Monday, January 25, 2010

Costa Rica Winter Getaway ~ Crocs, Volcanoes, Beaches, Cloud Forests, Great People!

Just got back from a spur of the moment winter getaway in Costa Rica! Saw crocs up close in the wild, hiked around the tops of volcanoes in cloud forests, and met lots of great people!

Croc River Boat Ride Costa Rica near Punta Leona

And though I traveled alone, I sure wasn't lonely. Not at all! From the Canadian owner and staff at the Adventure Inn in San Jose, to the guests at this small (34-room) hotel, to my fellow tour takers (Hi to the couple from Atlanta, GA! So glad our paths kept crossing!), to the charming J.R. from Salt Lake City who kept me company at Poas, and to my fellow passengers on AT 257 with whom I spent an extra 2 days in SJO waiting for a new plane to take us back to Toronto.
Beach At Punta Leona Resort Pacific Costa Rica

When I say 'last minute getaway', I mean it literally! From sipping my Saturday morning coffee at 9 a.m. in Port Credit with no thoughts of travel, to picking coffee beans on a Costa Rican coffee estate took 3 days!

That Saturday morning paper had a small Flight Centre ad for a flight to Costa Rica $49, plus $214 taxes, etc round trip. Wouldn't that get your attention? It got mine!

But the catch was the flight left  at the crack of dawn 3 days later. I called to confirm that the flight was still available, then set about finding a place to stay on short notice, in high season.

I'd researched Costa Rica travel a few years ago (see this post and this post), but had opted for the Dominican Republic instead, but at least I had a good idea of what to see, the lay of the land and all the other bits travelers need to know.
Volcano Irazu Costa Rica

I put the 'where to stay' tweet out to my peeps on twitter, then set about googling hotels in CR, and checking fave sites. I honestly can't recall how I found myself on the Adventure Inn site, but it checked all my hotel boxes. Better yet, there is a toll free number for callers from the US and Canada. And one of my tweeps had stayed here and loved it!

A few calls back and forth with hotel, and Flight Centre (Ancaster, ON -  Thanks Patricia!) and I was all booked, though still in my jammies. I looked at the time - 11 a.m.  Just two hours! A new personal best in trip concept to booking!
Cartego Costa Rica Sunday Afternoon

And so it was a few days later, I was with a congenial group hiking about the coffee estate on the way to La Paz volcano and cloud forest at Poas, with bonus aviary, butterfly, humming birds, botanical gardens and waterfalls tours added in for good measure, topped with a fabulous lunch. We were all very happy campers!

Over the course of the week, I took several more tours around the San Jose area. One was to the Pacific beaches and pools at Punta Leona, with a river boat ride to see the crocs and other wildlife (more fabulous meals included), one to Volcano Irazu (11,000+ breathtaking feet above sea level!), and a city tour of San Jose.

But it was not all fun and games. A few hours after I arrived at my hotel I began hearing news of the earthquake in Haiti. Tragic news on its own, more so as I am more directly involved in what happens in Haiti: I run the web site and blog, and handle email inquiries for Starthrower Foundation, a Canadian charity working in Haiti. And the welfare of the kids in Haiti, especially those students we sponsor at a nursing school near Port-au-Prince, took priority over tours. It was a busy, scary time, but almost all of 'our kids' are okay.

Thank heavens and the Adventure Inn for the 24/7 free internet and computers! I lost track of the hours I spent online! But it's precisely because I spent so much time in the computer area of the hotel that I met so many great people, from a fellow charity founder for Circle of Rights to a documentary filmmaker in Toronto to J.R. from Salt Lake City and Manfred from San Jose.
La Paz Volcano Cloud Forest Poas Costa Rica

And due to our delayed flight back to Toronto, I met many, many more great travelers at the airport boarding lounges, then later at our new Air Transat -- provided accommodations at the Best Western Irazu. In fact, we had such a great time meeting one another that a reunion is being planned in Toronto for a few weeks from now. I'll let you know what happens!

Now to get to work on the new Costa Rica section for my web site! And I am already planning a return trip to Costa Rica. There is so much yet to explore!

Here's a sloth I came across:

OH - by the way, Spanish the the official language, though English spoken in tourism areas, and the currency is the CRC (Costa Rica Colon: about 570 CRC = $1 USD)

Here are some guides and Spanish phrasebooks available on Amazon.

Fodor's Costa Rica 2010 (Full-Color Gold Guides)
The New Key to Costa RicaLatin American Spanish: Lonely Planet PhrasebookCollins Latin American Spanish Phrasebook: The Right Word in Your Pocket (Collins Gem)


Sheila and Keith said...

I think I need to hire you for my holiday trips ! You make it sound so easy. Your CR getaway sounds & looks fabulous.

Karen said...

Thanks, Sheila!

Just a charmed trip, that's for sure!

I'd go back in a heartbeat and know I'd not be disappointed or find it any different.

Anonymous said...

Excellent blog post Karen! I loved reading all about finding the advert in the newspaper to actually being there 3 days later!! Wow, you sure jumped on an opportunity!

Loved the stories you wove plus all the great folk you met ... and that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Looking forward to reading about your NEXT addventure, wherever that may lead you!!

Teena Hughes

Meanderer said...

The two words that most come to my mind are GREEN & ENVY.

Karen said...


Hey Megan!

Your time will come!


Karen said...

Thanks, Teena!

I know it will be a surprise for me too!

Though thinking Chile, BsAs and Uruguay again.

Sarah said...

It’s great whenever someone asks me about Costa Rica, best vacation hotels, the real estate investment outlook, or the wellness aspects. I enjoy sharing my experiences in making choices when visiting Costa Rica’s southern Pacific Coast. For more information visit here:

Jo-Anne said...

Karen ... it's awesome that you spontaneously decided to take a trip! :D Looks like you had quite an adventure there.

It's still a shock returning from +30c in Nassau, Bahamas to -24c windchill here in Mississauga. Out birding today and my eyelashes were freezing! (lol)

Karen said...

HI Sarah!

Great site, great country!

Karen said...

Oh Jo-Anne!

You ARE a dedicated birder! Good for you!

Is the Wood Duck still around?

And yes, a big shock from Caribbean, Central America to winter in Canada!

Jo-Anne said...

Hi Karen. I haven't seen the Wood Duck here at Lake A. for a couple of days - most likely down at Lake W. if there's any open water there. Will wander down there one day next week to check.

Last night there were interesting frost designs on the inside of the apt. windows!

Karen said...

Okay - thanks - let me know if you spot him!

For those wondering about the Wood Duck see this post:

wood duck

I had the same frost etchings on my windows - hope this is the last of the really cold weather!

Jo-Anne said...

Hi Karen. A lady named Sue saw the gorgeous guy (male Wood Duck) at Lake Wabukayne on Sunday. :)

Karen said...

Oh Glad he's still around and okay !!

BTW do have any bird pics from your Bahamas adventure?

Jo-Anne said...

Hi again. Wood Duck was here at Lake A. yesterday but not today - probably back down at Lake W. That guy gets around. Ha Ha!

Yes, lots of Bahamas bird pics ... have had zero time to send them to everyone via e-mails. Hopefully this weekend! I need another vacation after returning from vacation!

Karen said...

Love to see Bahamas pics -

send along when you get a chance - still getting all my Costa Rica wildlife pics, birds etc ready for the site.

El Cid Vacation said...

Wow! Good job! I'm amazed that you can go on a solo trip! I've been imagining myself doing that but haven't had the courage to do so yet. hope i can do that in due time. LOL.


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