This morning, Azamara Quest is anchored off the coast of Costa Rica near the little town of Quepos. We have booked the Carara National Park and Pura Vida Gardens tour ($199/pp) through Azamara's Land Discoveries desk.
As instructed on the tickets, we met in the Cabaret Lounge at 7:15am where we were assigned numbered stickers to place on our shirts. We were in Group 1 and soon we were heading down to Deck 3 to board the tender for the ride to shore.
Early morning (for us) departure to Quepos. Photo taken from tender.
The tender ride was smooth and only took about 10 minutes. After disembarking, we met our local guide for the day, Ailene, who was holding a lollipop sign with our group number.
Ailene greets Group 1
Ailene directed us to the vehicle that would be taking us to the national park. The bus also had a sign in the windshield indicating our tour name and group number. This makes it virtually impossible for someone to end up with the wrong guide, or on the wrong bus.
Tour bus identifies tour and group number
The vehicle to which we were assigned was like a large minivan that could hold 15 guests plus a driver and guide. It was modern, comfortable and air-conditioned. The windows were clean, making it easy to see the scenery along the way. The drive to the Carara National Park took about 90 minutes. As soon as we arrived, everyone made a beeline for the public restrooms, of course.
Carara National Park
Ailene gathered our group of 15 at the beginning of a trail path to explain what we would see during our short hike through the park.
Ailene explains a little about the park and what we can expect to see
Ailene reminds us that flash photography is not allowed and that we are not to touch any of the plants or flowers. The hike took place on a well laid- out gravel trail. The park appears to be well maintained. Our guide stops periodically throughout the hike to explain the flora and fauna surrounding us. The only think that takes away from the "jungle-like" experience is the noisy traffic from the nearby highway.
Rickee asks our guide a question along the hike
Our guide was very responsive to questions and willing to assist the guests in any way necessary. We spent the better part of an hour on our hike through the park. The tour could have been better with the use of Audio Vox portable sound systems. We would occasionally lag behind the group to take a closer look at something and could not hear what the guide was talking about from where we were. After the hike, we all re-boarded the bus for a short drive to a bridge spanning the Tarcoles River. Roberto, our driver, let us out on one side of the bridge so that we could walk along the bridge. Now why, you may ask, would we want to walk along a bridge on a busy highway? The answer: crocodiles!
Crocodiles in the Tarcoles River
On one bank of the river, there was a group of around 30 crocodiles, just hanging out. And, some of them were huge! The large one in the photo above was probably 13 feet long. We watched them, and photographed them, for about 15 minutes before getting back on the bus for a drive to the Pura Vida Botanical Gardens. The drive up the mountain road to the gardens was pretty rough gravel, so be prepared for a rough ride. Once we arrived, the place is a tropical paradise!
The view from Pura Vida Gardens
The first order of business was lunch. The owner of the gardens, who happens to be from Texas, has prepared a beautiful buffet lunch for our group (and several other tour groups). We are the first to arrive, so we get to attack the buffet first. There was rice and beans (a Costa Rican staple), chicken, fried fish, veggies and salads. We were offered a glass or wine or local beer, or soft drinks were also available. It was delicious and the view from the patio was spectacular.
After lunch, our guide led us down a path to view more flora and fauna. The plants, flowers and wildlife here were much more interesting than those we saw in the national park. The place was really beautiful and well manicured.
Colorful flowers at Pura Vida Gardens
We even saw toucans in the trees. They are very hard to photograph because of all of the tree branches in the way. You really need a good, long lens and a tripod to get a shot of these birds. Auto-focus just doesn't cut it. But, I was able to catch a usable shot with Rickee's pocket camera.
We spent about 90 minutes walking through the botanical gardens, admiring the beautiful grounds, learning about the various plant and bird life. I think everyone agreed that this was the highlight of the tour. It was hot and humid, and after 90 minutes everyone was ready to take refuge back in the air conditioned bus for the 90-minute drive back to Quepos. The sun was just beginning to set when we boarded the tender back to Quest, casting a nice glow on the ship in the distance.
From end-to-end, the tour took about eight hours. We felt like the national park was a bit of a miss, but the lunch and visit to the botanical gardens was a hit. No complaints at all with our tour guide, so Land Discoveries gets an overall A- on this tour!
As soon as we are back to our stateroom, we waste no time in getting ready for our 7pm Indonesian Rijsttafel dinner. This special meal is only available one evening and is at an extra cost of $25 per person. Rijsttafle (or "rice table") has become a traditional Indonesian meal and is commonly found at restaurants in Amsterdam, where there is a large Indonesian population.
Rijsttafl dinner setting
The table is set for 20 guests in The Patio on Deck 9. A menu explains the 20+ items that will be served at this feast. First, we are served a spicy salad followed by vegetable spring rolls. Then the platters and bowls of food started coming fast and furious. The table was soon filled with a variety of rice, noodles, chicken, lamb, beef, vegetables, pork... you name it!
Just a few of the dishes served at the Rijsttafle!
The bottom right photo shows what our table looked like by the end of the meal. There was enough food for 40 people! It truly was a feast. We all left feeling stuffed. This is a dining experience that you should definitely try. Space is very limited, and they only do it once per cruise, so book early!
Tomorrow, we will be in Puntarenas, Costa Rica.