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)