Adventure Travel Through Costa Rica

We had waited and planned for this trip for months, and as August came to an end, (rainy season in Costa Rica) myself and 4 other fellow adventurers packed up our bags on a Friday after work and headed south for three hours to the Detroit airport.

After hours of driving, a connecting flight in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and a flight amidst a hurricane, we landed in San Jose late in the afternoon. Our first order of business was to head to the car rental place where we rented a good SUV to last us through the trip (little did we know… it wouldn’t). We got a quick bite to eat, got soaked in the torrential rains, and then started our drive.

Our first destination was Cerro Chirripo. However, looking back on it, the drive was just as much of an adrenaline rush as the upcoming climb. Driving in the late evening across the curvy and dangerous mountain roads gave us some great views of the valley below. We were crossing a mountain called “Cerro de la Muerte”, which in Spanish means “The Mountain of Death”. Soon our road came to an end in a small town called San Isidro. But this was not our destination. We had to make it to a place called “San Gerardo de Rivas”. We pulled over to ask for directions and the first man we talked to seemed uninterested in helping us. Probably because he had a live duck quacking away in a sack that he had thrown over his shoulder. I bet he was in a rush to get home and make dinner. Finally we found two women who laughed at us but eventually helped us (through the little Spanish we know, we managed to make out the directions that they gave us). The single lane, gravel road eventually led us to our hostel.

We woke up at 5am to see the foreign country that we had just spent the night in. We were staying in a glorious hostel build right into the rocks, owned by an American from North Carolina that moved into the bush just to climb Cerro Chirripo as often as he wanted. We had the entire place to ourselves, kitchen and everything. We left some of our baggage in his hostel and our car in his parking lot and started our hike.

We began at the base of the park, and by the time we got to the first kilometre marker we were all seriously realizing what it meant to climb the tallest mountain in Costa Rica (second tallest in central America). At over 3,800 meters above sea level, this 14 kilometre hike was about to get the best of us. We hiked through humidity, rain, and two levels of clouds before we got to the half way point. Already tired, we ate some good healthy food and loaded up on water. The rain eventually subsided as we went on further. It began to get cold and the terrain started to get barren like a desert. Our fatigue was getting worse and worse, and the rest breaks started to happen more frequently. As the sun started to settle,, we knew that we had to make it to the base camp, as Cerro Chirripo is home to all 6 of Costa Rica’s cats. After 9 hours of trekking, we putting on some warm clothing (it started to snow at this point) and went to sleep at the base camp. Early the next morning, we arose to see the sunrise over breakfast and then took a peak at the summit, before starting our trek back down. 4 hours later, our legs were shaky but we hopped in the car and drove on.

While driving through mostly farmland, and some closed roads, we took a break in Domincal for some seafood at an ocean side restaurant. The sun set as we watched the tide recede. Back into the car we drove to Manuel Antonio. Once again, arriving at night we reached our hostel. This hostel was a dump. It was in someone’s garage and had stray dogs roaming around. We kept going until we found a great place on the main strip for a few dollars more. The next morning our adventure began. We went for a hike to Manuel Antonio Park where we hung out with some monkeys and went for a dip in the ocean. The waves were unreal. We checked out the town and then went to a pub. It was quite interesting hanging out with the Ticos, but nevertheless, it was fun. A few of the guys got cheated into some fake cigars, but we got over that fast and enjoyed the evening. In the morning we met up with a tour guide named Alex who took us into the mangroves. Interacting with the monkeys and the ‘Jesus Christ Lizards’ was something that doesn’t happen in Canada so we enjoyed every minute of it. We saw some cool birds and other animals. But the cool part was the little caiman heads that we started to see popping up around our boat. On the way back, we stopped for some fresh Costa Rican fruit before making it back to our hostel. We got dressed up and went out on the town again. Dinner in an old airplane followed by dancing at a local club finished off the evening.

The next morning we all woke up late and sick. We had to book it over to Quepos for some scuba diving that we were doing. Although we got there almost an hour late, it was okay because we were the only bunch of tourists that were crazy enough to dive during this season. The boat took us out to some really cool reefs that we swam around. We got some good glimpses of the fish and lobster that inhabited the area. All in all the scuba diving was a blast but it was time to move on! We got back into the car and head to Jaco.

Arriving that evening in Jaco we enjoyed some dinner and hung around watching some surfing videos at the local pub. In case you didn’t know, Jaco is the surfers Mecca of Costa Rica. While watching these videos we got approached by another American also from the Carolina’s who invited us to check out a real UFC style fight at a local club. Naturally we accepted. Arriving at the club, security was tight, so we had to mention the surfers name to get in. While enjoying some Costa Rican beers we had the rare opportunity to watch an underground cage fight. Fighters from all over, but predominantly Brazil, were there. It was great to watch and experience, but as soon as the evening ended we headed back to our hostel for some REAL cigars before crashing for the night.

Early the next morning we took a cab to Herradura, a small beach north of Jaco were a power boat picked us up and taxied us across the bay to Montezuma. This is the first time where the rain impeded our plans. We had booked a boat ride over to Tortuga Island for some snorkelling, but the hurricane made this impossible. However our visit wasn’t in vain. We had the opportunity to explore the town. Montezuma is a colourful but quaint town. It is absolutely amazing and probably my most favourite part of Costa Rica. We enjoyed an excellent meal and then headed to our cabins in the mountains were we reminisced on what we’ve been through and what is still to come. The next morning, while being accompanied by tuna and sea turtles for most of the way, we took the taxi boat back to Jaco where we picked up our car and went on our way.

Our next stop was Monteverde. The trip there was quite interesting. The roads became very bumpy and rocky and dangerous. And then it happened… we got a flat tire (later we’d find out that the roads also messed up the suspension and the alignment). This flat happened right on a gravel hill in the middle of a massive bend in the road. Two of us had to watch traffic from both sides down the road and ask them to slow down and not hit us, while the rest worked on replacing the tire in the rain and mud. Finally we made it to Monteverde. For the sake of interest we took a tour on the hanging bridges they had and got to see some amazing reptiles hanging around in their normal habitat. But once this was over we got geared up to zipline the tallest, longest, and fastest set of 11 ziplines that Costa Rica had to offer. Because we were in a cloud forest, once you left the platform and started your zipping, you could see everything for a bit and then you disappeared into the clouds. This was a very surreal and exhilarating feeling! Totally cool! This detour was well worth it, but we had to keep on going, for our final destination was La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. We stopped for food in a restaurant INSIDE of a tree and then went on our way!

We got to La Fortuna late at night, booked out an entire room fitted for 11 backpackers (so we had room to hang our wet stuff in hopes of it drying) and went immediately to bed (after calling the car company to replace our vehicle). In the morning we ate an awesome Tico breakfast and were amazed at the hostel we scored. We had a diner, pub, internet café, swimming pool, and view of the Volcano right at our finger tips. We quickly headed into town and met up with our tour guides. They seated us up into the back of their pickup truck and took us deep into the jungle. This is where we started our canyoneering in the Lost Canyon. This was cool. This pristine hike through crystal clear and refreshing cool, waters would be interrupted frequently by HUGE waterfalls that we, of course, rappelled through. This was one of my favourite parts of the trip. The waterfalls were huge and so desolate that even fallen trees from the hurricanes were left where they lay.

We eventually made it back to our hostel where we met some cool people and spent the evening hanging out with them at the pub. In the morning the group split up. Three of us rented some motorbikes and headed to the famous “La Fortuna Waterfall” for some swimming and photo opportunities. Myself and another one of the travellers ventured off with a guide to the Venado Caves. This wasn’t a very physically demanding caving experience. In fact it consisted mainly of hiking, crawling, squeezing and ducking. But it was still amazing. The caves were hot and humid volcano crevasses deep in the volcano territory. But there was a really cool, knee deep, stream of water we walked through the entire time. As expected, the caves were littered with enormous insects and spiders. The coolest part of this expedition was when the cave started to get smaller and tighter but the knee deep water remained. We ended up crawling through the water with only enough room for our heads to stay above. Then a noise disturbed a bunch of bats and they flew straight for our heads. After getting hit in the face a few times I just submerged until they passed.

Once we got back to the hostel, we met up with the other guys and found some guides to take us on a hike of the volcano. This lasted well into the night when we could see the hot lava flow from the cone! We lucked out, again, when the volcano exploded a little more than normal. The guides said that this doesn’t happen often as they rushed for the cameras. It was definitely an experience of a life time.

We eventually made it back to our hostel were we did some more socializing with some people we met and then hit the sack. We knew in the morning that we were back in the car (which had now been replaced via flatbed truck) on our way to Limon.

We arrived in Limon mid afternoon and just briefly checked out the city. We didn’t find anything to interesting so we headed off to Puerto Viejo on the south eastern coast of the country, right next to the Panama boarder. This place was Hot! And I mean really Hot! The Caribbean air was so dense and humid that we were all sweating all the time. We took a walk around the town and enjoyed some of the cultural music and food (the lobster there was so inexpensive! Yum!). At this point we headed back to our hostel. We stayed in a really cool, hippie style hostel. There were hammocks and tents all over the place. We hung out on the beach with some more travellers and then went to the sleep.

As a side story, while in Puerto Viejo, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night to see a bat fall from the ceiling onto my bed. As it hit the bed, instantly a house cat jumped through the window and slaughtered this bat right on my sheets! With the bat in its mouth, the cat jumped out another window and went on with its business. Interesting eh!?

The next morning, we went for breakfast and met up with a guy named Carl. Carl took us on a tour of the Costa Rican backcountry. We visited a banana plantation, a cocoa plantation, and even his own home where we ate fruit from the trees in his backyard. Carl took us to a wildlife refuge to take a look around. This is where we had some delicious fried plantains. Next came the boat ride. This boat floated on the Tortuguero River into Tortuguero National Park. This park is unreal. First of all it is huge. It is also completely untouched by humans. The park consists mainly of swamps and mangroves that we floated down. We encountered really cool monkeys and crocodiles just hanging out. It was very pleasant to say the least. However, once again, as soon as the trip ended we had to get on the road and head to our next destination; Siquirres!

In Siquirres we met up with a larger group of travellers and begun on white-water rafting trip down the Pacuare River. This was a good trip filled with funny and very skilled guides as well as great food for lunch. The river was gorgeous. It was very cool and refreshing in the Costa Rican heat, so we spent a lot of time jumping into the river. Given this, the white-water was relatively tame compared to what we had all previously experienced. There were some great photo opportunities of lush rainforest and amazing waterfalls. We had mentioned to the guides that the next day we were going to raft the Pascua section of the Reventazon River. There were amazed and actually quite worried for us. It was going to be quite vicious and packed with adrenaline. We were excited… naturally. Once this trip was over we were put up in a beautiful villa on a mountain overlooking the river. It was owned by a Belgian couple that prepared breakfast for us in the morning. As amazing and revitalizing as this was, bad news came during breakfast. The hurricane had raised water levels on the Reventazon River to a point where it was a little to dangerous to raft. This was quite disappointing, but we really had no option. So instead we went back into town and enjoyed some more roadside fruit and sat around downtown, once again looking back over out trip.