Costa Rica is undoubtedly heaven for anyone interested in the natural world, but there are plenty of opportunities to combine a man-made adrenaline rush with your sloth.
The white-water rafting on the Balsa river was a blast. With Class 2-3 rapids, it’s fun and safe but still gets the pulse racing. The guides were as entertaining as they were competent, and I can still taste the fresh pineapple, laid out on one of the upturned rafts with watermelon and yellow oranges, as we caught our breath on the riverbank, halfway down the 10 km route.
And for a thrillingly different perspective of the Monteverde Cloud Forest, dare to experience the Sky Trek Ultimate Zip Lines. Whisked by gondola up to an altitude of 1,600 metres; 8 zip lines; longest cable 750 metres; highest cable 100 metres above the forest canopy; total zipped journey of almost 4 km; and a surprise at the end, called Vertigo, go and find out for yourself what that might be.
Strapped to the zip line like a spit-roasting hog, we screamed along the first couple of cable slides into thick cloud – a leap into the dark, way above the lush green forest. And then the sun emerged, and the clouds cleared – like the parting of the Red Sea – to reveal a rare, perfect view of the distant Arenal volcano.
Too energetic? Relax in the many natural hot springs near Arenal, the volcano’s geothermal activity creating bubbling bathing water as warm as 105F.
If you like coffee, that’s just one more reason to visit Costa Rica. An important part of their history, culture and economy, they are the world’s 13th largest producer, again punching way above their geographical weight.
90% of the production, from 70,000 farmers, is exported around the world. Coffee represents 11% of the country’s total export revenues, and a significant proportion of its GDP.
And it’s good coffee. Very, very good. A Presidential decree in the late 19th century ensured that only Arabica coffee is grown in Costa Rica. How prescient was that!
We had a fascinating tour of the Doka Estate, on the fertile slopes of the Poas Volcano. We learned about the complete growing and production cycle; how each worker is paid $2 for filling a cajuela, a basket containing 1.5 kg of perfect coffee beans and how a very good picker can fill 20 cajuelas a day. During the harvest – 6 months from October – most of the Estate’s workers are from neighbouring Nicaragua, and their deal includes a house, water and electricity.
Naturally, we had to try some mature, finished product, which takes a full 4 years from end to end. It’s worth the wait. The Estate’s Espresso Italiano is strong enough to make you want to wrestle crocodiles; try their French Roast, Breakfast Blend or House Blend for something a little less punchy; or – for something completely different – sample the Peaberry, a sweeter brew produced from a bean which represents only 5% of the total harvest and which produces one round seed, rather than two flatter pods.
In 1948 the President of Costa Rica, Jose Figueres, took a sledgehammer and smashed a hole in the wall of the country’s military headquarters. This symbolised the remarkably forward-thinking decision to disband the army, and to redirect any military budget towards spending on education, healthcare and environmental protection.
All the ‘Ticos’ – as Costa Ricans call themselves – we met in 2016 seemed educated, polite, friendly, happy, proud, kind and deeply aware of their environment and sustainability issues.
I wonder what would happen if we made a similar decision about Trident, and the rest of our own defence budget.
Throughout our trip, meeting local people was a joy and an integral part of the travel experience. And they may have originally plagiarised a Mexican comedian, but the phrase ‘Pura Vida’ very much sums up the Costa Rican psyche and culture today. The literal translation is ‘Pure Life’, but to Ticos it means much more. It is used to say hello and goodbye, how are you, have a good day, enjoy life but on a deeper level, it represents how Ticos live their life every day, how grateful they are for what they have and a recognition that others are less fortunate.
So start saying “Pura Vida” now and embrace life like a Tico as soon as you reach beautiful Costa Rica. It really is an enriching place to visit.
The group and accommodation
Our group crossed the generational divide, ranging in age from 26 to 66. By the end of the tour we were like family, no surprise, given the incredible experiences we had shared.
Mario, the tour leader, was a 34-year-old Costa Rican with a passionate enthusiasm for his country, its wildlife and people. His knowledge added significant value to the holiday, and his humour made even the bumpy transfers in the bus a fun experience. Catch-phrase of the week was “no se monte, mae” – “don’t push it, mate” – and the epic selfie video of us all singing it in the bus, to the tune of 1972’s Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle of the Road, will linger long in the memory. Look out for it in the Costa Rican charts.
All Explore group tours are planned and operated on a twin-share basis, meaning that the standard cost you see on their website and in their brochures is based either on individual travellers sharing accommodation with another group member of the same sex, or people who book together sharing accommodation.
If you’d like the single room option it would be an additional £385 for this tour for departures in 2018.
Additional information for Silver Travellers:
This is an adventurous holiday – you will need to have a decent level of fitness and be prepared for some reasonable activity levels.
Travel is by private bus or coach, with air-conditioning. Roads in the National Parks are rough and may at times be a little bumpy.
Accommodation is at ‘Standard’ hotels. These are comfortable, clean, and usually have air-conditioning and a swimming pool.
The optional excursions for which you would have to pay locally are:
- hot springs – $34 or $56 with dinner
- white water rafting – $89
- zip wiring – $71
- night walk – $30
- catamaran – $67
These optional costs are in US$. The local currency is the colon, but US$ are accepted everywhere.