I have found my favourite national park in Costa Rica. Really, if you ever go to that country and (somehow) only have the option of visiting one national park, this one would be my recommendation. It is surrounded by forests, the ocean and brackish water canals. It is where you can see all sorts of different wildlife one would associate Costa Rica with (think toucans, sloths, macaws, hummingbirds etc.). It is the place with some of the kindest Ticos (Costa Ricans) you’ll ever meet. The beautiful thing about this national park is that it’s the extreme version of Venice. Everywhere you want to go, you need to take a boat, which is why choosing your accommodation is so important. I stayed in La Baula Lodge, which was at a wonderful location of in between two canals. Honestly, out of all the places that I stayed at while travelling around Costa Rica, this was the most authentic Costa Rican experience I could hope for (other than my volunteer research station back in Ostional).
First of all, we had to get a boat to get to La Baula Lodge, which meant that we already had a pretty cool Indiana Jones experience as we jetted through the canals at ridiculous speeds. We even spotted at least five caimans on that 45 minute boat ride from the little town of Cariari.
As soon as we had arrived at La Baula Lodge, we immediately heard the news that there was a wild sloth that was active on the trees just outside of the reception. I then just sat on the ground, looking up at the sloth to see what it was doing. At this point, I had already been sloth-spotting at other national parks before, but none of which were this close to me. This sloth must’ve been only about 3 metres from me!
The rest of our stay were filled with many wildlife encounters even without leaving the property. We were woken up by howler monkeys. We also spotted spider monkeys. We saw numerous kinds of birds like toucans and macaws. Welcome to the Pura Vida life!
A wonderful thing that I love about this property is that it’s family owned. Everything about it was so homely. Like how brightly coloured all the rooms are. Like the lamps that are on all the balconies. Like the cozy little rooms made out of wood. The rooms here all had hot water, reading lamps and a balcony.
Because it’s so inaccessible to get around to other parts of Tortuguero (I wouldn’t recommend swimming, there are all sorts of different wildlife in the waters), all meals were provided here at La Baula Lodge. I definitely have to mention how much I have loved the food here. Every meal was a buffet, with a huge variety of both Costa Rican and Western food. There is always a freshly cooked meat or eggs station (depending on the meal). There is also a salad or fruit station (depending on which meal it is), and a drinks station.
Food is served at a wonderful location, which also acts as the common room. Here, you can eat while hearing the sound of the canals next to you. If you listened closely, you can also hear the sound of the ocean on the other side of that tiny strip of forest.
I can’t mention the dining and not talk about the bar, right? They offer two cocktails for $8 in happy hour, just to save you the effort of going into town for drinks. There’s definitely enough to do even if you just stay at the lodge all day, which was what some of the people I met there did. Be aware though that the best seats in the bar are limited. That is, those swings that have waterfront views…
You might be wondering what exactly I did at night other than just chilled by the bar. Well…. After a whole day of exploring Tortuguero National Park, and then climbing Cerro Tortuguero, my routine from dusk kind of went like this:
When I wasn’t out exploring other parts of Tortuguero, I had plenty of chances to walk around the property. There were a lot of walking trails around, but unfortunately it had rained a lot of the time that I was there, so most of the tracks were covered in mud and water. Still, I was able to find lots of quiet spots in the bush where I could just watch boats zip past me, while spotting some wildlife on the other side of the canal. I particularly liked the side of the property that was further away from the ocean than the main entrance side (which was the side where the dining room/common area was).
Overall, La Baula Lodge definitely offered a very authentic Costa Rican experience. Actually, the whole national park offers the most Costa Rican experience you could ever have. On our canoe tour of Tortuguero National Park, we spotted caimans, turtles, cormorants, kingfishers, macaws, iguanas, toucans. My list can still go on, but I don’t want to bore you (unless you want me to, then comment below). Do yourselves a favour and visit this national park for the most genuine Pura Vida experience you can hope for!