Skip’s daughter Jen & husband Bill live in Denver and like to go someplace warm in the winter.  That’s understandable!  About a year and a half ago, we started planning our visit to Costa Rica.  Jen did most of the work.  She worked with Costa Rica Expeditions, a local company, that we would highly recommend.  They customized our trip to meet our needs and provided excellent drivers and tour guides.  We didn’t have a single bad experience on our trip.

We stayed overnight in Fort Lauderdale to catch a morning flight to Costa Rica on Southwest.  We even lucked out and got exit row seats to ourselves.  The airport in San Jose is clean and well-run.  It took almost an hour to get through customs and immigration.  When you exit the airport, there’s a sea of people waving signs and trying to cart you off to their taxi.  Our guide found us and whisked us away to our hotel.

There wasn’t anything in particular we wanted to see in San Jose so we hung around the hotel and ventured out for our first Tican meal, casada (chicken, rice, beans and salad), at a Soda (fast, local food.)  We would have many more of these meals, most better than our initiation.

Jen & Bill arrived in the evening.  We got caught up with drinks at the bar.

Our adventure began the next day when we met our driver for the ride up to Monteverde.  About halfway there we got stuck in a major traffic jam.  An early morning fatal accident wreaked havoc and there were no alternate routes.  It took about 2 hours longer to get up to Monteverde so we had to postpone our zip lining tour.  I’m glad we did because it took a while for us to acclimate to the altitude coming up from sea level.

Our driver was very nice but didn’t understand a lot of English.  We had fun learning a little Spanish and trying to communicate with him.  All of our transports were in comfortable vehicles with friendly drivers.

One thing we weren’t prepared for was the 14 kilometers of rocky, twisting, unpaved roads on the approach to Monteverde.  I read in the guidebooks that Ticans are very proud of their country and you can’t criticize anything about it except the roads.  They all agree that the roads are terrible.  I’m just glad we weren’t driving although it seemed like the drivers in Costa Rica were very courteous and not aggressive.  An American tourist family tried to break into the traffic at the big traffic jam.  Our driver talked to him and grumbled and shook his head but in the end, he just let him in.

The Hidden Canopy Treehouse is an amazing place.  One of the reasons why we planned this trip so far in advance was to stay here.  The main house has a glass room that overlooks a hummingbird garden with the Gulf of Nicoya and mountains along the Pacific in the background.  The owner, Jenn, is so welcoming.  It’s one of those rare places that makes you feel like you’re staying with family.

Jenn has 3 rules: no shoes in the house to protect the beautiful varnished hard wood floors, no work (don’t even try to assist her attentive staff!) and enjoy dessert at happy hour…no problem!

Our 2 bedroom treehouse, Neverland, sits 32 ft above the ground with views of the sunset over the treetops.  We know it’s 32 ft because we were traveling with an engineer!  I watched in amazement as Bill timed how long it took for a rock to fall from the balcony and computed the height.

It was chilly and windy.  Many guides told us that their weather is impacted by the fronts on the east coast.  The cold air hits the warm, moist Pacific air to create the clouds hovering in the trees.  At an altitude of about 5000 ft, Monteverde sits on the continental divide.  We never saw any monkeys near our treehouse.  Later in the week, we will get our fill of monkeys!

Our treehouse was paneled with beautiful varnished local wood.  When Jenn found out that Skip is a wood turner, she gave him some pieces.  It’ll be enough to make some pens and bottle stoppers.  He plans to send her some of his work.  I know she’ll be thrilled as her house is full of local art and wood sculptures.

Happy hour is a special time at the main house to have a drink, sample a delicious appetizer, meet fellow travelers, watch the sunset and have dessert.  The sunset got better each night with the changing weather.  Jen and I loved the speciality drink, a white sangria with plenty of fruit and flavored with Amaretto.

Our first day of touring started early (7am).  We had our ‘to go’ breakfast and met our driver for the short trip to the Monteverde Cloud forest.  Our guide, Donald, was the first of many who spoke perfect English and was incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about showing us their wildlife and plants.

We saw some toucans before we even entered the park.  The park wasn’t crowded and it felt like we had the place to ourselves.  The guides we had were so adept at spotting wildlife and quickly setting up their scopes so we can see it.  I was glad that our tours were private which allowed better interaction and ability for everyone to see through the scope before the animal moved on.  I was glad to have my iPhone because all of the guides knew how to use it to take photos through their scope.

The ideal experience in Monteverde is to see a Quetzal, the elusive bird that lives in the high elevations of Costa Rica.  We did see a female, very briefly.   We saw howler monkeys and many other birds.  After our tour, we had hot chocolate and coffee at a cafe surrounded by hummingbirds.

We briefly saw a female Quetzal and saw the male flying around but didn’t get any photos.  A couple staying at our hotel were ardent photographers and shared some photos with me.

We also took a night tour with a wonderful guide, Koki, that we met at Hidden Canopy.  We tramped around with flashlights and learned a lot about the nighttime habits of birds, insects and other animals.  We saw frogs, vipers, a tarantula in her hidey hole and sleeping birds.  High up in the tree canopy we saw Kinkajous and Olingos.

It amazed me how the guides could spot wildlife so far away, even tiny frogs and critters.  If we were walking around on our own, we wouldn’t see anything!

It was still windy and chilly on the morning of our Skywalk tour.  Today, we were guided by a young man named Andy who was incredibly knowledgeable.  Yesterday, our tour was all about zoology.  Today, it’s botany.  Some of his stories about insects would make a good horror movie!

We trekked along paths and hanging bridges high above the tree canopy.  The bridges swayed and bounced in the high winds.  The clouds hung over the mountain top and occasionally, the sun broke through.  Going across one bridge, Andy spotted a howler monkey asleep on a treetop.  When we made too much noise taking photos, he looked up and gave us a dirty look and went back to sleep just like an angry teenager!

After our tour we had a nice lunch at Cantore, a restaurant that sits above a bat museum and a chocolate shop.  The Original Canopy Tour company picked us up there for our afternoon adventure.  OMG, zip lining was so much fun!  After they got us suited up we started with a jump off a high platform on a Tarzan rope.  I wasn’t real sure I wanted to do it but it happened so quick.  One minute I’m standing there thinking “I really don’t want to do this” and the next, I’m swinging and shrieking high through the air!

After that, zip lining was easy!  We did 3 or 4 runs of different lengths and speeds and then they hooked each of us up to a line that dropped to the forest floor.  We repelled down to the ground and climbed back up to the platform via rope steps inside a hollow strangled fig tree and a 20 ft rope ladder.  Even Skip did it.  The climbing was hard for him as he was still adjusting to the altitude.

All along, I tried not to think about how high up we were on a tiny swaying platform.  It was an amazing experience and I would definitely do it again.

We shared another breathtaking sunset while sipping white sangria and sharing stories with fellow travelers.  This was such a special place to visit and staying in this amazing Inn made it even more exceptional.

The second part of our trip starts tomorrow with our journey to the Pacific coast and Manuel Antonio.  Stay tuned…