By David Prak, travelcuts consultant
After an overnight flight, I arrived into San Jose around noon. Our transfer was waiting at the airport for us, which took us directly to the TRYP hotel in downtown San Jose – just a 20-minute drive. After a quick shower (and a cat nap) I headed downstairs for our Contiki meeting, where I met our tour leader Oli and the rest of the group. After some quick information on how the week will go and some general information on Costa Rica, we proceeded to go for a walk downtown. We wandered the streets for about two hours, and seeing the Opera House gave me that “wow” feeling. Our first dinner was included, and consisted of chicken, rice, fried plantains, black beans, salad, and yuca (a potato-like vegetable). I really enjoyed it, which I was glad about as we had a similar meal with some minor variations over half a dozen times this week!
Our first full day started early at 6:30 AM. The buffet breakfast at the hotel was amazing, a great start to the day. We hopped on the bus and headed out of San Jose, making our first stop at the Sarapiqui River for our first adventure: river rafting. Tip: travelcuts offers travel insurance plans that DO cover adventure activities like river rafting. Not everyone else does, so make sure you’re covered.
After the regular safety speech and instructions on how to hold your paddle properly from our guide, “Captain Jack Sparrow”, we jumped into the rafts. We were told the rapids were class 3 and 4, and I can tell you, compared to the rafting I have done before, this was amazing and a lot more intense. We stopped halfway for a snack of fresh pineapple and watermelon, and then continued down the river. I am happy to say that no one fell out of our raft, but not all of the groups were as lucky. In the end we all made it down the river safely!
After lunch, we headed to the Arenal region, famous of course for its volcano. Dinner tonight was included at a local homestay. After a quick demonstration of tortilla making and sugar cane processing, we enjoyed another platter of Costa Rican food. As we proceeded to our hotel for the evening, we had a stop at one of the local hot springs, with a swim-up bar and water slides.
6:30am wake up, and another great breakfast. Scrambled eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit, toast, and baked goodies.
Today’s excursion: Gravity Falls. The drive to the starting point was about 45 minutes, but still in the Arenal region. After suiting up with harness, helmet, ropes, and life jackets, we were put into trucks, and shuttled up the mountain where the views were incredible.
After our safety talk, we hiked about 15 minutes to the first rappel of the day, a 140-foot drop beside a waterfall! We then continued down the river with five more jumps ranging from 10 – 30 feet high, jumping into deep canyon pools, and one more rappel down a 50-foot waterfall.
After about 1.5 hours walking, jumping, swimming, floating, and rappelling down the river, our Gravity Falls excursion reached its end. I have never done anything like this before, and the experience was amazing. We were then shuttled back to the starting point where lunch was included, and you had the option of purchasing your photos. Well worth the $10 to see the look on my face while leaping off the edge.
Once we got back to the hotel, we quickly packed our bags, and started the trip to Monteverde. The trip took 4.5 hours, which included a bus, a boat ride across a lake, and then another 2.5 hours on the bus. The group ate our included dinner together, and after two very busy days, I was early to bed.
Woke up after a great night’s sleep, recharged and ready. Breakfast was another great buffet, with everything you could want, including pancakes. I must say that I loved the coffee in Costa Rica; two cups each morning, and ready for the day’s adventures. Today included a bunch of different things, all in the Monteverde area. A hike through the cloud forest (but without a cloud in sight today), a walk through a butterfly sanctuary, a two-hour trek over the hanging bridges, and a visit to a hummingbird garden.
However, the highlight of the day was the ziplining at Selvatura Park. 15 cables, all different lengths, including the final zipline that was over a kilometre long. To make the final zipline even better, I chose to ride it Superman style. In a new harness I was strapped up, completely lying flat, and launched. The ride was amazing. Almost 55 seconds of flying across the ravine.
After an amazing day, we return back to Monteverde for some free time. A few of us were dropped off in town, where we could do some souvenir shopping, and pick up some snacks for tomorrow’s longer bus ride. Dinner was included at the hotel tonight, a wonderful BBQ beside the pool. After dinner, half the group went to the local bar for some drinks and karaoke. Songs were sung, dance moves were attempted, a great evening with the group.
Today was our last day in Monteverde, so we were allowed to sleep in. We woke up at 7:00 AM, for breakfast at 7:30 AM. Started to love the Costa Rican pancakes with fried bananas. After a short drive, we stopped at the Don Juan Coffee Plantation. I was so impressed with just how much we learned on the process of growing the beans, harvesting them, and then how they are ready for use. Did you know that light roast coffee actually has more caffeine than dark roast? I didn’t. We also had a quick chocolate making demonstration, right from the cocoa bean to our mouths! This tour was jam packed with information, and had samples.
After the tour, it was back on the bus for 3 more hours, including a quick pit stop, and a lunch break in Jaco (great beach town). I am still thinking about the blue cheese bacon burger I had for lunch, not quite Costa Rican flair, but still very delicious! When we finally arrived into Manual Antonio, the weather was much different than Monteverde: hotter and muggy. Tonight’s dinner was on our own, so a handful of us walked down to the water where there were a couple restaurant choices. I must say, I enjoyed the included dinners much more. Manual Antonio is quiet for nightlife, so it was another early evening for most of us.
Alarm at 7:00 AM! Breakfast was simple, but the coffee was great. We also had monkeys visiting us while we had our breakfast in an open air restaurant. They were welcoming us to Manual Antonio! The group then walked to the entrance of the Manuel Antonio National Park – just 4 minutes from the hotel. Apparently at certain times of the day and days throughout the year, there can be HUGE lineups, so we went early to avoid this. We took our Contiki guide, and we saw sloths, coatimundis, raccoons, and LOTS of monkeys. The walk into the park was like walking down a road, but as you get down to the ocean, and see the beach…WOW. The views were amazing. A couple of us hiked around the trail further, where we ran into a group of a dozen monkeys just doing their thing, while we snapped photos. After the hike, we set our bags down and took a dip in the ocean. The water was amazing and warm. If it weren’t for the raccoons trying to get into our bags, we could have stayed there all day.
Lunch was some meat from a street vendor, and a cold beer from the supermarket. That afternoon we headed on a catamaran tour. The ride was fine, the weather was not. 30 minutes into the tour, the rain started. We found dolphins, which we followed for about 15 minutes. We did still anchor, so a few of us could jump off the top of the boat into the water. The water was so warm, partly because it was so wet outside! Dinner was served on the boat, salads and fish skewers, and the drinks were included. The weather could have been much better, but when you travel in Costa Rica during rainy season, it is bound to happen. I can’t complain, as the weather had been amazing so far!
This morning we had the option of another optional tour, ocean kayaking, or just some time off for shopping and taking it easy. A small group of us decided to do the kayaking. We paddled for about an hour, where we then tied up the kayaks to do some snorkeling. The weather was perfect. We had good visibility to check out some of the fish in the rocks. We had a snack on the beach before we paddled back. After drying off and packing up the kayaks, we headed to a local restaurant in Quipos for our included lunch, the typical Costa Rican platter.
When we got back to the hotel, we had another hour to shower, pack up, and get in any last minute shopping. It was then back on the bus, and we started our final leg back to San Jose. The drive back was four hours long, and included a 30-minute stop for a stretch and snack. We checked back into the TRYP hotel, and then all went out for our final dinner together. Dinner was at an Argentinian restaurant two blocks from the hotel that Contiki uses for their welcome dinner. Wine, steak, empanadas, and cake. It was a great final meal to share together, and delicious.
As people slowly left the restaurant, we said our goodbyes. Our transfers were all booked for different times throughout the next morning, some as early as 4:00 AM!
Costa Rica is an amazing country. Everything was so green. You don’t go to Costa Rica for the food; you go for the amazing adventure activities, and the even better scenery, animals, people, and life experiences. My only disappointment after this trip was that it took me 14 years working in travel to finally get to Costa Rica myself. I promise it will not be that long until I go back!