Monday, March 16, 2015

Costa Rica Ecotrip



It's been over a month since we returned from our trip to Costa Rica. People liked to ask if it was a delayed honeymoon, since that is becoming more common these days. However, I maintain that even though the trip we took right after our wedding was short and fairly local (to the Berkshires), it definitely felt like a honeymoon, as we were still basking in the newness of being married. Instead, I call this our First Married Trip, and it was amazing. Evan and I have both been to Costa Rica before, and we had always wanted to go together.

I faced my fears and flew in a 12-person plane.

I searched high and low for an ecolodge that would offer both rainforest and beach, and I found a real gem -- Saladero Ecolodge, located in the southwest of Costa Rica, across from the Osa Peninsula on the inside of the Golfo Dulce. Because it's on a gulf and not the ocean, the water is warmer, calmer, and better suited for swimming and kayaking. The property is located right on Piedras Blancas National Park and is only accessible by boat. To get there, we had to stay overnight after arriving in San Jose, fly an hour on a tiny plane the next morning, followed by a 45 minute boat ride. I had a lot of anxiety about traveling to such a remote place, but the tiny plane ride was smoother than I expected, and once we settled in, I realized it was very much worth the trip. We'd love to go back someday, maybe with our families.


 Saladero Ecolodge is down there in one of those coves on the Golfo Dulce

Approaching Saladero

Evan had been to a similar ecolodge, Tiskita Jungle Lodge, with his family before and loved it, which is what inspired our trip, but like many Costa Rican ecolodges, Tiskita is quite expensive at $300-400 a night. Saladero offers a great deal, since it's much more affordable at $200-$260 a night, which includes all food and most activities. It is very self directed, so we were free to do whatever activities we pleased whenever we wanted. We only paid extra to take a special kayak tour through one the world's oldest mangrove forests, which was worth it to glide through the quiet, primordial-feeling corridors of those giant trees.

 Our cabin


 The view from our cabin

In true ecolodge fashion, there was limited electricity powered mostly by solar energy. I'm normally a night owl, so it felt refreshing to wake up early and fall asleep more in tune with the natural rhythms of the sun. It was hot midday, but cooled off at night so we were okay without air conditioning -- much more comfortable than the nighttime heat when I stayed at a Virgin Islands ecolodge. The meals were a real treat. Much of the delicious food came from the property -- bananas, pineapples, juices, root vegetables, chickens, eggs, and even homemade coconut oil.

The banana garden at Saladero

Pathways lined by pineapple plants

Our days went something like this: Wake up early to coffee and a delicious breakfast in the open air dining area overlooking the gulf. Go for a morning hike on one of the three trails through the rainforest to see what wildlife we could see. Take a kayak out on a fifteen minute ride to a nearby beach with a coral reef offshore. Snorkel among vivid hued fish. Take some time to savor being alone on a quiet, tropical beach. Return to the ecolodge in time for lunch and look up what fish we saw. In the midday heat, retreat to the cool shade of the hammock grove for reading and napping. Later in the afternoon, take another walk in the woods. Or practice yoga on a platform tent overlooking the gardens. Or try fishing.

For happy hour, head to the main house for to enjoy chips and salsa and cold beers while indulging in the one hour of internet availability. Watch the daily evening storm clouds roll in and multicolored sunsets descend over the gulf. Eat a communal dinner and delicious coconut desserts with the other guests to the glow of solar lanterns. Retreat to our cabin to play cards or do crossword puzzles and read before bed. Wake up and repeat for several luxurious days.

The whole experience felt like a good balance of indulging and relaxing, but in a healthy way. Because we were able to get out in the forest and water most days, we saw a lot of birds, fish and other wildlife (see our 40+ species identification list below). I haven't typically been as into birding as Evan, but even I got into the act, since I was the one who spotted the howler monkeys and an owl.


Evan seeing what he could see in Piedras Blancas National Park


Enjoying the hammock grove


Snorkeling at the nearby coral beach

 


Evan caught a fish on his very first cast, and then of course none after that.





Sunsets over the Golfo Dulce

Early morning river tour

Kayaking through one of the world's oldest mangrove forests

White faced capuchin monkey


Mottled owl at Finca Rosa Blanca

We had a coda to our trip because our return home was delayed by a few days by a snowstorm. That sounds like a dream, but it was actually a bit stressful. Moreso because neither of us speak Spanish. Due to timing, we had already left the ecolodge by the time our flight was changed, so we had to figure out last minute where to stay near San Jose instead. (Which is not the nicest area of Costa Rica). We had to show up at a hotel in Alajuela hoping they would have a room open, which they just barely did.

I then took Evan to Finca Rosa Blanca, a Rainforest Alliance certified coffee farm and luxury hotel. I had taken their coffee tour on my work trip to Costa Rica three years ago and knew Evan would love it. The tour is very informative not just about how they grow their coffee sustainably, but also about the general process of coffee from cherry to cup. It was an unexpected splurge to stay overnight, but we took full advantage by staying more than 24 hours to enjoy the pool, grounds, and open-air lounge area, before returning for one more night at a budget hotel in Alajuela.


The main lodge at Finca Rosa Blanca

Our private patio at Finca Rosa Blanca, overlooking the San Jose valley


Organic coffee farm at Finca Rosa Blanca

While we hadn't felt up to venturing on a long public bus ride to another region, we did successfully navigate taking a bus between Alajuela and Santa Barbara to get to Finca Rosa Blanca. The buses seem like a pretty reliable form of public transportation both within and between cities there, like in New York.

Our last morning in Costa Rica felt like bittersweet deja vu. There we were having breakfast in the courtyard of the same hotel as our first morning there, again preparing to head off to the airport, but this time to end our journey instead of to begin it.

Hotel Los Volcanes, our first and our last morning in Costa Rica

(Mostly spotted at Saladero Eco Lodge)

Birds and Mammals
Yellow-headed caracara / laughing falcon?
Magnificent Frigate bird
Cormorant
Great egret
Scarlet macaw
Cherrie’s tananger
Blue-gray tananger
Chestnut-mandibled toucan
Black vulture
Golden-naped woodpecker
Lineated woodpecker
White hawk (hunting from limb)
Blue morpho butterfly
Hummingbird (one of the hermits)
Little blue heron
Boat-billed flycatcher or great kiskadee
Howler monkeys
Variable seedeater
Ringed kingfisher
Boat-billed heron
Pan-tropical dolphin
Orange-billed sparrow
Great currassao
White-faced capuchin
Blue-crowned motmot
Montezuma oropendola
Brown jay
Hoffmann’s woodpecker
Mottled owl
White-eared ground sparrow
Scorpion

Fish
Panamic sgt. Major
Cortez rainbow wrasse (male and female)
Cortez angel fish
Parrotfish
Panamic nightsergeant
Green moray eel
Barberfish
Scissortail damselfish
Pana grayshy
3-banded butterfly fish
southern stingray
triggerfish

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful adventure- Costa Rica sounds divine! Also, super exciting about your owl spotting. My husband and I recently watched a pbs doc on owls and we are pretty much obsessed...they are the coolest creatures! :)

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