Back when I was doing my Master’s degree in Colorado, a friend and I decided to spend Spring Break in Costa Rica. We bought a Groupon deal for a 5-day “Adventure package”, and booked a smoking deal of a flight with Frontier airlines from Denver to San Jose. While we had to book our own accommodation in San Jose for a night before and after, our package included transfer by shuttle van from San Jose, accommodation near Arenal volcano, all our meals, and the activities: canyoning, white water rafting, ziplining, a hanging bridge tour, and a visit to the hot springs. The canyoning and rafting were organised through Desafio tours, and we found them to be friendly, safe, and well-organised.
On our first day, after a four-hour shuttle ride to Arenal volcano we checked into our hotel, Arenal Volcano Inn, where we had a great little private hut with a balcony, nice bathroom, and soft beds. The hotel restaurant served simple and delicious food (particularly the fantastic fresh fruit and coffee in the morning) and the staff were friendly.
The first afternoon we did the hanging bridge tour. A local guide leads you through a series of bridges in the forest and tells you all about the local birds, plants, and mammals around you. You might even catch a glimpse of a few creatures as well 🙂
That evening, we had our first experience with traditional Costa Rican food – quite often a spread similar to the plate below – black beans, rice, macaroni salad, tortillas, fresh fish, and the best fried plantains you’ll ever eat. We went to bed full and sleepy.
The next morning, we were off on another shuttle van ride to get to the canyoning tour – canyoning, just as it sounds, involves rappelling down canyons and waterfalls. It was not nearly as thrilling as I expected, perhaps because the canyons were quite small. However, at the end of the tour, us hapless tourists were made to sit down in a rocky river bed while one of the guides blocked the flow from a rather forceful river higher upstream – there’s a spot where water rushes through a small crevasse making it possible to block. Anyways, when he eventually jumps out of the way you are hit with a torrent of icy cold river water slamming into your back and over you head. That was thrilling. Lunch followed the tour, very similar to our meal the evening before, and then we were off for an afternoon of relaxation at a local hot spring.
Our next day was white water rafting – the ride to the starting point was about two hours long, and then we were thoroughly briefed on safe rafting practices, what to do if you fall out or the boat capsizes, and were made to rehearse over and over how to follow the guide’s shouted instructions until the whole boat got it right. It seemed like a lot of precaution to me – and we quickly found out why – we were heading into Class IV rapids – much more than anything I’ve done before to say the least. The four-hour rafting trip was indeed a huge thrill – scary at times, requiring serious concentration and attention at others, and throughout a complete blast. We were a five person boat – my friend and I, the guide, and two Navy Seals from the US. To give you an idea of how turbulent the waters were, at one point one of the Navy Seals fell out – us geeky science students were quite proud that we managed to stay in. We were grinning from ear to ear when we climbed out of the boats and proclaimed this was an experience we had to repeat some day. Sadly carrying cameras in the boat was not a smart idea. We rode back and fell into bed completely spent from the day.
The last day brought our last adventure, ziplining. Once again, a shuttle van took us to the ziplining park and we were briefed on how to hold on properly, how to brake, when to brake, and finally, did a practice run on a small zipline (mostly to make sure you won’t completely lose your mind when you get up on the real lines). The practice line is a complete joke, since it’s nothing like the real thing, which becomes apparent as you ride a cable car high up above the jungle canopy and can see the zip lines above the trees.
Now picture careening along those lines at breakneck speed with only your hands clutching onto a little metal bar. It’s super duper fun. Just don’t look down. It’s a totally amazing experience to be flying in complete silence above the jungle canopy, just you and the sky and the trees. The braking advice comes in very handy – the operator at the end of the line will jiggle the zipline when you should start braking – it’s a fine line between slamming into the wooden platform at the other end and not quite making it – requiring you to pull yourself hand-over-hand to the platform. Not fun, and something we luckily managed to avoid.
Overall we had a great time in Costa Rica. The Groupon tour was well organised, the resort was clean, well-run, and comfortable, and all the activities delivered what was advertised – serious thrills and beautiful sites. I’d like to go back and see more of the wild side, less of the touristy side, but for any nature/adventure lover this is the place to be.