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Costa Rica Holidays 2023 - 07/08/23

Costa Rica 2023

Having already made a couple of trips to Costa Rica, one prior to Covid and another in 2022, we decided to have a group holiday for three weeks with a few days fishing too! Sandy and I were accompanied by our daughter Jenny, son Lee, his partner Michelle, and old friends Keith and Pru Cartwright.

Day 1

We set out from Gatwick together flying direct to San Jose arriving in the early evening. We had booked all the travel and connections within Costa Rica (CR) through Namu Travel who had arranged everything perfectly on a previous trip. They met us at the airport and directed us through customs and had arranged a minibus to take us to our first location, about a 45 minute drive from the airport, the Xandari resort.

It was dark when we arrived, and the time difference meant it was a long day so we checked in to our lodges and crashed out. The rooms were superb, on a hill top overlooking the valley and San Jose. We had decided to rest on the next day, which allowed us all to tour the hotel grounds which are ecologically amazing with spectacular waterfalls.  Whilst most opted to swim in the pools, I was up at around 6 am with my camera looking for birds. There was a list and a guide book to help me identify them as I crept around the spacious gardens. I found them fascinating and managed to photograph around 100 species in total, a fraction of the ones we saw overall as there are over 900 species of birds in CR. The hardest part was spotting the birds within the foliage, but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge throughout the trip as the species varied as we moved around the country.

Day 2

The following morning after breakfast – the usual CR delicacy of black beans, rice, egg and a local bread – we were collected in another minibus with an english speaking guide having arranged an initial trip to a coffee producer who still make coffee in the traditional way, and a chance to try ultra fresh coffee. Everyone loved it but I think I will stick to tea.

Then we travelled to La Paz Gardens and Sanctuary. La Paz is a well-known conservation area where animals which typically were unwell or kept too long in captivity are returned to health and released where possible. Sadly, there were Jaguars there which were too old to be returned to the wild, but it made it possible to see their beauty and power. There were also several species of toucan as well as sloths and monkeys. The gardens were also home to several hummingbirds – one of the hardest to photograph – a butterfly house and a plethora of wildlife in general. We had a delicious buffet lunch there before taking a walk down to three more spectacular waterfalls. We had a really enjoyable day out, which was well worth doing. You can stay at this location but it is very pricey

Weary from the days exercise, we returned to the hotel for dinner. The restaurant overlooked the valley with a myriad of sparkling light, before retiring for the evening.

Day 3

We were collected by our guide after breakfast to move to our next location, Quepos where the fishing was based. This took about 4 hours but we stopped along the way where the road bridge crosses a river. The area below is a crocodile reserve. There were about a dozen easily visible; you wouldn’t want fall in.

More photographs were taken of birds and the fish in the river – tilapia and catfish, before we continued our trip to Manuel Antonio staying at Monte Verde.

This resort is located within trees where agouti roam and squirrel and campuchin monkeys are constantly sighted, especially at breakfast time when they try to leap onto your table and snaffle your food. Howler monkeys could be heard just beyond the grounds.

There were several restaurants on the other side of the road, all open structured so when we went for dinner that evening a sloth decided to come creeping down a tree very near to our table. It was a treat we all enjoyed.

Day 4

The next morning the fishermen were up early and driven to the marina for a seven o’clock start. We purchased our fishing permit there and our host, Benn Gilmour had also arranged breakfast to start our day as we missed breakfast at the hotel.

Our boat was “Good Day” skippered by Manuel. Run by Jackpot Sport Fishing, Good Day is a 31’ Custom Built Express Sport Fisher, powered with a 330hp 6BTA Cummins Engine and can cruise at 18 knots to get you to the fishing grounds quickly. It accommodates up to 5 passengers, has a full toilet and plenty of protection from both the sun and the rain with a recently installed isinglass boat enclosure. Good Day is fitted with Garmin (GPS/Fishfinder) and iComm (VHF Radio) electronics. I have fished on this boat on both my previous visits and have always been impressed by the skill and professionalism of the team.

On that day we decided to try and catch rooster fish, so named after the rooster style comb of the dorsal fin. They are fast and spectacular and worth travelling that distance to catch.  By the end of the day, we had all caught at least one achieving our goal.

While we were fishing, Michell and Pru went on a catamaran tour. Sandy gets seasick so used the next couple of days to relax and enjoy the facilities of the hotel. The excursion aboard the double-decked catamaran allowed snorkelling, sunbathing, drinking and sight-seeing. After returning to the hotel we met up for dinner at the restaurant across the road bringing a dorado from our catch during the day for them to freshly prepare, and it was delicious. We had chosen March for the trip as it is meant to be the dry season but we regularly had showers in the evenings, but that night we were transfixed by an electrical storm and torrential rain. It was so heavy a sloth climbed into the restaurant to keep dry. Whilst sloths are rare in many places, they are regularly seen here, both three-toed and two-toed. (The toe number refers to the number of toes on their arms as they both have 3 toes on their feet).

Day 5Pru and Michelle came out with us on the boat as we fished for sailfish. Once again, we all caught one and the acrobatics during the fight were amazing, as were the pods of spinner dolphin that were all around the boat. We were 25-30 miles offshore but the water temperature was 86F and it was very clear. Benn never brings sailfish on board, complying with local bylaws, but uses a Go-Pro camera to film the fish as it approaches the boat. This produces memorable photographs of the fish, and by using an extended pole, you get an image of you leaning over the boat releasing the fish with its dorsal “sail” shown in all its glory, pictures of a lifetime. We all fought the fish on stand-up tackle, (ignoring the fighting chair) which added to the pleasure of playing a fish. The boat is well equipped with freezer boxes stocked with cold drinks and lunch are also provided. It makes for the perfect day’s fishing.


Day 6

On the third day, we fished in the estuaries to see what we could catch along the shoreline and were taken aback when Lee hooked into a heavy fish using his lighter tackle and a sardine as bait. He played it gently before Benn netted the fish and brought it on board. It was a pacific red snapper. Benn didn’t have scales and could only measure it and said it might be of record size, but Lee didn’t want to kill the fish so returned it.

We checked the length/weight table showing the fish was 24lbs. We also saw that the current unofficial world record was just 17lbs caught by Benn in a previous year on the same boat. It would have been a world record if Lee had killed it and taken in back to port to be weighed, but he had no regrets. I asked Benn about sharks and he said there may be some in the estuaries, and I managed a spinner and a grey reef shark, again on light tackle. Keith C caught a variety of species during a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Whilst we fished, the all went together on a trip to the Carara Biological Reserve. Costa Rica has 26 National Parks which make up 25% of the country's landmass. The Carara Biological Reserve is one of the most popular National Parks to visit in Costa Rica due to the immense amount of biodiversity found in the area and its easy access. The day started when they were picked up from the hotel by the guide just after breakfast and driven back over an hour through the African palm oil plantations, rice fields, cattle ranches, and local villages along the way. The park is in a transition zone between the tropical dry forest and rainforest and protects the river basin of the River Tarcoles. You spend three hours walking along the one-mile (1.5km) trail through the reserve. The park is reputed to be a bird watchers heaven. However, as the tour didn’t start until around 10 o’clock few were seen. At the end of the trek, they stopped for lunch at a local roadside restaurant not to be recommended next to River Tarcoles. (This was the worst food experienced on the trip). The lesson learnt from this trip is to get out very much earlier if you want to see the best of the birdlife. We contacted Namu who rescheduled our other trips to make sure we had the best trips for the rest of the holiday.

As a change, we all went to the pizza restaurant made behind an old aircraft fuselage, and were taken aback by the food quality, far better than the standard UK pub fayre.

Day 7

As we had been fishing for three straight days, we planned the next one to be a group tour of the Manual Antonio Reserve. As was the norm on all excursions, we were collected after breakfast by an English-speaking guide in an air-conditioned minibus. He was a wildlife expert and brough a monocular which was a huge advantage in seeing birds and lizards as he would set up the scope and we could take it in turns to see what he had spotted. This was really useful when he saw a nightjar about six feet away, which was so well camouflaged that I still couldn’t see it if I wasn’t using his scope. It was truly amazing.

We saw several sloths of both kinds, deer, iguana and new species of birds. It was an excellent day out and the extra paid for the guide was worth every penny. It was a naturalist’s delight.



Day 8

This day we fished for yellowfin tuna. As we came to expect, we all caught them and Keith C, using a fly rod, had a fish in the order of 100lbs!

He is not used to playing this size and asked for help towards the end. As true fishing mates do, we laughed and told him to get on with it! He eventually got it to the side of the boat where Benn held the leader before the hooked pulled. As most game fishers know, this counts as a capture now to prevent using a gaff to bring it aboard. It was the largest by some way, but we all had fun playing them. One of the smaller ones was taken for dinner, where we all joined up at a restaurant in the marina. The tuna was presented in three different ways. It was good, but for me it was not as good as the dorado earlier in the week.

The ladies went on the Santa Juana Mountain Adventure Tour after breakfast, again with an english-speaking guide in an air-conditioned minibus. This nature trek took them through tropical palm plantations and jungle-shrouded slopes, within the Talamanca Mountain Range, to the tiny farm village of Santa Juana overlooking the panoramic coastline of Manuel Antonio. They thoroughly enjoying the flora and fauna at the source of the River Rodeo. The visit ended with an authentic “Campesino” lunch in a typical farmhouse prepared by members of the community. The meal was delicious, and the view overlooking the canopy of trees was spectacular.

Day 9

The next day we decided to try and catch a sailfish on a fly, one of Keith C’s ambitions which proved more difficult. We caught more tuna, Keith C had a massive dorado and we tempted three sailfish to the boat with a teaser before Keith could present the fly, and although all the fish took, (one was on for quite a few seconds) they all managed to throw the hook.

Although we didn’t achieve our goal for the first time, watching three fish coming to the boat, see them take the fly and then the reel screaming off was just so exhilarating. Sadly, this was the last day with Benn who once again had been outstanding and he and Manuel work together like a well-oiled machine. I can pay them no higher compliment than to tell you I have already exclusively booked my trip with them again for 2024.

The ladies’ excursion this day was to the Nayuaca Waterfalls, one of Costa Rica's most secluded waterfalls in the Manuel Antonio area, nestled in a tropical forest. A minibus picked them up at the hotel and took them to the Waterfalls, in the south of the country. The adventure began with a hike through the jungle which was challenging, but they reached a two-tiered waterfall, which cascaded down a canyon.

They spent about an hour and a half swimming under the waterfall which has an 80-foot face. The guides, who were the happiest they had ever met. entertained them by climbing up the face and diving doing somersaults. Then they climbed to get to the second tier, a waterfall of 190 feet in a rocky. There was a return ride on a tractor to the café and a delicious CR lunch.

Day 10

Our last day fishing was on reefs aboard the Muy Caliente, a 31' Bertram Express. Benn had warned us that reef fishing may not be easy after the nightly rainfall and so it proved. We tried three reefs at various depths before we found on holding tilefish and grouper. On the return trip we also managed a few bonito that we hope we could use as bait for Marlin, but sadly time ran out.

Pru and Michelle finished the excursions there by going on one of south America’s longest zip wires. Pru loved these but Michelle has a fear of heights but decided she would try it, and to keep Pru company. We were amazed by her bravery.

Day 11

Our stay at Monte Verde was excellent but it was time to move on and the next day we travelled to our destination in the northern part of the country at the Mountain Paradise Hotel at Casita.

This was a more open area under the slope of the Arenal Volcano. Once again, the grounds were full of birds in a great setting, but here we found the strimmers and leaf blowers were an annoyance as they were used so regularly and the food was OK but we didn’t think is was the best value for money.

Day 12

The next morning after breakfast, being collected by our guide to head off to a trip I had done once before but found it so great that I really wanted to do it again; Caño Blanco lagoon, one of Costa Rica's last great wild places, and the home of Don and Dona Abelino.

As well as caiman, jesus christ lizards, howler monkeys, there is a wealth of bird life too such as herons, storks, kingfishers, jacanas, trogons, hawks and more. After a short break for refreshments, we and our bilingual guide boarded a small, noiseless motor boat designed to navigate the untamed, private channels of the river without disturbing the wildlife. The river is part of a complex ecosystem of wetlands that are a key nesting area for several species of birds.

Down the river, you arrive at Caño Blanco lagoon, one of Costa Rica's last great wild places. After two hours on the river in torrential rain (kagouls provided) with the guide helping identify the birds, we return to the house for a typical CR meal which you can watch being cooked. It is one of those days when those who love wildlife and the rural experience will really enjoy and never forget. I could do it over and over and never tire of it.




Day 13

The following day we were on a birdwatching hike which started at 5.30 in the morning, but this IS the best to see the birdlife. We were collected and taken to an area by Arenal. Our guide was fantastic, he had done so much time there he could even tell us what time which species would show and what tree they would be in. It was another fabulous experience seeing such a vast range of birds. The guide also had prepared for us to make breakfast as we waited quietly for the next species to appear.  This was one of the best trips on the holiday!

After three hours there we were returned to Mountain Paradise for lunch as we had another trip planned for the afternoon.

This trip was the result of a misunderstanding. We wanted to see the sloth sanctuary but had booked the sloth territory reserve. This is a new reserve on the banks of a river where a sloth territory is being constructed.

Whilst we saw sloths and several bird species, we had wanted to see the sloth sanctuary and were a bit disappointed at the extent of what we saw, especially when compared to the other trips we had made. I should have done more thorough homework to tell Namu exactly what we wanted.

Day 14

After breakfast we moved on again to Villa Blanca.

This resort we had never been to before but loved its location with spacious grounds in a cloud forest area with guides to take you around the resort and help identify birds, but the moths were the stars there; the silk moths were absolutely huge, almost a 12” wingspan, and we were told there were several thousand species in CR and 1500 species of butterfly.

Day 15

The next day Lee, Michelle, Keith C and Pru had a guided tour of the estate whilst Sandy, Jenny and I had a tour of the Poas volcano. Sandy, being fascinated with geology, loved this and said it was one of the best days of her life as the guide took us right to the crater rim so we could look down into the volcano and see the fumaroles venting. As we had gone early in the year, we also had excellent views across the country as this is often. The guide also took us to another crater on the same volcano around the side filled with water and had lush vegetation surrounding the lake.

One thing that did amuse us was a concrete structure which looked like a bus shelter facing away from the crater that you were meant to enter for protection should the volcano erupt, but I wouldn’t fancy your chances! There was also a traffic light system to show the fumes level. Whilst we were there is went from green to orange as the sulphur smell increased and we all started coughing. Whilst this probably wouldn’t be allowed in the UK, it was a fantastic experience and left us wanting to climb the other volcanoes.

Our guide said we had just time to visit the wagon museum to see the traditional methods of construction and painting. I wouldn’t do this again or recommend anybody to visit it. The plant was powered by water running down the valley which was interesting but we saw no construction and the painting being done was in the traditional style but on parasols, trays etc all of which we available for purchase. It was little more than an excuse to sell things in a shop.

We returned, gathered for dinner as usual and had an early night ready for another early start in the morning when we would go in search of the quetzel.

Day 16

Most people think the quetzel is the national bird of CR, but in reality, it is the clay-coloured thrush which can be seen everywhere and they have a huge range of calls. The quetzal is arguably the prettiest bird in CR and also very rare. I think it is the national bird of Panama, but is really only seen in CR. Once again, the minibus and English-speaking guide collected us early in the morning. The hotel had prepared a packed breakfast so off we went along the road down into a valley where we entered a garden in which hummingbirds abounded, but still so hard to photograph. We were delighted to see the Blue Morph, a spectacular butterfly flying along a stream there before we headed into the woods.

We searched all the regular places for a quetzel without success and were worried we wouldn’t see one, when our guide found a nest, which is a hole in a tree (woodpecker style). Sure enough, the guide spotted the male and female sitting silently in the trees. We struggled to see it through the foliage but the guide had brought a monocular again and we all got a good look, and could even take pictures through the device. Once again, we wouldn’t have seen it without our guide and they really are worth paying a little extra to ensure you get the most pleasure from your trips.

Day 17

Sandy, Jenny, Lee, Michelle & I were taken to San Jose airport to fly home via Spain whilst Keith and Pru headed back down south to the Osa Peninsula and more birdwatching and fly fishing for mini trout.


Overall, the holiday was truly superb and we all came back wanting to go again. I have booked it already for 2024. I would recommend using Namu Travel - - as they know the location well, and can provide many ideas of things to do in each area you wish to visit. All the accommodation was to a very high standard, and the few complaints we had are described. They arranged the air-conditioned vehicles at every point and made sure we had knowledgeable English-speaking guides for all our excursions, and even rescheduled the bird watching trips to earlier in the day after we realized they were all too late for us to get the best out of bird watching.

Initially I decided to go to CR to fish in 2020 having seen Benn’s advert in a sea fishing magazine and after checking out references, decided to go with him which was another excellent decision. The boat was superb, the team ultra-professional and we were able to try different things every day. He even arranged breakfast when we were out too early to get a hotel breakfast. The photographs he took of the trip and the fish we caught were excellent too and are very happy memories to look at over the winter months. He can be contacted at

Here are a few other things that may help you on your trip:-

  1. It is worth getting a credit card that doesn’t make charges for currency. This saves a lot of money as the shops will take dollars, but charge you an expensive transfer rate and then you may have to change from dollars to pounds. The cheapest option is to pay in colones with a card like this, and just transfer the money once. You would be surprised how much you save.
  2. Make sure you have travel insurance as an injection cost me $200 previously. We had our travel insurance with our mortgage package so check this out before you go.
  3. It was very hot fishing in Quepos so make sure you take factor 50 minimum, sunglasses plus a hat covering your ears and lip balm. We also took a snood to cover from the eyes down. We did look like a terrorist but we didn’t suffer any adverse problems.
  4. Bring the usual bug repellent
  5. Keep you credit card in your sight and make sure they are protected from being skimmed in your wallet too. This can be easily done by lining the outside pocket with silver paper
  6. All the fishing tackle is provided by Benn who can also organise a taxi to collect you from your hotel and breakfast if this is before the hotel opens.
  7. Bring a reusable bottle as single use are not welcomed in the national parks – and many other places.
  8. Power adapters are as the US in voltage (115V) and style
  9. Tipping is 10-15% as in the US. The boat tipping is $50 minimum per day
  10. When you are fishing, you can fish you catch to the restaurant to be cooked for you which saves on the bill. We also found if you take some for the chef it can save even more. You won’t believe just how good fish caught just one or two hours earlier tastes when compared to supermarket fish. My favourites are wahoo, dorado, grouper and spanish mackerel, but this is your choice to suit your taste.