The roads in the rural areas Costa Rica are known for their poor condition and difficulty of navigation. Once off the main ‘highway’ on our chauffeured journey to Monteverde Cloud Forest, the road was probably one of the worst in the country – full of potholes that you could lose a VW beetle in! Apparently, this is because the area has a large Quaker community, who years ago turned down the then government’s offer of better roads in the fear it would create a tourist destination. It became a tourist destination anyway, and now that they have asked for better roads, they have been put to the bottom of the priority list.
We stopped for lunch in the town of Santa Elena at Morpho’s for a filling and tasty vegetarian version of the Costa Rican dish, Casado – rice, beans, salad, steamed vegetables, cheese, avocado and fried plantains. A local beer was the perfect accompaniment, and we bundled ourselves back into the van. We survived our 3 hour journey (including the 20km section of road that took an hour to travel – potholes providing “massage, gratis” according to our driver!), and arrived at the peaceful and very Zen accommodation, Hidden Canopy Treehouses Boutique Hotel. Jenn and her team greeted us with calm and friendly assuredness, making us immediately feel taken care of and relaxed.
The ‘no shoe’ policy inside the main house actually made it feel more like you were visiting friends than staying in a hotel. The inclement weather of the region means footwear can be in various wet and grimy states, so the pristine floorboards are kept that way by leaving the ‘mess’ on shoe shelves in an alcove off the lobby. This main building is terraced, stepping down into the ‘million dollar view’ towards the Pacific Ocean. On our arrival, however, we had to take our host’s word for that view, as we were truly immersed in the cloud forest, and could barely see the trees in the garden immediately beyond the window.
We were escorted to the Glade Treehouse, our home for the next three nights. The circular expanse of this room was open plan with many glass window panels for walls and ceiling that take you right into the rainforest. Where there wasn’t window, there was warm wood panelling and mirrors, so that the forest really was everywhere. The floorboards here (as in the main lodge) were polished with a high gloss that was beautiful to look at and reflected light nicely. There was a humidifier in the room, which meant (with the help of the heater) things actually dried!
The bed was gigantic, and consisted of a bedhead of reclaimed wood that was also highly polished with a centre piece of cross sawn timber that went from deep red to honey in colour. There was also a gossamer canopy over the bed that was purely ornamental (as there were no bugs to contend with in this environment), but it provided a perfect touch of softness to all the wood and green surrounds. The room had good lighting, especially the downlights above the bed that shone well through the canopy. There was also a recessed bag and wardrobe area (again with mirrors) so that the room was not cluttered with luggage and stuff lying around.
The slate-lined bathroom opened directly into the room, and the cascades of the waterfall shower provided a completely new bathing experience – the ‘outdoors’ of the rocks, but with steaming hot water…perfect (and a fun way to warm up after time in the cooling cloud forest).
On check in, Jenn and her staff arranged all of our tours of the area. This allowed for us to kick back, relax and just follow our program, knowing that we wouldn’t miss any of the important attractions of the area. On our first night we went out with Koki for the ‘Cloud Forest Guided Night Tour’ in the Wildlife Sanctuary. The praises of this intelligent and quietly spoken man are clearly articulated on many review sights, and we were eager to spend time with him on our tour. Our gentle walk through the torch lit night provided sightings of gigantic stick insects, catydids, a green tree viper (about a year old, with a bloated belly – had recently eaten), pigmy rain frogs, a red eye stream frog, a grey fox, opossums, a porcupine (feeding in a tree), an orange-kneed tarantula, a kinkajou (sweet little racoon-like mammal), a sleeping Simpson thrush, and a two-toed sloth. Koki was amazing as a guide. There were several guides in the park that night with their groups, and he was radioing the others on the walkie-talkie to let them know where the good stuff was. He’s ‘the man.’
After a well-rested night’s sleep we joined the other guests for breakfast in the main house. There was a nice range of homecooked fare on offer, and Jenn usually mixes things up so that there is a different cooked option every morning. On this morning, pan-fried potatoes were offered, with choices of fruit, tea, coffee, juice, eggs (cooked to your preference), plaintains, toast, and rice and beans to add to the feast. With a 4 hour walk planned through Curicancha Reserve with Koki, we were well ‘stocked’ for the morning.
The trails through this 187 acre reserve provided us with many more animal sightings – agouti (a large tailless rodent similar to a guinea pig, but the size of a sturdy house cat), motmot birds, coati (a black furred, long-tailed, racoon looking animal), deer, wrens, squirrels, a two-toed sloth, a Panama fly-catcher, a white-faced capuchin monkey and a swarm of hummingbirds. Suspended from a large drooping canopied tree were a number of sugar-water feeders for the hummingbirds. Their flirtatious dance from one to the other, hovering for moments as they drank, was mesmerising. Another encounter was with a troop of army ants, an insect we weren’t looking for! Koki’s energetic dance to evade them enforced in us the real danger of these organised munchers, who together could open up tough leather boots like a tin opener.
Our morning’s activities in the wind and drizzle had left us chilled, so our driver dropped us and another couple we were with at Café Caburé. We said goodbye to Koki (who had another tour to do), and ordered some cheese empanadas, creamed vegetable soup and a nice Argentine Malbec (the owners of the café are from Argentina, so the range offered was excellent) – all good choices to warm the body and soul. While pace of service was a little too relaxed for the appetites waiting, the food was delicious when it did arrive. We finished the meal with some hand made chocolates from the glass counter at the entrance to the café, ensuring that we bought enough for further treats in the following days.
We relaxed in the lounge of the main house for the remainder of the afternoon, reading, playing on the net, chatting to our host, Jenn, and other guests. All of a sudden it was ‘tea time’ at Hidden Canopy Treehouses, which is a lovely combination of happy hour and afternoon tea. Each afternoon we were served a sweet and a savoury snack, as well as your choice of the usual tea beverages plus wine, beer or sangria. We had the sangria – Jenn’s own recipe of red wine combined with a fruit punch and amaretto. Very moreish. The snacks were tasty – deep fried yukka chips with a spicy cream cheese dip, followed by a very indulgent, rich coconut slice with syrup.
The steady rain of the afternoon and evening failed to entice us from our treehouse retreat, so dinner became a take away vegetarian pizza – nice thin crust with lots of veggies. But it was not at all the ‘medium’ we ordered – it filled the substantial pizza box (I would hate to see what the ‘large’ was like!). We managed to snaffle it all down, assisted by the red wine we had picked up in Santa Elena, followed by more of the hand made chocolates from the café.
The next morning we woke from a blissful 9 hours sleep with no commitments until our onsight massages scheduled in the afternoon. Jenn outdid herself with the French toast at breakfast – baguette soaked in eggs and cream and lightly pan-fried. And with full bellies, we took a taxi into Santa Elena to explore the town.
We began at the CASEM Women’s Art Co-op (at the far end of town) where the majority of the products are hand-made by local artisans, often with use of materials from the area. Purchases made at places like this assist in the sustainability of the community, and they also make unique gifts and souvenirs. We walked back towards the centre of town, about 2 and a half kms, calling into The Art House on our way (which was disappointingly shut – it was well after 10:30) as well as the Art Gallery near the supermarket (also shut – further disappointment). We abandoned all hope of finding a gallery open and strolled through the triangular centre of town before stopping in a café for a warm drink and use of the wifi (the one at the Hidden Canopy was not co-operating).
Our guide book led us to Sofia’s for lunch – a Costa Rican restaurant with a modern twist. The food was delicious. Both of us had a soup to start: Sofia’s black bean soup and a roasted sweet potato and plantain soup, which we followed with a shared plate of Chilli Relleno – roasted red pepper stuffed with creamed hearts of palm and broccoli with a black bean sauce and melted cheese, all accompanied by a glass of Malbec. We enjoyed the meal so much that we ordered a large serve of eggplant and tomato quesadillas to take away for dinner in our treehouse.
A short cab ride back to Hidden Canopy delivered us in time for our pre-booked massages. Karen is an intriguing person and a very skilled masseuse. Not everyone likes to chat during treatments, but I really enjoyed the easy conversation while she was gently stretching out and manipulating my solid blocks of tension. I honestly felt that the session had been therapeutic not only to my body, but my mind and soul as well.
On our final morning at Hidden Canopy Treehouses the rain stopped and the cloud and mist lifted, exposing the previously hidden view. Jenn had not been exaggerating. The Pacific Ocean expanse of Costa Rican coast before us stretched from the Colorado Gulf to Gulf of Nicoya. The fickle weather had deigned to bestow on us one little gift before our departure – what a vista!
We used Morpho Vans to arrange 3 separate private transfers for our trip to Costa Rica. I was very impressed right from the beginning with Mario whose communications via email were very prompt, and the reminders just before travelling were helpful and clear. Dealing with Morpho Vans for our transfers made the whole experience so easy. They even arranged for the ‘jeep-boat-jeep’ transfer to get us from Monteverde to Arenal – a much more pleasant way of travelling than taking the long road around the lake. The drivers were all punctual, professional and friendly, as well as very skilled – especially travelling from San Jose airport to Monteverde, with its crazy pothole-filled roads for the last half of the journey. Our driver did an excellent job. I highly recommend Morpho Vans and would not hesitate to use them again.