Tag Archives: Costa Rica

Entryways 101

My collection of doors has reach saturation point. So, it’s time once again to disseminate to the faithful.

Gothic Quarter, Barcelona (2023)

Orgosolo, Italy (2022)

Paris, France (2022)

El Raval, Barcelona (2023)

Canterbury, England (2023)

Corcovado, Costa Rica (2023)

Castelsardo, Sardinia (2022)

Born, Barcelona (2023)

Dorgali, Italy (2022)

Musée Rodin, Paris (2022)

Sagrada Família, Barcelona (2023)

Hermosas Ranas

I didn’t expect to spot any of these tiny amphibians on our trip to Costa Rica, so was amazed to notch up at least eight different species. Thanks primarily to the fantastic guides on our rainforest night walks, of course. But I was proud to have found the two types of poison dart frog pictured here all by myself (although they were jumping about in low light, and hence those particular photos aren’t great!).

A couple of quick factoids: according to National Geographic (and who doesn’t trust them?) there are 149 species of frog in Costa Rica. They like the moist lowlands best, so are most commonly found around Arenal and the central/south pacific areas, which we were lucky enough to visit, but they can be found all over the country. The frog that most people associate with Costa Rica is the Red-Eyed Tree Frog, and it was certainly the species we saw the most – and my personal favourite – hence its multiple appearances in the highlights below.

Poison dart frogs are arguably the more interesting though, secreting toxins from their skin in self-defence and having vivid aposematic coloration or markings (to deter predators). For centuries, the indigenous tribes of the rainforest have used their poison to tip blowpipe darts for hunting (hence their common name). There are over 170 species in the world – we saw three of them: the strawberry poison dart frog (or “blue jeans” frog); the green and black spotted poison dart frog; and the striped poison dart frog (not pictured).

Hope you enjoy this selection…

Red-Eyed Tree Frog #1

Milk Frog

Green and Black Spotted Poison Dart Frog

Yellow Cricket Tree Frog

Red-Eyed Tree Frog #2

Morelet’s Tree Frog (or Black-Eyed Tree Frog)

Strawberry Poison Dart Frog

Red-Eyed Tree Frog #3

Red-Eyed Tree Frog #4

Rivers, ranches and (lots of) rice

Paul and I have just returned from a 10-day stint in Leeds looking after our nephews and niece, whilst my sister and her husband escaped to the sun. It was lovely spending so much time with them and actually not nearly as difficult as we’d feared – the months of anticipation, when all sorts of horrific scenarios had percolated in our minds, happily baring no resemblance to the reality. I’m going to miss bedtime cuddles, hide-and-seek in the woods, snowmen building and story-time. I’m even going to miss “helping” with homework (even though this had limited/mixed success). And the glasses of wine in front of the fire, stroking their ragdoll cat Popcorn, were peaceful and restorative. Although it wasn’t all easy, and I have to say I’m very glad I no longer need to play tea-time bad cop, prizing the Nintendo Switch from a protesting 8-year-old; and my knees are grateful for respite from my niece’s cute but tiring imaginative play sessions, which invariably saw my reluctant tiger being bossed around by her strict zookeeper.

Safely ensconced back in our London flat, I’ve turned my attention back to editing our Costa Rica photos and can now pick up the story where I left off…. So, after Tortuguero we next stopped for a few days in rural Sarapiqui, Heredia Province. Our lodgings were very basic but had a lovely infinity pool overlooking a steep-sided valley and were well-located for La Tirimbina biological reserve (one of the main reasons for visiting). Relaxing in the grounds on our first afternoon, we spotted what looked like a skinny flying turkey (later identified as a Crested Guan), as well as a precarious iguana balancing on the high branch of a kapok tree, a strawberry poison dart frog (locally referred to as “blue jeans”) and a bushy-tailed tayra (related to the marten family).

But these wildlife spots were nothing compared to the delights of our night walk in La Tirimbina. Armed with flashlight, enough Deet to floor a professional wrestler, and our darkest clothes, we crossed the country’s second longest suspension bridge – swinging unsteadily over the Río Sarapiquí – and entered the reserve. Tirimbina protects 345 hectares (852 acres) of pre-montane tropical forest, hosting a wide array of different ecosystems and over 9 kilometres of walking trails. Charlene, our friendly and incredibly knowledgeable guide, helped us find scorpions, tarantulas, cane toads, frogs, basilisks, howlers, geckos and stick insects. Her eyesight was phenomenal: I have no idea how she managed to isolate them within the impenetrable blackness. Paul and I got most excited, however, by the sprightly armadillo that crossed our path (twice!) and a fur-de-lance snake, the most venomous in Central and South America, with a bite that can be fatal to humans.

We were so impressed with the forest, we returned the next night to be educated by William on all things bat-related. Costa Rica has more than 100 species of bats, making up 50% of the country’s total mammal population, and 70 of those species can be found at Tirimbina. While some eat insects or feast on blood, most species feed primarily on fruit, pollen and nectar. With the aid of humane ‘mist’ nets, so delicate (and expensive!) that we respectfully kept our distance, the staff captured a range of bats to show us up close: a docile proboscis bat, a common tent-making bat, a Honduran white bat, and the larger frog-eating (or fringe-lipped) bat. Wearing thick leather gloves, our guide gently held each flying mammal so that we could closely observe their wings, spindly arms and odd little faces. And then – allowing time for us to set up the slow-mo functions on our camera phones – released them so we could observe close-up flight. Absolutely fascinating!

For a change of pace, we booked ourselves on a white-water rafting trip on the Río Sarapiquí the next day. Having never been rafting, I was little trepidatious. But need not have worried, as our guide expertly navigated us along a 13km mixture of class 3+ rapids and calm pristine water surrounded by lush flora and fauna. The company, Aguas Bravas, were very professional – providing all the protective gear and tuition – but also really good fun, encouraging splash fights between boats and seeking the most thrilling routes. Along the journey, we saw two ospreys, a large ringed kingfisher (the biggest in the Americas), and plenty of egrets, herons and sandpipers. We arrived back at the lodge very wet but very happy!

The other highlight of this part of the trip was La Selva research centre and biological reserve. It’s a working field station and our guide, Joel, had spent over a decade there researching plants and insects. The reserve is owned and operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies, a consortium of universities and research institutions from the US, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico, and is recognised internationally as one of the most productive field stations in the world for tropical forest research. Our short trek, which barely scratched the surface of the 1,500+ hectare reserve, took in primary and secondary forest, as we crossed suspension bridges observing some of the 1,000+ plants and 250 trees in the area. In less than three hours, we ticked off the great tinamou (one of the most primitive birds on the planet), a helicopter damselfly, a two-toed sloth, three very beautiful keel-billed (aka rainbow beaked) toucans, a Central American whiptail lizard, several black river turtles, a red-webbed tree frog, two pale-billed woodpeckers (the Woody Woodpecker variety), and a milk frog (which the guide got particularly excited about).

Leaving Sarapiqui behind on Day 7, we next visited Arenal volcano in the north-western province of Alajuela, taking a short trek over the lava fields to look out over the 85 square kilometre man-made lake. To put that in perspective, the biggest lake in the English Lake District – Windemere – is a measly 17km long and 1.5km wide. The hydroelectric project is a key part of Costa Rica’s green energy policy and when first created the lake provided 70% of the country’s electricity. The Costa Rican people are understandably very proud of their record when it comes to sustainability, conservation and green energy. And it can be no coincidence that the country has ranked first four years’ running in the Happy Planet Index (HPI).

Speaking of happiness, we called into the little town of La Fortuna for some hot wings at a local bar, had a cracking hot chocolate at Cafe Fusión, and bought some rum and plantain chips from the local supermarket, before spending the evening relaxing in the Ecotermales hot springs. We were told that the hyper-thermal magnesia filled waters perfectly and naturally balance quantities of calcium bicarbonates and magnesium, which have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and muscle relaxing properties. Who knows! But I can tell you I found sitting in the 41°C pools, cocktail in hand, with waterfalls gently massaging my back to be very medicinal indeed.

We crossed the lake by boat the next day, in order to reach the rural hills and valleys of Cabaceras. After a three hour drive, passing homely farmsteads and over serene sun-baked fields, cutting through fords and witnessing the birth of a little calf, we arrived for lunch at Rancho Heliconia. The ranch has a blue flag for sustainable practices and specialises in growing coffee. Its owner, doña Roxana, belongs to one of the original Costa Rican families to settle in Cabaceras; she’s a joyful, imposing, enthusiastic woman who makes you feel like you’re visiting family. Her cheese, produced using traditional methods, was delicious, and we were taught to prepare traditional corn tortillas (the basis of the Costa Rican diet since pre-Columbian times) before sitting down to slow-cooked lamb, spicy chicken, the obligatory rice and beans, and plenty of that scrumptious cheese with a seaweed dressing. Whilst visiting, you’re also encouraged to plant a guanabana tree – one of the native species – as part of a local rewilding project.

Driving onwards to Monteverde, before checking into our hotel we stopped at the Curi-Cancha Reserve for another night walk. This time our guide was not as great – whilst clearly knowledgeable, Eric was quiet and taciturn and we didn’t therefore have a great experience. To be fair to him, I think he’d been working since dawn, the weather had become wet and windy, and the group he was leading was larger than he’d have liked. Anyway, it was still great to see a sleeping orange-bellied trogan, two mottled owls, a green toucanette, tarantula, spotted wood thrush, and a sea of dancing fireflies. We’d see Eric again the next morning – his grumpiness having subsided somewhat – but clearly working two jobs does nothing to alleviate his temperament.

I’m going to pause there again and return to cover our time in Monteverde properly in another post. For now: Pura Vida!

Black crested guan

Mottled owl

Helicopter damselfly

Rainbow billed toucan

Green iguana


Fiery-billed aracari

Pura Vida!

In the indigenous Bribri-Cabécar tradition, spirits make a person sick for violating the established norms or because society has lost its balance. Well, I’m not sure what specific conventions I may have inadvertently infringed, but I certainly felt I was being punished when the dreaded second line materialised on my Covid test less than 48 hours after returning from Costa Rica.

In the various tribal traditions of the rainforest, healers used to dress in animal pelts, carrying carved wooden sticks in the shape of the aiding spirits of alligators, snakes, monkeys and birds. The shaman put tobacco (and other, ahem, plant-based substances) into nasal inhalers; and the healing rites were accompanied with musical interludes from ocarinas, maracas and drums. Mujer chamán, or female healers, would cover themselves in elaborate body paint, evoking the skin of jaguars and reptiles, and dance in earmuffs and thongs.

I tried all of this, of course. But in the end it was the Paxlovid anti-virals, couriered over from Guy’s Hospital, that saw me right. At the time of writing, I have had my first decent night’s sleep since our return from Central America, and writing this blog post feels like a minor victory. Sure, there are plenty more useful things I could be doing with my Sunday, now I’m able. Help my husband with the backlog of washing, for instance. Or get on the phone to Virgin Media to argue against their extortionate £11 price hike (is TiVo really worth it?!). But I’ve chosen to indulge my desire to sift and edit holiday photos. Surprise, surprise. Or at least to make a dent in the process!

So, where to start? Well, controversially maybe, I’ve decided to start at the beginning. Which was the capital city, San José. But I’m not going to dwell there long, because I’m sorry to say I didn’t like San José all that much. There were some nice parts, and true to form I enjoyed perusing the brightly-coloured murals around the university neighbourhood and old railway. We also really loved both the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, housed in a brutalist subterranean building next to the diminutive opera house, and the Museo del Jade, which happily happened to have a Salvador Dalí exhibition alongside the world’s largest collection of green mineral. Both collections feature a fascinating and bewildering range of erotic statues, glittering ornaments and cultural artefacts; and you can while away hours in their cool embrace. But, in general, I found the capital uninteresting and a little unloved. Which was a shame.

Before leaving for the Caribbean wetlands, we did however enjoy a noteworthy meal at Jaguar Negro, a predominantly Mexican cantina, where I celebrated my birthday with seared tuna steak, shrimp risotto and cortezas de cerdo (giant pork crackling!), washed down with a tequila and ginger cocktail. Not much to complain at there.

The next morning, though, we were up early to head east to Limón province and start the holiday proper. After a hearty breakfast of gallo pinto (rice & beans, a staple we would come to know intimately throughout our stay), we made our way to La Pavona (an approximate 3 hour journey) to board a motorised passenger boat to Tortuguero. With our luggage safely stored on a different vessel – and with assurances we’d see it at the other end – we sat back and enjoyed the 90 minute ride through scenic mangroves and rivers, watching for wildlife and gently sweating in the 80%+ humidity.

Parque Nacional Tortuguero is one of Costa Rica’s 34 national parks, a staggering number for a country that’s slightly smaller in size than the state of West Virginia (or about the same size as Denmark). It’s a popular area for seeing sea turtles hatching, but you need to visit in the wet season for that; we were there instead to see the abundance of wetland fauna and to experience a genuine “jungle cruise”.

Our home for the next two nights was Laguna Lodge, a basic but charming hotel with sprawling grounds and a great situation – the Caribbean coast easily walkable on one side and an al fresco bar overlooking the titular lagoon on the other. After a short mosey round the local village – where we gaped in awe at a 40ft parade of leaf-cutter ants – and an essential watermelon daiquiri, we felt justified spending the rest of the day relaxing by the pool, as Montezuma oropendolas (a type of weaverbird) and bright yellow kiskadees sang out from the surrounding trees.

The main event, of course, was the next day’s boat safari along the canals and waterways. Fortified with a salad of papaya, melon and cassava (yum!), we let our guide navigate us through the stunningly lush verdant green river habitats, fringed with palms, wild mango, crabwood, fig and breadnut trees. The protected park comprises 19,000 hectares of rainforest, beach, mangroves and lagoon, with over 300 species of bird, 100 different reptiles, and around 60 species of mammals. We obviously only saw a small part of it, but were surprised at the range and volume of critters to be seen. I’ve pasted some of my favourite snaps of the wildlife below.

Our chaperone, though quiet and somewhat humourless, was clearly incredibly knowledgeable, with an uncanny ability to spot even the tiniest flash of colour, indicating the presence of a lizard, warbler or other rare delight. I loved every second of the trip, gleefully taking in the reserve’s wonders, learning about conservation efforts, and snapping away with my camera. It was disappointing to head back to the hotel’s private dock three hours later, but I consoled myself by immediately getting out my dorky ornithology guide and contentedly ticking things off whilst munching an empanada and sipping ‘toad water’ (agua de sapo, a sludgy but delicious mix of sugar cane, limes and ginger).

After another swim, we got out our binoculars to explore the grounds of the hotel, including a ‘tamed’ area of rainforest in which we almost got lost in what looked suspiciously like a raptor cage from Isla Nublar. Amazonian kingfishers, yellow-throated heroes, and grey cowled wood rails were added to the tally. Later that evening, we were also lucky enough to spot some red-eyed leaf frogs in moist vegetation near our chalet. See my upcoming dedicated frog post for photos!

I’m going to stop there for now, and pick up the story another time. Leaving you with the image of us bouncing away on a boat taxi the next morning, the sun beating down mercilessly on Paul’s encroaching bald patch, joyfully spotting caimans, vultures and iguanas along the marshy banks.

Pinnated bittern

Howler monkey

Jesus Christ Basilisk

Little blue heron

Neotropical cormorant



Plumed basilisk

Green ibis (credit: Paul Adnitt)

Bare-throated tiger herons

Northern jacana chicks

Montezuma oropendola