer most of the way, then got a local 4×4 taxi for the remainder of the journey. On this taxi ride we saw more wildlife than we’d seen on the entire trip so far.

We got to see our first glimpse of wild monkeys, and we saw not one, not two, but three different species within about ten minutes. Remember Marcel from friends – he’s a white-faced capuchin and we saw a few of his mates. We also watched as spider monkeys jumped athletically from tree to tree and heard the howler monkeys making a racket above us.

Did you know spider monkeys are endangered, and in most places around the world, pretty difficult to find? In fact, some people spend their whole career trying to find these cheeky monkeys. But things are different in Osa, the most biologically intense place on the planet. Spider monkeys are flourishing and can be seen showing off their acrobatics hopping from tree to tree.

Osa is home to the tallest canopy in Central America. It got separated from the mainland and nurtured an immense concentration of life. Just like anywhere, but perhaps more so in the Osa, there’s a fragile web of interactions between many different plants and animals. The staff explained that here there are more biological interactions than a tropical rainforest.

Jaguars prowl the jungle paths (though it’s extremely rare to see one), howler monkeys wake you in the morning with their incessant calls and toads hop across the path in front of you. Yes, this place certainly packs a punch when it comes to wildlife.

The Osa Conservation research centre is located in an open clearing in the forest which makes it feel kind of magical. The accommodation is basic, but comfortable. Thank god for my mosquito nest protecting me from the birds and bats flapping above my bed during the night. The rainforest shower is ahhmazing. You can literally shower naked with monkeys and birds looking down on you from the trees.

During our stay we got to do some seriously cool things. Like looking for wild cat footprints (five types of cats live here including pumas and jaguars). We actually found where a jaguar had recently urinated and the guide said it was recent and that the cat could still be in the vicinity which was very exciting!!

Perhaps my most memorable moment was moving a baby sea turtle nest from a treacherous spot to a safe haven (the hatchery) on the other side of the beach, and then releasing the babies into the ocean the very next morning. #allthefeels

We also went to catch some enormous shrimp. I held one and the dude flicked sand in my eye somehow. I tried desperately to avoid those hefty pincers. The team also took us to their farm to show us some of the plant and tree species in their rewilding programme.

Oh and there’s no way I’m ever going to forget going on a night walk in the forest. I’ll be honest, I kept it together, but I was shitting myself. You wear a torch on your head, which means all the mosquitos and insects get in a buzz of excitement and happily fly into your face.

Every step you take (nothing to do with the song) you see some kind of strange insect or creepy crawly. We saw two baby sneaks, and yes, because apparently, I’ve secretly got balls of steel, I held one. We saw frogs, caterpillars, snakes, toads, the biggest darn cockroach I’ve ever seen and shit loads of scary spiders.

But I survived. I did it. And I’m super proud and so glad I didn’t chicken out. Because despite some of the animals being a bit gross, it was really interesting. Have you ever been terrified and intrigued at the same time? It’s an odd combo. You want to run away and hide and then you’re like oh wait, look at this fascinating fella.

The staff at Osa Conservation were brilliant, all very passionate and great personalities. I was honoured to get an insight into their world, if only for a short time.

sea turtle green baby release hatchling costa rica osa conservation team osa peninsula costa rica green sea turtle hatchery costa rica conservation osa conservation team accommodation

IMG_2194 river osa peninsula costa rica IMG_2187

turtle conservation costa rica osa conservation be1cbf89-e726-4e7e-9946-4a0112c00332

Image by Andy Trace. 

IMG_2185

Gaia Hotel – a taste of luxury within a wildlife reserve

Ohhh I loved this hotel. I don’t know if it was because we’d just come from staying in bunk beds in the rainforest, but regardless, it’s a fab place. The pool was soooo Instagram worthy I practically took pictures the whole time.

They’ve got a multi-level infinity pool that’s slap bang in the depths of the forest. Apparently, you can see sloths, birds and monkeys in the trees, though we were treated to a visit from an iguana who sauntered along the pool edge.

The views from the restaurant balcony are absolutely breathtaking, and you get pretty much the same sweeping landscape view from your villa balcony. We had a three-story villa with a hot tub and it was the stuff of dreams. Excuse me while I just imagine sitting in that hot tub during a bright orange sunset whilst sipping on champers. This is the perfect hotels for couples looking for a lavish romantic break with adventures on the doorstep.

gaia hotel pool costa rica gaia hotel costa rica infinity pool gaia hotel lizard

gaia hotel balcony costa rica view

gaia hotel costa rica infinity pool eco companion pool views

3c250ae7-ce9e-4f0c-bf83-f5c7a304ab4f

Image by Andy Trace. 

Let’s go to the beach – Hotel Bosque del Mar

Though we were by the coast at Osa, the sea wasn’t safe for swimming (you’d get swallowed by the waves). We drove past several gorgeous beaches but this was our first proper taste of Costa Rican beach life.

We stayed in the Hotel Bosque Del Mar in Playa Hermosa. It’s not often you get to combine the branches of the jungle with sandy shores and a refreshing pool all in one place. The hotel is located right on the beach, so you can go from sunbathing by the pool to swimming in the warm seas. Both nights we stayed here the beach sunsets were unreal. It was the perfect place to finish off our trip and enjoy some much-needed down-time after practically travelling all around the country in just 13 days.

DSC08659

bosque del mar costa rica green hotel

bosque del mar pool hotel costa rica

Does the Ecotourism King deserve its crown?

In summary, yes. Hell yes. Every place we went had measures in place to try and be more sustainable. We met owners and people within the tourism industry who have clearly made it their mission to promote green travel.

Jurgen at Selva, the team at Osa Conservation – everyone was so inspiring. As with any place there’s always room for improvement, and we obviously only met a few ecotourism heroes, which doesn’t paint the entire picture. But on the whole, I was impressed.

Costa Rica is a very special place with warm people, diverse scenery, amazing wildlife and most importantly, a fantastic attitude. I’m so grateful that I got the chance to experience the real Costa Rica. I’d like to say thank you for Eco Companion for making this happen. If you want to do some of the stuff we did, they’re the people to talk to. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our adventures.

Check out this video I made of my trip :-)

And here are a few more pics for your viewing pleasure…

15036644_10154454436406998_4729010977821920332_n IMG_0048 (1)

IMG_2066

IMG_2081

IMG_2073

osa peninsula costa rica

DSC06245

IMG_6515

IMG_6865 2

baby monkey pics costa rica rescue centre

snake costa rica baby

IMG_6661

DSC06715

DSC06637

IMG_6675