Porto Viejo de Sarapiqui, which used to be the main coffee export port of Costa Rica in the 19th century, is a sleepy little town north of San Jose in the Caribbean lowlands. It is hot here, the real tropics. The great attraction of the place is a cruise by a tourist boat (lancha) on the Sarapiqui river. The cruise lasts for about an hour in a narrow open air long boat, which comfortably seats about 30 people. It is a fantastic experience. Even though there is only a thin line of natural forest on the river banks they teem with wildlife - monkeys, iguanas, crocodiles, birds, miniature bats - and, of course, the feel of cruising on a river in the jungle.
Get yourself to the dock, which is about 1km from downtown, and you will find the tourist office on the bank above the river, just by the dock. This office is run by an association of tour operators in town, and will gladly arrange a cruise for you. You can hire an entire boat for 20,000 colones, which is about $40US, or you can join in with other tourist that show up and pay 3,000 colones ($6US) per person, if there are at least 4 of you. This stands in striking contrast to the exhorbitant rates charged for similar experiences geared toward foreign tourist, such as the cruise on Corobici which costs $40 per person, no matter how large the group is. Expect to be with local Costa Ricans on vacation, which is great fun. Your chances of joining with other tourists increase if you show up on the weekend, when Ticos from san Jose come to experience the place.
Our day tour through www.centralamerica.com consisted of a visit to the Sarapiqui Regions of the country. Once we reached the Caribbean Plains, we stopped for a lunch break at Selva Verde Lodge. It is a beautiful lodge surrounded by tropical rainforest. After lunch, we walked the grounds and saw poison dart frogs and different types of lizards. We also saw macaws, toucans and a sloth, but they were too high up in the trees for me to take pictures. The temperature here is much different than the Pacific side of the country. It is very hot and muggy, so make sure you dress in layers so you can shed the top layers you wore on the Pacific side once you make it to the Caribbean Plains.
We took a boat ride down the Sarapiqui River, which is located in a remote area near the Nicaraguan border. This is a relaxing way to see how locals live and have a chance to view Costa Rica's wildlife. We saw howler monkeys, crocodiles, bats, iguanas, and picturesque jungle homes. I wasn't able to take great pictures because we were moving along the river, but I suppose that leaves a lot to the imagination.
For the river boat trip ask at your hotel. I can remember the company we got to take us. We were quite lucky - since it wasn't high season, there weren't many people there so we got the boat all to ourselves and the boy that was driving it, so we got some good talking and explanations!
I think you have longer trips that'll take you all the way up to Nicaragua (to which you'll need to carry your passport with you). We've done only a couple of hours ride, and it was amazing!!
A lovely relaxing few hours on the Rio Sarapiqui will show you lots and lots of great wildlife or a ride on the wildside by going on one of the white water rafting trips on a different section. This is a wonderful river to experience a rainforest from.
Birds, monkeys (mostly howler), bats (look closely or you will miss them-guide will help you find them), caimans, Iguanas, sloths, all there.
This trip can be done from any hotel in the Sarapiqui area or even from San Jose or Arenal. Often done as part of the highlight tour from San Jose which also includes Poas volcano, Doka coffee plantation, Selva Verde Lodge for lunch, La Paz waterfall, and the river tour of course. Again, most hotels can help you set this up.
There are many tour companies that offer a visit to this lodge with lunch included. The property where this lodge is located is part of the tropical rainforest. There is a suspension bridge over the Sarapiqui river and you can have the opportunity to walk around the property. The hotel offers guided tours if you are staying at the facilities. It will be a very quick visit if your visit here is part of a tour. I have listed the lodges e-mail address on my hotel tip for the area and have included a review of my meal there as a restaurant tip. The e-mail address listed here is for the wonderful eco-tour that brought me to this lodge. I saw an Iguana, a poison dart frog, and a jesus-christ lizzard. Why do they call the lizzard that? Because they walk on water of course!
This was my most favorite place in Costa Rica, despite it being a very short visit, only because It felt like I was in a real dense jungle. I did not get the same feel when I was in Manuel Antonio national park. or while being in the cloud forest near Poas volcano.
My poor parents get dragged into something adventurous and dangerous again! (funnily enough, after this holiday they decided they would join us on more trips. Wonder why?)
The four of us are kitted out in life jackets and given a safety briefing before we get in the inflatable raft. Floating down the river past thick rain forest with the sun beating down and pied kingfishers darting above the water is absolute heaven. Such tranquility.
The came the rapids. They weren't too bad - a grade three - and really good fun. I was despearte that we should not flip the raft with my parents in it, and we managed to stay upright all the way. The only person who fell out, was one of the guides.
We had two guides with us, and a safety kayak who was rafting in front of us to pick up any "men overboard". Fortunately his servcies weren't needed! He had a little dog with him, who would either swim alongside him (including over some of the rapids), or run along the bank.
Half way through we stopped for a breather and some fantastically sweet fresh pineapple and a drink.
My parents were very nervous before we went out, but incredibly glad they'd done it!
Use plenty of sunblock - I didn't, and found my kness a very unpretty shade of pink the next day!
Sarapiqui River was once the main highway of the area, carrying coffee from the highlands to the ports on the Caribbean.
The air is a-flutter with little wings as beautifully coloured butterflies whizz past you on their way to another flower.
From pupa to fully fledged, all the stages of the life of a butterfly can be seen here, and the large enclosure is full of many different species. The are accustomed to people and several landed on me while I was trying to photograph others.
There are 3000 species of butterflies and moths in Costa Rica, including the spectacular blue morpho with its 15cm wingspan and electric-blue upper wings.
These frogs are incredibly small - only about 10-12mm long and therefore almost impossible to spot. The guide did remarkably well and we saw several specimens in the wild grounds of the lodge.
Poison dart frogs are best known for the deadly poison some species produce in their skin glands. This poison is said to be 200 times more effective than morphine as a pain killer. There are about 115 different species of poison dart frogs which are only found in Central America. There are 7 species in Costa Rica.
The fogs usually eat ants and mites, although sometimes other small arthropods are eaten.
All around us when we were ccyling, we saw pineapple plantations, and therefore it came as no surpirse when we stopped at a pineapple packing plant.
Seeing the process from start to finish and sampling the goods. Very sweet and fresh, not like the ones we get in the UK.
The lodge rents out bikes and you can choose the grade of difficulty you would like to cycle. We chose country tracks as we had my 75-year old mum and dad with us. It's probably only the second time the two of them have been on bikes in the last 20 years (and the previous time was our "fault" as well).
Going down a particularly steep and rugged hill, my mother slipped on a shiny rock and fell off her bike. Not seriously hurt, she brushed herself off, rinsed her graze in the river and got back on the bike. Not bad for a 75-year old!
This is one of Costa Rica's premier bird watching areas, so an early morning bird walk is a must. We saw several of the 400 species that are found here, including motmot and trogons.