Hannah Cuss, tailor-made’s Customer Services and Product Executive, writes about her exciting road trip around Costa Rica and Panama.
“After arriving into San Jose, I headed out to Poas Volcano National Park. A short walk uphill took me to the primary crater where, unfortunately, it was really cloudy. After 20 minutes or so, the clouds didn’t look like they were going to clear so I walked along another trail to Botos Lagoon, a secondary crater filled with bright green rainwater. I returned to the primary crater just as the clouds were clearing, allowing me to see the different levels of volcanic rock leading down into the crater where sulphuric smoke puffs out.
My trip continued to Doka Coffee Estate, a finca that produces some of Costa Rica’s finest coffee. The estate is set in beautiful manicured grounds with brightly coloured heliconia, pink ginger, gigantic purple Dutch pipe flowers and bird of paradise plants. There is also a butterfly house full of colourful butterflies and moths. On the way back to San Jose I stopped at the small town of Grecia where I visited a large church made entirely of sheet metal, followed by a stop in the village of Sarchi, known for its colourfully decorated ox carts.
I then headed out to Manuel Antonio National Park. An easy morning trek with a guide enabled us to spot two and three-toed sloths, a variety of humming birds, racoons, spiders, basilisk lizards, iguanas, white-faced capuchin monkeys and a toucan. The walk ended with a quick swim in the sea…it would have been rude not to! My hotel was on the beach just outside the park, so an early morning stroll was on the agenda and some last minute wildlife watching as I spotted some squirrel monkeys in the grounds of the hotel, before I departed for Monteverde.
This morning I went on an exciting, scary and exhilarating zip wire through the Selvatura Reserve. It was really good fun and although I was a little apprehensive at first, when a four-year old child went down, I could hardly turn back. And I’m so glad I didn’t! Following this I explored the tree canopy on the tree-top walkways, where I spotted lots of birdlife, unfortunately not a quetzal, although many others I have spoken to were lucky enough to see them. Afterwards I spent some time in the hummingbird gardens where a variety of tiny and larger birds whizzed past, almost dancing around us. I also got to visit the butterfly garden. Tomorrow I head to La Fortuna to see Arenal volcano."
"En route from Monteverde to Arenal, I stopped to watch a troop of howler monkeys playing in a tree, had great views of the famous volcano and arrived at the hotel just in time for an afternoon walk in the national park! The route took us along the old lava flow trail of 1968. After the hike I stopped at the hot springs. The man-made resort offers three and a half hectares of tropical gardens with different levels of hot water pools where the thermal water is pumped up from the ground. With waterfalls, slides and natural saunas this is a great place for everyone to enjoy. In the morning I walked to Catarata Rio Fortuna, a 70-metre high waterfall, for a refreshing swim.
My journey continued by road and then by boat to Tortuguero. I had a quick look around the small village and in the evening arranged to go to the beach to see if any turtles were nesting, a few had been seen recently. At around 8pm I arrived at the beach where the guide explained that no more than 10 people at a time are allowed to be near the turtles. Silently, by moonlight, I walked to where a leatherback turtle had been spotted. She was huge, sweeping and patting down the sand. Her eggs had already been laid and she was covering them up to protect them from predators. All of a sudden a big wave came up and snapped her out of her trance-like state; she let out a large huff, gave up on the nest and headed back out to sea.
We then got a call from one of the patrol guards who said a green turtle had just arrived further up the beach. We had to wait, so as not to disturb the turtle, while she found a place she was happy with. When we were able to go onto the beach we found a much smaller turtle; she had already made her nest and had started to lay the eggs. After around 10 minutes the hole was filled with between 80-120 eggs and she started to cover them up as the leatherback had done. I think this is one of the most magical and moving things I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
The following morning I had a very early start with a boat trip through the canals in the national park; just a few of us on the boat, the driver and a symphony of frogs, crickets, cicadas, parrots and howler monkeys. I saw toucans, anhingas, caimen, bats and spider monkeys.
In the afternoon I left for Cahuita and also visited Puerto Viejo. They are both very chilled out, Caribbean-style small towns with a variety of bars and restaurants. A nice relaxing vibe after a few very busy days is just what I needed. From Cahuita I travelled over the border to Panama, then by boat to Bocas Del Toro and Isla Colon. The island is quite large but the town itself is only small. The Caribbean-influenced wooden buildings are painted blue, green, yellow and red, and it seems like a very happy and relaxed town. Tomorrow I‘m off to explore some of the other islands and the national park…
"The next couple of days were spent exploring the islands and mangroves forests within Bocas del Toro. The first stop was Dolphin Bay and Dolphin Lagoon. As the name suggests, it is a good place to stop and watch the dolphins playing in the water. After only a few minutes wait, they showed up; I just sat back and watched the display as they jumped out of the water and chased each other around the boats.
Next on the agenda was Coral Caye for some snorkelling. The water was so clear. I saw bright red fire and deep purple coral, and an array of brightly-coloured fish. A relaxing lunch overlooking the sea was followed by a trip to Red Frog Island. This is a small island with a lovely sandy beach and a good place to spot the tiny red frogs. The following day I had a morning visit to Bocas del Drago for Star Beach; aptly named for its abundance of huge red and orange star fish that live in the clear waters. I didn’t need to snorkel here; just looking over the side of the boat was enough to see the sandy bed covered with them.
That afternoon I took a flight from Bocas del Toro to Panama city. Next morning I went up to Ancon Hill where the views over the city were amazing. The hill was under U.S. jurisdiction as part of the Panama Canal Zone; however when the Panamanian’s took over control of the canal, it was turned into a small nature reserve. On one side of the hill the canal can be seen, and if you time it right you can see the ships coming in and out. On the other side the main city and Casco Viejo, the old city, can be seen.
Panama city was a lot larger and more modern than I had expected. My city tour continued to Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in 1671 after the destruction of Panama Viejo. It has a very Spanish Colonial feel to it. The shop and home fronts have wooden or iron balconies full of flowers in bloom. There is a lot of work going into this part of the city and many of the derelict building are getting a well-spent face lift. I then headed to the Panama Canal and the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center where the process and history of the canal was explained. My guide had timed our visit right and as we got to the viewing platform two enormous freight container ships were coming through. With only a foot between the ship and the side of the canal it was amazing to watch them go through without any problems.
On my last morning in Panama I headed out of the city to visit the Embera Indians. Living within the Chagres National Park on the shores of the Chagres River, the community still maintains many of their traditions. They explain how they build their stilt houses and make their beaded clothes, jewellery and wicker bowls. The visit ended with a dance from the ladies, while the men played homemade instruments. After an exciting morning, unfortunately my Central American journey had come to an end and I headed back to sunny Farnborough."
Explore Tailormade can offer fully bespoke journeys through Costa Rica. You can talk to Hannah personally to get her tips on your perfect trip to this wonderful Central American country. Our Americas regional specialists, Hanna and Maria, will also be able to help. Call 0844 875 1890 for more details.