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A Costa Rica Vacation

January 2017
Route we traveled

For my first visit to Central America, I took a trip with my mom to Costa Rica to explore the country and escape the cold, North American winter. This vacation was the second with my mom since I became a world traveler. I had to up my standards a bit to accommodate her more normal comfort levels (actually staying in hotels and eating in restaurants), but she still pushed her comfort zone a bit. Nonetheless, we had a great time seeing the volcanoes, wildlife, birds, reptiles, colorful fish, turtles, stars, bioluminescent water at night, and much more. See all the pictures from our Costa Rica trip.

Trip Report

After flying into San José our first stop was

Volcán Poás

. This National Park was not very large and had only a few trails, but provided a nice mirador of a steaming crater, as well as a serene crater lake. The place was setup for mass tourism and very popular, but still a good start to ease into Costa Rica.
Laguna Clientele
Afterwards a very twisty drive led to La Fortuna and

Volcán Arenal

. This town was also adapted to tourists, but the national park around the volcano was relatively undisturbed and peaceful (at least early in the morning), and we enjoyed a walk through the forest with many diverse birds. We also lucked out with a clear sky and great views of the conical mountain.
Volcán Arenal
El Ceibo

Caño Negro

is a world class birding destination, and despite a rutted dirt road with a minor water crossing, a high river and not always being able to find someone that spoke English in this small, remote village, we enjoyed an excellent boat trip around the lagoon and Río Frío, spotting a huge variety of birds, caimans, iguanas, howler monkeys, and many other creatures.
Sunrise over Caño Negro
An iguana sunning in a tree
Bird in Caño Negro

Río Celeste

in Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio was a stunning turquoise river cutting through a cloud forest. I had only seen such vibrant colors in water emerging from glaciers, but there were no ice fields in this tropical climate. Amazingly, this color instead appeared at Teñidero, where two colorless streams joined and then created this deep blue through chemistry magic. The river also pooled into Laguna Azul as well as tumbled over a picturesque waterfall. We were fortunate again and saw all three of Volcán Tenorio’s peaks (which are often shrouded in clouds), as well as observing capuchin monkeys climbing through trees and a toucan.
Volcán Tenorio
Bridge over Río Celeste
Capuchin monkey
We then headed to

Marino Las Baulas

on the Pacific Ocean, staying in the peaceful town of Playa Grande. Besides enjoying the sand, surf, and sun, I took a tranquil canoe trip through estuaries, seeing birds, crocodiles, and monkeys. At night we watched a green sea turtle lay eggs on the beach, as well as tracks from a leatherback turtle the next morning.
Estuary near Playa Grande
A heron
Green sea turtle laying eggs
Leatherback turtle tracks
Afterwards we stayed on the Nicoya Peninsula and visited


, my favorite spot in Costa Rica. The private reserve was situated on an isolated bay and had nice hiking trails through mangrove estuaries and forests where we saw more birds and wildlife, and even our first scarlet macaws. Birds constantly chirped, called, and sang in the trees along our hikes, although spotting the animals often proved difficult. I am not a hard core birder though, so their hiding did not bother me, and I enjoyed just walking around the jungle listening to the cacophony of bird calls. I also took a boat trip to nearby Isla Tortuga, where I snorkeled and saw lots of colorful fish and a manta ray, as well as enjoying some very fresh fruit on a remote beach.
Scarlet macaws
Brightly colored fish
The highlight though came as dusk fell and we took a cruise on the bay. After enjoying a beautiful sunset I jumped into the dark water under a new moon and was greeted by bioluminescent microorganisms glowing around me. Whenever the water was disturbed the sea lit up with yellow dots, and I was swimming through a star field. The sensation was amazing, and I had a great time flowing through the specks swirling around me that quickly disappeared afterwards. On the ride back to the beach the boat’s wake sparkled with the radiant particles as well. This was my first time ever experience bioluminescent water, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The light was not as bright or long lasting as I had imagined, but neither was I disappointed with how it looked.
Sunset over the Bay of Curú
We then took the ferry back to the mainland and drove to


. This spot was by far the most developed for tourism we came across in Costa Rica, which was a bit off putting but also make things simple for us foreigners. Our first excursion was a night tour around one of the reserves, where we saw sleeping birds, an alert two-toed sloth, a poisonous snake, a kinkajou, and some very camouflaged insects.
Two-toed sloth
We also visited the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, walking through the clouds, seeing birds, ivied trees, windy ridges, bridges, birds, and waterfalls. For even more hanging bridges we went to Selvatura Park. We skipped the zip lines and just enjoyed the long spans, looking down on the treetops and birds.
Ivy covered trees
A hanging bridge
Our last major stop in Costa Rica was


. From Crocodile Bridge we saw dozens of crocodiles lounging in Río Tarcoles, and then went into the national park to look for mode wildlife. Scarlet macaws were not quite as plentiful and easily accessible as we hoped, although we did finally see one after listening to it squawk for the longest time. We heard plenty of other birds throughout the forest but could not always locate them. Unfortunately along many of the trails the drone of the nearby highway seeped in.
Tree covered in vines


Overall I had a very good trip around Costa Rica. This vacation was very different than my normal ones, but I still had a great time exploring the country, spotting lots of wildlife, and spending time with my mom.