Pura Vida: Costa Rica

Emily Turner goes in search of bugs, butterflies and the joy of the natural world:

Mum, LOOK!” squeaked my youngest, pointing to a 3ft iguana next to the open air reception area where we were checking in. “Oh Jimmy,” laughed his siblings. “It’s wooden.” Jimmy shrugged in an ‘of course, I knew that’ fashion. At which point the lizard, as if in support of our mini Attenborough, flicked its ancient bearded head and sauntered off down the path.

 It was the perfect introduction to Tortuga Lodge, an eco lodge in the Caribbean village of Tortuguero and the rst stop on our Costa Rican adventure. The reason we were here at all was down to Jimmy’s doggedness. Having identified Costa Rica as a cradle of creepy crawlies, bugs, crocodiles and other animals likely to rate highly on Deadly 60, he mounted a one-man campaign for it to be the Turner family Easter destination for 2016. I am still not quite sure how he managed it, but on Good Friday – having had hot cross buns for breakfast in Toronto airport (yes, we flew via Canada and no don’t, there are now direct flights) – we arrived in San Jose airport and picked up our connecting plane to Tortuguero. As we flew over lakes, volcanoes, mountains and acres of rainforest interlaced with waterways, we got a bird’s eye view of the diversity of this tiny gem of a country.

Our landing strip was next to the ocean and we were met by a boat to take us over the water to our lodge. Tortuguero has become a leading eco tourism destination thanks to the sea turtles that come to its protected beaches to lay their eggs. Set in 80,000 acres of national park, the joy for us was not the turtles (it was not egg season) but the boat trips and jungle treks we took with our weatherbeaten guide, Norton. Fortified by a 6am breakfast of rice and plantain, the jungle came alive for us through Norton’s eyes. Tiny red dart frogs, wide- eyed tree frogs, an elusive toucan, huge hairy spiders, glorious ashes of enormous blue morpho butter ies. My normally fidgety teenagers sat in their kayaks for almost half an hour, watching a basilisk lizard as he clung in motionless camou age to a leaf, hoping to outwit a family of monkeys. Jimmy was disappointed not to see a croc but the caimans that were evident for all looked quite croc enough for me.

On our third morning it was time to leave. Having own in, we boated out, along the network of waterways, gradually turning from heavy jungle to wider, buffalo-lined elds until we were met by a 4x4 for section two of our trip: white water rafting. We bumped overland for a couple of hours to reach the Pacuare river – famous for its Class III to IV rapids. We travelled downriver through the steep gorge, gentle rafting (my favourite bit) combined with the high adrenalin of the rapids (everyone else’s). We stopped for lunch and swam in a waterfall while a delicious picnic materialised on the river bank. When we got to the end, four hours without having seen another soul, we were all hooked.

We spent the night outside San Jose and set off early the next morning to the cloud forest of Monteverde. Visiting Costa Rica is a living geography lesson, so many different biospheres are packed into a small area. We had ticked rainforest and were now heading to a primary cloud forest – think the misty but less hot glasshouse at Kew. However, climate change is such that the cloud forest today is rather less cloudy than it used to be. The small Quaker-founded town on the edge of the reserve has a friendly backpacker feel to it and the tiny, brilliantly coloured hummingbirds that abound are stunning, but it lacked the wow factor of the previous days.

From here we transferred to Arenal, home of Costa Rica’s famous volcano. The journey through lush, mountainous uplands felt almost Swiss and ended with a peaceful boat ride across a wide lake, the cloud-topped Mount Arenal towering over one end. Arenal is all about adventure activities. Careful trekking in search of timid creatures this ain’t, but if you go with the flow, it is enormous fun. We visited a hanging bridges park and Jimmy was delighted to find a venomous snake mid-bridge. Rob and the kids went tubing: rubber rings bouncing down waterways and we all went zip wiring. 220ft high over the forest canopy was breathtaking.

Next stop, and mindful that we wanted to combine tourist highlights with less visited areas, Journey Latin America had suggested a couple of days in a national park near the Nicuraguan border, Rincon de la Veja. A dry, arid red land of stark trees, we bathed in sulphorous mud baths and Rob and Jimmy discovered a hidden waterfall.

 

From Rincon, it was a short drive to the Pacific coast and the resort of Tamarindo. A surf dude’s paradise, it was the perfect final destination. Special mention to our hotel, the charming beachfront Capitan Suizo. Relaxed, delicious food, cocktails, ping pong tables on the beach and a gentle stroll along beautiful white sands to the action: surf schools and bars; buzzy but with an easy laid back vibe. Pura Vida. It is a phrase that we heard daily and saw on everything from key rings to t-shirts. The direct translation is simply ‘Pure Life’ but it has a deeper, cultural significance that is harder to put into words. It is what this welcoming, joyful country is all about. 

The Turner family travelled with Journey Latin America. A 14-day family holiday to Costa Rica starts from £3,053pp incl flights, accommodation, excursions, transfers and breakfast. 020 8600 1881 journeylatinamerica.co.uk

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