We woke up early, had breakfast at the hotel buffet (included, but mediocre when compared to all our other hotel breakfasts) a little after six and headed out for Poas a little after seven. The drive from SJ to Poas was through beautiful mountains and open fields. It felt like a little piece of Tuscany in the middle of Costa Rica. Many locals were having picnics by the side of the road, which I will definitely do next time! If you do that drive, I would recommend stopping at a supermarket beforehand and just pull over anywhere it looks nice.
We got to Poas a little around 8:30. For this drive we put all our valuables in our backpacks and left our clothing and other big but not very valuable things in our suitcases. The parking lot at Poas had lots of security so we left our suitcases in the backseat (visible only if someone was looking in) and took our backpacks with us on the short hike up to the crater just in case. We were extremely lucky and there was not a single cloud, so we had a perfect view of the crater the whole time! Poas was even better than it looks in pictures. I did not expect the crater to be so big, with lot of nice vegetation around it. The crater lake was not the perfect blue it is in the pictures but it is spewing lots of steam.
We then continued on our way to Sarapiqui. We stopped for lunch at the mirador next to the Poas Lodge (and a farm), which had good food and amazing views. The road winds around the side of mountains with amazing views over large valleys. We decided to skip the Waterfall Gardens but stopped for a little at the La Paz waterfall, which is right off the side of the road. We also stopped at one of the cute little strawberry stands and bought a big carton of very tasty strawberries for 1000 colones.
We got to our hotel/resort, La Quinta de Sarapiqui, at around 1. We were greeted with fruit, a cool towel, and pinnacle juice. La Quinta was a great place and deserves more than the one night we gave it. It was $110+tx a night, which I previously thought was expensive but it is well worth it (a resort of this quality in the US/Canada would be way more expensive). We had a nice big room and a big veranda with chairs and a hammock, though we didn’t really us it as it was so hot. We walked around their butterfly gardens (lots of Blue Morphos and some others) and the rest of their grounds. When we arrived we saw a little sign advertising a one-hour tour of their leaf-cutter ant exhibit for $10, but we decided to pass (when we are seeing all the exotic wildlife of CR ants don’t sound very interesting). Luckily for us, when we were walking around Leo, the owner, asked us to follow him and proceeded to give us an unsolicited, private tour of the leaf-cutter ant exhibit for free! They have a huge “obstacle course” set up for the ants, and you see thousands of them walking along the branch to/from the leaves/nest, as well as a “garbage” set up on one end where the “garbage-ants” literally throw out the waste. This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip and we never would have known what we’d have missed. If you’re in the Sarapiqui area, I would definitely suggest heading over to La Quinta for a tour of the leaf-cutter ant exhibit (I think it is offered twice a day, I don’t remember the times). Or stay there and hope Leo is always as nice as he was to us!
We decided to pass on dinner at La Quinta (it was pretty expensive, I think $15/person) and drove into Puerto Viejo and ate at El Bambu, which (like every restaurant in CR) was great, though the waitress was the least-friendly person we met during our time there.
Day 6: We had the free breakfast at La Quinta (great pancakes) and then drove to La Selva Biological Station for our 8:00 am tour ($32/person). The tour was 3 hours, the longest on our trip, and I had high expectations going in as I had heard they had some of the best wildlife in Costa Rica. The tour was three hours and we saw a bunch of peccaries walking on the grounds, a quick peek at an agouti as it ran across the trail, some iguanas high in the trees (through the guide’s scope) and birds (though not that many and mostly through the scope). It was very hot this morning and the guide admitted it didn’t make for the best wildlife sightings. Overall, I would say the tour was a disappointment (the only one we had during our trip). However, there are many great reviews about La Selva and I seem to be writing the only bad one, so I would assume that I just went on a bad day and thus you should probably disregard this review.
Afterwords we drove back to La Quinta, had lunch there, enjoyed the air conditioning of our room for an hour or so before heading to the Tree Houses Hotel near Arenal. The drive took a little over 2 hours as we hit some traffic in Ciudad Quesada. We had the Sloth Treehouse for 3 nights ($105/night+tax+a small credit card commission fee). We booked a little over 2 months in advance and at that point the Frog and Toucan tree houses were already taken, so book early.
Tree Houses was far and away our favourite hotel in Costa Rica, and we loved all our hotels! We had always wanted to stay in a tree house and I know of none in Canada/US that have reasonable prices and all the amenities (full bathroom, hot water, electricity, air conditioning). We heard only the sounds of the rainforest, we had a great view out of all our windows (including the shower, which was surrounded by big windows but very private!), and a huge tree in the middle of the room! As a side note, this was our only hotel with a “suicide shower”, but it must have been a great one since we had both high pressure and hot water (probably the best shower we had, even if you don’t take the view into account). We also had a big wrap-around balcony with chairs on which I would sit and read for hours, and a big group of small fruit bats that lived right outside the door! We would sit outside at sunset and watch the bats wake up one-by-one and fly away to hunt for the night. All the breakfasts we had were delicious and very elaborate, served individually instead of buffet-style (but big portions). There is a different, creative breakfast every day of the week, and we wished we could have tried all seven. They also offer free night hikes, and I would stay here for this perk alone (more on this later).
We admired our tree house for the rest of the afternoon and went for dinner at the Mirador a minute away. I think it was called Lomas del Mapache. The sunset view was incredible (though it was cloudy so we couldn’t see much of the volcano), we practically had the whole restaurant to ourselves, they played fun (english-language) classic music videos on the big projected screen, they had a few huge frogs jumping around (for us that’s a positive), and great food at reasonable prices. However, we got bottled water (we ordered water, the waiter brought bottled, he didn’t speak any english, and we didn’t think it would cost that much so we didn’t bother trying to get tap water instead) and a side of fries, both of which ended up being way more expensive than we had thought so we ended up with a total bill of 14,000 colones, making this the most expensive meal we had on our trip. Overall we still had a great time and it was worth what we paid, though next time I’ll look up how to say tap water in spanish.
We then went back to our amazing treehouse and went to sleep early, before the 8:00 pm night hike (luckily we had two more nights).
Day 7: This morning was dedicated to ziplining (first time)! We had breakfast and then hit the road for our 10:30 tour with SkyTrek ($61/person with student rate, though we were never asked to show student IDs). This was the furthest from Tree Houses, and Mark didn’t seem very enthusiastic about it (he recommended a few others) but I decided based on previous discussions on this forum to go with SkyTrek. It was an easy drive to La Fortuna, but the dirt road the rest of the way was slow and extremely bumpy.
We got to SkyTrek and after checking in and waiting a few minutes took the tram up to the top platform. The tram was a lot of fun and had good views. We then had about 15 minutes of waiting at the top platform. Luckily, we had an incredible view of the Arenal Volcano. There were a few clouds covering the summit but 95% of the volcano was completely uncovered. I can’t imagine a much better view than the one we got, looking down at the trees and straight ahead at the volcano. We also had good views of the lake, and one of the guides pointed out a juvenile viper snake on a tree branch close enough to touch (not that we would). The ziplining was very fast, very high, very scary but a ton of fun, and we are very happy with our choice. We chose not to buy the pictures they took of us on their cameras (I think they were $10 each, in the paper frame) but they will take a picture of you going down the zipline on your own camera/phone for free. My girlfriend went before me so she was also able to take a bunch of pictures/videos of me going down afterwards (though it’s difficult to get good ones).
After ziplining we drove back along the bumpy road and had lunch at Soda Flores just north of La Fortuna. We each had a great meal, a side, and we each had an amazing mango smoothie for 10mil colones after tax+service. We then continued back to the hotel and relaxed in our tree house for the rest of the afternoon. At 6 we went to dinner at a great italian restaurant in Ciudad Quesada recommended by Reann at Tree Houses. I think it was called Italianissimo. We had a pasta and a huge pizza (part of which I had for lunch the next day) for about 10mil. We then drove back to Tree Houses just in time for the night hike with Rolando. This was one of the highlights of our trip. Rolando has an amazing eye for wildlife and is very quick and will catch animals in his hand. He caught a poison dart frog, a big green iguana, and best of all a red-eyed tree frog, which is as magnificent as it looks in pictures. Rolando put him on my shirt and the little frog climbed all over me! Rolando also pointed out a big tarantula (which he obviously did not pick up!) and a sloth in the trees. The walk lasted around 90 minutes and we got to bed around 10, the latest we’ve gone to sleep this whole trip!
Day 8: After breakfast we headed out for our 90-minute tour of Proyecto Asis ($29/person), just a few minutes away from Tree Houses. We had a really great time there and I would highly recommend it, especially at the end of the trip. After seeing animals in the wild, it was very nice to see them up close (it’s also nice to be able to support the great things they are doing). There were lots of peccaries, monkeys, a coati, a lot of amazing birds, and many others. We’d spend a lot of time with each animal and watch them interact with us and the others in their enclosure. Our tour ended up lasting 2 hours and we could have stayed longer. Better than any zoo I’ve been to, and guilt-free!
The rest of the day was a very enjoyable and relaxing last full day in CR. We had a couples massage at the Tree Houses which was incredible, and then spent the afternoon doing nothing. For dinner we felt like a drive so we went to Lava Lounge in La Fortuna, which was a lot of fun (though it is touristy and overpriced). After dinner we joined the night hike again for a little. We saw some frogs, the same tarantula as the previous night, an iguana, and a mother+baby sloth high up in a tree near the road.
Day 9: We woke up early and decided to go try to find the sloths we saw the previous night. Luckily for us we found them on a nearby tree, pretty low down! We watched and took pictures of them for a while before breakfast. We are very happy that we got a great view of a mother+baby sloth on both our first and last days in Costa Rica! We had breakfast and left for the airport at 9, about 5.5 hours before our flight departed – we wanted to leave 2.5 hours for the drive, 2 for the airport, and some extra time in case of a flat or anything like that. The drive took a little over 2 hours and had some nice scenery. We got back to the Vamos office around 11 but it took almost 30 minutes to do all the routine paperwork, so leave time. They then drove us to the airport. There was no line to pay the security tax and barely any for security so we had lots of time.