Costa Rica Expeditions - Rain and Cloud Forest Odyssey - part 1
Our CRE tour included all meals except for lunch the 1st day in Monteverde, all transportation van, boat and plane, 2 tours at Tortuga and 2 tours and a visit to the butterfly farm in Monteverde.
In the March 2012 issue of Travel & Leisure, CRE was rated #2 of tour and safari operators and all my initial emails to Nadia in CREs San Jose main office and mostly good reviews on TripAdvisor gave me high expectations for this tour. I communicated with CREs main office quite a few times with some specific requests and Nadia assured me all were noted and there would be no problem. My requests were: we would like a room with 2 beds in each lodge, there were some specific food items we could not eat (we knew Tortuga Lodge had a set menu so we wanted to let them know this information) and I also quite specifically mentioned that we wanted to upgrade to a balcony room at Monteverde Lodge since we are smokers & do not smoke in our hotel rooms. Again we were assured that there would be no problem and I paid the extra $45/per night for the upgrade. We also mentioned that were were celebrating 2 special occasions. We were always told in her replies that all was noted and would be communicated to the lodges.
When we arrived at Xandari Resort on our 1st day in CR, there was a fax from CRE waiting for us explaining that they would be there to pick us up at 7:30am the next morning to begin our journey to the Tortuga Lodge. The van picked us up right on time and we stopped at another nearby hotel to pick up another couple who were doing the same tour. The driver (Fernando) and service guide (Jonathan) were excellent Jonathan handed each couple their packet of personalized information. During the approximately 2 ½ hour drive to the boat dock Jonathan pointed out many items of interest and we also stopped at a working banana plantation quite interesting to see everything was being done manually!. We arrived at the river dock and boarded the Tortuga Lodge boat for the 2 hour boat ride to the lodge. On the boat we again had an excellent local guide who pointed out things along the way. From the time we were picked up at Xandari, we did not have to worry about our luggage so we could just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
We arrived at Tortuga Lodge around lunchtime and all the check in staff were lined up on the dock to welcome us with a refreshing fruit drink and to escort us in to lunch I would have preferred to go to my room 1st and freshen up but this was not really a big deal. Lunch was delicious and when we were finished our own personal check in person (in our case, Silvia) escorted us around the lodge and took up to our room having your own personal check in person is a nice touch! Our luggage was already in the room when we got there. I had mentioned earlier in this article some of the requests we had made to the CRE main office and our room did not have 2 beds so this request never made it to the lodge staff. We decided not to bother asking for a different room since the room was very large and the king bed was fine. It was on the upper deck of the bungalow and quite nice. Each bungalow has 4 rooms 2 on the top and 2 on the bottom I would highly recommend asking for one on the top floor. Top floor rooms have a deck that runs the length of the building and each room has 2 Adirondack chairs, a table and a hammock. The ground floor rooms have a patio with the same furnishings. The rooms are well ventilated with large screened windows all around and a ceiling fan we never felt hot or stuffy in our room even when it was hot & humid. The room also had a desk and chair and a large bathroom with a big shower and sink area, plenty of towels and a large closet. There is one larger bungalow that can accommodate families. You do not need an alarm clock since the howler monkeys pretty much wake you up each morning.
The lodge has very comfortable seating areas around the pool and around the bar area and a computer room for guests to use. The bulk of the lodge is a semi indoor/outdoor type of construction mostly made of all local hardwoods the outdoor bar area and outdoor dining area are covered in case of the occasional tropical rain shower. The dining area has a lovely terrace overlooking the river great views! Meals are at set times: breakfast is 6:30-8am, lunch is 12:30-1:30pm and dinner is 6:30-8pm. There is a set menu (except for breakfast where there are different choices) but dont let this put you off as mentioned earlier, we had told them there were a few foods we did not/could not eat and this part of our email was noted and the lodge had our food preferences. If they do serve something you do not care for, just let them know and the chef will gladly prepare something else for you. One night they served a Caribbean type of chicken for dinner and I did not really care for it so did not eat it, our waiter was very concerned and asked if I wanted something else instead. Since I had filled up on the great bread, soup and salad, I was not really hungry and told him that I was fine and did not need anything else. He must have thought I was just being polite in declining because in a few minutes, Julian, the hotel manager came over to make sure I was really OK he was very concerned that I might not be happy and wanted to make sure that I really did not want another dinner selection I told him I was really OK and not to worry I think this was pretty good customer service! We later chatted with him for a while and he told us some funny stories about the area and all about what it was like working in the lodge a really great guy. There is also a coffee/tea station set up from 5am 10pm that the staff keeps replenished and there are also some pretty tasty cookies. They also do light hors doeuvres before dinner each night. Edgar & Francisco manned the bar area and were very friendly, courteous and made a great pina colada (my tropical drink of choice). The bar also has a pretty decent wine list and local beer selections. You can also drink the water here no bottled stuff needed which is great for the environment.
We had 1 morning boat tour and Norton our local guide from the nearby village was very informative and a great wildlife spotter I do not know how he managed to spot some of the things we saw! The boat tour was about 3 hours long and the lodge keeps each boat tour to 10 or less people. The next day, we did not want to do another day boat tour so Silvia the assistant manager did a great job in arranging a night boat tour for us again Norton was our guide and we had the boat all to ourselves another great experience on both the day & night tour we saw much wildlife birds, caymans, lizards, monkeys and a mother & baby sloth. The lodge sits on 45 acres and has a nice trail system for guided or self guided walks. The trails can be muddy and the lodge provides rubber boots. The trails are also one of the places in the area where there are mosquitos so bug repellant is a must. I had sprayed my clothes with permithren so I was fine, however, my husband chose neither option and did get bit I told him, to use the bug repellant wipes I had brought along but he said no sometimes the guys just dont want to listen to us ladies!
There are also many optional activities you can do sportfishing (ask for Captain Eddie he is a great guy and really knows the area and the fish to catch many repeat customers here), kayaking, etc. You can also go to the village of Tortuga which we did on our own. The lodge has a boat that goes to the town each day around 2pm and you can catch a ride (it is about a 10 minute boat ride), you can wait for the return boat which comes around 5:30 but the village is pretty small (but interesting) so you dont really need more than an hour or 2 to see everything. We opted to walk back which is quite the interesting experience. You can walk along the beach or back a bit on a trail that winds through the forest we went back & forth between trail & beach. You keep on walking until you get to the Tortuga airstrip which is right across the river from the lodge and when you get to the clearing you jump up and down and wave your arms to catch their attention and the lodge sends the boat across the river to pick you up it was very fun! The walk can take 1-2 hours depending on how slow you walk or if you decide to stop along the way to check out the sights. During turtle season (July-October), the lodge also has a variety of activities geared to turtle watching, nesting, hatching, etc.
During our stay there was a documentary filmmaker there making his 2nd documentary about Costa Rica this time he was concentrating on the Tortuguero area and was staying at the lodge. His film will be shown on PBS and you can check out his web site for further information on viewing dates and times and I believe you can watch his 1st documentary. Nick MolleProductions -www.nickmolle.com
Tortuga Lodge is a wonderful place and we would definitely go back again. It was the 1st lodge built in the area and Michael Kay the CEO & Founder of CRE has done a great job blending the lodge in with the natural surroundings. He happened to be there during our stay and he is an interesting man. Here is the link to the Tortuga Lodge pictures. https://picasaweb.google.com/1012675...eat=directlink
see the next blog for part 2