Top Adrenaline Highs in Costa Rica
Costa Rica offers pure life for those who wish to seize it: adrenaline packages, healthy local food, fascinating wildlife and people who truly care about their country. Here Sophie Deal shares her experience of how you can enjoy an action packed adventure to Costa Rica.
After the grizzly collapse of a four-year relationship, there was one thing I was certain about. I needed to get away. I spent an afternoon calling friends, trying to align availability. But as I have come to learn, arranging trips with fellow working women who have different holiday allowances, varying salaries and different ideas of what constitutes a good time, is like trying to arrange subatomic clashes in the Hadron Collider.
And so I accepted my fate. I was going to have to take this trip alone.
I trawled through a few sites that offered solo travel for women before landing on the rather enticing 'Costa Rica Adrenaline Bundle' with tour operator G Adventures – a nine-day onslaught of adventurous activities in the lush rainforests of Central America.
A packed itinerary? No time to reflect? Perfect. I booked my flights to San José, got a tetanus shot and waited for July to hurry up so I could get the hell away.
Eventually, departure day arrived with a hefty suitcase of apprehension in tow. Would I make any friends? Would I get lost? Would I get eaten alive by a beetle? Questions like these plagued my mind throughout the eighteen-hour flight from London Heathrow (with a four-hour layover in Texas).
When I finally reached my hotel, disheveled, I was shown to my room by the contagiously happy trip guide, Alonso.
There I met my roomie, a fellow solo-traveller called Katy. She was a 24 year old teacher who, like me, wanted to get away without the hassle of coordinating her friends from home.
“I’m going to be teaching kids about the rainforest next year,” she told me in her cheery Scottish accent. “So I might as well get some experience!”
We stayed up a while, talking excitedly about the upcoming activities before crashing into a much-needed sleep.
Adrenaline kicks in La Fortuna
My introduction to the beautiful ‘rich coast’ the following day was just the kind of face-slapping wake up I needed.
I was literally chucked in at the deep end when our rickety minibus arrived at a canyoning centre just outside La Fortuna. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself kitted out in a harness, rappelling down a 200ft waterfall.
There I stood, thousands of miles from home, at the top of a cliff in an isolated jungle canyon. As grinning strangers clipped me to a steel cable, I didn’t even have time to question what I was doing before I heard them say: “See you later, Senorita!”
And down I went.
Between rappels, our small group got to know each other better as we walked in awe through tropical, unspoiled canyons. Waist deep in warm, flowing water, we marvelled at the diversity of Central America’s stunning rainforest.
It was the kind of experience that makes you want to lie down afterwards, maybe with one of your mum’s Norah Jones CDs to calm your nerves.
But there’s no rest for a traveller on an adrenaline quest. As Alonso took pleasure in telling me, stand-up paddle, kayaking, zip-lining, quad biking, bungee jumping and horse riding were all still to come on the holiday’s jam-packed itinerary.
Caffeine hits and sugar highs in Monteverde
We saw more of the country’s incredible bounty when we took a tour through a coffee and sugarcane farm in Monteverde. Costa Rica’s coffee is an important part of its economy. In fact, its coffee beans are considered among the best in the world.
“We’re not a big country - we cannot beat others on quantity,” our guide explained as we walked through the plantation. “So we beat them on quality instead.”
She walked us through the fields, teaching us all about the de-pulping, drying and roasting process, before letting us sample a hot cup of our own. Although I’m not a big coffee drinker, its smooth, earthy flavour was delicious.
Learning about the traditional sugarcane process was one of the tour’s highlights. We were introduced to two oxen, which help the farmers squeeze out the canes’ sweet, sugary juice.
In most countries, I would have been concerned for the animals’ welfare. Not so in Costa Rica, where the animals, people and land are treated with respect.
“The cows only work in the coolest sections of the day,” the farmer told us. “We make sure they are well looked after and we don’t tire them out.”
After the tour, we sat down together for another plate of the country’s ubiquitous dish – rice and beans (gallo pinto). Costa Ricans enjoy some variation of this for almost every meal, including breakfast. It may sound bland and monotonous, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Gallo pinto dishes may have two fairly unexciting ingredients at their core, but the flavours added are as rich and diverse as the country itself. Cilantro, tomato, chili, plantain, egg, meat, fish, coconut milk and more inject life and colour into every dish.
Surfing in Manuel Antonio
We finished the trip with a day surfing in Manuel Antonio. Having surfed a fair amount back at home, I was feeling ambitious. A wave crept up behind me, seemingly harmless. As I paddled ferociously to meet it, it quickly escalated. And slammed me headfirst over my board, into a flailing salt-infused somersault.
I dragged myself to shore, reluctantly yielding my pride to the Pacific Ocean. Looking down at my bruised knees, a small part of me accepted it was probably for the best that the trip was drawing to a close. I was having the time of my life, but my battered body was in need of a break.
I’ve seen beautiful places before but never somewhere the people seem so genuinely proud of and enthusiastic to share.
When I said this to Alonso on our minibus ride back to San José, he couldn’t resist a cheeky quip. He rubbed his fingers together in jest, as if he was handling a stash of dollar bills.
“In Mexico, they call you gringos. Outsiders. Here in Costa Rica, we call you gr-incomes!”
Our final night was honored with a final meal of – you guessed it – rice and beans! We made a toast to Alonso for all of his help and the incredible time we’d had together.
I left Costa Rica completely satisfied with an adventure that was entirely my own, but I would recommend to anybody.
By Sophie Deal