Holiday review by Alan & Elaine Hales
Name: Alan & Elaine Hales
Date of trip: 31/12/2019
Number of people: 2
The view from the window of the plane from London as we flew over the high mountains between Costa Rica and Panama and having a clear view of the Carribean and Pacific slopes. Every bit as awe inspiring as landing in Seychelles after flying across the Indian Ocean. Seeing the New Year's Eve fireworks across San Jose. The boat in and flight out of Tortuguero. Seeing the wonderful wildlife shown to us by the Costa Rican guides. Seeing the Resplendent Quetzal (several times), the Black Mandible Toucans (many times), the Volcano Hummingbirds, the Sloths one with its baby close-up, the monkeys, the iguanas and all of the other beautiful birds, we saw well over 50 different species. Swimming under the La Fortuna waterfall. Swimming with Brown Pelicans in Tamarindo in the warm Pacific Ocean.
This is such a special country, such diversity of beauty packed into a space smaller than Scotland. The people are friendly and welcoming and the wildlife/flora is stunning. I liken Costa Rica to be on a par with the undersea World in the Seychelles. The combination of the above ground Costa Rica and the undersea Seychelles is our heaven on Earth. The Costa Ricans beat the Sechellois by a margin as hosts, so well done to them. The difference between the beaches of the Caribbean and the North Pacific is remarkable as is the lowland/highland distinction. Utterly memorable experience which we will treasure for the rest of our lives. I hope our children have an opportunity to go one day and mankind can avoid ruining this special place.
Totally faultless. I will use you again when we want to arrange another trip where we don't want to go it alone, maybe for a trip to Botswana or Tanzania. Thank-you.
All of the Costa Rican guides we had were extremely knowledgeable, spoke perfect English and were clearly passionate about what they do and about their country. In at least two cases, the guides had fathers who were also guides and their knowledge has been acquired since they were able to understand. Elaine and I are deeply indebted to these guides who showed us things we would not have seen on our own and for their skilled use of their viewing scopes. Macaw Lodge strangely is not rich in birds, but it is very beautiful and our guide Oliver had suggested we ought to visit the adjacent national park for a better birding experience. This being the case, I would recommend that when using this location the guided bird watching ought to be to the national park as standard, though this might present a challenge with transport as Macaw Lodge is very remote. We enjoyed Macaw Lodge very much and are pleased it was at the conclusion of our schedule as it offered perfect relaxation. I would advise against scheduling it at the start of a trip unless the birding is to the Carara National Park. All drivers, with one exception were first-class, safe, attentive and willing to stop for anything and to point out wildlife, those who spoke English offered incredible knowledge about their country. The one exception was an isolated bad actor but no harm resulted from his failings.
Social & Environmental Responsibility:
The Costa Ricans are well educated, friendly and immensely proud of their country, as they should be. There are clearly many poor people in the country but it is remarkably free of litter and fly-tipping considering there are clearly people barely eking out an existence. The paradox is that our desire to experience this Eden will inevitably destroy the very thing we treasure so much and it will be hard for the Costa Ricans to resist the temptation to sell-out land to wealthy outsiders who will ultimately destroy the country. We must hope that education and shared wisdom will enable them to avoid the errors made all over the planet elsewhere. I recognise that in visiting Costa Rica I have contributed to damaging our planet, notably by the emissions of the plane making the 5500 mile journey each way. It is also disappointing to see few electric or hybrid vehicles used in Costa Rica, hopefully this will change when the prices of these vehicles fall to something more reasonable than the current inflated levels. Despite the damage we all do getting to Costa Rica, it is probably true that our tourism prevents the Costa Ricans from cutting down trees and creating more agricultural land or even worse undertaking mass tourism with large hotel complexes. Let's hope Costa Rica chooses a balanced path between growth, prosperity and protection of their natural assets.
The places you stayed
Beautiful location, beautiful room, incredible wildlife all around. Sadly let down by the staff being rather uninterested in their guests and doing a lot less with the food than even a modest cook is capable of. The trips by boat are amazing. The positives greatly outweigh the negatives and I would recommend this hotel to others.
This is a place trapped in the 1950s, authentic and yet civilised. It was the top bird-watching spot of our trip (no quetzals of course) and we could have easily stayed longer. The large dining room is perfectly situated for watching birds from the balcony and the place is full of knowledgeable wildlife enthusiasts. There is a fast-flowing river running through the grounds where you can take an exhilarating white-water raft ride. Not ideally situated for walking to other locations but a short taxi ride to small villages nearby and other attractions along a flat main road. We had an excellent room near the river away from everything else but you would not want a room close to the noisy main road. The guided tour at OET with Octavio was amazing, his knowledge and ability to spot hidden gems was unreal. This place is a must visit location for anyone into birds and other wildlife
Modern high-standard hotel with beautifully maintained grounds at the foot of the stunning Arenal Volcano. This appears to be the centre for activities in Costa Rica and you could easily make this the base for a one or two week stay. One downside is the hotel is over 1km from the main road and it would not be easy or desirable to walk out of the hotel to other places at night, there is also an overflowing lake to navigate along the roadway. Lots of wildlife can be viewed from the rooms, pool and restaurant. The hotel is very smart but appears to be oriented towards American tourists as it seems to be styled on the higher grade hotels to be found outside the big cities of the USA, not my personal taste but I'm sure it will appeal to many. Food OK but not to the level you might expect given the general appearance. Very steep driveway to our room, it would not have suited someone with impaired mobility but presumably the hotel would handle this if required. There was construction work in progress to add additional bungalows to the estate. It didn't bother us other than disturbing the peace but might offend some, especially if staying closer than the 150 yards or so that we were. There is a nice pool and jacuzzi with unimpaired views of the volcano
The arrival felt rather daunting and at times never-ending along a bumpy steep, twisty track. Macaw Lodge is very remote, and this is a significant factor in its appeal. The lodge and its grounds are spectacular and a testament to the hard work and vision of the Costa Rican brothers who created the lodge from farmland they purchased in the 1980s. This place is certainly not for thrill-seekers or those insisting on modern comforts such as air-con, hair-dryers and the like and there are few activities to visit unless you were willing to undertake the marathon journey in and out of the location. However for us, this was the ideal final chapter to our Costa Rican adventure and added the missing piece to our puzzle as we saw two scarlet macaws sitting in a tree clearly visible with binoculars, the first genuinely wild macaws we had seen other than flying overhead in 16 days. Strangely, Macaw Lodge has few birds compared to other locations we visited (possible exception of Tamarindo which had even fewer), but had we not already seen so many species and been so spoiled, it probably would have seemed pretty good. We enjoy all wildlife, so the ability to walk through the grounds and the plantations to see many kinds of fruits, vegetables, herbs, bees and the beautiful lakes was more than enough for us. We even saw a kingfisher dive into the lake and sit with a fish half its size whilst pondering how to eat it. The staff are very attentive, the food is cooked from produce grown at the lodge and their is clear evidence of their commitment to care for their environment. An experience not to be missed for anyone who values this type of thing.