Living the Pura Vida

VIP customer Wendy Harriss started 2024 with a bang, travelling on the first of our new Colours of Costa Rica departures. Here’s what she had to say about her experience.

“…that first waft of warm Costa Rican air.”

After four amazing Wendy Wu tours, India (north and south), Japan and Sri Lanka, we were excited to see the new tour “Colours of Costa Rica” on sale and booked places on the first tour running. What a joy it was, after leaving behind wet and grey Blighty, when the aircraft doors opened and we got that first waft of warm Costa Rican air.

It was a short transfer from San Jose airport to the Hilton hotel, which was very plush, then we had a meal in the evening to meet our fellow travellers. I think it is pretty safe to say that we all hit it off straight away and despite our tiredness there was lots of laughter and this continued throughout the trip.

The next day we visited the city of San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, and I was delighted to spend some time talking to the conservation team at the old theatre. They were working on the restoration of the inside of the building, which is an interest of mine having done some conservation work as a volunteer for the National Trust at home. After a local stop for lunch we then had a quite surreal but very entertaining experience at a ‘mascaradas’ makers house. Not only did he closely resemble the late Bobby Ball he also persuaded one of our group to join in a traditional dance wearing one of the “masks” which were pretty heavy and covered most of the body. You really had to be there.

“Well we were in the rainforest…”

Our next move was to the beautiful Tortuguero rainforest area via a pretty speedy boat. On our way to the lodge, we spotted our first sloth just hanging around on a cable. Of course, we had to stop and be true tourists and take tens of photos of the unbearably cute guy. After passing through a banana plantation complete with banana crossings (yes, they really have points on the road where bunches of bananas cross the road) we arrived at the dock, cases loaded on the boat then off up the river to our lodge.

After dinner Jorge, our amazing guide (who had an encyclopaedic knowledge of wildlife), took us on a mini night walk in the hotel grounds to find red eyed tree frogs, and spot them we did! These teeny tiny creatures were very vocal but so difficult to find unless you know where to look. We were serenaded to sleep that night by the nocturnal sounds of the rainforest on one side and the waves of the Caribbean breaking on the beach on the other side. Tortuguero National Park is on an isthmus between the Tortuguero River and the Caribbean Sea; the beach here is a favourite spot for turtles to nest.

The next day we awoke to rain (well we were in the rainforest!) so after breakfast our intrepid band of adventurers boarded our boat covered from head to toe in ponchos thoughtfully provided by the hotel. We spotted so much wildlife on our journey I can’t list them all but let’s just say all we were missing from the list was a jaguar and manatees. I really did feel like Katherine Hepburn in African Queen so tropical and Amazonian was the landscape, river and flora and fauna.

We were sad to leave our hotel to move on to our next location and I will never forget the sight of hummingbirds outside our room. Our water taxi took us back to the dock where we picked up our coach and excellent driver Demitrio. We made a stop at a local finca, for a talk and a tasting of the local delicacy ‘heart of palm’ – it turned that day was the owner’s birthday so of course we all had to sing to her. I think she liked it, although it we were pretty out of tune.

“It was bliss.”

Our gorgeous hotel in Arenal put out fruit every morning for the wild birds at breakfast; it was utterly enchanting watching so many brightly coloured birds dining alongside us. Here, we visited a nature reserve before stopping at Arenal Volcano for a hike along the 1968 lava trail. The volcano has been dormant since the last big eruption in 1968 and the trail cut through the old lava. It was challenging but so worth the views at the end.

A bonus of being so close to a volcano was that in the evening we were able to relax in geothermal hot spring pools, the pools getting progressively warmer as you went up the slope. Very refreshing after the hike and drinks from the bar were most defiantly appreciated.

One of my highlights (and there were so many) was our trip on the river in a rubber dingy, our group split in to two boats to paddle gently downstream. There were no other sounds to be heard but those of nature, the splash of paddles and howler monkeys who serenaded us throughout our journey. We stopped halfway to visit a farmer who kindly gave us some of the delicious Costa Rica coffee (available in all our hotel rooms via coffee makers that could be adapted to make tea as well) and few homemade treats as we listened to the story of how his family came to farm in such a remote location.

The afternoon was at leisure, so I spent the time sitting out on the veranda mindfully watching the river, the monkeys playing in the trees and the myriad birds flying by. It was bliss.

“…we spotted the elusive quetzal!”

Our next stop was Monteverde, the green mountain, in the cloud forest. We paused for lunch on the way, eating with fabulous views of a huge manmade lake that produces hydroelectricity – Costa Rica is leading the world in its use of renewable energy. That evening, another highlight, a night hike in the forest. A very knowledgeable local guide took us on a nocturnal animal spotting walk; the stars were so clear that night we even managed to photograph Jupiter and its moons via the guides telescope. We saw cathedral like trees, bats, spiders, scorpions (who knew they glow in the dark under UV light) wild pigs and so much more. A real adventure.

Just when you think the tour cannot get any better the next day we crossed over eight hanging bridges in the rainforest. I must admit I was a bit nervous, but they were absolutely fine. What an experience, to walk amongst the tops of the trees high up at the top of a mountain in the cloud forest and, to top it off, we spotted the elusive quetzal!

Having the afternoon at leisure we visited the town to stock up on gifts for home and treated ourselves to a locally made Boruca mask. These beautiful masks are carved from balsa wood, and they feature animals found in Costa Rica. They were first made some five hundred years ago to ward of the invading Spanish conquistadors.

After a stunning sunset over the hotel’s koi carp lake at happy hour we were treated to a fascinating talk by a Quaker elder about how the group had come from the US and settled in the area during WW2.

“…curious monkeys who had learned to undo zips.”

The next day, we sadly said farewell to the cloud forest the next day and set off to the Pacific coast for our last stay in Manuel Antonio.

What an amazing and beautiful hotel we had, set among the trees with amazing views of the Pacific Ocean. After breakfast we walked through the national park to the beach and Jorge guarded our bags from curious monkeys who had learned how to undo zips, while we swam in the ocean, which was so warm. Our dinner that evening was in an American C-123 Fairchild military airplane. It is rumoured to have been left behind by the CIA. Definitely one of our more unusual and dining experiences.

The next evening, we had dinner in a train carriage, another long story…

Then the dreaded last day arrived, and we had to bid farewell to our fellow adventurers and beautiful Costa Rica. However, one of the cheeky locals had one last surprise for us at breakfast.

In conclusion, after four previous Wendy Wu trips we had thought that a tour just could not get any better. But we were wrong. Costa Rica was an amazing experience full of wonderful wildlife, fantastic guides, beautiful scenery, friendly people and delicious food.

Wendy Wu Tours, you outdid yourselves yet again.

Our only problem is where next?

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Wendy Harriss for allowing us to use her words and images for this blog. Can’t wait to see you again soon, Wendy!

Colours of Costa Rica

11 Reviews

14 days from £5390pp

Fully Inclusive of Tour & Flights

Tortuguero National Park - Sarapiqui - Arenal Volcano - Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve - Manuel Antonio - San Jose -

Leave a Comment