We started the tour and our tour guide Johnny introduced himself and the driver almost right away.
He gave the whole tour in both languages, English and Spanish, changing graciously from one to the other language, in an almost unnoticeable way.
The day was bright, it was early (We were picked up at 6:30 a.m.) and everything smiled.
The road to the Caribbean was very clear, and even though I understand that the bus cannot stop to take pictures of the magnificence of the rainforest covered mountains (It is a matter of safety mainly) this first morning I really wished we had stopped as the landscape was so gorgeous. At the distance the Turrialba Volcano had its white plume on top.
As several of the passengers were at the beginning of the trip, Johnny started with an introduction to Costa Rica… A bit of history, a bit of geography and a bunch of natural history.
Talking about Johnny (The tour guide):
- He was really nice and attentive to the whole group, even though he specified from the very start that his group was actually the students group and the rest of us were to meet our guide in Tortuguero.
- His English is very good, not perfect (But who’s is?… It’s his second language after all!)
- His tour was bilingual and very complete in both languages.
- He knew the group from the very beginning. He didn’t give complex explanations about anything (As a tour guide myself I know how common it is to find guides that think that the more complex and scientifically oriented the explanation is, the better… and depending on the group that is not necessarily true).
- He knew his timing, another hard task for tour guides (Including me). We didn’t have to wait much anywhere. Or be rushed anywhere.
- Talk a bit about Noel, our local tour guide, who was super knowledgeable and put his heart in the job. Very pleasant, very nice.
As we were on our way out of the National Park I had my camera ready to take the Sucio River bridge (Right underneath this road point two rivers meet: fantastic bright yellow colored river coming from the volcano with a high content of Sulphur that gives the yellow color and the Patria River, a clear perfect creek coming from the National Park). It actually called my attention that Johnny never said a word about the rivers… Well! He knows! Sucio River was terribly muddy and actually there was not much to take
Finally we arrived to El Ceibo breakfast Restaurant:
- Quite large, aired and with good natural light
- Several tables dispersed where you could choose from (Some of them outside)
- Good buffet for a road meal: fresh bread, fresh fruits (Watermelon, pineapple and papaya) gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, and sweet plantain.
- Surrounded by a small secondary forest
- Has an amazing kapok tree.
- We saw a three toed sloth that was close enough as for us to be able to take as many pictures as we liked. (We were advised by Johnny to bring the cameras as there was a surprise in the restaurant). Great sight! And a fantastic preview of what the days to come had for us.
After all the pictures we went back to the bus and all the way to La Pavona, our next stop. Passing by banana plantations and cattle fields and Johnny explaining all that there is to know about both.
La Pavona Pier area:
- Pachira and Johnny are very well organized. We waited for all luggage to be downloaded from the bus to get down and take it.
- The pier has a restaurant with a convenience store and open bathrooms ($1 per person)
- The pier is not paved, although there is a passage for wheels (Wheel chairs or luggage wheels) once on the boats area you have to walk on dirt/sand and it may be a bit muddy sometimes.
- They took our luggage on a separate boat from the one we were going on.
- Boats are open, quite comfortable (For the short -45 mins- ride) and their down side is that we had to put on the life vests while on them.
The traffic on the river is quite interesting actually, several tourist boats, but also materials and groceries enter through Pavona whenever it has enough water. When the river is dry (Very few weeks of the year) boats have to come through Caño Blanco, and the story gets to be boring and long. Still worth the trip but it takes at least two more hours on the road.
This route is much faster and by far in a better condition than the old one.
I had a Spanish lady sitting next to me that kept on complaining that she was on the wrong side of the boat because our side had a much better view.
At first there are only fields, with a few trees here and there, but after a while the trees start to turn into a forest and you can see you are getting into the National Park… And Tortuguero National Park is pure beauty.
Impossible to describe… It is truly impossible to describe. A million different tones of green, dozens and dozens of different species of trees, shrubs and palms. Aquatic grass, birds, monkeys… It is truly impossible to describe…. Only one word to it: Beauty. Pure, absolute and pristine nature’s beauty.
Arriving to Pachira Lodge:
- The pier where we arrive is so convenient and easy. It gives you a preview of how comfortable your stay is going to be.
- A good fruits cocktail is a good welcome (Down side… the plastic straws on them)
- Instructions of the hotel were given, and then, the room numbers were distributed. (A good subtle way to force people to listen the instructions).
- Lunch is ready and then you can take your luggage and go to your room. Also convenient.
- There are a couple of hours to rest, unpack and get acquainted with the hotel before you go on the tour to the town.
As we arrived to the hotel, explanations were given by Bismark, the young, efficient and super nice manager of Pachira.
He talked about the pool schedules, the towels behind the bar and some of the hours for the meals. Then he called every one of us to tell us our room numbers.
Our room was #18
Not close, not far from reception. Although I must say that conveniently there are no rooms close to reception. The hotel is designed so that the noise of the bar and pool is away from the resting areas.
Five things about the room:
- Not huge but large enough as to have two queen beds (Comfortable), two lamp tables, a desk, a shelf with a safe, and a little table with a body mirror.
- Two leather and wood rocking chairs outside the room and facing the gardens.
- A regular size extremely clean bathroom.
- Two doors, one in the front facing the gardens, and another one on the back to your own personal rainforest.
- No glass windows… for the good and for the bad. I absolutely enjoyed the noises of rain, frogs and birds! And hated that on the second night a group of young guys used the rooms in front and put their music to good volume (Not late, maybe five or six in the evening… But really!? Loud music in the rainforest!?… Come on! Use your headphones next time please!)
- The only downside of the room: Lights and fan had the switch next to the back door instead of front door. And I am not putting it on the list of things to improve as I am almost sure that it is a pretty unique feature of this particular room.
Talking about the hotel grounds:
- They give you the sensation of lusciousness, of tropical lusciousness! Lots of trees and plants everywhere, as if you are walking by a gorgeous forest… Although, if you pay attention you can see that the plants are conveniently planted.
- Flowers everywhere, lots of hummingbirds and butterflies around.
- Monkeys! Monkeys are always around… You can hear them far and close… But they are part of Pachira’s staff.
- All sorts of trees and birds with them… On the second morning I took a walk and so a couple of mixed groups.*
Talking about the meals:
- The restaurant is quite large and conveniently there are a lot of tables so if people wants to sit together they can, however if they want to sit by themselves they also can.
- Tables have a sign with the guides names so that the groups fit perfectly.
- Buffets are very well organized, with a bunch of salad to start, some dressings, two types of meats and a pasta area.
- You can come back as many times as you like
- They serve the juices and water on the tables.
- The staff is super-duper hypher nice! Really willing to get out of the way to help!
- We brough some fish to be cooked and they made it simply delicious… and with a local recipe. Amazing service!
The first activity was the town’s visit. They divided the group here. Johnny went with the students group and we stayed with Noel, a young and nice local guide, Noel.
Now… the tour of Tortuguero is twilight zone… Truly is! No road in, no cars, no streets. Is an 80 meters land stripe (Actually an island) between the Tortuguero River and the ocean. Its fragility is noticeable, yet, the peace and easiness of the village is contagious.
At first we went to the beach for Noel to tell us a bit about the turtle nesting and life cycles. Turtles are not yet here, however, they are coming! (The season officially starts in July)
About the visit to the town:
- The beach: The beach is a regular beach, not an appealing turquoise waters white sand sort of Caribbean paradise. Luckily for the turtle is quite dull and the ocean is quite dangerous actually. A lot of debris is left on the sand… Lots of garbage brought by the ocean is placed on it every day… and the town (And students groups) diligently clean it every single week.
- Stores: You can almost find everything in Tortuguero… Except for an ATM, a bank or a pharmacy. Some of the large souvenir stores sell some of the usual meds (For a cold, throat ache or motion sickness) but if you need something more specialized my suggestion is, definitely bring it!
- ATMS: As I just wrote there no ATM at the village. However if someone needs some cash there is a store that is willing to pass your credit or debit card and charging 10%, gives you the cash.
- The town is about 900 meters long X 80 meters wide. In some areas is a bit wider and you can actually walk by the sidewalks of the town looking at the little and clean houses dispersed in a bit chaotic way.
- Even though there are only 1500 people living here… You kinda’ feel that the whole town is there, sitting on the benches, walking and talking around.
- There are a lot of souvenirs stores everywhere, bars, cafes and restaurants… Take some time for this visit. The hotel usually gives you a couple of hours and their boat takes you back. Juan Pablo and I stayed until we saw this magnificent sunset on the canal and then took a boat cab ($6) to the hotel. (Absolutely worth it!).
About the Turtle Tour (Night tour)
- The best time to do it is from July 1st to October 1st when green turtles are arriving. However from February to July the Leatherbacks are getting to the beach (Rarely, but it happens).
- You have to wear dark clothes: Black, navy blue or brown are best. (The idea is for turtles not to see movement on the beach)
- Comfortable walking shoes are in order, as sometimes you hae to walk fro a while in order to see the turtle that’s nesting
- No cameras or any devices are allowed in this tour. They might confiscate it if the National Park guards find you have one.
- No flashlights are authorized either. The guides have flashlights.
- On a clear night the darkness of the beach allows you to see the most magnificent Milky Way views that you can imagine!
Both nights we were there the weather was fantastic on the day time and had very strong rains at night. (Fantastic!) So it gets even chilly and the blanket is needed.
In the package there are three tours included, the town tour, the national Park canals tour and the rainforest hike.
A bit on the rainforest hike:
- On Friday night it poured therefore, the trails were super muddy! And I mean… muddy! Rubber boots are in order.
- There were a few of the same howler monkeys (Quite elusive actually)
- The guides gave superb natural history talks, however, it is important to listen to them when they say “If you don’t like mosquitoes, heat and mud, better stay at the pool”
- Lots of birds… great for birdwatchers!
My son, in the meantime had arranged a canoe fishing tour… the way it was, the way they still do it in town… He refused to take the phone with him and therefore there are no pictures. However… I must say some things about this!
- I was quite concerned about him not getting breakfast as he had an early start (6:30 am) and breakfast is served at 7:00 a.m. Luis at the restaurant was extremely nice when I asked him the previous night if we could arrange a sandwich or something. Luis simply asked Pablo “At what time are you leaving?” when he answered he said “Well… At that time you will have a box lunch with sandwiches, some meat, fruit and juice for you to take”. Wow! Great great service!
- My son had to paddle on the canoe for about 45 minutes to get to the place where they were fishing.
- It was literally speaking on a wood canoe.
- They didn’t use fishing canes, simply a line…
- My son caught three while Juan, the fisherman who took him caught more than ten fish.
- They were absolutely delicious!
In the afternoon we went on the Canals Tour. The first thing Noel did was to gather the money for the payment of the Park fee ($15 per person, not included unless specified).
About the canals tour:
- Put on some strong sun screen. You are going without a roof in order to see everything.
- Take a lot of memory in your camera… and extra batteries… If you are a bit like me, you will want to take everything! And there is so much of everything!
- Don’t miss the amazing nature of the National Park looking for a particular thing. When I was a guide in Tortuguero, nothing upset me more than hearing people say “We didn’t see anything” because they didn’t see as many animals as expected… My answer to that was one, always the same “You saw one of the most beautiful and luscious rainforests… You actually saw a lot!”
- Use your ears as much as your eyes… the sounds can be amazing.
- The downside: It ends… and there is only one tour to the canals. I wish we could have spent there the whole day … But I am a fanatic!
On the way out:
- My recommendation… that I did not follow this time and I regret it is to do the checkout (Pay for the bar bills and extra expenses you may have incurred into) the night before leaving or even before breakfast.
- Having said that, Bismark was ready for all latecomers and he was efficient and really nice. Checkout process was super-fast… and he was attending three more people at same time!
As a conclusion of the package of three days and two nights of Pachira Lodge:
- Super satisfied with the lodge, the service, the staff and the tours.
- Only downside is that it ends.
- Extremely comfortable lodge, great food and grounds.
- There is a bit for all ages: Me, fifty years old, chubby but quite active however. My son, young and extremely active: We both had a great time!
Things that could be done to improve the hotel experience:
- Get the same life vests for the canals tours as the ones on the entrance. The little boat had vests that go on the neck, really uncomfortable.
- Have in the restaurant some delectated milk (Delactomy). It is quite easy to find and even though people don’t say, it would be truly appreciated for the baby boomers generation (More than 65% of the travelers nowadays).
- Specify the tour and meals times on a board. It would be easy to remember, and if there is a change it would be much easier to communicate it.
*Certain species of birds don’t have flocks of their own and they are “supposed” to be by themselves, however they create groups with other species on the same condition and they forage together… Tanagers, warblers, seedeaters, flycatchers and even hummingbirds… This is great in order to protect themselves from predators such as hawks and eagles as a group is harder to predate and survival chances are much higher.
Written by Olga Sáenz-Carbonell, Community Manager and Blog Writer. (Read more about the author here)