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Wonderful wildlife

Having a wild time in Costa Rica

Lowri Turner gets caught up in some monkey mayhem in this land of forests, beaches and volcanoes

When your two sons’ favourite TV programmes are Weird Creatures With Nick Baker and Austin Stevens: Most Dangerous! you have a choice: stick your fingers in your ears and pretend it isn’t happening or go with the flow.

So it was that I found myself crouched on the floor of a hotel room in Costa Rica at 2am, trying to catch a spider the size of a fried egg with a tumbler.

In my imaginary life, holidays are spent on a sun lounger. Back in the real world, I’d travelled to the depths of the Costa Rican rainforest with my sons, nine and six, to look at monkeys, caimans, frogs and, yes, spiders - although I hadn’t bargained on having to share a room with one.

Thanks to the country’s incredibly varied landscape, Costa Rica is one of the most bio-diverse countries on earth - it has rainforests, cloud forests, beaches, hot springs and volcanoes.

The Arenal Volcano which can be seen from Tabacon Resort & Spa

It’s anything but a Third World country. The streets of San Jose are clean, the people well-educated and the hotels fantastic. To get a proper sense of the place, you need to travel about, which means a lot of driving, although flying is quicker. 

My sons had a wish list of animals they were dying to see. Top of the list were the monkeys and, cruising down the river in Tortuguero National Park, we watched fascinated as white-faced capuchin monkeys leapt from tree to tree over our heads.

The forests are teeming with wildlife

Our first stop was the Pachira Lodge in a lagoon in the heart of Tortuguero National Park. It’s an eco lodge with its own dock, boats and guide, but there was no air conditioning or TV.  Instead guests gravitated to the pool bar where there was a lovely breeze. It was very friendly and sociable.

The best time to see monkeys was early morning. We also spotted toucans, herons, caimans and even a wild otter.

Our next stop was Tabacon Resort and Spa in La Fortuna. Here you can see the active Arenal Volcano, experience hot springs, and visit Cano Negro Wildlife Park, which you do by boat. The animals were astonishing.

The hot springs are free to guests and you dip into a series of swimming pools with natural waterfalls.

The Manuel Antonio National Park

On then to Manuel Antonio on the coast and the Arenas Del Mar Hotel. Here we had a hot tub overlooking a pretty cove, a super-comfortable bed and flat-screen TV. My eco conscience was clear as it is sustainable - even the shampoo is biodegradable.

The boys loved it because it was in the middle of a forest, which meant easy access to more wildlife. It is also useful for visiting the Manuel Antonio National Park where we saw more monkeys, lizards, crabs and very lazy sloths doing nothing but clinging to branches.

The highlight was when a wild deer stepped out of the forest and walked alongside my eldest son. He will never forget it. If you are going to the park at Manuel Antonio, take a swimsuit, because there is a lovely beach. It is sheltered, so ideal for children, and we had a great afternoon playing in the water and collecting hermit crabs.

Red Eye Tree Frog

Our final stop was the Paradisus Playa Conchal Hotel. The Paradisus is all-inclusive with jaw-dropping pool, bars and restaurants and lots of activities.

The best bit, as far as the boys were concerned, was the possibility of having a Playstation, X-Box or Wii installed in your room. 

Still, on the flight home, I asked them what their favourite part of the holiday was.

I expected them to say the X-Box, but they didn't. The highlight for them was the Pachira Lodge, with the monkeys hopping about on the roofs. Seeing wildlife on TV is all very well, but when you see it for real, it beats the pants off any computer game.

First published in the Mail Online - February 2015

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