Costa Rica’s “Dry Forests”

Safari Voyager at anchor off Isla Tortuga, Costa Rica. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

UnCruise Adventures Safari Voyager dropped anchor off Isla Tortuga, a small collection of islands on the southernmost tip of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, just after 7:00 am this morning. I’d been up for the better part of an hour, sipping coffee in the lounge and watching our arrival out on the wraparound promenade deck.

Sunrise here is a dramatic affair, with plenty of saturated colours and left-over thunderclouds from the evening before. It all made for a dramatic backdrop as the small press group I was travelling with was lowered into the ship’s skiffs as soon as we dropped anchor, in order to get some exterior sunrise shots of the Safari Voyager.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Safari Voyager, backlit by the rising sun. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Of course, if you don’t want to be disturbed, UnCruise has thought of that. Just put the leather tag hung on the inner side of your door on the outside, and no one will wake you up. But on this cruise, you’re going to want to get up early: Costa Rica is calling, and UnCruise is going to show you the best it has to offer.

Today, UnCruise Adventures’ Uncharted Isthmus! Sloths, Monkeys and Mangroves itinerary showcased two separate “ports of call” for us. This isn’t so uncommon; most UnCruise itineraries feature one expedition stop in the morning, followed by a second expedition stop in the afternoon. This maximizes your time ashore and gives you the ability to choose any number of different activities in a single day.

Don’t want to be distubed? No problem – just hang this cool leather tag on the outside of your stateroom door. But don’t miss out on all the cool activities! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This morning, guests could choose to snorkel in the crystal-clear waters off Isla Tortuga, which is actually just across the ocean from Puerto Caldera, where we embarked on Saturday. A beginner’s class was offered for those who are new to snorkeling, while a “deep-sea” snorkel was offered further out for guests who are more confident in their abilities.

The other option on offer: kayaking. These are two-person kayaks, so it’s best if you buddy-up first. But they’re designed for the ocean, and are stable enough that you shouldn’t fall out. And if you do, the water is warm enough that it doesn’t really matter, making this stop a great place to try your hand at the kayaks if you’ve never done so before.

I chose to do a third option: a skiff tour of the surrounding shoreline. Led by Expedition Team member Ray and skiff driver Eamon, we covered more ground than any other group, checking out caves, arch formations, and wildlife in the process.

I love skiff tours for their excellent photographic opportunities, and I’d heartily recommend them to photographers looking for a great shot of the geological formations, their ship, or their fellow guests as they participate in the other activities on offer.

This morning, we explored the coastline of Isla Tortuga by skiff. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Impossibly-clear waters…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…rocky shorelines…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and hidden caves! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

During lunch, the Safari Voyager repositioned to the Curu National Wildlife Refuge. It’s only 15 minutes sailing time away, but it proved to be a world apart of what we enjoyed this morning.

Three separate hikes were offered this afternoon: an easy trail meander; an intermediary hike, and an advanced hike. UnCruise calls its advanced hikes are proving to be increasingly popular, and don’t relate so much to distance or time as they do to difficult conditions – like loose branches, steps, inclines and the like.

After lunch, I went ashore for an easy stroll through the jungle canopy of Curu National Wildlife Refuge. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Strolling across the beach…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and into the heart of Curu. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Because I did the intermediary hike yesterday, I chose the easy hike to see what it would be like. It was about 1.6 kilometres roundtrip, which took us two hours to complete at a very leisurely pace.

Even if you don’t have mobility issues, there are plenty of reasons to want to take these gentle strolls. Birders and plant-lovers will relish the slower pace and stops along the way, while shutterbugs will love the photographic opportunities. And those who find the more physical hikes to be too demanding can still participate in experiences that showcase the hidden wonders of Costa Rica.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Good advice…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…particularly near water. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The Curu National Wildlife Refuge is an interesting thing. Located in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, it is essentially a tropical dry forest; the southern terminus of a hot, dry stretch that runs from California down to Costa Rica.

At first glance, the Wildlife Refuge looks as lush as any other Costa Rican jungle. But look closer and you’ll notice that termite nests cover nearly every tree, and old decaying branches, bark and coconuts sit gathering dust on the earth below.

Water here is scarce, but not to the degree of, say, Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Instead, it has the appearance of a lush jungle forest canopy that someone forgot to water for a week or two. Because it’s dry, the humidity is lower – though let’s not mince words: it’s still plenty hot out.

Plenty of wildlife was on display today…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…while the jungle canopy kept us (reasonably) cool. But drink lots of water – it’s easy to get dehydrated here. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our stroll through the park (which includes a gift shop – bring some U.S. Dollars along) featured more white-throated capuchin monkeys. These approached us by the dozen as we arrived on the beach. I thought for sure they were going to jack our lifejackets, but that never happened. Instead, the capuchin’s quickly tired of us and went hopping onto the hot tin roof of the visitor’s registration centre. I’m sure Tennessee Williams never envisioned a Monkey on a Hot Tin Roof.

Si Dios Quiere. God Willing. It’s a Costa Rican expression that almost literally means, “hopefully.” As in, ‘Si Dios Quiere, we will see some howler monkeys today.’  It reflects the beautiful tradition of manana, or putting off today what can be done tomorrow – or later.

I can see where manana and Si Dios Quiere come from. As our walking tour set out at 2:00 pm, guided by the fantastic native of Costa Rica, Chris, I felt the heat of the afternoon permeate every ounce of my being. Si Dios Quiere, I’d make it through the next 90 minutes. And this is the cool season.

Expedition Guide Chris led us through this unique nature preserve…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…before returning back to the air-conditioned splendour…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…of the Safari Voyager. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I feel uneasy in the jungle. I have the distinct impression everything is watching me. In the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, I don’t have that feeling. The environment, while equally unforgiving, seems manageable to me somehow.

We walked along the dirt road through the park, and I found myself preoccupied with worst-case scenarios. What if I were stranded here? Could I survive? I gave myself fifty-fifty odds in the Pacific Northwest; maybe sixty-forty if I were stranded at sea. In the jungle – I think I’d be dead before I got a few hundred metres in. Mungo Park, I am not.

However, my fears ran out of my body like so much perspiration as the walk went on. Gradually, I felt relaxed, even comfortable, in my surroundings. Costa Rica’s natural beauty is unparalleled. I’ve been to lots of tropical places in this world, but there’s something very special about Costa Rica’s own unique brand of beauty.

Worth Noting: You’re likely going to be out of cell range for much of this trip. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

While we didn’t see any howler monkeys, we heard them. These vocal creatures can be heard for up to two miles, so it’s tough to pinpoint how far away they were. Their voice is far bigger than their actual size.

We did, however, seen an abundance of birds, butterflies, insects, and even a type of deer native to this area. Termite nests littered the forest, as did wasp’s nests. Wasps love the nesting possibilities presented by dead tree branches and trunks, and are attracted to the fruit, flowers and other tasty treats that this “dry jungle” has to offer.

After two hours, we made our way back. As I discovered on my first cruise here last year on another line, a trip to Costa Rica can be overwhelming. You almost have to do it twice to fully appreciate it. This Uncharted Isthmus! itinerary that UnCruise offers, however, showcases a Costa Rica that would be difficult, if not prohibitive, to try to visit on your own.


Plenty of cozy spaces are available – both inside and out – for relaxing on-deck aboard Safari Voyager. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Tonight, cocktail hour was served in the Lounge promptly at 5:30pm. This is the social highlight of the day: a chance to sip one of Danny and Taylor’s masterful cocktail creations while trading heavily-exaggerated stories with your shipmates. “You saw two howler monkeys? We saw four on our excursion…”

Today, though, many people got the full UnCruise experience. One group stumbled upon a snake that was in the middle of trying to squeeze a giant frog into its gaping maw, while another had to go around a rickety bridge that had unexpectedly collapsed before they got there.

Expedition Leader Sarah gave us an overview of what we can expect tomorrow, and she then came around to sign us up for our activities. No, I’m not going to tell you – you’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out what is in store!

Another spectacular sunset graced us this evening…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…as cocktails were once again served in the lounge. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Dinner began promptly after that. This seems to occur on or around 6:30pm each night, though the actual start is always dependent on the evening shore excursions returning on-time.

Once again, I got the fish. I’ve had the fish each and every night so far and as far as I am concerned, it’s unbeatable. Locally-sourced and caught, it’s some of the best and freshest seafood Costa Rica has to offer, and tonight’s fish ranks among the best I’ve ever had. I meant to get pictures for you; for three nights, I’ve brought my camera to the dining room. And for three nights, I’ve forgotten to take a photo of my main course – it’s so good that I’ve forgotten why I am here. Tomorrow. Really.

Following dinner, Expedition Guide Jenny gave a talk on rainforests that was well-attended. I really enjoy these lectures, and they seem to be well-attended. However, burned out from a busy (and hot) day ashore, most guests retired after it finished at 9pm.

Which is where I leave you now. I’ve been to Costa Rica before, and I loved the experience. But on this, my third evening aboard the Safari Voyager, I feel like UnCruise is showing me a side of this great country that I never knew existed.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report aboard UnCruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager continues tomorrow as we explore Costa Rica’s Osa Conservation Area! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

Safari Voyager - Costa Rica & Panama

Day 1Arrival in San Jose, Costa Rica & Embarkation in Puerto Caldera
Day 2Manuel Antonio National Park, CR
Day 3Curu National Park, CR
Day 4Oso Peninsula, CR
Day 5Golfo Dulce & Golfito, CR
Day 6Isla de Coiba, Panama
Day 7Transiting the Panama Canal
Day 8Disembarkation, post-cruise Panama City stay and recap.

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