Into the Midst: Costa Rica
An action-packed small-group adventure in Costa Rica comes with invaluable insider knowledge, says Flight Centre’s Phil Murray.
Costa Rica group tour
Let’s make one thing clear from the off: almost everything about Costa Rica is “Fan-Tas-Tic”. Not to mention “In-Cred-Ible”. At least, so says Jay in his pleasant Scottish lilt. He is one of nine other adventurers who, like me, are lucky enough to be on a nine-day Exodus Travels tour of this remarkable Central American country. His passionate, somewhat involuntary, outbursts quickly come to represent what we are all thinking as we make our way through the diverse and ever-changing landscape.
“Costa Rica is made up of many different microclimates, which has led to the country’s incredible biodiversity,” our guide Eduardo confirms as we set off on our first morning. Always keen to share his impressive knowledge of the country and its wildlife, Ed (as we soon come to call him) explains how Costa Rica accounts for just 0.03% of the world’s landmass, but is home to around 5% of its plant and animal species.
The lushness of the roadsides and rolling hills beyond is striking indeed. Common house plants grow to the size of trees and every surface is alive and densely packed with every shade and shape of plant imaginable. You almost feel obliged to keep moving, for fear something might take root. Lucky then, that this is an Exodus ‘active’ tour, which will see us hike, bike, horse ride, swim, paddle and – almost literally – fly across Costa Rica.
White-water rafting in Sarapiquí
At our first stop in Sarapiquí, we find ourselves white-water rafting through towering rainforest. After our first few exhilarating rapids, when we pause to enjoy fresh watermelon and pineapple at the riverside, our raft guide starts fishing with leftover rind as bait. Within seconds he’s rewarded with a bite from the crystal-clear waters.
To ease our aching post-paddle joints, Ed has arranged for us to spend the evening at EcoTermales hot springs in La Fortuna. We immerse ourselves in the thermal waters, naturally heated by Arenal, the volcano we have come to see, giving our like-minded group a chance to relax and get to know each other over cocktails.
Arenal National Park
The next day we hike into Arenal National Park to get a closer look at the currently inactive volcano, before diving into the waters beneath La Fortuna waterfall. The area is incredibly well set up for adrenaline seekers, but it’s our next activity that, for me, is the standout experience of the trip.
Costa Ricans have elevated ziplining to a whole other level and – safety briefing complete – we are soon plunging through the trees and flying across the sky, hundreds of metres above the forest canopy, enjoying epic views of Arenal in 45-second bursts of unadulterated joy. Midway through, a set of tandem lines allows us to race each other in pairs across a 200m canyon. Come dinner time, victors
can still be heard gently teasing their opponents.
While there’s plenty of downtime on the tour, including a morning spent dolphin watching on a catamaran, I am enjoying not having to expend too much energy thinking about where to eat next. All of Ed’s insider recommendations, whether a café with fresh sea bass ceviche on the menu or a bar in which to simply sit back and enjoy a craft beer, are spot on. At one stop, we are even served up a tree chock-full of sizeable iguanas alongside our ice-cream.
It’s during our eight-mile mountain bike ride the next day – breathtaking in more ways than one and thankfully followed by a cooling kayak on Lake Arenal – that we see our first sloth. Thanks, that is, to Ed’s keen eyes, which we’ve quickly come to rely on. Wedged into the crook of the tree, it’s a shy and pretty stationary ball of fur that we would’ve ridden straight by.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Our second sighting is more rewarding. Around 150 miles south, Manuel Antonio National Park is home to a beautiful stretch of beach accessed by Sloth Trail. Living up to its name, barely five minutes in, and having already spotted howler monkeys, we get to spy on a three-toed sloth through the telescope Ed has brought along. Identifying birds by their song as he goes, he also points out a tiny olive snouted tree frog and an uninterrupted stream of hardworking leafcutter ants.
But it’s watching the sloth reach out, achingly slowly, for a nearby branch, this time revealing the whole of its endearingly lanky body, that captures the entire group’s imagination. I wouldn’t swap the energetic way we have experienced Costa Rica for a second, but in a lazier corner of my mind, I found myself deeply envious of his gloriously indulgent lifestyle and this remarkable place he calls home.
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