Trip to Costa Rica

Dawning of Day One

If your day starts at 2:30am does that count as getting up in the middle of the night or is it early morning? With my internal clock already scrambled by Sunday’s change to Daylight Savings Time and a drive across a time zone it didn’t seem to matter that we needed to be ready at 3:00am to catch our shuttle to the airport. I woke up even before the 2:40 alarm and, thankfully, could get up without having the sound of an alarm startle me out of sleep.

This was our first experience with Spirit airlines, leaving from Dallas Fort Worth Airport, which we have experienced as a huge, overly busy place.  We wisely made the decision to allow ourselves plenty of time.  All hurdles overcome four hours after getting up I was finally seated on the plane waiting for daylight to arrive.  When light began to dawn out the window I was able to see a cheerful greeting from Spirit on the top of the airplane wing as we were carried over the north top of the Gulf Coast on our way to Orlando, one step closer to this afternoon’s arrival in Costa Rica.

Skipping to Day Three

What happened to Day Two of our exciting adventure vacation in Costa Rica? Thanks to Spirit Airlines with their friendly wing greeting featured in the previous paragraph, Day Two will go down in the history of our travels as one of the worst experiences ever.

All was well on Day One up to the time we settled into our seats for the connecting flight from Orlando to San Jose, Costa Rica.  It would be just 3 hours in the air and we would arrive shortly after lunch to be picked up at the airport and taken to our accommodations in San Jose.  There would be plenty of time to get ourselves oriented before the trip on Day Two to Arenal Volcano.

We never arrived at Arenal Volcano.  A perfect storm combination of mechanical problems, weather impacts at other airports and shortages of personnel turned the last half of our Day One plus our Day Two into a 30 hour wait at Orlando Airport followed by a 3 hour bus ride to Fort Lauderdale to catch a midnight flight to San Jose, having never made it out of the US until Day Three.

I  won’t go into the whole sequence of wild goose chases throughout that 36 hour ordeal as we were tossed hither and yon by Spirit Airlines in their attempts to get us to our destination.  Not to mention trying to contact the travel company in Costa Rica to figure out if and how we could modify the itinerary we had already booked and paid for. At times we were ready to write off the whole trip.  But we cut our losses, paid the extra fees and finally were able to collapse into a comfortable bed at 2am for a few hours of sleep before Day Three would begin our Costa Rica vacation, with Monteverde now the first destination.


Shortly after breakfast we were packed and ready to be picked up for the 3-hour drive to Monteverde Country Lodge, our accommodations for the next two days.  As we ascended the rough, winding road up the mountain the driver could see that we were excited by the surrounding scenery and he accommodated our requests to stop for photographs, as well as picking out spots he knew where we would get the best views.  I was intrigued by the long-eared cattle in the pastures, a different breed than what we see in the US.  A special encounter along the roadway required a stop to get a photo of a friendly vaquero, going about his business for the day.

We were in Monteverde in time for lunch and were just finishing up when an afternoon rain shower delayed our plans for a walk.  It didn’t last long, though, and we still had time to get out and check out our surroundings before the evening’s scheduled activity.

View into courtyard from our room at Monteverde Country Lodge.

Shortly before sunset we were picked up and driven with a small group to a wooded area that had a multitude of trails winding through the forest.  Many groups of people with guides like ours were walking around with flashlights looking up and down, in and around the trees trying to spot sleeping birds, insects, frogs, snakes and any other creatures that might be on the prowl.  Our guide was quite knowledgeable and helped us get the hang of looking through the scope that he could quickly set up to focus on something interesting he had spotted before any of us had a clue that something was there. 

The next day we were scheduled for another guided tour, this one at Monteverde Cloud Forest National Preserve.  Again, our guide was friendly and knowledgeable as he led us on a number of trails helping us spot interesting flora and fauna.  About halfway through the morning it occurred to me that this was St. Patrick’s Day and rather than celebrating with the traditional “wearing o’ the green” our celebration was a “walking in the green.”

Another afternoon rain shower kept us in our room for an hour of rest.  When the skies cleared we set off for a walk to the nearby Monteverde Waterfall. A steep trail led down into a canyon along a stream to the base of the waterfall.

Before breakfast on Day 5 we had time for one last walk around town.  It was then time to pack up and meet our driver for the trip to the coastal town of Manuel Antonio.

Early morning in Monteverde
Leaving Monteverde
Heading back down the mountain.

Manuel Antonio

On this part of our tour we began to appreciate the value of having local drivers to take us to our destinations.  The traffic on the 4-1/2 trip from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio was stop and go for a good part of the way.  As we approached the coast the heat began to build up and I wished that I  had put on lighter clothes.  It was a relief to get to the hotel with its breezy patio and pool area where we could sit in the shade, feeling the ocean breezes and enjoying the complimentary fruit smoothie.

Although our hotel was close to the beach it was high on the cliffs above the ocean and there was not an easy way to get there by walking.  The hotel provided a shuttle, but since the travel company had other plans for our first two days here, we would save a beach trip for the last day.

La Mariposa, our hotel in Manuel Antonio, is the white building high up, barely visible through the trees.
Front gate to La Mariposa
An ice cream shop in town that we enjoyed on more than one occasion.
View of Manuel Antonio public beach from our balcony.  The National Park is on the left.
Sunset view from our balcony.

The activity for our first full day at Manuel Antonio was a guided tour of the nearby National Park.  A loop trail from the entrance went through the jungle and a group of us were led by a guide with a scope and an expert eye for sloths, birds, monkeys, and other fauna hiding in the trees.  My eye was somewhat less than expert so I often had to take his word for it that there was something there.

What I found most interesting about the walk was how the jungle trail suddenly opened up to reveal a sandy beach.  Continuing along the beach a short distance the trail turned back through the forest and brought us to a second beach.  What used to be an island close to the shore was now connected by a short strip of land to the mainland.  To get back to our starting point we were now walking on the other side of the “neck” of land.

Part of Manuel Antonio National Park that once was an island.

Our third day in Manuel Antonio was another jungle trek, but quite different than the others.  A jolting 1-1/2 hour drive up into the mountains east of town brought us to Los Campesinos Ecolodge where our guide, Victor, was waiting to lead us on a hike.  There didn’t appear to be any other guests at the lodge and it was only the three of us going on the hike.  We were offered a snack of pancakes and juice before setting off on the hike.

This was no casual nature stroll, but required 700 feet of elevation gain to get to the top of the mountain.  At one point, we came to the edge of a deep ravine with a rope suspended over it.  My first thought was that we were going to have to hang on to the rope to get across.  As Victor started to reel in the rope I was relieved to see that there was a wire basket for us to stand in while he pulled us across.

After a rest stop to enjoy the view from the top of the mountain we headed back down.  A river crossing on a shaky suspension bridge completed the adventure.  Lunch had been prepared for us, local cuisine cooked on a wood stove, definitely not our usual hiking fare.  Then it was time to be jolted and shaken over the rough roads back to civilization.

Our ride the next day that would take us back to San Jose wasn’t scheduled until afternoon. We had time after breakfast to take the hotel shuttle down to the beach. It was fitting that our beach walk would be on the day of our 25th wedding anniversary.

Celebrating 25 years of marriage.

My experience of Pacific Ocean beaches is that it’s often windy or foggy with water that’s too cold for swimming. But the Pacific Ocean in the tropics is as warm as bath water. I hadn’t come prepared for swimming but as the morning heated up I enjoyed wading through the waves that were breaking on the shore.

If we had been able to sail away on the schooner we might have gotten home sooner! The beginning of our Costa Rica trip was a tale of woe thanks to Spirit Airlines. It didn’t get any better at the end when we once again headed to the airport to place our lives in their incapable hands. But to end this story on a positive note I will save for another day the woeful tale of our journey home.

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