For an adventure brimming with exciting activities, set in a backdrop of stunning scenery and with incredibly intense and diverse ecology to boot, you need look no further than Central America’s prime destination – Costa Rica, officially the happiest country in the world! Here’s a run down of the top experiences it has to offer:
White water rafting
Costa Rica has some of the best white water rafting in the world, and the Pacuare, host of this year’s World Rafting Championships, is especially tantalising, both for its scenery and adrenaline-fuelled rapids. This particular trip was arranged by the highly commendable Exploradores Outdoors. The main advantage of this over other companies is that it will pick you up from one part of the country and drop you in another, saving valuable time and money. For $99 all inclusive, you can test your nerves on 52 rapids spread over 30 km of breathtaking landscape. Speaking from experience, I suggest you ‘get down’ the second you hear the guide’s warning. Being dragged along the riverbed by strong currents is not for the faint hearted!
Dominical, on the west coast of the country, has become a distinguished surfer’s haven, and on first glimpse of the crashing 10-foot waves, it’s easy to see why. In fact, there’s not much else to do in the area. To those more accustomed to the soft, chilled out beaches of Manuel Antonio or the Nicoya Peninsula, this one can seem rather rough and intimidating, but once you’ve caught your first break, you’ll be hooked. There are a few surf schools that offer lessons and then happily leave you to your own devices among the rip tides, should you choose to brave it! It only took a few tries before I was standing up – in a questionable posture and on the biggest board ever made – but we all have to start somewhere, so hi5 to Junior, my teacher!
Zip lines were introduced to Costa Rica in the 1970s and have become synonymous with the country. Although it’s possible to join a canopy tour in almost any national park, Monteverde is the principal attraction. Steel cables up to 1 km in length and strung between platforms hundreds of metres above the canopy offer access to remote parts of the forest and a privileged vantage point to spot wildlife. But it’s not all about the lush panoramas. Leave your steady legs behind as you traverse semi-transparent walkways and put all your faith in a harness that will carry you from one magnificent tree to the next. For an extra buzz, sign up for a tour that includes a tarzan swing, a tree rappel and, best of all, a ‘Superman’ zip – the closest you will ever come to free flying! Extremo tours is a bargain at $45, but make sure you take waterproofs to avoid dampening the experience.
Costa Rica is a country crammed with activities that accelerate the heart rate, so it may come as a surprise that the two most nerve-wracking ordeals of my trip were a very bumpy boat ride over the swells of the Pacific and a morning’s horse trekking near La Fortuna! Listen carefully to advice on controlling your new four-legged friend and hold on tight because, regardless of previous experience, you will soon be galloping ten to the dozen and negotiating precarious steep ravines as you fight to retain your balance. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic experience, and feeling the wind rush by is a refreshing release from the stifling humidity. A mildly strenuous guided hike on foot to the plunge pool of a striking waterfall for a cooling dip is included and well worth the effort. It’s possible to take this trip in the morning and return to La Fortuna in time to catch the popular jeep-boat-jeep transfer to Monteverde at 1pm. This option is cheaper and more scenic than opting to inlcude a horse ride in the transfer itself. Most accommodation in the area will book local excursions on your behalf. However, I can vouch for the efficient service and competitive prices of Arenal Backpacker’s Resort.
While many companies offer ATV tours, quad bikes are also a popular mode of transport for ticos (as the locals are known affectionately). Unpredictable road conditions, especially during the rainy season, make them impassable to cars. Drake Bay is one of the most inaccessible parts of the country and remains largely undeveloped. Here, it’s not uncommon to see people caked in mud speeding by, and at one point I witnessed a man on horseback rescuing a bike from the clutches of a particularly boggy track! After heavy rains, sections of adjacent coastline are cut off entirely from the main town, with rivers too deep for even a quad to navigate – apparently a popular excuse for truant school children! If you mingle with the locals, you may well be privileged to hitch a ride on one of their vehicles, and even test your driving skills. For the record, I should never be given control!
With all these other activities to keep you fit and healthy, hiking through the national parks should be a breeze. Highlights include: a guided trek around the base of Arenal volcano, followed by blissful relaxation at the Tabacon thermal springs; summiting Central America’s second highest peak, Mount Chirripó; and exploring the wilderness and eclectic nature residing in Corcovado National Park. Various species of monkeys, sloths, racoons, snakes and irridescent birds are in abundance, and for those willing to put in the extra effort, it’s possible a tapir, coati or even puma may cross your path! For Corcovado, contact Corcovado Expeditions, and ask for Kenneth Mora as your guide.
Though not technically an adventure sport, Salsa dancing is still a great way to stay active and work off the cheesy nachos. The locals certainly know how to wiggle and, in any bar, you’ll find them more than willing to step up to the task of teaching you their favourite moves. Be prepared for steamy physical contact and some dizzying spins!