Costa Rica had long been on my travel bucket list. It was a dream of mine to zip line in the canopies of a rain forest and spend time with sloths at a sanctuary where they can be viewed up close and safely. In May of 2017, I went for it.
Like most travelers into Costa Rica, I flew into the city of San Jose. I didn't arrive until 7:30pm and was leaving early the next day for my final destination of Puerto Viejo, Limon to a resort called Banana Azul.
(No, I am not and did not receive anything for this blog. This is 100% my honest experience.)
My friends Chris and Robert had been to this location a month before for a wedding, so I solicited their advice on arrangements. I wouldn't have known where to start on my own.
There are hundreds of hotels in which you can stay in San Jose, but like my friends, I stayed at the Adventure Inn and I was not disappointed. Even thought it was only for an overnight stay, it gave me a taste of the Costa Rican experience right off the bat.
Booking the Adventure Inn is very easy through their web site, and I highly recommend booking in advance. It's a very popular hotel for people who need a night or two to stay before or after their vacation. The room was very clean and had air conditioning which is a must at that time of year, for me anyway. There is an onsite restaurant as well, which makes venturing out in the evening alone a non-factor. I had the ham and cheese pizza - it was fantastic. (When you book at any hotel or resort in Costa Rica, there are less expensive rooms without AC. If it's something you require, be sure to book a room that clearly states it has AC.)
The next morning I boarded a shuttle (van) to head to Puerto Viejo and Banana Azul. When you book with this resort, you can make the arrangements for transportation at the same time, which makes it very easy to get where you need to go. Normally the drive takes about 2.5 hours, but we ended up at a stand still through a mountain pass because of construction for a good 90 minutes. It was still beautiful! We were literally in the middle of the rainforest and able to see beautiful and unique (to me) trees and flowers.
When I arrived at Banana Azul I was blown away and knew immediately that I could spend every hour of my vacation on this property and be completely content. The people? Beyond kind and helpful. One of the staff even drove me into town so I could get money from an ATM. The food? The homemade guacamole was the best I ever had. The animals? I saw a sloth on the property high up in a tree that garnered a lot of attention that day. And if you love cats, dogs, turtles, and fish - there are plenty all owned and cared for by the resort's owner so they are well taken care of and completely used to people. The rooms? I had an outdoor courtyard with a hammock and bathtub all to myself, and yes, I paid a bit extra for a room with air conditioning! The beach? Steps away and the staff will cater to your every need as you sit on la perla negra and watch the ocean.
I could clearly write an entire blog about this place, however exploring the beautiful and unique town of Puerto Viejo is a must. It is a bit difficult for me to walk in humid weather due to Rheumatoid Arthritis, however you could borrow a bike from the resort, walk less than a half mile into town, or even have a taxi pick you up for about $5 American. The outdoor markets sell everything from exotic fruits, homemade jewelry and clothing, and local art. The people were incredibly friendly and for not one moment did I feel unsafe.
The negative for me was the amount of stray dogs. It wasn't overwhelming, but it was certainly noticeable. I know this is common in a lot of South American countries but it's still a shock. I consider myself an animal advocate so I had to do what I could. If you are walking through the town, you will see a little white building that houses the local animal hospital. The American dollar is strong - make a donation and it will go very far in helping to spay and neuter stray dogs and cats. I walked away feeling like I made a difference to this beautiful area.
By the end of the vacation, I'm sad to say I didn't zip line. I made up for it in Puerto Rico this past fall, but I did get to see sloths at a beautiful wildlife sanctuary about 20 minutes from Banana Azul. (I took a taxi for about $12 US dollars and they picked me up when I was done.) The name of the sanctuary is the Jaguar Rescue Center and it was life-changing.
As I mentioned, I'm an animal lover and if I could have a life do-over, I would start here.
"Established in 2008, the JRC is a organization dedicated to helping animals in need. With uncompromising care and love, the JRC rehabilitates injured, sick and orphaned animals and releases those who are restored to good health back to their natural habitat. Through educational outreach, the JRC provides environmental awareness, promotes a harmonious relationship with native wildlife, and encourages the community to protect our delicate ecosystems." -- JRC web site
In total I spent a good three hours just wandering around. You will be placed into groups to make it easier on the volunteers who will lead you through the various areas, but I never felt rushed or hurried. The beneficial work they do at this location, and the care and love they provide is obvious. It was the highlight of my trip.
If you can't tell, I absolutely loved my trip to Costa Rica. As a woman traveling alone, I felt very safe, but I did let the activities staff know at Banana Azul I was alone so when I ventured off property, someone was aware. I can't wait to go back. Next time I will probably take a day-trip or two to other countries surrounding this area, but if I'm too comfortable by the pool or the ocean - I will be just as happy as I was the first time around.