Skip to content


A fine start, as we headed by mini cab down to Gatwick to join all the other thousands of holidaymakers in the South Terminal. The automated luggage check-in stalled for us, as strangely our boarding passes said both ‘hand luggage only’ and ‘1 piece of luggage per person’. A mute robot-like BA chap took our bags without any explication, or apology, or thankfully a charge!

The flight was OK but long (10.5 hrs), watched lots of films. Katy had come away poorly and felt quite rotten when we arrived. The 787 circled for a while in a storm, with lots of bouncing around and vomiting from the small boy in my set of window seats, but apart from the whiff, thankfully I sustained no collateral damage!

As with many aspects of dealing with the local agent I used, much has been lost in translation and despite being told the first night was an airport hotel, it turned out to be an hour and a half away. It was a miserable arrival having taken more than an hour and a half to wait for bags and queue for customs. It was also torrential rain as we stepped outside, the van crawled through the heavy rush hour traffic. Not an inspiring start. That night I shared a monster king-sized bed with an anxious William, due to his mother’s misinformation (fake news/outright lie) that I snored, which was proved wrong!

What a great view of the gardens and mountains beyond, blue sky and bright green vegetation.
A pleasant start with our 8 am pick-up, which was spoilt by a 7 am call to say our driver had arrived. Ignoring this we took breakfast at a leisurely pace and prepared ourselves for the possibility of more admin errors to come. After breakfast William and I swiftly made a pits stop in the lobby’s Gents and found a Top Bog, one of the poshest I’ve seen, it even had an indoor garden. We had assumed that there would be payback for last night’s longer northeastern journey, as it would cut down some of today’s drive, but no, it was still to be a two-hour drive.

Much of the journey was on small ‘A’ roads and not a lot was picturesque, the last section was a small single carriage track through banana plantations, with bunches of bananas being protected with a blue sack. On arrival it was a chaotic scene, an earth car park, cars and big coaches scattered haphazardly around, and hundreds of tourist making their way with suitcases and bags through the mud. Down a muddy bank was a wide beach with 20-30 boats pulled up to the shore. Our driver reversed the van up to the tree line and soon located our captain, who let us have a ten-minute pit stop before boarding. The craft was like those we had last year in Indo-China, long thin and fast, but this time seaworthy. So it was off to the Tortuguero rain forest, on the Caribbean Coast.

It was an exhilarating ride for just us, carving our way around the corners and overtaking others as we hurtled through the jungle. A bit like scenes in the movie Apocalypse Now, but without being shot at. Strangely I had been told it was a two-hour ride, but turned out to be only one hour. A most enjoyable first morning, I really felt I was on holiday. The hotel was a pleasant surprise, it was charming and located on a river. Rather than a tour of the local town, after a good lunch, we took to the pool for a relaxing afternoon. It was hot and rather overcast. The bungalows were large and impressive with four posters and an a/c, the kids were thrilled with the place, and lots of character.

The turtle beaches are a sanctuary and you have to apply for permission to visit them in the evenings, which is when the females are laying. We requested it from the hotel immediately after we arrived and were lucky to get the 8 pm to 10 pm slot and not the 10pm to midnight, we also lucked out by getting sector no 2 of the 5-mile stretch, which meant a shorter stumble in the dark. No cameras or phones are permitted, and proper shoes and dark clothing are required. It was a short hop across the river to the beachside peninsular taking all of two minutes, then a walk through the grounds of a hotel. Thankfully Mary missed spotting the pair of racoons that scurried away in front of us. Our hotel guide took us down some dark paths to meet the rangers and once again luck was on our side, being allocated a nearby beach section, the rest of our group was a lady from Woking with her twin 11 yrs old animal-obsessed boys. We then followed the guide through a fence and were told to walk along the concrete, at that point, I realised it was the airport runway. It was very dark and quite disconcerting, after a couple of minutes we stopped at a numbered post and headed a few yards onto the beach stumbling across the uneven sand and lots of brush fallen down from the palm trees, ‘you know who’ was clinging on to me at this point. Still pitch black and now with the roar of the surf.

We then met the beach ranger in charge of this small section, who also had a colleague with a green turtle waiting for us to see her when she had finished digging her nest. At that point when she started to deposit her eggs, she would be in trance like state and would not be scared off by us. More spotters patrolled the beach looking for other arriving mothers. There were two other groups of 10 with us. While we waited there was plenty of time for us to listen to his explanation of the events about to unfold. Our first view was when we silently walked behind the turtle and crouched down in a small semi-circle with the kids in front, then the guide turned on his red light torch and suddenly it was about a foot from us. I think the adults almost fell back in surprise at seeing the cluster of bright white shiny eggs below her in a hole, less than a foot from us. Every 10-15 seconds another egg plopped in. It was surreal being so close and only seeing the back half of mum. Still keeping silent we walked a few feet away to let group 3 come in and discuss the events. At some point, one of the groups had to be ushered away, as the spotter said another mother was just coming out of the surf. After laying her 100-120 eggs, she uses her back legs to backfill the three-foot deep hole and we once again returned to the red glow to observe this, staying for maybe 5-10 mins. Then as we waited for the next event, we all suddenly became dead tired with the jet lag, but not wanting to sit down due to the nasty ants. We returned a third time to find her using front flippers to fling the grey volcanic sand over her back, we also got plenty of this and it slapped into us with a surprising lot of force. She slowly piled up the sand and moved forward, the end result is the actual nest hole filled up, but with a decoy hole a couple of feet away, made from the sand she had excavated and thrown back. She was left undisturbed for a while as they surmised she was taking longer than normal, which may have been due to us spectators. Coming on for ten o’clock we left as the other groups were arriving. The guide aimed his red torch high up from behind and we passed in front we got a good look at her then said our goodbyes and wished her children good luck. I went to the beach a few days later and was surprised to see it was less than 50 ft wide, I expected it to have been much wider, strange how unused to pitch black we are. About 95% of the eggs hatch, 50% make it to the sea and only 1% survive into adulthood. It was a magical evening for all of us, something we’ll not forget.

At 830 am we jumped on an open-top boat for a tour of the rivers, waterways and canals. Louis was our guide again (we had met him last night with the turtles). Off we sped, charging along as if pursued by Bond Baddies. Then we entered some thinner canals, cruised very slowly or drifted without power close to the banks. Almost nothing was spotted by the passengers, it was the driver and guide, we saw toucans and many other birds, plus three caymans, basking on logs a few feet from us. Much to Katy’s delight, we saw basilisks that were quite unlike those of J K Rowling’s imagination, these being medium-sized but prehistoric-looking bright green lizards. It was a very gentle and calm morning in beautiful surroundings. On the way back they dropped us off at the Turtle Information Centre, which added considerably to what we experienced the previous night.

The kids felt they has seen enough, so after lunch and a brief dip, we then left them in the pool and headed to the boat for the afternoon trip. Some rather tardy Frenchies have the boat return back to the dock to collect then, once again there was an older UK couple who seemed to be Costa Rica obsessed and was their third trip to this hotel. Immediately leaving the dock a massive iguana was spotted in the trees then a few hundred yards along a sloth, although it was hard to work out what was going on. Thankfully later on the guide spotted another on an exposed branch and we had great views of it performing to us, scratching, eating and looking at the guide when he whistled, we stayed for over ten minutes here. Most of the time we stayed in small thin and peaceful canals. On one of the main canal sides, we observed very clearly a family troop of spider monkeys for quite some time, their black coats, unfortunately, contrasting well with the male’s bright pink scrotums. The finale was in a tiny canal and we saw lots of different birds, a Snake Bird swimming around and a King Fisher fishing and plenty of other brightly coloured species.
We really liked this small charming resort hotel, the pool was on the river edge which made it interesting with all the various craft jetting past.

More bad news regarding the poorly motorhome now stranded back in Devon. We had a morning by the pool, having spent a frantic hour or so looking for Katy’s prescription pills, thankfully they were found having hidden as a pseudo bookmark all morning. An enormous 3ft long iguana regally paraded himself through the pool’s gardens which got us all sitting up and a bit tense, but we soon realised this was a common occurrence in Costa Rica. Then at midday, we left for the airport on the peninsular just across the water from us, it took us less than five mins to reach.

Despite the flights being booked many months ahead, it was only on our arrival in CR that the tickets arrived, showing a max baggage allowance on the flight of 30 lbs, this was possibly only half the amount we had brought each. I was left a little anxious hoping there is A) the capacity to bring the bags on board and B) the excess baggage cost doesn’t bankrupt us. The airport dock was only a few minutes up the river, and the boat as usual rammed the river bank. Here we found an abandoned and rather tired 50’s vintage terminal, looking more like a dilapidated cricket pavilion. We went for a walk on the beach, the same one we had spent the previous night looking for turtles on. Once again we have Louis with us, which was a bonus, as he pointed out turtle tracks and the previous night’s nests.

Soon the ground agent arrived and we had to pay USD$90 for excess baggage. But given it was a 25 min flight and 20 min transfer to the other end, compared to all day in a van, the extra fifteen quid per person was bearable. I personally was delighted the aircraft had enough weight capacity especially as the manifest also only had the kid’s names on it and not Mary’s or mine, gulp!

It was the same Cessna Caravan but without the floats, that we took last year in Vietnam. There were four others passengers, it was a 12 seater, a simple flight nothing dramatic, lots of trees. It was interesting to see the canals and sea, quite different to how you imagine it to be at ground level. It took only 25 mins compared with the usual boat and land journey that takes up much of the day. Landed in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano looking sinister with a ring of clouds around its summit.

One chap unloaded the plane, and then charged us, USD$7/per person, as the airport fee. Outside waiting for us was a yellow American old school bus which delighted us all, we just about heaved the luggage into the back as the heavens opened. Only a 20 min drive to Arenal Springs Hotel, kids were delighted with this upmarket resort. Mary and I didn’t feel the same having spotted the USD$23 each for the lunchtime pizzas! It has an interesting layout with numerous landscaped pools, some fed with the hot spring water, others turned out to be regular swimming pools. The former ranged from ‘unbearable’, down to 36 degrees, which is damn hot enough in this temperature. We probably spent too long in the hot pools, all completely dozy that night, so early to bed.

Adrian’s birthday. None of us got much sleep, torrential rain most of the night, and an unbelievable racket as it thundered onto the bungalow’s tin roof. Lashing it down in the morning too, we had a vague plan that Katy and I do the zip lines that passes the popular 200 ft Le Fortuna Waterfall and Mary and William to follow us up the cable car and back for the views. It was a silly idea in such a downpour, the concierge suggest instead we go to see the volcano as the weather would probably perk up.

We set off by taxi, all a little disgruntled by the depressing weather. Having paid our fee at the hut in the car park and concentrated on the guide pointing out the route that was painted on the wall, we set off into another squall with our ponchos waving around in the wind. At the first platform, it was especially miserable as we found a shelter and tried out the rocking chairs, adjusted our damp gear and then headed back out once again. The path wound down then slowly uphill through woods and sugar cane. We can across some chopped cane, a wood block with a scaffolding pole hinged in it and then set about creating some juice to both our and hundreds of wasp’s delight.

We meandered uphill with a few rest stops, coming into the lava field the path wound through huge black boulders contrasting with the bright greens of the vegetation that has taken hold since the last eruption in 1968. We reached the main viewing platform after half an hour and there was no sign of the volcano among the clouds. After a nibble of the rice crispy-coconut-sugar combo, that we acquired at the ticket hut, plus a sip of water, we set off again into the maelstrom. We were still in among the lava flow but as we have become used to it, the rain abruptly stopped and out popped the sun. Despite the strength of it the sun, this was a really lovely walk among the dappled shade, with the kids walking ahead chatting, the gap grew further apart when a steeper downhill stretch slowed Mary and me down. We walked around a hillside and became aware of the growing sound of insects chirping away, which soon became a cacophony, you had to raise your voice to talk. As we crossed a small bridge the vegetation changed to tall sugar cane that was well above our heads and then into the jungle, at one point some large fury animals charged across the path with almost dog-like barks, which got the kids ahead of us shifting it smart-ish. All in all, it took us two hours and everyone really enjoy the adventure, our taxi driver returned to collect us and we headed back for lunch and a sunny afternoon around the hotel’s pools.

Woke to a sunny morning and our 24th wedding anniversary. Thankfully a lazy start, with a pick up after ten am for our river rafting adventure. A rather nervous William, with his kayaking instructor sister, already armed to the teeth with a scathing attitude to the safety disaster that must be ‘white water rafting’. We met some nice people on the bus, it was all rather close as seats flipped down in the aisle to create more seats. The briefing was on the bus, and the trip was about 45 mins out, with a rest stop, where we bought an overpriced waterproof case for one of the phones. On arrival, we slipped on a helmet, and life vest and grabbed and paddled, then swiftly walked down to the river edge. Us Bournes had been paired up with a honeymoon couple and off we went. Mary and I in front and the nervous kids in the middle, then the other two at the back with the Raft Captain to steer us through the rapids. Another brief tutorial, this time about the expected commands for paddling, there was no discussion about abandoning ship, the kids at this point are still dead wary of the whole thing, despite our assurances of fun, fun, fun.

No sooner had we left the shore, Jed was yelling commands and within 100 yards we hit the first not-insignificant-sized rapids, Mary and I were both engulfed by a big wave and after a few seconds, there was loud laughter from behind us, phew! Already the kids has got the bug and realised what a laugh it was, especially as the parents were taking the brunt of it. I seemed to recall in our trips to Australia and Zimbabwe, the rapids being located wide apart with long stretches of floating downstream. It was not the case here, bam, bam, bam, with little time to wait for the next set. Halfway there was a quieter stretch and the captain pointed out plenty of sloths, monkeys and iguanas, we had become quite blasé about them by now. Mary and William flipped into the river at this point for a swim and were dragged back in by their life vet straps, shaving off a few inches of Mary’s tummy’s skin in the process. Midway we cruised close to the bank and a henchman lobbed watermelons and pineapples into the rafter. Later all the 10 or so rafts stopped at a shallow gravel bank on a big lazy bend in the river. One raft was flipped over to create a massive table and the fruit was chopped open for a banquet and banter. The three dairy cows that wandered over didn’t spoil the fun, despite fresh cow pats being deposited in the middle of the crowd. Back on the river and more waves, giggles and banter. At one corner we hit the rock wall, with Mary’s paddle horizontal, it punched back across the raft like a piston, seeming to miss my nose by an inch! After about an hour and a half in all, we had to get out. I would like to have done more, but as the kid’s first experience, they thought it perfect. William and Katy were dead happy with the morning, we could not have wished for a more successful adventure. Jed our Raft Captain kept up the excitement and was very entertaining.

Lunch was included at a sugar cane farm, Mary had her best meal of the trip here, and the rest of us were not that excited about chicken, rice n beans. After a brief demo about getting the sugar out of the cane and a little drink of its grappa-style spirit, we headed home. Rounding off the afternoon in the hot pools and swimming pools.

Around eight we had a pick-up to take us to Arenal Lake about 30 mins away. Ignoring the van driver’s comment to the boat captain that my bag was enormous we jumped on the boat, the usual style of long-n-thin, this time not a single comment from the captain and no life vests either, gulp! The drive here was foggy with low clouds, but on the lake, it was thick fog. It became obvious the captain was following the shoreline, so we carved a rather winding passage. The cloud slowly lifted and it was a strange sight to see the cloud being dragged out from the volcano sides as if the slopes are on fire. Half an hour later we crossed the lake as the wind picked up and rain started, 3/4 of us donned a poncho and Katy took cover in the small wheelhouse with our luggage. Mary’s nervousness increased steadily as did the wind and waves battering against the boat’s side. Us ‘the self-loading cargo’ had mainly retreated away from it, but that caused the captain to beckon us back over the other side and even out the boat’s trim. He was clearly lost and had to circle around and back into another cove to RVP with our van. A little bit of an adventure, thankfully Mary’s blood pressure soon returned to normal.

Back on land, we slowly bounced along small country tracks and lanes, uphill among some beautiful green hills. Despite a bit of drizzle, I was really taken by the smashing scenery, with lots of cows too. Halfway to Montverde had we stop for a rest break and in buying four drinks and some snacks, spent an outrageous USD$18, silly us. It was noticeably cooler up here, in the mid-sixties.

Confusion as we arrived at the Cloud Forest’s Sky Bridges first, this was at about 1100 hrs. Having expected to go to the hotel first and then this in the afternoon. It meant a frantic scramble through the suitcase to extract a suitable kit for the next adventure. Bernie our guide was waiting for us here. It was disconcerting enough, but was added to, as the booking had incorrectly been made for the La Fortuna Skybridge back in Arenal and not this one, there was the potential for more agro, but it was soon sorted. A racoon-like animal in the car park kept us entertained while this was being sorted out.

Bernie was great to have with us, plenty of info on the area and the layout of the country too, and he pointed out trees, plants and insects. What we saw was possibly limited, due to the consequence of Mary’s incredible outfit of bright red poncho, bright purple trainers and her outrageous flora trousers, no doubt causing the fauna to scatter for yards around. We crisscrossed the canyons by six massive suspension bridges at tree-top height, some of them 150-200 ft up. There were some breathtaking views, I enjoyed seeing all the differing green textures. One of the most notable things, was when Bernie shone his torch into a golf ball-sized hole on a grassy bank beside the track, unbeknown to us, there was a large orange-ringed tarantula spider hanging upside down with her legs clamped tight. As we were bending down with our noses only a few inches from the hole, it was a bit of a shock to all of us, each one that knelt down was told not to spill the beans to the others. We had a very entertaining couple of hours, friends had done the Skybridges without a guide and felt disappointed, not us!

While walking around we spotted their many zip lines and all agreed to do it as a family event the next day. This was quite a big decision, as William is normally a bit nervous about heights and Mary is pretty much nervous about anything when her feet aren’t directly touching the floor. We booked without paying as the weather was so changeable, it was going to be a NO for us if it was torrential rain.

I had stupidly insisted on a hotel with A/C, but here in Monteverde it was quite unnecessary, but it did mean we stayed in a charming hotel called Poco a Poco (aka little by little) in the town itself. We have nice modern rooms above the reception, the rest of the hotel didn’t look anything special.

After checking in, our driver dropped us off at a restaurant on the other side of town, as lunch here was included in the price. We dined alone in a smashing Italian restaurant. Then we got a taxi back to the hotel. In the hotel was a strange covered pool, but with walls only on two sides and a glass turret-like hot tub. The others splashed around here in the afternoon while I went to see the rather hilly town. Plenty of very tatty tourist-tat shops and those selling adventure tours, plus a few coffee shops and the odd hostel. Apart from places for lunch, the only interesting restaurant seemed to be the Tree House. I was amazed at the high cost of things, up until now I had assumed everything was expensive as they were in the hotels, but it seemed non-hotel places are just as expensive. I was a bit puffed out as the hill back was steep. Everyone was tired, so rather than go into town, we ate at the hotel, a bit mediocre.

We were all aware that the wind was howling all night and I assumed the zip line would be called off, but no I was told it’s always windy here, they only cancel in lightning. So off we went and got kitted up with a briefing beforehand. Like the bridges, some zip lines were 150-200 ft up and the longest was a third of a kilometre long. The stop at each run was often at high speed and so had been warned to open our legs, so when we hit the buffers and swung upward, we wouldn’t smash our knees against the cable, guest what, on the second run I didn’t open my legs enough and hit the cable, I cut my bare shins and knee, to the sound of howling laughter from the other members of the family, no surprise there! At the start, it was pretty cloudy and you couldn’t see the ground or the other side of the canyon. We mainly did the lines as singles, but on two occasions we paired up, me and William, with the ladies together. You hung on the cable as before, but the heavier one was at the back with your legs around the figurehead’s waist. On the second run paired up, I thought I felt the jiggling of the cable signalling us to use the cable truck to slow down, I was wrong, so we stopped halfway along the landing platform, much to the girl’s delight and William’s embarrassment, Dad’s eh?

Two American girls were behind us and we had some nice chats with them, they hired a car and had booked it all on AirB&B, the millennial’s way of doing things, they regretted the self-drive element. On the last pair of runs the weather perked up and the cloud cleared, leaving us with some spectacular views of the cloud forest’s Canopy, this was in contrast with some of the stages at the peak when it was blowing a gale and adding to our jitters. The last landing stage was a big free-standing double-pillar bridge. This required either a final belay down or a small bungy-like drop for the last 50 feet. Katy and I decided on the latter and were given no time to reconsider as we stepped (bundled off) off back into the void. The terrifying (for me) sensation of free fall had hardly registered before the bouying set in and back up I bounced. The other two returned to earth in a much more dignified manner. What a great morning, glad we had all done it as a family. The exit was through the gift shop, where I acquired a dead cool cap, Mary a souvenir dry bag for the kayaks at home and Katy some delightful tin mugs that had been painted in rainforest flowers. William had already been gifted a white-water rafting T-shirt the day before.

We got the minivan back and went for lunch at a nice trendy cafe and saw the same American girls again. The rest of the afternoon was being transferred on to Tarmarindo on the Pacific Coast, 3 1/4 hrs away. A good hour of this was very unpleasant, along really bumpy tracks that wound up and down the hills.

What a lovely place we all commented on as we arrived in Tamarindo. At the reception we found our rooms were not allocated together, having said our priority was that one room needed two beds, they managed to juggle them around. We ended up with a perfect pair of rooms, both having smashing balconies and sea views, in a block on the sea-side of the road, very happy with the view of the gardens, massive palm trees and the Pacific beckoning beyond. Sun begins to dip around 5.30 and sets at 6 pm and it seems to get very dark very quickly. We therefore swiftly grabbed our gear and headed to the surf, thankfully the sea was beautifully warm, with good but not too strong waves, the town was founded due to the good surfing. The day was rounded off nicely with one of the most perfect and memorable sunsets.

That evening we tried to get into what looked like a popular Argentine Steak House but had to be satisfied instead with a booking for the next night. Ended up at a relaxed and very cool beach restaurant under tall palms strung fairy lights. It was sadly ruined by having to wait well over an hour for food, it left us all rather grumpy.

Another good day in Costa Rica. We had already fallen for Tamarindo, which was recommended by Mary’s old school friend, who described it as like Southern California in the 50s.

Mary and I headed down nice and early, I spent a quarter of an hour doing laps of the pool and my physio, Mary her Tai Chi/ Singalong combo, plus a quick recce along the beach. We all had breakfast together and then hit the beach. What a nice set-up the sea is, warm enough to enable you to spend hours in it, but with big enough waves to make it entertaining but not dangerous. William purchased a football and would kick it into the surf, then act as a goalie when the waves shot it back at him. A Dutch chap, clearly also eager for a kick-around joined him, they spent some time knocking a ball back and forth on the water’s edge. At times we sat on loungers in the hotel gardens facing the sea, some of the grass was as soft as velvet and not a single weed, how do they do it? The main hotel was across the road and we found the extensive family pool with gently shelving sides and numerous islands, a very relaxing place for the afternoon. That evening we ate at the Argie Steak House, a great atmosphere, but I had underestimated the ratio of fat-to-meat on my Loin End, so was a bit dissatisfied, but a chocolate volcano for pudding balanced up the disappointment until the outrageous bill arrived!

It was a replay of the beach and pool combo, and all of us were very relaxed. Not a particularly nice meal at the hotel’s Italian in the evening, our lot being a bit hot and tired, but some gelato from their street-side counter cheered us up.

We relaxed around the pool and in the sea most of the morning, William was spotted while in the garden by yet another chap wanting a kick-around and was allegedly a pro in Switzerland before he stopped due to injury. He taught William a fancy new trick, which he’s been practising ever since.

The morning was at the huge family pool larking around and sitting in the shallows reading.
Today’s big adventure was surfing lessons for the kids, William was very enthusiastic, and Katy rather apprehensive. At 2 pm the RVP was on the hotel’s lawns, with two embarrassing parents looking on. Rash vests were issued, donned and the instruction started for about a quarter of an hour still in the garden, I can tell the kids didn’t like the audience much. Then off they went to the beach with the instructor, two boards, a camera woman and the same two bloody parents bringing up the rear. Well not quite, as I was faffing around and came out the gate late, hindered by a lack of glasses I couldn’t spot which direction they had gone, so was peering around. A furious Mary came stomping up the beach after me, issuing orders in my direction “stop standing around looking at everyone else, we’ll miss ’em”. We found them just as they entered the water. The teacher seemed to launch them into almost calm water with just slightest the hint of a wave, but with more than a hint of instruction “stand up,” he yelled. By the time they were on their feet, it was a full wave and down the beach, they came. Agile William was up- and-at-em straight away, coasting into the shallows. It took Katy a couple of goes to stay upright but was soon matching William. Mary and I were flabbergasted that they could both do it so well, and very proud. I remember trying in both Hawaii and Devon and no way could I stand up, although, with Devon, all I could think of was the cold. Everyone enjoyed the hour and a quarter in the water. The camerawoman took some great shots of them and we got the lot (about 100) for $20 Dollars.

The evening meal along the surfer end of the beach was a bit of a disaster, the live band was too loud and too country n Western for me. Food was poor, although William enjoyed his build-a-burger.

Katy’s 20th birthday. Cards at breakfast and the limited number of presents we could bring, opened under a palm tree. This turned out to be very popular with the iguanas that morning, both an enormous one and two medium-sized ones at various points scarpered past or between our sun loungers and then up the palm’s trunk next to us. A week ago that would have had Mary locked in the bedroom all day, how blaze we have become? The usual combo of pool, beach and books, or a ball. For lunch, we walked along the beach to a small cluster of artfully scattered pastel-coloured wood chairs and tables under the tree, which Mary had spotted and it was in an idyllic spot. We all really enjoyed the food, having already gotten tired of the hotel’s American-biased lunch menu of BLTs n burgers, it was the perfect birthday lunch.

There was a smashing sunset and that evening we returned back along the same stretch in the dark walking in the surf. Our chosen beachside restaurant had a really cool duo playing music but were doing battle with another band a few hundred yards up the beach and they were the same bloody lot from the previous night, the lead singer was easy to spot, he looked like KFC’s Col Saunders with a bright pink goatee. Katy convinced us to stay and tactically position ourselves away from the offending band’s noise. It was a good move as the others soon packed up anyway and ours was fab. Three of us had some of the nicest food of the trip, unfortunately, Katy had a birthday pile of gristle, pretending to be a steak. The restaurant had a couple turn up and do an impressive fire dance on the sand as a decoy, this went on for a surprising 20 minutes. With the great music resumed, it was the nicest evening so far.

A reasonable departure time for the long haul south to Manual Antonio also on the Pacific Coast. We are all armed with our music and earphones for the predicted five-and-a-half-hour trip, so the conversation will be limited, no doubt a relief for the driver who’s already driven 4.5 hrs to get to us from San Jose! Just under two hours had us in a gas station, it was funny seeing attendants buzzing around the van. We raided the store for iced coffee, bickies and other rich imperial titbits. The drive was nothing special, only a couple of miles of dual carriageway, much of it was on the Inter- Americas Highway that runs down the country, despite the impressive name it was still only a single carriageway in each direction and not especially scenic. Unusual for Latin countries the standard of driving is impressive. As predicted William took the back seat to lay out on, the middle row for May so she can hum to herself, with Katy and I taking up the front row with a good view ahead, trying not to be car sick.

The second stop was at a large highway bridge, quite a long one. We were told to walk across the titchy path that was far too slim to be called pavement, so it was quite a nervous walk with the trucks thundering past us. At roughly the middle we could see nothing, so diced with death, crossing to the other side which had plenty of pedestrians lined up. Initially, it looked like a number of logs scattered along the shoreline, but it only took a second and a quite intake of breath, to realise they were all crocodiles. We couldn’t believe the number, 30-40 and all quite still. Every now and again, slowly an odd one opened its jaws as if to threaten us, plenty more under the water and not moving. It was also strange to see a herd of white cattle in the next field. It was even more disconcerting to hear there is cayman and crocs in all of Costa Rica’s rivers.

We arrived in Manual Antonio in a heavy downpour and were all rather disappointed having come from such a nice resort with such nice weather. The bright orange and red hotel has a rather strange layout, but worst still, the pool was blooming cold. After a late lunch with Costa Rica’s largest burgers (even when shared they were large). We later donned our ponchos and walked down a twisting garden path to the sea, it was more puddle than path. The rain was in a deluge and coming at us horizontally, took a few photos of the beach and our flapping ponchos with the roaring surf next to us. Most of the small shops and restaurants are closed and no one apart from us was around. We picked up a few bits and pieces and had a pretty poor picnic back in the kid’s bedroom, none of us wanting to be here and wondering what shall we do for the next few days, as the forecast wasn’t good. Most felt it was a mistake to come here, but not actually say it out aloud, or perhaps Mary did say it?

The weather forecast was grey but warm in the morning and a storm in the afternoon, so we headed to the beach smartly and found it transformed with plenty of people. The sea was livelier than at Tamarindo, with more powerful waves, but just as warm. It seemed too rough for us amateur surfers. Lots of splashing by us three around while Mary sat reading in the surf with one eye on us, then some soccer practice, a bit of bat n ball and reading. A chap brought a child’s plastic colouring table for us and delivered an extortionately priced lunch from one of the restaurants, it was very nice. We retired early afternoon to the pool. Will was mucking around in a small cave next to the pool and stuck his hand up a small ventilation hole, coming up right next to a blooming great iguana, which I was delighted to show him as he came out. The iguana stayed in the same place for the next few days, no doubt waiting to lour him back.

We then nipped inside as the promised storm arrived. I always thought England was rainy but it’s got nothing on here. We retired to the top (6th) floor, where they had an adult pool and large sheltered wicker sofas, some square and some round. We all had a smashing afternoon reading here, mum was bolt upright in a chair humming to tunes and us other three plopping against each other on a large round sofa as the rain fell around us in torrents. That evening we ate in the hotel’s restaurants, almost on our own, unmemorable.

It was forecast that this was to be the best day, so into The Manuel Antonio National Park we headed, the entrance was next door. They are very particular about what you could bring in due to monkeys nicking your food, so only sarnies and fruit, not crisps or biscuits etc. a slight hiccup as William had brought his football with him, that was a no-no, so I had to run it back to the room after the illicit item was found at the security check.

Due to us being painfully aware of the amount of money we had haemorrhaged, we declined a guide, so walked along the raised walkway looking for wildlife, but as usual finding bugger all, although others pointed out a tiny bright green snake and there were plenty of red crabs. At the first junction we headed off through a stinking mangrove swamp, boy did it reek, but the bonus was that it led to a castaway-style beach, a beautiful place. Katy had this as a location for another photo shoot, plus a quick dip in the sea, we retreated swiftly due to the force of the waves, rather disconcerting.

Back into the park and it was a very nice walk, but far as we could see the void of animals. After another 15 mins we reached the end of this trail and immediately saw other guides with scopes spotting sloths and other things invisible to us. We then walked a little further to the beach and found lots of people and a lot of monkeys, it was a bit tense, everyone was quite wary of them, not just us, but clearly monkeys didn’t feel the same. Almost immediately we heard a girl scream as a small white-faced monkey jumped on the log she was sat and swiped her bread roll. An already nervous Mary was now skittering around saying ‘I don’t like it, I don’t like it’. Guides I read had suggested we take the walk around Cathedral Rock a pretty peninsular well worth the trek. On our way to this, we found the beach we had stumbled upon at the start, so realised that when we came to head home, we could go straight along it, a quicker route to the entrance, this was a pleasing find.

The walk around the rock was quite hard, with lots of steps up and down and it has very hot, high and humid. The views were poor and unfortunately, Katy slipped, hurting herself, which didn’t improve anyone’s mood. Prob took 45 mins to plod it, but in the end, we did come to a sheltered cove with a huge rock pool. In a secluded corner, I dropped my shorts to slip into trunks and as I dropped, them, there was a howl from a monkey above me, the timing was perfect. Not only have I never gotten into trunks that quickly, but William found this hilarious. As usual, there were quite a few large iguanas sunning themselves, but we are now quite happy in their company. After a dip we quickly ate on the sand, looking wearily back to the tree line for thieving monkeys. Then walked around a photogenic headland to the main beach, which was a beautiful white crescent, most in this area up until now, have been a dirty grey due to the volcanic rock. I and the kids spent a couple of hours in the sea while Mary sat a read in the sand with the waves lapping against her.

We returned to the beach and spotted an iguana moving onto someone’s powder blue coloured towel and to our amazement, it then began to turn blue from brown to match the towel, it was extraordinary. At that moment a great big racoon turned up who was scared of the iguana. It could obviously smell something as it ripped away the towel to reveal a red rucksack underneath and started to sniff and claw at it. I managed to scare it off and hang both up on a tree when a woman appeared out of the surf to claim them. We returned tired and hot for a dip in the pool. Later that night we walked the dark lane to the restaurants on the seafront and had a smashing meal in the dark, due to a protracted power cut, all very novel, using candles and phones to read the menu. The walk back was in ponchos due to yet another downpour. Mary was very nervous should we come across an aggressive poisonous frog in the dark, but thankfully we did not, nor a snake, which would have put the willies up me!

Our local agent had tried to arrange a surprise for Katy’s birthday, but due to her present diet problems, had promised something like a massage etc, but nothing had come of it. When we first arrived in despair with the rotten weather, we wanted to do something and had enquired with our agent about doing a quad biking trip, although Mary and I were not that enthusiastic about it. When asking for the cost, we were offered it free, so jumped at the chance. The forecast was meant to be Ok in the morning, with rain and thunder in the afternoon. Before the pick-up, we had a brief shopping expedition to the shops by the park entrance, Katy bought a throw and surprisingly William bought a Costa Rica national football team top, fancy that?

Picked up by the coach and as usual, the guide then described what was to happen today. I tried very unsuccessfully to make a joke with him, but as usual, Katy & William found I was the most embarrassing parent in the world, so I, therefore, doubled my efforts. We had to hang around for a while halfway up a huge hill, but we were eventually joined by a delightful young Canadian couple. After a brief briefing, half of which had been concluded before the guide realised that Mary had nipped back to the house for suncream. Despite the restart, it was thankfully swiftly concluded, with Katy telling me later she was nervous having William perched on the back behind her, but it did come with a comfy backrest. A probably even more nervous Mary was my pillion, as she is not especially impressed with my driving at the best of times We started off with a couple of laps of the garden which did nothing for the lawn and I then overtook the Canadians and slipped in behind Katy’s quad bike, then off we headed up the local lane. Katy and William gestured that they were enjoying it and surprisingly so was Mary. After about ten mins we darted into a palm plantation. These were dirt tracks of dappled sunlight and plenty of puddles to splash through, plus the odd stream to charge across, bloody good fun it was too.

About half an hour later we came to Rainmaker Private Rainforest, parked up the bikes and headed on foot into the park. What a smashing place it was. Again hilly, so lots of steps as we wound our way along rocky wooded canyons, accompanied by the rush of the river all the way. Most of the steps were old car tyres filled with earth, some of the hanging bridges across the streams had been made with aluminium ladders linked together and a few rickety old wooden bridges. After passing a few waterfalls we ended up at a large one with a nice bathing pool. At this point, everyone was sweating hard and looking forward to a dip, but with a certain amount of trepidation, as these pools are usually nut-cracking cold. What a surprise, it wasn’t that cold, we all enjoyed a swim or at least splash around, some of us went around to a fallen log propped against the falls and were briskly swept under and around it. Despite it being inevitable, it was still a surprise at the force and speed that we were spat out, but with big rocks around the pool, meaning we would not be shot off down the river. Had quite a bit of fun playing in here. As usual, the guide had a couple of pineapples to scoff at and chopped them open before we headed back. We then took the same quad bike route to base camp, except for one bridge which we instead headed for the ford next to it. Loads of fun as we took it one bike at a time, with the guide using our phones to take shots. A very enjoyable trip and a great day out for everyone. Although William had driven one in Cambodia he was too young here, but still had a great laugh with his sister, more surprisingly, Mary had a hoot too.

That evening we walked back down to the sea edge and ate in a restaurant opposite, but due to the previous day’s power cut, it was a pudding-less meal as all the melted ice cream stocks had not yet been replenished. As ever it was a wet trudge back with Mary on frog patrol.

The last day and a good weather forecast for at least the morning had us heading to the beach. Utter indulgence had us recklessly hiring a pair of sun beds and parasol I’ll for ten dollars. Mary went for a stroll along the beach. The plan was to perhaps hire a surfboard but the waves seemed too strong for us. So instead, I and the kids went wave jumping but the previous stormy nights had meant lots of stones and rocks running back and forth with the pull of the waves, so a few bruised toes. After coming on for an hour in the water, we found ourselves being dragged along the beach, every now and again I suggested we get back to a depth we could stand in. There came a point after one wave that William and I were about 15 ft from Katy and we started to swim towards the shore and to the right, it became obvious the pull from each wave retreating was taking us back pout to see, so I yelled at him to do the crawl and charge ahead, we both did and go out of the drag, but we had to push very hard. Katy said that while this was going on, the lifeguard almost swallowed his whistle. Mary was naturally a bit upset with this when Katy spilt the beans later on. We all ended up sharing the two sunbeds reading for the rest of the morning.

Mary on her recce had found a charming new hotel at the far end of the beach with a pleasant garden, so we went there for lunch and had a lovely meal until I pointed out the monkey troop in the trees and thereby unintentionally making it not as relaxed as it could for Mary. Thankfully the monkeys came no nearer to us. Mary and I stayed on the beach for a spot of reading and the kids returned to the hotel’s main family pool which was still uncharacteristically nippy for Costa Rica, even their hot tub wasn’t hot. I spent an hour struggling with the hotel’s dodgy connectivity, to check us in for the next day’s flight.

Then we all headed to the top floor(6th), the kids surfed the wifi, Katy lounged in the pool, William was on a sun bed and Mary was kindling while laying next to Katy on the pool’s edge, I was on a sunbed updating this holiday diary. Later while we all sat around, we suddenly felt shaking and the plastic sunroof began to rattle loudly. It was an earthquake, but only lasted maybe 10-15 seconds, just enough time to work out what was happening. It reminded me of the one I felt in San Diego probably 20+ years ago with Roy. A waiter ran to us and shepherded others on the top floor to come near the pool, which had no roof. There was no aftershock, but it not only spooked us but clearly the Howler Monkeys too, they didn’t stop gibbering all night long. We were told the next day it was a 6.1 on the Richter scale so was a medium-sized activity, but thankfully it was a short one, the longer they are the more damage they do. Being on the top of the building no doubt extenuated the wobble for us. We understand it was to the south about three hours away from us and no one was killed.

That evening we took a taxi to El Aviator restaurant, a famous one in Costa Rica as a large part of this is an old American transport aircraft, that was involved in the Iran/ Contra scandal. It was a cool place to eat and having booked ahead had a fantastic table on the corner, which would have been a spectacular hillside view of the coast, but being a dark night we couldn’t see the slightest thing. Later a thunderstorm arrived and lit the sky up with lightning but next to no thunder. As warned, the food was nothing special, burgers etc, but it was a cool finale.

Going home, with a sensible pick-up at 0830 hrs and a three-hour drive to San Jose Airport. A small hiccup had me paying again William’s departure tax. The flight had a slight delay and that was about all that was worth noting. BA direct back to Gatwick, ten hours, bumpy start and surprisingly cold journey as I stupidly had on shorts and a linen shirt.

It’s been a hugely successful trip everyone enjoyed it, nothing went wrong and the earthquake was just a thing of interest. It was an expensive trip to book and I was very surprised how expensive it was once there, most things ARE more expensive than in London. Although teeming with wildlife, apart from the numerous iguanas and the very obvious monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park, everything else needs to be pointed out to us, even when it was under our noses. The country is chock full of things to see and do, the English couple we first met were on their 6th or 8th trip and I can see why. The big surprise was how well-educated everyone was, they are all exceedingly polite (except the boat driver on Arinal Lake), all friendly and very worldly, especially in contrast to some of the American holidaymakers we met. Another bonus was the pleasant weather in the top 70s and very manageable compared to the previous year’s sweat-box that is Indo China. A great holiday destination and deserves to be so trendy now. A perfect place for families, preferably with kids of secondary school age. Mary says probably the best family trip yet and I agree.