2020 – Year of 7 Favorite Hotels!

I am slowing down a little in 2020 – at least slower for me – but will not totally “act my age” in the year I turn 80! I just finished detail travel plans for this year with about half as many week-long trips as in 2019, 7 instead of 13! More time at home writing, but when out I will follow this unidentified quote:

Get lost in nature and you will find yourself.

My 7 trips are each great nature adventures, as I require, even with 6 being repeat locations! Each trek’s hotel heading is linked to that hotel’s website if interested:

Xandari Nature Resort, Alajuela 

Brilliant Book coverThis is in many ways my favorite hotel and nature retreat, though not my best birding place. And is one of the most expensive! But it has as much nature overall as any of my favorite places, plus 5 of their own waterfalls on property, plus excellent service, rooms, and food plus the best of all hot tubs or jacuzzis! (And more birds than at home!)

It is very relaxing in every way and they treated me royally on my birthday last year, plus this year (next week) they will be installing the only complete library of my Costa Rica Photo Books in their lobby as one of their many art exhibits for the enjoyment of other clients. More about the only Charlie Doggett Photography Library next week!   🙂

And for photo galleries of my two previous visits to Xandari:

Savegre Hotel & Nature Reserve, San Gerardo de Dota

POSTPONED TO JAN 2021 DUE TO COVID 19

Near Savegre Mountain Lodge, Costa Rica, 1-30-09I’ve wanted to return there since my first short visit on a birding tour in 2009 while still living in downtown Nashville. I’ve returned to San Gerardo de Dota twice since then as the best place in Costa Rica to see and photograph the Resplendent Quetzal! I’ll include links to those two other lodges visited below in case considering the area for a visit.

This little mountain village is adjacent to the grand Quetzal National Park and is a wonderful place for many different kinds of mountain birds or cloud forest birds. And one of the few places in Costa Rica where it gets cold at night! They even have fireplaces in some of the rooms!  We rushed through Sevegre on the birding tour with just two nights, so I expect to get more birds and an overall better and more relaxing experience on this five-night visit. My photos from previous visits to San Gerardo de Dota:

Talari Mountain Lodge, Chirripó  NEW for me

CANCELED DUE TO COVID 19

001-IMG_7207-WEBThe Chirripó Mountain is the tallest in Costa Rica and for a certain group of Tico young men, climbing to the top (overnight with one night on the mountain) is a sort of “rite of passage” for the real outdoors young man here, some before high school graduation.    🙂

I visited the area in 2015 on my way to the birding club visit to San Gerardo de Dota for just two nights in the Rio Chirripó Lodge, a sort of yoga retreat and B&B which was very nice. I hiked past the entrance trail to Chirripó top but went on into the private adjacent Cloudbridge Reserve for birds and two beautiful waterfalls and no tall mountain climb for me!

In this same area is Los Cusingos Biological Reserve where the first big birder in Costa Rica, Alexander Skutch, lived and wrote the first birding guides for Costa Rica. Thus I have always wanted to visit it and the nearby Los Quebradas Biological Reserve . So my goals are those two reserves and maybe the popular Fincas Suizos Birding Tour along with many birds on the lodge property along a river. This whole area on the Pacific slope is supposed to have a large variety of birds not found in other places. It is near San Isidro del General, the biggest town in southern Costa Rica, but no flights there, meaning I will have another half-day + bus adventure cross country!

Photos from my brief 2 days in the area at:

Maquenque Eco-Lodge & Reserve

Maquenque BookMy second visit to this favorite retreat and #1 birding spot that ranked first place on my birding lodges list the other day as having given me the most bird species (53) photographed at any lodge in Costa Rica over the last five years!

Plus I will get to sleep in a tree house room again for my 80th birthday! (Yeah! A lot of steps up to a tree house, but steps keep an old man young!) It is my kind of place in almost every way with excellent service, great room, and very good food, though maybe not the best. Their guides are excellent and I will expect a lot of bird and other wildlife photos again this time! Photos from my last visit:

Hotel Banana Azul, Puerto Viejo in Caribe Sur

POSTPONED A YEAR DUE TO COVID19 AND CANCELLATION OF SANSA FLIGHTS AS PLANNED & TOO FAR TO HIRE A DRIVER & FEAR OF PUBLIC BUS NOT SAFE – FOR THIS TRIP I SUBSTITUTED EL SILENCIO LODGE NEARER HOME

South CaribeAnother favorite hotel that I never tire of even though not the best for birds like Maquenque. It is the location, people, service, attitudes, the great “Howler Suite” room that I must reserve a year in advance and the excellent food.

One of the most relaxing places I go and I’m becoming a regular there! Plus great for photos of many things beyond birds in nature and wonderful sunrises! See my photo galleries of past visits for some of my favorite photos:

Rancho Humo, Palo Verde NP

Rancho-HumoAnother favorite hotel that has almost everything! Luxury room, gourmet food, and lots of birds and other nature to photograph! It could become another regular that I just discovered last year. It is on the Rio Tempisque river across from the Palo Verde National Park and possibly the only place in Costa Rica you can photograph a Jabiru Stork along with lots of other birds.

It is different from almost any of my other favorites here with more of a ranch or cowboy atmosphere which is part of a real working ranch with around 800 head of cattle along with all the nature. I look forward to returning and here’s my photos from last year’s visit:

Arenal Observatory, Arenal Volcano National Park

ArenalObservatoryAnother favorite hotel of mine in almost every category from birds to food and service! And it is very popular for both tourists and Ticos. This will be my third time here and the photos below will show why I like it so much.

It is the only hotel around Arenal that is inside the national park (long story) and in the most natural surroundings of any and the closest to the volcano that you look not out at, but up to! Plus it is on the lake for gorgeous sunset photos, also from my room (I have a favorite room here too! #29).

There’s a birding tower that I love, plus lots of trails, a huge waterfall, a farm, and horseback riding for those that wish – not my interest- and other things off the lodge property like the largest butterfly research place in Costa Rica and more birding trails!

And with this many repeats, am I in danger of “getting in a rut?”   Well, right now I already have one or two new places in mind for 2021 but I am appreciating knowing what I am getting into and a few of these place I really like, PLUS there are some others I want to repeat but haven’t, like Esquinas Lodge, Cristal Ballena, Danta Corcovado and Aguila de Osa – Wow! But money and energy are going to keep me down to a trip every other month for now and just deal with the fact that there are too many choices in Costa Rica!   🙂

All trails seem to lead to waterfalls, misty crater lakes or jungle-fringed, deserted beaches. Explored by horseback, foot or kayak, Costa Rica is a tropical choose-your-own-adventure land.     ~Lonely Planet

¡Pura Vida!

My 2019 Nature Adventures

A different hotel/lodge every month except April when a gang from Nashville come to volunteer in the children’s home here in Atenas. 4 lodges are repeats but such great places they will be totally new experiences! I start this month near the Nicaragua border sleeping 5 nights in a treehouse and from there it is everything from Whale Watching to Tapirs and of course lots of birds! There will be new wildlife this year and also its the year I expect to top 300 bird species that I will have photographed in Costa Rica! What a life!   🙂

And you may wonder why I am planning so far ahead? Well, it was not far enough for some places I wanted to visit, especially for next Christmas when my first two choices were already booked. Costa Rica and its best lodges and hotels are very popular and stay booked more than a year in advance.

The links on the hotel/lodge name is to that hotel’s website, if you are interested. And the map gives the approximate location of each visit this year using the month number for when I visit that spot and listing indicates lodge or national park visited that month.

  1. Maquenque Eco Lodge, Boca Tapada
  2. Doubletree San Jose & Turtle Beach Lodge Tortuguero
  3. Hotel Punta Leona, Jaco Beach
  4. Hogar de Vida Children’s Home, Atenas
  5. Selva Verde Lodge, Sarapiqui  *
  6. Macaw Lodge (Nat Geo), Carara National Park
  7. Xandari Nature Resort, Alajuela  *
  8. Hotel Banana Azul, Puerto Viejo, Caribe (Carnival Week)  *
  9. Cristal Ballena Hotel, Uvita (Whale Watching) Ballena NP
  10. Hotel Hacienda GuachipelinRincón de la Vieja National Park
  11. Arenal Observatory Lodge, Arenal Volcano National Park  *
  12. Tapirus LodgeBraulio Carrillo National Park

*The 4 starred hotels are repeats for me, meaning I really like them!  🙂  And this is what it is like to be Retired in Costa Rica, the name of my blog! Pura vida!

For those who know Costa Rica the map helps understand where I’m traveling this year, my first to not go to Osa Peninsula, as I explore new places.

CLICK MAP TO ENLARGE  

Day of the Book

This was April 27 and I missed posting because computer was down.
See or download these and a couple of more photos at my Day of the Book Photo Gallery
Atenas, Costa Rica

 

2018 Day of the Book
Atenas, Costa Rica

 

2018 Day of the Book
Atenas, Costa Rica

 

2018 Day of the Book
Atenas, Costa Rica

 

2018 Day of the Book
Atenas, Costa Rica

 

2018 Day of the Book
Atenas, Costa Rica

Tomorrow I leave for Arenal Observatory Lodge for 5 nights and I hope a lot of bird photos!  🙂

It is the red #5 on the map below or northwest of Atenas in north central Costa Rica. I will be inside the National Park in a forest at the base of the volcano with great views of it and Lake Arenal, considered one of the best windsurfing lakes in the world. A great week expected! (But not windsurfing!)   🙂
Map of planned trips for this year through February 2019
Clicking on image will make it a little bigger for easier reading.
There is so much to see and so many birds to photograph that it is hard to work them all in!   🙂
¡Pura Vida!

Next 4 Months of Trips Planned – Retired in Costa Rica!

One of the many reasons I moved to Costa Rica was so I could afford to travel, by traveling locally to innumerable nature places in Costa Rica, year around! And it is now even cheaper than if I owned a car! Because I travel by local bus or occasionally by local airplanes it is cheaper than buying and operating a car – and healthier! For the first half of 2018 I have now booked a different experience monthly for February-May.

Here’s some links to places I will visit the next few months (without specific dates for security):

February – OROSI VALLEY & TAPANTI NATIONAL PARK

Chalet Orosi  
Birding at chalet as well as in the nearby parks.

 

Tapanti National Park
One of many waterfalls supposedly.




February – San Jose for performance of CIRQUE DU SOLEIL

Read article about show designed just for Costa Rica

I am going with the expat club of Atenas on a bus like several other trips to San Jose. Fun! Though I just read the article and I believe it is actually in Alajuela and not San Jose, so even closer!



March – DANTA CORCOVADO BIRDING

Real jungle living for 5 nights in rainforest.

Danta Corcovado Lodge

Day trip into Corcovado

Bird Watching

My 3rd trip to Corcovado is this time on the eastern side of the large park/reserve compared to my previous trips to SW & NW corners at Carate  &  Drake Bay.


This will compete with my Arenal trip below as the best trip the first 6 months!  🙂



April – MISSION TRIP TO HOGAR DE VIDA, ATENAS

Old friends from First Baptist Church, Nashville, TN are coming to provide service in the local Atenas orphanage Hogar de Vida. I will work and stay with them in the cabins at Hogar and they get one day of tourism away from the home.


May – ARENAL VOLCANO RAINFOREST BIRDING 

My Room window and deck will look out at the famous volcano.
If erupting, I will see the red lava at night.
Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

I am staying at best birding lodge in the area, Arenal Observatory Lodge with room view of the volcano.

Of course I will be visiting the Arenal Volcano National Park along with many trails around the lodge known for their abundance of birds. I definitely expect some new species here.
And I may take a trip or two to other places like the Arenal Hanging Bridges or other places for birds, while avoiding many “touristy” places in this area. The town of La Fortuna nearby has become a junky Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge kind of tourist town like those at Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain Park.

My only other time here was on the 2010 Caravan.com Tour of Costa Rica when we spent one night in a different hotel.

And then there is my photo gallery of all my TRIPS made thus far in Costa Rica. Lots to see!

 

¡Pura Vida!

 

Cloud Forest Experience This Week

The mountains north of where I live contain many small farms and large forest reserves.
I am going to experience that as well as seek out mountain birds, relax, and enjoy great food!

While at Aguila de Osa Hotel on Drake Bay I learned that they were part of a small chain of 4 nature hotels under the name of Greentique Hotels and that one was less than 2 hours from Atenas, just north of San Ramon and not too far from Arenal Volcano, one of the most beautiful in the world! It is Called Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel and Nature Reserve. (Click link or logo for their website.) I decided then to add it to my list of future trips and here it is this Monday-Friday. I have 3 guided birding/nature hikes scheduled and if at least 2 other adults there to make a group, I will take the day trip to Arenal Volcano National Park. Otherwise, more of the reserve!

Based on my experiences in their Drake Bay hotel, I will be happy just hanging out at the hotel grounds and hiking through their reserve. Plus their sister hotel had the best food of any yet in Costa Rica, so that alone may be enough!  🙂  And possibly one relaxation massage! And of course lots of photographs, especially of birds and other nature! If the internet connection is good there, I will try to post daily reports with photos.

If anyone is paying that close attention to all my trips, this in some ways will be similar to my other cloud forest places visited, though all are unique. San Gerardo de Dota is the best place for photographing the Resplendent Quetzal bird and most lodges there are a little more rustic, catering mostly to birders in steeper mountain terrain. I’ve been there 3 times so far and will go again! I’ve been to Monteverde once and it may be more similar to Villa Blanca terrain on top of a mountain, though Monteverde has lots of small local hotels & cabinas and two national parks plus one big commercial hanging bridges park. It is harder to get to, driving up a steep mountain on a gravel road and a little more “touristy” than I prefer, but I got a lot of bird photos there and will go again! My other mountain experiences weren’t quite high enough to be considered “Cloud Forests” but were each good in their own ways. And the adventures continue! See reports of each in my gallery TRIPS.

I’m coming close to my 3-year anniversary living here (December) and have traveled the entire country, visiting many places for birds and other nature experiences, more than most of the expats I’ve met here. But I still have a long way to go and many new places to visit yet! One goal is to visit all 34 National Parks which shouldn’t be too difficult since I visited all 55 Tennessee State Parks! And I’m about 1/3 the way done now! Thanks for following my adventures!
¡Pura Vida!

Traveling Costa Rica

 “Remember what Bilbo used to say: It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”– JRR Tolkien

 

Beach or Mountain – Every Place is Good to Visit Here!
Above is sunset at Flamingo Beach.

That is part of my retirement job of “enjoying retirement.” And though my entire photo gallery titled “Charlie Doggett’s COSTA RICA” includes much from these trips I take about every two months or more frequently, it has been mostly organized in subject galleries like Birds, Butterflies, Flora & Forest, places and events. Because people ask me about traveling to a specific location, what I saw there, about guides, activities, hotel, food, etc. I decided to add a new section to the photo galleries called “TRIPS.” Here you will find a gallery or folder on each trip with most recent trip at top and most include multiple photo galleries, like one for all the birds I photographed there, one on the hotel, other animals, scenery, etc. So if you are interested in what you might see and do in say Drake Bay, Tortuguero, or Sarapiqui, just check out my trip gallery to that place. And you already know that nature is my primary focus on all trips!  🙂

I guess this will be most helpful to persons considering a particular place to visit to see if it is something that interests you. Now also be aware that I travel to places multiple times and usually in different hotels/lodges. So check out all three of my trip galleries to San Gerardo de Dota for example. Or if you are just wanting . . .


HOTELS & LODGES

Me at hotel by Arenal Volcano

And if you only want my opinion on a hotel or lodge? Well, I’m using a new “story-telling” feature on my web gallery host (SmugMug) now to present my opinions of the various hotels and lodges I have visited, over 30 in 3 years! These are listed alphabetically by locations (town. park, etc) and include links to the hotel’s website as well as other links of interest like my above trip galleries!  🙂 You find it in my big gallery under “PLACES & THINGS” as Cost Rica Lodges & Hotels

And for different kinds of reviews, I also write a report on most hotels on TripAdvisor where you should find a list of my reviews.





TRANSPORTATION
Most Americans are addicted to cars and thus will use a rent car with a GPS that will get you to any location. Just don’t depend on maps and addresses since house numbers are not used in Costa Rica much nor are streets or highways labeled, which can be a problem at the intersection of two highways where you need to turn. In addition to GPS systems, a lot of locals use WAZE on their cellphones for directions since it includes traffic problems, wrecks, construction work and detours. Or Google Maps provides good directions also on phones. Just bring a car charger for phone!

But if you want to forget the stress and travel the Pura Vida way, take a public bus to anywhere in the country for pennies on the dollar compared to rent car and no stress or getting lost. At your destination town, take a taxi to your hotel or many hotels provide shuttle transportation. To find bus schedules and plan your trip use  http://horariodebuses.com/EN/cr/index.php  and if you can’t handle Spanish, there is a menu item to “Change the Language” with many major world languages included, like English!  🙂

NOTE: Since this post I now use a private driver for most trips not needing a plane. I use Walter Ramirez whose business is linked in the right column of this blog and to logo at left. I highly recommend him and all of his drivers. It costs more than a bus but is quicker, more efficient, more comfortable and relaxing with stops anytime you wish.

For longer distances and to save a long bus ride, I recommend the Costa Rican Sansa Airlines to get you across the country quickly and efficiently (telephone them is best) or their Canadian competitor Nature Air.   Booking online has not worked efficiently for me, so I recommend telephoning either airline.  NOTE: Nature Air has gone out of business since this post. But Sansa was always better anyway!  🙂

Typical 12-passenger plane used for in-country flights
and to neighbors Nicaragua and Panama.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

 
Well, I may have gotten carried away with travel information and opinions! Sorry! My original purpose was to simply introduce you to my new set of photo galleries called
A New Photo Gallery!
So, I hope you check it out and enjoy some of my trips vicariously or get ideas for trips of your own!
buen viaje
(That’s Spanish for “Bon Voyage” or “Good Trip”)
 
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, 
leading to the most amazing view.”    
— Edward Abbey

 

Caribbean Sunrise at Hotel Banana Azul, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

3 Great Birding Trips Planned + Little Theater

I continue to love my garden!

No new birds or other nature photos to share in last couple of days, just slowing down and relaxing a little since I was getting low on energy and not feeling my best. But tomorrow I go with a group of expats to San Jose for the Little Theater again for a play titled “Little Wars” by Steven Carl McCasland, that takes place in 1940 based on a real dinner party with 6 well-know women at the time: Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, Gertrude Stein, Agatha Christie, Alice B. Toklas, and Muriel Gardiner. (I get to see what women talk about when they have too much to drink!) Then we go out to eat at a nice restaurant.

I’ve also been busy planning future birding trips:

In March: Rio Celeste Waterfall & Cañon Negro on Rio Frio, staying at Celeste Mountain Lodge. where there are many birding trails on their property (4 nights). Getting there and back on public bus.

In May: Drake Bay and Corcovado National Park. Staying at the Aguila de Osa Rainforest Lodge (5 nights). Getting there and back on small public plane.

In July: A return visit to a pure birding lodge, Rancho Naturalista near Turrialba, Costa Rica, in the shadow of the active Turrialba Volcano (4 nights). Getting there and back on public bus.

When you live in Costa Rica,

EVERY DAY’S A HOLIDAY!

EVERY WEEK’S A VACATION!

And Retirement is called “la jubilación”

PURA VIDA!

🙂