Costa Rica Adventure Part 6 – El Mangroove and snorkelling

Soon we were headed out to the ocean, spotting pelicans, frigate birds and large tuna fish breaking the surface of the water.

After about an hour exploring the coast, we anchored in a bay and were given the opportunity to don snorkel, face mask and fins and dip beneath the surface of the water into an altogether different world.

Coral, brightly coloured tropical fish, sea urchins, sea horses and a large turtle were spotted.  I got quite carried away in my underwater world, and by the time boatman Andy called to me to tell me I should head back to the boat, I was somewhat surprised to see just how far I had travelled.  Thank goodness for flippers.  It took a good ten minutes of thrashing to get back.

Here I got the opportunity to try out our sports/underwater camera for the first time.  I have to say I was fairly impressed with the results, even if the filming was a bit naff and I didn’t have the sound on (or maybe I did, but the camera was in a waterproof case).

When viewing the underwater film, be patient – there are fish!

After more sea bass ceviche and fresh fruit, we headed out to Monkey Rock.  Not difficult to see how it got its name!

One downside of a boat trip is that you don’t realise just how hot it is.  We reached the dingy (much easier to get down onto a dingy than to climb of it it).  At shore, we walked over the wet sand…. Onto the dry black sand and then…. “Oooowww!!!  Hot, hot!”.  The sand was  burning hot.  Andy ran ahead into the shade of the palms whilst I tried to put my flip-flops on!  I was fortunate not to have blisters, but most definitely my feet were tender for several hours afterwards.

Day 15 and our homewards trip to San Jose Airport.  We had discovered that the snow we had left behind had returned in our absence!  The flight was delayed by 3 ½ hours….  and the journey to the airport took less time than expected so it was a 7 hour wait to take off.  How on earth (we wondered) would we cope with a temperature of -1 degrees which awaited us after the scorching 35 degree temperatures we had grown used to?

Costa Rica is a truly stunning country.  Small, diverse and very beautiful.   It’s people are kind, considerate and helpful.  Nothing is too much for them and people will help you however they are able to.  The people may not have huge monetary wealth, but they are some of the happiest and most content people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.  Their wealth is in their beautiful countryside, abundance of tropical fruit and warm sunshine.  In fact the Costa Ricans have one of the best life expectancies.  When you ask local people about this, they believe it’s because many people work in fairly physically demanding jobs (most of the agriculture / harvesting we saw was manual), enjoy fantastic family and community support and don’t have to deal with high levels of stress.

We were lucky to see so much of this lovely place and its varied wildlife, plants and trees.  We got the feeling that there was so much more that we hadn’t had the time to see.

So who knows….. one day we may return.  That’s a real incentive to maintain my fitness and weight loss!

Talking of weight, the scales told me I had GAINED about a stone when I stood on them on our return.  I am pleased to report that with a concerted effort and lots of healthy eating, I have managed to drop that to just 4lbs in time for my first weigh in.

But MAN those cocktails were good!

Four Seasons Resort – stunning views I should imagine!
Snorkeling beach


Our own boat!
Monkey Head Rock
Our (very hot) beach
Our (very hot) beach
Waiting for the dingy, the two Andys
Our (very hot) beach
The Papagayo Peninsula was lacking in…. green
Our beach
Every hotel room should have one
Beach hut
Our beach
Our sunbathing spot

Costa Rica Adventure Part 5 – Papagayo Gulf

The Papagayo Peninsula was lacking in…. green

Day 11, and we were collected by our driver Oscar, who spoke just a few words of English and who (thankfully) turned out to be a more considerate drive than Christian.

After a trip lasting about three hours westwards heading across country we spotted the Pacific Ocean.  Our destination was the Papagayo Gulf and the El Mangroove Hotel.

This was very, very different to previous hotels – modern, large and very square.  I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about this initially.  Inside the room, we could have been anywhere – very unlike previous places where we’d been in the midst of nature.  Once we had explored a little, the public areas of the hotel had a far more relaxed feel about them and once we spotted the beach – well, the hotel grew in my estimation.

We found our way to the open and thatched Matiss beach bar where we enjoyed lunch and an Imperial beer (a local Costa Rican beer which we really liked).  We were rather shocked by the lack of reaction from other guests when a 3ft long iguana strolled across the sandy floor the bar.  No, this isn’t the start of a joke and there is no punch line….  Once we had been at the hotel longer, we realised that the local iguana are plentiful, quite tame and enjoy human contact (or at least, seem unpeturbed by it).

Watermelon Mojito in Matiss Beach Bar

The final four days of our holiday involved plenty of relaxation and a boat trip.  We hired a twin engine boat and crew to take us on a morning trip out of the cove and to try snorkelling.  Getting into the boat proved somewhat of a challenge – we were taken out to the boat which was anchored about 20 metres off shore in a dingy.  Getting from the dingy (which was about 4ft lower than the boat) involved Andy lifting me to stand on top of the bouncy rubber side.  The dingy was safely tied to the boat, but this did not prevent a sideways movement, causing me to slide sideways and Andy to almost topple into the bottom of the dingy.  I was caught just in time by a member of the crew who hauled me aboard.  I only wish I could have seen the expression on his face, as I am sure he was somewhat shocked at how such a little person could be quite as heavy!  But I made been making the most of the lovely Costa Rican cuisine and had managed to work my way through most of the cocktail menu.

Mr Iguana – posing for the camera
Our peaceful sunbathing spot
The (very hot) beach
Coati paw prints on the beach
Great Egret
The (very hot) beach
Every hotel room should have one!

Costa Rica Adventure Part 4 – La Campesina Organic Farm

Day 9 we visited Vida Campesina (Country Life) – an family run organic farm and coffee plantation. The tour allowed us to experience life in the Costa Rican countryside with a farming family that grow typical crops in a traditional way without using sustainable agricultural techniques.

Erasmo Gonzales operates his organic farm with his four children Greivin, José, Andrea and Noyleen. We visited various cultivated sections of the farm where we learned about Costa Rican crops such as coffee, bananas, plantains, sugar cane, red taro, white taro, medicinal plants, ñampi, tropical fruits, yuca, Chinese “potato”, papaya, corn, rice, ñame, annatto, and more.   The farms various animals including cattle, chickens, sheep, and rabbits, whose organic waste is converted to biogas and an organic foliar fertilizer.  We were educated about the coffee production process and shown how the beans are roasted.  So here is a short guide to the common coffee roasts from light to dark…. Lighter roasts have more acidity than darker roasts. Light roasted beans are dry, while darker roasts develop oil on the bean surface. The caffeine level decreases as the roast gets darker.

We enjoyed a cup of fresh coffee, brewed in the traditional way with a “sock” alongside roasted plantains and homemade tortilla.

At the end of the farm tour, we had a go at making tortilla, which we enjoyed alongside a traditional lunch with freshly harvested vegetables.  We then sat and enjoyed the stunning views into a tree lined valley from high up in the restaurant, spotting several beautiful birds and large iguana sunning themselves in the tops of the neighbouring trees.

Our knowledgeable guide for the visit to the Gonzalez Organic Farm
Vida Campesina Restaurant
Iguana sunning itself
A cocoa pod
Inside the cocoa pod.  The beans are coated in a sweet white furry pulp
Crops in the Vida Campesina
These are pepper corns
Our own homemade tortilla with chicken, black beans, rice and vegetables, plus beef stew
Fried Plantain and spicy tortilla.  Anything goes together on a plate in Costa Rica at each and every meal!

Day 10 was a day of relaxation, which was welcomed as it was so hot and extremely humid.  In fact, we were forced into the comfort of our air-conditioned room for a few hours.

We did briefly consider visiting one of the many natural hot springs in the area, but it was so hot and so humid that sitting in hot water was probably the last thing we wanted to do, so we tried the swimming pool instead!

me in pool 2
Cooling off in the pool



Costa Rica Adventure Part 3 – Arenal Volcano

Day 8, we were back on the boat to the local dock and then the long bumpy coach journey which returned us to Guapiles – this time for lunch ahead of the next leg of our journey to Arenal – a national park which is home to the highly active Arenal volcano.

Our driver, Christian, picked us up in a Toyota Hilux 4×4 and I was instructed to sit in the front.  This was to prove to be an exciting experience – for all of the wrong reasons.

As we left Guapiles, we were lucky to see a wake of vultures enjoying a feeding frenzy on a python – which appeared to have succumbed to a trucks wheels judging by its flattened appearance.  Python Pizza!  It was HUGE, around 6ft in length and quite meaty.  The vultures were not complaining at their feast.

Christian was either a frustrated rally driver, or he needed to get back home for dinner by a certain time.  The Costa Rican roads are variable, but one thing they have in common is lots of bends, lots of VERY large trucks (no railways to transport goods), many potholes, domestic dogs and other wildlife which decide to cross over at any point, people stood in the middle of busy roads selling goods… and Costa Rican drivers who don’t believe in using indication of any sort.  Throw into the mixture motorcycles, bicycles VERY large trucks and pedestrians (who are confined to a narrow unmade strip to use right at the end of the tarmac) and it makes for a very exhilarating drive.

Some may consider it exhilarating, but I spent most of the time completely terrified, as Christian also frequently checked his mobile phone, and used both of his hands to take a certificate from an envelope to show us his recent English exam results!  This bought a whole new meaning to the phrase “hands free”!

We arrived at Arenal before sunset and to our hotel Lomas del Volcan.  Here we had an amazing view as our hotel stood at the foot of the volcano.  Our bungalow was luxurious compared to previous accommodation – it also had glass in the windows and air conditioning, which proved crucial in the humidity.

Arenal Volcano
View of the volcano from the hotel, Lomas del Volcan
Pool with a stunning view
View into the valley from our bungalow


Costa Rica Adventure Part 2 – Tortuguero

Day 5 – We were collected in the very early hours (5.30am!) by the lovely Alex and driven to Guapiles in time for an 8.30am breakfast.  From here, we took a 2 hour coach ride to the dock at La Pavona, driving through the banana plantations and having the opportunity to see a banana production line at work.  At the dock, we transferred into a fast covered boat which travelled along the narrow river channels to our next destination, Evergreen Lodge in Tortuguero.  A highlight of the trip was having some of the passengers disembark to (1) lighten the load and (2) help push the boat through a stretch of water that was particularly shallow due to the lack of recent rain fall.

All aboard the boat!
Wheelchair and all!


Might be tempted!

Tortuguero lays on the northern Caribbean coast and is known for its network of waterways and canals – and the turtles after which it is named.  It’s one of the rainiest parts of Costa Rica, and we did see a shower or two!

Grandpa Jo on the porch a rockin’
No swimming in this river!
View from our room
Bare throated tiger heron

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P1030706 (2)
Agami Heron
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Chestnut Mandibled Toucan


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Room with a view (and no glass in the windows)
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Yes, this will do nicely

Most wildlife watching here is done from the water.  Our room here had a veranda with two rocking chairs.  Two HUGE beds and windows which were mesh rather than glass.  Great for keeping out the mosquitos, but not so great for keeping out the sound of the howler monkeys and people walking past the room on early morning trips.

Here, Andy had the opportunity to have a go at zip lining – traversing the tree canopies whilst hanging from a wire.  We took a boat to visit Tortuguero village – built on a tiny strip of land no more than 400m wide.  To get a real feel for this place, it is worth watching this video.  One side is the rough Caribbean sea and turtle nesting beaches and the other is flanked by the network of canals and rivers which make up the Tortuguero National Park.

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Turtle breeding beach, Tortuguero

Here we saw a poison dart frog (tiny but very poisonous – in fact one of the most poisonous animals alive) – thankfully easy to spot as it crossed the path in front of us on account of its bright red colour.

Blue Crab
The very poisonous Dart Frog


Costa Rica Adventure Part 1 – Gatwick to San Jose

What does Costa Rica have to do with weight loss and fitness you may ask?

One huge incentive and reward of my weight loss and fitness journey over the past 6 years has been improving my ability to be more active.  There was a time when I could barely stand long enough to fill my car with diesel without becoming breathless and panicky.

Last year, we undertook our very first Safari holiday.  It was jolly hard work (a long haul flight, lots of travelling, lots of very early mornings).  It involved travelling in jeeps, several light aircraft, a helicopter and walking through the sands of the Kalahari.

Although exhausting in many respects, the rewards were many – the wonderful places we visited and the animals we were lucky enough to see roaming in their natural habitat.

The success of the trip was very much down to Tribes, the travel company we used to tailor our holiday to my needs.  This was a holiday where we undertook a lot of activities, but the planned had been planned to include rest/relaxation days and time to recover our energy.

We used Tribes again to arrange this years trip.  We’d decided upon Costa Rica and Tribes put together a very full itinerary covering five different locations right around this small country.

A few days ahead of departure, the South of England was covered with snow with the threat of more to follow.  We thought it wise to book overnight into a hotel close to Gatwick and we were glad we did, as more snow arrived.

View from our hotel window

After an 11 hour British Airways flight (thankfully not delayed by the weather) we landed in the capital city, San Jose.  Immediately outside of arrivals, the small airport was absolutely crammed with people waving boards with names on them.  Somehow we were lucky enough to spot our name on a board and after collecting our bags were herded towards our waiting…. coach!  For some bizarre reason, we had a whole 30 seater coach just for the two of us and our tour guide.  Plenty of room for luggage and the wheelchair!

We were driven through the chaotic traffic to our first hotel, Hotel Presidente.  As a city centre hotel, this was fine for our first nights stay and we enjoyed a meal of sea bass ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime juice,  coriander and spices) alongside a watermelon mojito on the roof terrace.  It was an early night – heading to bed to prepare ourselves for long drive early the following morning.

Our driver, Alex who was waiting in reception the next morning was amazing.  Speaking excellent English and a wealth of knowledge about the country, the culture, the people, the animals, the economy….  For the duration of our lengthy drive out of the city and towards Peurto Veijo de Limon (some 4 hours) we treated to lots of interesting information about the scenery and places we passed.

The number one export of Costa Rica is no longer coffee – but pineapples!  In fact they are the global leaders in pineapple production, supplying 60% of worldwide exports.  Three quarters of the pineapples found on supermarket shelves were grown in this tiny Country, all planted and harvested by hand.  Take a look at this incredible video!

Lunch stop en route with Alex

Shawandha Lodge on the southern Caribbean coast was our next port of call.  A small hotel comprising 14 self-contained bungalows set in 5 acres of lush tropical gardens, each with their own veranda and hammock.  The bungalows were basically furnished, but spotlessly clean and we were treated to being able to see wild life passing our front door including an agouti!  We were surrounded by the sounds of birds calling and howler monkeys howling – the howler monkey makes quite a frightening sound and usually at night.  Once you know what causes the sound, it seems a little less threatening.

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Peurto Viejo
Peurto Viejo beach
Peurto Viejo beach
Peurto Viejo town, a real Caribbean feel going down
Enjoying a well earned rest!

Whilst there, we visited the lovely beach at Puerto Viejo and also the Cahuita National Park where we saw a Jesus Lizard, the venomous eyelash viper and plenty of monkeys (howler, spider and capuchin).  From there we were driven to The Tree of Life rescue centre.  The centre rescues animals in need, rehabilitating them and then releasing them back into their natural environment.  There we met Chewi, the blind kinkajou, many monkeys, sloths, a jaguarondi, turtles, deer, coati and many more.  We were also able to buy chocolate made at the centre.

Jesus Lizard


Eyelash Viper