part 1 | part 2 | part 3
The eight day Costa Rica Monkey Tour package includes airport shuttle transfers, transportation between tour attractions, lodging in some of the best hotel options in the country such as The Hilton Garden Inn, El Establo Resort, Hacienda Guachipelin or Hotel Borinquen and Hotel Villas Playa Sámara. In addition to that, your tour will include any entrance fees that may be charged at various attractions and activities, as well as accompaniment by our fully bilingual guides
Day 1 - Sun Nov 15 - Arrival in Costa Rica via Guanacaste (LIR) Airport
Welcome to Costa Rica! Get ready to explore Guanacaste and enjoy all the eco-diversity Costa Rica has for you! You will land at the Liberia International Airport where a shuttle service from the Hilton will meet you and take you to your first night's stay at The Hilton Garden Inn where you will rest, relax and prepare for your upcoming adventure. You will surely enjoy the amazing sleep systems (ergonomically designed beds) they offer for the perfect rest!
You can decide to stay at the Hotel or explore the town of Liberia by taking a taxi or a bus. You can request more information in this regard at the front desk.
so this was supposed to be (hey, foreshadowing!) our extra day. aj & i signed up for a tour that met up on tuesday morning, with all participants flying in monday & staying overnight at the hilton garden inn. but when i was searching flights, it cost hundreds more to fly in monday OR take a redeye to arrive monday than it did to fly in sunday AND book an extra night at the hilton. so we did!
our first of two flights left at 5am PT sunday, so travis kindly took us to the airport after midnight. aj & i napped & watched youtube at seatac until our gate opened. the flights were pretty typical & on time, & we arrived to costa rica with no trouble around 5pm CT. (it was a nice change to not have to adjust my sleep cycle for this trip.) we got a bit lost trying to find where the hotel shuttles picked up, as the signage in LIR isn't quite clear, but we figured it out. i received a text message from costa rica's data network, which was odd. & it was amusing watching aj being hit by the Wall of Humidity that i missed from living in florida, & that he'd never experienced.
the hotel was in sight of & only a few minutes from the airport, & pretty nice. the not-so-nice thing was the front desk guy, who told us that we had to leave on the tour TOMORROW, not tuesday. he specifically said there's no tour leaving tuesday. okay, i guessed that maybe everyone came in early & so they arranged to bump everything up a day? whatever, we'd figure out the extra day we paid for later.
aj & i wandered around outside the grounds to check out the local plants, & immediately interacted with nature. there was a long line of leafcutter ants doing leafcutter ant things. we traced them both ways on their path - we found the bush they were snipping leaves from, but though we followed them all the way across the huge hotel parking lot, they vanished into the rough area after the lawn & we couldn't keep going. we figured they must REALLY like that particular bush to carry the leaves the equivalent of ten miles or more.
there was some time left in the day, & we tried to catch a bus to town, but ended up bailing on it as we were too hungry & the hotel restaurant was too tempting. the grass we walked in on the way to the bus stop, though, was the squishiest grass ever. it was like walking on memory foam.
we ordered a couple of mango smoothies served with a mandarin lime in each (green skin, orange flesh, tangy as fuck), then shared the ceviche de pescado (tilapia), gaspacho de sandía (chilled watermelon soup, which was pretty awesome), casado típica with mahi mahi ("typical food" of costa rica, basically a plate of meat, rice, black beans, salad - something aj would order another dozen times on the trip), & "costarricense" of rice with chicken, another typical dish. it was all delicious & we ate too much & collapsed in a couple of admittedly fantastic beds.
Day 2 - Mon Nov 16 - Transfer to Hacienda Guachipelin
Once you’ve finished enjoying the amazing buffet breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn, you will be taken to The Hacienda Guachipelin for a fully loaded adventure day tour that includes zip lining, majestic waterfalls, a canyon tour, tubing adventure, thermal waters, hot springs and horseback riding. You will then enjoy a lunch buffet at the restaurant with the rest of the group. After this amazing journey, you will then spend the night at Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin or Hotel Borinquen depending on availability.
we found our tour guide, felipe, & part of our group at the hotel's breakfast buffet, which included a house special sausage dish (yummy), croissants with taco seasoning (weird AF), & apple iced tea (super yummy). after breakfast, we bought absurdly expensive insect repellent from the hotel mini mart ($23 US?@!?# all because we didn't check any luggage & couldn't bring our own), then introduced ourselves briefly to our group, signed paperwork, & gave our returning flight information. aj commented that the closest he's been to a tour group was a pub crawl, so this was all new to him. felipe was having trouble finding us on his list (there's that foreshadowing again), but he called his head office & they added us in.
the plan was to swap the events of days 1 & 2 for whatever reason, & we drove about two hours towards monteverde before being told we had to turn around & go back. soooooo that was ridiculous, but it wasn't a bad drive & i didn't mind seeing a bunch of costa rican landscape on the transamerican highway. & the random skate park outside a hospital? seems reasonable. felipe gave us interesting lessons too, about how punk music started (in peru, actually), & how costa rica recently celebrated its "first marriage of two ladies", d'aww. their government requires a certain number of women to hold seats too, which is cool. we saw trees painted with white bottoms, & found out that the paint stops ants from climbing them. "costa rica" means "rich coast", & i pondered on what america could mean: rica is rich, & ame is some form of love, right? so americans love money... sure, that listens! (we researched this later when there was cell signal: america, as expected, means nothing. :D )
finally, we reached our first event: river tubing on the rio negro. i'd never done this & it wasn't exactly on my short list - i like air sports like skydiving, flying, skywalking, & riding canyon swings, but i don't dig the water. but i'd never tried tubing & it was part of the trip, so fuck it, i was game.
we carried giant innertubes with little net seats in them (okay, aj carried mine) down switchbacks on a rocky hill, & rejoiced that we'd purchased the water shoes recommended on the packing list. the guides helped us each get situated in our tubes & showed us how to hold on & try to avoid being flipped. the rapids were level 2 with a bit of level 3 at the end. i tried my best to keep my dreads dry using aj's waterproof jacket, knowing that they'd be hell to dry in the humidity, & i did okay. tubing overall was really fun in the slow areas, a little fun in the quicker areas, & not much fun in the rocky bumpy areas that jarred my fucked up spine & slammed into my tailbone... but overall it was a good experience that i don't need to have again. i really liked how natural it all was, just being out in a damned river, & getting to see cool stuff like a little spider that kept hopping into the water for a drink, tons of butterflies flying about us, & a dragonfly that landed on my knee. oh, & a lot of really killer looking trees covered in SPIKES. (i didn't get any river pics since i didn't have waterproof camera gear, but this is representative.)
we changed out of our bathing suits & thankfully went on to a terrific lunch buffet at the hotel hacienda guachipelin, where we'd be staying at that night. there was a great pork rib dish, lots of salad, & something i thought i'd hate - tamarind juice. i haven't been able to stand any tamarind i've had in the states - it's just one of those flavors that makes my brain scream POISON, DO NOT EAT - but the juice tasted like lemony cider & i loved it.
after lunch we headed right to the ziplines. i've done this a few times, but this was probably the best round i've been on. the zips weren't as impressive as hawaii's & mexico's half mile lengths, but several were relatively low over water & there were other features added in - in a few places we had to climb rungs tacked to the side of a cliff face while an attendant above belayed us, & there was one spot where we got to all-out swing to the other wall of the canyon. (the guy catching everyone was watching closely for enjoyment - if you were smiling & happy during the swing, he'd give you a push & send you back across with an "¡otra vez!" ("another time!") & catch you on the return. if you seemed scared though, he caught you right away. guess which group i fell into. XD ) this is where i first got to talk with Seventy-Six, a lean new york grandma who had more upper body strength than three of me. she was awesome.
on the way back to base, aj saw a giant anthill & we went off the path to investigate... at which point he spotted a fuzzy butt in the jungle! the guide let us know it was an agouti, basically a ROUS. i wanted to cuddle it.
we settled into our hotel rooms for a few minutes while people changed back into their swimsuits to hit the hot springs. my bikini is way too fucking fancy to potentially be stained by sulfer springs (it has tiny magic holographic dots all over it), so i borrowed a shirt from aj & went in that & panties. Sexy Cheekbones, a super feisty grandma, was dolled up in an elaborate white one-piece that basically proclaimed HOT MATURE LADY OVER HERE & i was impressed.
there was just enough time before leaving to find that there were wild geckos all over the hotel! & not just any geckos - most of them were mourning geckos, the very kind that aj had at home in his vivarium. i got to inform Annoyed 20yo and Giggles that mourning geckos are parthenogenetic & all female, & that they basically scissor to stimulate egg production. both ladies decided that mourning geckos are their spirit animal.
we rode awhile & then walked a bit (again thankful for our water shoes) across a two-person-max suspension bridge & down some slippery steps to the hot springs. there was a natural mud treatment being offered, but that required being painted, waiting for it to soak in, & then rinsing off in a freezing shower before getting into the springs, so aj & i both said fuck that & went right for the pools. the first & largest pool was the hottest, then there was another beyond it that mixed a little more cool water in, & it was easy from there to get down into the cold river. i stayed in the hottest pool, sitting on the rock edge when i got too warm, while aj ADD'd through each pool several times. i was a bit envious watching him enjoy laying in the river, but i didn't feel nearly surefooted enough to make it down there without dying, & the temperature would've driven me right back out anyhow. i was quite happy in the hot water until it got dark & we had to carefully leave by the light of our guide's flashlight.
dinner was a buffet back at the hotel - the garlic sauced tilapia & sweet potato mash were my favorites, plus the carrot dressing on the salad & milk chocolate flan bite things for dessert, yum. just after we finished eating, i realized that Sexy Cheekbones smelled like something i hadn't smelled in a very long time - youth-dew by estée lauder, the exact fragrance my grandmother used to wear. she & i got to talking, & i told her about the Grammy Memorial Tattoo, & we totally bonded. she is probably the feistiest woman over fifty i've ever met, & i love her.
Day 3 - Tue Nov 17 - Transfer to Monteverde Cloud Forest
Right after breakfast, you will be taken to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. It has been ranked 14th in terms of places you must visit in the world. Here you will trek through the cloud forest on board the Sky Walk and Sky Tram Tour. You will be able to see the cloud forest from a bird’s eye view. Since the sky tram resides high over the forest canopy, you will observe wildlife as it happens. After this, you will have the remainder of the evening at your disposal to either discover the village of Monteverde, or relax and enjoy the amenities of Hotel El Establo where you will be staying for the night.
i was awakened around 2am by aj spraying our $23 insect repellent all over the room - seemed we'd been invaded by all the isopods in costa rica. i barely opened my eyes & wasn't bothered by them - pillbugs are pretty innocuous as insects go, & i even keep them in my vivarium at home. eventually aj had killed enough of them that he could go back to sleep - the carnage in the morning was pretty impressive. i don't know why they chose to invade, but they sure did so in scores.
we went to breakfast, passing parrots in trees & crazy rainbow eucalyptus trees (i'd seen spirally eucalyptus in hawaii, but i didn't know they grew all pretty, too), & tucked in to eggs with salsa, some kind of delicious beef dish, orange & strawberry yogurts, & more excellent pineapple.
around 8am, the group headed out to the included round of horseback riding on the trip. i was given a delightfully responsive pony that i directed in figure eights while aj despondently plodded along on his uncaring beast. oddly, the horses' bridles were only around their noses, no bits, which perhaps is why aj had trouble. i didn't, though! :D Sexy Cheekbones was kind of terrified, but hung in like a trooper. we spotted turkey vultures & rode a nice little trail down to a waterfall, where we dismounted for photos. on the way back, Giggles & i ended up in front of everyone else, with a long straightaway in front of us... we exchanged a look, then gleefully cantered away from the group before anyone was the wiser. several minutes later, one of our two guides caught up. he seemed a bit fearful, & i suspected he thought we were on runaway mounts, but he immediately relaxed when he saw we were grinning & in total control. what a great ride.
we headed out to monteverde after that. stopping at a grocery store, i found a gallon jug of guanabana juice for $12 US. i was able to ask the spanish-only stockboy for a smaller size, but none existed. as i hadn't found any fresh guanabana & i love it, i decided to buy the gallon. (aj berated me for spending that much on juice, but then HE spent ten bucks on two golden kiwis, so whatever!@) in the van, i discovered it wasn't juice - i'd bought a gallon of highly concentrated sweetened pulp & juice meant as a smoothie base. i slowly sipped a smoothie's worth over the next few hours & it was amazing.
the van made a stop for paid restrooms, 300c per person, & there a woman selling pairs of homemade empanadas in wax paper out of a cooler for 1000c. aj & i bought bought in & they were mildly spicy & yummy. & now's a good time to talk about the money system - most everywhere took visa, or american dollars, & translated $1 at 500 colones. (that was a little lower than the going rate of ~530c, but considering 30c was about six cents, no one gave a shit.) i always got change in colones when paying with USD, & received down to the 10c coin, worth two cents. neat!
it started raining at this point, the first we'd really seen of the costa rican rainy season. unfortunately, it started just after we arrived at the monteverde cloud forest for the sky walk & sky tram. the sky walk was basically a bunch of suspension bridges & some little winding trails over & through the rainforest, & at first i really enjoyed it. i kept noting plants that aj & i would love to have in our vivariums, & the greenness & life were highly interesting... until the rain became more than a sprinkle. it quickly increased to an all-out downpour, overcoming some people's raincoats & everyone's pants. aj had loaned me a raincoat, so i at least kept my upper body (& our electronics) dry, but the end of the sky walk saw us with soaking wet jeans, socks, & boots - even my docs were squishing from rain coming in at the tops. it was super sad & unpleasant & i pouted hard... but i still went on the sky tram, because i was in fucking costa rica. we rode with Sexy Cheekbones and StarLover, her boyfriend, who tried to cheer me up, but i was too cold & miserable to be happy about that moment. we couldn't see shit except fog & rain, but if the weather were better, i'm sure it would've been comparable to the awesome cable car i rode in australia. oh well.
the high point of the sky walk/sky tram was that the office had two large boas living in a glass vivarium under the stairs. aj & i remote-cuddled them & loved on them & happily watched them slither around. at least we got to see SOME animals in the cloud forest!
after being rained on for an hour or two, we went straight to one of the best restaurants on the trip. the mar & tierra fed me a sea bass with some kind of awesome avocado sauce, mashed potatoes, & roasted julienne'd vegetables. i also ordered a hot chocolate to combat cold & misery, & it worked beautifully - it was the palest hot chocolate but came with lots of tasty foam on top, & i was happy again.
after lunch, we went up the mountain to the hotel el establo, an absolutely gorgeous place & the best of the hotels we stayed in. it was basically built into the side of a mountain, with multiple lodges & groups of rooms in different buildings as you went up. they had a shuttle that ran up & down through the whole lot. we stayed in the 700s, a full five minute drive from the bottom of the hill, & our view was spectacular. that afternoon was free time, & several people on our group went with our tour leader to a bar to watch a rather important fútbol (soccer) game, panama vs costa rica. felipe kept telling us that fútbol is religion, heh. neither aj nor i cared about that, but we only stayed in the room long enough to change out of our wet clothes, because within walking distance was...
the serpentario de monteverde!
this was a seriously great surprise for me. i'd been hoping to find some kind of zoo or reptile house, but the serpentario exceeded all my expectations. they had SO many snakes, all costa rican local, & each was set up in its own little vivarium. they gave us a flashlight at the front desk, plus the vivs had gentle lights triggered by switches that stayed on only when held down, so all the nocturnal & crepuscular animals could be appreciated without bothering them too much. aj & i played "spot the snoot" in each tank, took about a million pictures, & were treated to a few yawns - most notably from the side-striped palm-pit viper. major favorites were the highland mussurana, with his crazy blue iridescence, the eyelash vipers, & the giant redtail boas - i went back several times to bond with each.
after we saw each snake tank at least twice (they had frogs & turtles too, & a few green iguanas, but they were less fascinating), we headed out to find food. there was a little shopping center nearby with a grocery store & a trail foods shop. i bought several items: a costa rican organic chocolate bar, "amazilia", with 70% cacao (lovely), a chocolate oscuro con menta (a little waxy), costa rican mocks of smarties (sweeter & crunchier than ours - more like pez) & nerds (way too potent - tasted like lime & blue raspberry plastic). i also bought a carrot & orange marmalade (that i haven't tried yet). the grocery store had some local beers that tempted aj, but he passed when he say they were advertising for "moviembre". sigh, can't escape no-shave november no matter how far we run. but they also sold jones soda, which is a local seattle brand, so that was neat!
we saw a raccoon under a little bridge as we walked down to the restaurants nearby, & ended up in a little place right at the bottom of the hill. aj ordered his casado with a tamarind milkshake (yum!), & i had sopa de mariscos - seafood soup with octopus, mussels, shrimp, squid, & crab. it was pretty good. the restaurant gave aj a truly evil looking jar of hot sauce for his food - just the smell of it burnt my mouth, & i got the idea they didn't offer it to many tourists.
the hill back to the hotel was 45 degrees in places, so we went looking for a cab. the internet had taught me to only use registered taxis, red ones with a yellow triangle on them, & to always make sure they use the meter - called "la maria". aj was concerned that our cab driver didn't, but he was also delivering a pizza on our ride, so i figured he was just making a bit of extra dough & wouldn't charge us much. reinforcing this opinion, our driver was listening to the panama/CR game, & actually stopped at a mini mart on the way to our hotel to run inside & see an important play or whatever. it was amusing as hell, & he apologized like mad, haha. we got back safely & i estimated what he'd want for the ride - ended up giving him 2000c, & he was very happy with that.
we tucked in for the night in our cozy beds & i slept very well.