Hiking and Whitewater Rafting Adventure Travel in Costa Rica
About a quarter of Costa Rica is preserved or National Park and in this episode we visit several of the parks to do some hiking, plus spend a couple of days whitewater rafting the Pacuare River near Turialba. Who knew Costa Rica had tall mountains? In fact, Costa Rica has Central America's highest mountain, Chirripó located in Chirripó National Park. Chirripó is over 12,500′ (about 3800 m) high and makes for a beautiful hike through four unique ecosystems.
Whitewater Rafting the Pacuare River
In 2009, Bill and I did a one day rafting trip down the Pacuare that was so much fun, I decided to do a two day trip this time and stay overnight in an eco jungle lodge. Looking back, I should have spent two nights at the lodge so I would have time to Zip Line and hike to an indigenous village – next time! It's best to stay in Turialba the night before so you don't have to wake up so early for your pick up. Terry and I arrived San Jose the night before, so were picked up from our hotel well before dawn. Getting there was an adventure itself! There is no ugly in Costa Rica, so there was always something pretty to look at on the long ride to the river.
National Geographic has ranked the Pacuare River as one of the TOP 20 most beautiful whitewater rivers. And it's action packed with loads of Class III and Class IV rapids. Be sure to use a reputable outfitter with good equipment. We used Rios Tropicales. In order to preserve the area around the river, they bought much of it up so that there wouldn't be anymore development there. You can spend the night in their jungle lodge like we did.
There are other beautiful rivers you can raft if the Pacuare is more robust than you'd prefer. Consider the Penas Blancas river, which is gentle, or the Class II/III rapids of the Rio Balsa near Arenal. But if you like the challenge of the Pacuare, you might also like the Naranjo River near Manuel Antonio with Class III/IV rapids.
Climbing Costa Rica's Highest Mountain: Cerro Chirripó
At over 12,500′ (3800m) Cerro Chirripó is Costa Rica's tallest mountain. The main path to the summit is a beautiful but VERY steep climb of about 12.5 miles (20 km). The elevation gain is over 7200′ (2000m)! There's a rest stop about half way up where you can get water and snacks, and a Base Camp about two hours before the top where you can spend the night. You need a permit to enter the park and also to spend the night (camping is not allowed). Permits to sleep go quickly and can be ordered online.
National Parks to see Animals, and for Hiking and Swimming
If Cerro Chirripó sounds too daunting or you are unable to secure a permit, there are TONS of National Parks to explore in Costa Rica. You will see tons of animals (including two and three toed sloths) in Manuel Antonio National Park. Plus be sure to bring a swimsuit to take advantage of the stunning beach coves. There are lots of trails throughout the jungle to explore. Other popular parks include Arenal and Corcovado. If you go to Corcovado, sign up for the night Bug Lady tour in Drake Bay. Fascinating!
Hire a Guide!
If you want to actually SEE the animals be sure to hire a local guide. They know the animals and their habitats and will have a scope so that you can see them up close. With an iPhone, you can actually take a picture through the scope (like the sloth pic).
On our 17 day trip we drove more than I would recommend. I think it's better to stay in an area for several days so that you really get to know it and so you spend less time traveling. The roads are MUCH improved over my last visit in 2009! Here are some other photos from our adventure. You can listen to the podcast on the player above and read the complete transript below (highlights below, too).
Costa Rica has an excellent tourist infrastructure so it's quite easy to plan your trip yourself. Except if you need a permit, it's easy to book activities once you get there. If you aren't using a tour company to plan and arrange your trip, it's easy to rent a car (but they are VERY picky on scratches, etc so get insurance!) or you can take a bus cheaply.
Time Stamped Podcast Notes
The full transcript is underneath. If you don't want to read it in English, click the Google translate button at the bottom.
00:54 Overview of Costa Rica
03:28 Dry season is Dec-Apr and Wet season is May – Nov
04:17 Costa Rica's biodiversity
04:54 Stupid tourist family and why you should stay on the trail
05:34 A snake fell in our raft on the Pacuare
06:22 Why you should hire a local guide in the national parks
07:11 Pacuare River whitewater rafting recap
12:29 At the eco jungle lodge on the Pacuare River
14:00 Animlas in Costa Rica
17:06 Hiking volcanoes in Costa Rica
18:43 Getting a permit to stay at the base camp in Chirripo
20:13 Birds and animals
24:22 Planning to summit
26:10 My Chirripo recommendations
27:59 Serendipidy allows for fun adventures and fond memories
28:45 Costa Rica has a great tourist infrastructure
31:50 Corcovado National Park and the Night Bug Tour
34:17 Tortuguero National Park (turtles!!!)
35:08 No toilet paper in the toilets please
35:23 Many restaurants offer filtered water you can drink
36:13 My interview with my sister, Terry begins: Why adventure travel?
37:08 Hopes and fears about the trip
38:13 Thoughts on the pouring rain on the first hike
42:43 Did going on an adventure travel trip change you?
45:26 Talking about the folks in our group
46:45 What advice would you give other people considering adventure travel?
49:46 Concluding thoughts on Costa Rica
COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT WITH TIME STAMPS
Kit: 00:08 Pure Vida! Pure vida! Pure life, good life. Pure vida might as well be the national motto of Costa Rica and that's where we're going today. Welcome to the Active Travel Adventures podcast. I'm your host, Kit Parks and today we'll be covering my own adventure into Costa Rica. And not only will we be hiking, which you know how I have to do some hiking wherever I go, but also some white water rafting and I'll tell you about some other adventure opportunities in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. I've got a special bonus track for you at the end of the program. I've interviewed my sister Terry, who's 62 years old and joined me on the trip to Costa Rica. And this was her very first adventure travel experience and so I asked her some questions to get some insight of what it's like to do this.
Kit: 00:47 For the first time this spring. I'm lucky enough to be visiting to countries who claim to be the happiest countries on earth. I just returned from my hiking adventure in Costa Rica and depart next month to its rival Bhutan. So I'll give you my verdict when I get back. This trip to Costa Rica marked my third trip there and remains one of the prettiest countries I've ever visited. I went once with my family as a child and then in 2009 my visit was actually a summer long dog sitting gig with my late husband. I have to say that I'm pleasantly shocked at how much improvement in the infrastructure I saw in less than a decade. The roads were abysmal in 2009, and on my recent trip we drove about a thousand miles to go to multiple parks. I got to see so much of the country and I found them to be pretty good this time around. In 2009, it was nothing to see jeep eating potholes all over the place.
Kit: 01:37 Epic Potholes were a rarity on this visit. I didn't see much poverty, but I did see a thriving middle class, at least by Central American standards. Unfortunately, the capital city of San Jose still has the same rush hour traffic snarls as the rest of the world. And Costa Rica is the most prosperous country in Central America, and it shows Costa Ricans or ticos, as they call themselves, are uber green conscious as well, and according to the World Energy Council, they rank just below Switzerland in sustainability. Much of that sustainability comes from a green attitude, but they're also blessed with an abundance of geothermal energy from all the volcanoes they've got. The country has a goal of being carbon neutral by 2021, and they're currently over 98 percent there. Costa Rica is serious about education and spends about 50 percent more than the average country on educating its young people. Most Costa Ricans can speak some English, so the language barrier is pretty much minimal there.
Kit: 02:32 One reason they can afford more in education is that they abolished their military 70 years ago after a civil war. Costa Rica has an excellent tourist infrastructure, making it super easy to visit on your own or with a group, however you prefer. Coffee is big business in Costa Rica, so when you visit, be sure to take a coffee plantation tour. On the historical plantation tour that I took, the beans are still being harvested by hand. And while they're cleaning and sorting them mechanically, it's fascinating to see how they dry the beans on large slabs of concrete where the beans are rotated about with rakes. After seeing all that goes into making a cup of coffee, it really makes you appreciate that Cuppa Joe even more. Costa Rica exports the high grade coffee and keeps the regular coffee for themselves. Costa Rica is located in Central America. wedged between Nicaragua and Panama and it's in a tropical region but has so many ecosystems due to all its mountains, and also because it borders both the Caribbean and the Pacific. Kit: 03:28 The dry season runs December to April and the rainy season, May to November. And the rain fall is really going to depend on which region you're in as some of the areas are significantly dryer than others, and some during the rainy season have almost constant rainfall. For example, I lived in the northwest coastal region during the summer, and I don't remember rain being much of an issue. If you like animals, birds, and beautiful flowers, Costa Rica is for you. In landmass. Costa Rica makes up less than 0.03 percent of the world, but boasts over five percent of the world's bio diversity and it's working hard to maintain that. They have cut deforestation down to about zero from some of the worst rates in the seventies and eighties. However, if there's still a lot of farming and ranching done. Nonetheless, Costa Rica can brag about preserving about a quarter of its country as national parks or or preserves.
Kit: 04:17 They have over 840 different kinds of birds and when I say birds, I mean gorgeous, colorful, singing birds. Birds of all sorts of fanciful colors. It's nothing to see massive flocks of parrots chattering in the trees before something spooks them, and then they fly off en mass, even in the cities. I saw toucans and might even have seen one of the Resplendent Quetzals, which is a shimmering iridescent green bird that measures, it looks like over two feet. I didn't get to see the red breast while it was flying, so I can't confirm my sighting, but it did match the description. Costa Rica also has some dangerous critters, so it's never wise to leave the trails. We actually saw a family traipsing through the jungle with an infant and two toddlers in Corcovado National Park. That night, my sister and I took a night bug tour and learned about and saw a harmless-looking large toad that could kill you, a spider that's the most venomous in the world, but gratefully it rarely injects venom whenever it does bite. Plus, of course, they have vipers, including the nasty fer de lance, which you wouldn't want to inadvertently wrestle awake from his daytime nap.
Kit: 05:20 Those parents foolishly put their children and themselves at risk in the jungle. You don't touch the bark or leaves or grab a vine. You stay on the trail. Most critters camouflage themselves so well that you wouldn't see what you're about to touch. The spider which mimics a stick, or a snake might be up in the tree and grabbing a hanging vine might just jostle it down on top of you. In fact, that's what happened when we were rafting in the Pacuare river. Our guide wanted to scout a particularly challenging rapid, so we went to the shoreline to dock while he scouted up ahead. Somebody grabbed a low hanging vine and then down popped a green snake into our raft.
Kit: 05:53 It was terrified and panicked as were we, but happily no one got bitten. Our guide got the snake out of the raft so it could go on its way. And speaking of guides, if you're going to go all the way down there, spend a little extra to go with a guide when you go into the national parks. In 2009, I went to the Monte Verde Cloud Forest and I didn't see hardly any animals except for the baited hummingbirds at the feeders. I thought the animals might have left the trail areas because of humans. It turns out they're there. They just hide with their camouflage. So if you want to see the animals, you need a guide. They know the habitat and the territory of the animals, plus they bring a scope with you so you can see it up close. In addition, when the guide see something cool, he texts the other guides so they can show their clients. J Kit: 06:38 oining a small group tour is affordable. In 2018, I paid $20 a head to get a guide at Manuel Antonio National Park, who's a trained biologist. He grew up in that area and had taught himself to mimic the bird and mammal calls. He could trick a howler monkey into thinking another male had entered his territory and he did the same with the bird calls. When they answered back, it enabled him to locate the animal for us. It was remarkable. I'll be sure to put a howler monkey howling on the website for you to take a look at. There's lots of animals to see in Costa Rica, but you don't want to just drive around in a bus and look at them. Let's go on an adventure. In 2009, Bill and I did a one day rafting trip down the Pacuarie near Turrialba. This is ranked by National Geographic as one of the top 20 best rafting trips in the world.
Kit: 07:21 It was so much fun that I wanted to return to do the same, but as a two day trip where we spend the night in the jungle. So recently my sister Terry and I headed down the river with an amazing guide, Esteban. Terry and I stayed one night in the jungle lodge and we did a little local hiking, but if you can, stay an extra night in the jungle, just relax in the jungle or to take a longer hike to an indigenous village. You can even go ziplining. Zip lining is huge in Costa Rica at our lodge, you could zip across the river. I think nine times. When I zip lined in Monteverde. I was on top of the cloud forest. Virtually any tourist area you go to in Costa Rico will offer some type of zip lining experience. You'll also find horseback riding in the rain forest, lots of hot springs so that it's an adventures and outdoors paradise.
Kit: 08:09 The Pacuare river is loaded with class four rapids. Rapids are ranked from one to five. I usually stick to the class two or class three rivers, but this river is so beautiful, it was worth getting a few nervous twitches. Fortunately it didn't take long for me to develop complete confidence in our guide, Esteban, and so after a couple of rapids, I no longer worried about some otherwise scary looking rapids. Frankly, just getting to the river was an adventure. Terry and I got picked up in San Jose. If possible, you want to stay in Turialba the night before so you can spend less time getting there. When we got closer, we were transferred to a tractor cart that took us down a very steep rocky road to the river. Even though it took us several hours to finally make it to the river from San Jose, the scenery was gorgeous along the way, so I didn't have any complaints, but like I said, it's still better to start closer to the river so you can get more sleep.
Kit: 08:55 After a few instructions. Esteban checked our protective helmets and life jackets and onto the river we went. If you've never whitewater rafted before, you generally drift down and then you paddle through periodic rapids. And there are a lot of rapids on the Pacuare. The water levels and the ratings depending on the rainfall. There was a painted rocks in the river by the jungle lodge that had three horizontal lines. These lines indicate water levels and if the level reached a certain line, it was not safe to raft. The rafting had been called off the whole week prior just for that very reason. There are certain paddling commands that you'll get from your guide: left forward/right back, right forward/left back, paddle-paddle-paddle, get down! Whenever we heard that, and then we had to sit in the boat and hold her paddles upright so we didn't bopp each other.
Kit: 09:36 ‘High side left' meant we had to scramble on to that side to weigh down to the raft. Whenever we would successfully navigate a challenging rapid, all seven of us would clack our paddles together in the air and yell ‘Pura Vida” and indeed we were living the pure life, the good life out on the Paucare river. You hear Costa Ricans, also called Ticos, use the phrase whenever things are good and sometimes as a greeting instead of hello.
Kit: 09:59 The guides job is to read the river and then figure out the best and safest way to get you downstream. On the ‘snake in the raft' rapid. almost all the rafts had tipped over on this particular fall, so Esteban wanted to try to prevent us from joining that club. He actually ended up having us go over the fall backwards and I'm happy to say we all managed to stay on the raft, not just that rapid, but the entire trip.
Kit: 10:21 You sit on the edge of the raft and hold on to a rope when you aren't paddling. At first you wonder, how am I ever going to stay on this raft, but because you wedge your feet on these inflated seat bottoms people are sitting on, you truly are pretty stable. You also get a bit of a core workout by stabilizing yourself. Plus you get some upper body workout when you're paddling. Kit: 10:40 To demonstrate how much faith I had in our guide, Esteban, he lodged this over this big rock in the middle of the river and underneath the rock was this churning, whirling deep, deep whirlpool, and he said, it's OK, climb the rock and jump in it. We're like, well, I don't know about that, but anyhow, a brave paddle mate from Paris jumped in first and she didn't die, so we all fell in like lemmings behind her.
Kit: 11:02 I think the idea was to jump just beyond the whirlpool, but I managed to jump into the whirlpools. I went down, I swear it felt like I was down 10 or 15 feet. It's like, am I ever going to bob back up, but then all of a sudden, boom, you pop up like a cork. And then there is a beach maybe a hundred yards down on the left-hand side that we had to swim over to, to rest and chill out and relax while everybody else came to shore. It was a blast. I can't encourage you enough to get on one of the rivers and do some rafting while in Costa Rica. It's absolutely beautiful to see all the jungles and the butterflies and just the beautiful river. Plus rafting, it's just downright fun.
Kit: 11:44 The guides on a multi day rafting trip wear many hats, because there's no roads even getting to the lodge. Everything's gotta be transported via the rafts to supply the food supplies, equipment sheets, whatever it is that you need. Even the building supplies all have to be ported down via the raft. Anyhow, so when we get to the lodge, which was just beautiful, just like you would imagine an eco jungle lodge would look like… the windows didn't have glass, it just have screens and in fact there's no bugs. I was shocked, so never even had to wear the spray. Basic but very pretty rooms. And then they had some hiking trails. So Esteban said, do you want to go see a waterfall? We said, sure. So we walk on this beautiful path and we'd get to this watering hole with this waterfall had splashed down so deeply that when we went into the water you couldn't even touch the bottom and carved out the rock so deeply.
Kit: 12:29 And so we hung out there for a little bit and then he gave us a lovely botanical tour because I'm into plants as y'all know. And so he was telling me all about the plants and what they do, which ones are medicine and how to use the different kinds of plants. And then Terry and I went on our own independent hike up this, uh, I don't know how many steps, the, there's a lot of carved steps in this country and yeah. So it was really pretty. My calves sure felt that the next day because I have very little elevation experience where I live. But then at night the, our guides are now our chefs, so they whipped up a beautiful appetitizer. These double fried smash plantation with some refried beans and some really spicy Jalapeno Salsa on top. Some kind of fancy drink of, I'm not sure what was in there
Kit: 13:17 I think that tit had rum and some other fruity stuff in it, and then for dinner they called it jungle stew, which was kind of what I would describe as a Costa Rican curry. It was all delicious, so these guys just go above and beyond, not just as guides, as your cooks there, they're your, I guess your den mothers basically taking good care of us on the trip.
Kit: 13:37 The Pacuare river runs along the Talamanka mountain range through some indigenous land as well as a large chunk of land that's been preserved by the host of our rafting guide. There are now several lodges in the jungle that you can stay in if you want to make the two day rafting or actually a three day adventure out of it. While rare, you can see jaguars along the Pacuare and it's not uncommon to see the iridescent and shockingly blue morpho butterfly fluttering over the river.
Kit: 14:00 You might also see some monkeys, deer, toucans or parrots. One of the guys in my hiking groups saw a jaguar walk under Terry and my deck at dusk one night. I've personally never seen a big cat in the wild, but I sure would like to. If you go to Costa Rica, do spend at least a day on the river. If the Pacuare sounds too challenging for you, there are other milder rivers, such as the gentle Penas Blancas river or the class II/III rapids, the Rio Balsa near the popular Arenal. If you want another thriller river, check out the Naranjo River near Manuel Antonio with the class three or four rapids, or even the El Chorro section with advanced rapids. I'll put all this in the show notes that you can find on your podcast app or on the website ActiveTravelAdventures.com, and it'll also be in the Travel Planner that you can download for free.
Kit: 14:53 Whitewater rafting is a blast. We've only rafted two times so far on the Active Travel Adventures podcast, my own rafting experience near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in Episode 004 and rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in Episode 009. They're both fun episodes you should check out if you haven't listened to them already. Kit: 15:09 But there's much more than rafting for adventure in Costa Rica there some great hiking in Costa Rica's 26 national parks. Some of the parks like Corcovado require that you use a local guide. While I'm sure it's both for your safety and to make sure that you don't do any harm to the plants and animals, I would recommend that if one of your goals is to see the animals, even if you don't have to take a guide with you, that you hire one anyway so you can actually see the animals.
Kit: 15:36 In Manuel Antonio National Park, we hired a great guide and saw both a two toed and three toed sloth, which without his scope would look like a grayish tan blob of pine straw, and we never would have seen it on our own. We saw sleeping chimps in the trees, active chimps, including moms carrying their babies, plus birds and reptiles. The only thing we saw a lot of with no help from a guide was the cure coatis. And they kind of look like a relative of the raccoon family that keeps its tail upright. I'll post a cute video that I took of an entire family that came out of the woods onto the beach at Corcovado. It's darling. We had to saying in our group that you just can't take enough of these cute coati photos.
Kit: 16:13 I want to talk to you about bugs or rather biting bugs. I was shocked that in three weeks I never needed to apply deet. I hate deet, but I don't want to get bit either, so I always carried it with me and I brought it home completely full. Even on a night jungle bug tour outside of Corcovado, which I was expecting to get eaten alive. I didn't need to spray. To be safe. I almost always had on my long sleeve shirt and long pants, but I really don't know if it was even necessary. I still like long sleeves for the sun protection though and I did wear long sleeves on the rafting trip to keep the sun off, which I was glad. In almost all the hiking photos you'll see in me so far, I'll be, I'm wearing that same beloved roll-up, long-sleeve tan hiking shirt. It breathes so great. I was never hot, even in the blazing sun and it dries, it seems, almost instantly, so it makes it easy to hand wash at night. But after this trip I think it's finally bitten the dust, so I just bought a replacement shirt from Columbia that hope's going to work out as well as my much love tan one. I'm going to miss it.
Kit: 17:06 There are lots of volcanoes in Costa Rica. Many of them are active, so you might be forbidden to get too close to active volcanoes for your protection, not just of eruptions, but also from inhaling poisonous gasses, so you want to be sure you check before you head down to make sure that you can do the hikes that you plan on doing or have a backup plan– which is not a bad idea anyway. I'm going to put on the website a video I took of the volcano, Turialba. It looks apocalyptic. It's barren, there's nothing but dead tree trunks that look burnt out and there's no vegetation. There's gas and steam coming from the ground and it looks like we've just survived nuclear war. Climbing volcanoes is cool and I liked doing it, but it's not necessarily beautiful as they look like wasteland sometimes.
Kit: 17:55 However at the top, you're usually rewarded with a really cool panoramic view. And speaking of volcanoes, be sure to check out Episode 001 where we hiked the active volcanoes in Nicaragua. If you don't want to climb volcanoes, you can climb some of the many mountains of Costa Rica. I climbed my highest mountain ever: Cerro Chirripo. Chirripo tops out over 12,500 feet, so it was 50 percent higher than any mountain I've ever climbed, and this is a tough mountain. In nine miles, you have an elevation gain of 7,000 feet, so that's incredibly steep. You start out at a cute little town called San Gerardo de Rivas. It's worth staying in this town for two or three nights on his own just to hike in the surrounding trails. It's really a beautiful area that's teeming with wildlife. We stayed in a quirky guest house about 20 yards from the trailhead. I'll put a link to it in the show notes.
Kit: 18:46 You have to get a permit to enter Chirripo National Park. If you want to stay at the base camp, you book early online and I'll put all the details on the website as well. The park limits the number of visitors, so you've got to plan your booking in advance. One thing I found interesting and appealing was the fact that it was almost all ticos on the mountain and very few foreigners. We met a guy from Italy and we saw in the visitor's log that there's some people from the Czech Republic. But other than that we didn't see a sign of anybody but the locals.
Kit: 19:29 What's cool about this mountain, as you go through several ecosystems on your way to the top, you start off in a lowland, tropical wet forest where you're likely to see toucans and other colorful birds. You're going to appreciate the beautiful shade of foliage because it, even at this elevation, it's warm year round. Then you're going to enter the sub alpine wet forest or high moorland. At the beginning of this area, you're going to see lots of oaks and then you get to the cloud forest section with ferns and bamboos. Eventually you're going to be above treeline and exposed due to the shrubby trees that survive there. Here you can be hot during the day and likely chilly at night. In fact, there was ice on the ground in the early morning before we summited.
Kit: 20:13 Terry and I were lucky enough to see some of these wild pig bore like things they called peccaries, but we saw none of the big cats or tapirs, but we did see and or hear tons of the over 400 kinds of birds they have in this forest, and by birds I don't mean little baby birds. I mean all caps, B I R D S: we're talking big birds, blue birds, red birds, yellow birds, all colors of the rainbow, all sizes. The hummingbirds are even huge. They're about the size of the sparrow, some of them. It's absolutely incredible and they sing. There's so many song birds that are up in the upper story, you may not see them, but you sure can hear them. Don't ever plan on sleeping in because the birds will wake you up with a cacophony of noise as soon as a little bit of hint of light. Come to think of it, the frogs, peepers and other jungle critters that are doing their mating calls at night, they're also a little bit noisy, so if you're a light sleeper, you may want to bring some earplugs. I personally found it restful and helped me go to sleep, but I could see where it may not for others.
Kit: 20:59 You'll no doubt see plenty of monkeys, particularly the white faced monkeys and you'll hear if you don't see the howler monkeys. When you hear their call, you think you're going to be seeing a gorilla when actually they're just a pint size little monkey that can't stand two feet tall. One thing you won't see a whole lot of his snakes. I asked our guide at Manuel Antonio what was the hardest thing for him to find for his clients, and he said, actually it was the snakes. Kit: 20:59 Hiking Chirripo is not for the faint of heart. It's hard. In fact, this is the most difficult hike I've ever done. When you aren't going up, you're going straight up. Plus you have to contend with the altitude. I did develop a mild headache and I'm saying really mild, and it could just be that I wasn't drinking enough water even though I thought I was.
Kit: 21:40 There's a rest area at the midpoint on the ascent to base camp and around halfway up here you can get fresh water and snacks and sit in the shade for awhile and it's quite nice and you wonder how they ever got it built up there. We did pass the horses that supply the base camp in the cantina rest area. You can also pay to have them transport your gear, so all you need is a day pack and I saw that many took advantage of that service. Me, I like to be prepared for everything, so I would always choose to carry my stuff. We didn't need a sleeping bag or a tent because we're staying in a dorm that night. However, just because we started up the mountain and beautiful weather, it doesn't mean that the weather would stay so nice. Thus I have my rain gear and my thermals and emergency bag in case for some unforeseen reason I had to spend the night in the woods or had an accident. Mountains can create their own weather, so for me, I find it best to always be prepared for whatever kind of weather that particular mountain has ever thrown at people.
Kit: 22:47 The Chirripo trail is a beautiful trail with gorgeous views, but once we got up there, it's hard to catch your breath and frankly we weren't moving fast enough to really get our hearts racing. To me it was the lungs trying to get oxygen. I live at sea level and I'm totally unused to being up high and I seem to struggle with the altitude more than my sister Terry, who didn't seem to have any issues whatsoever. Terry, God bless her, had jumped at the chance to go on this adventure to Costa Rica. I was a bit worried that we wouldn't be able to physically climb Chirripo, but fortunately she was clueless as to how difficult this was going to be. When Roger first told me that he had secured a permit for me to climb Chirripo, I was like, oh, I'm not even sure I could even be able to do that. And because it's a huge elevation gain for me and much higher altitude than I'm used to and I have a little bit of altitude issues even at 8,000 feet. So I was a little bit concerned and I probably pegged my chances of being able to summit at that point, around 40 percent.
Kit: 23:27 Then I found out there was a base camp, so I was like, well maybe if I go really, really slowly I'll be able to do it. And I bumped my odds up I figured to about eighty percent. So Day One we climbed nine miles up to base camp. That nine miles took us eight and a half hours. I can normally hike a steep hill at a pace of about one and three quarter miles per hour to give that as a basis of comparison, so we're about half as fast as my normal rate. We arrived at base camp in the late afternoon and that last couple of kilometers was super steep. Plus you're exposed because you're above tree line, so it's also hot in. Finally you go downhill a little bit to a wide flat area and that's where they had the dorm building and the kitchen. There's some picnic tables you can rest on and enjoy the absolutely stunning views.
Kit: 24:11 At this point you can't even see the peak of Chirripo, which turned out to be behind us behind a false summit. We bought a beef stew dinner that you book in advance and they give you three choices. We also bought breakfast, which we had boxed up for us because we weren't going to be around for the literal one hour breakfast hour. After dinner, we crashed on bunk beds by 7:30 because we planned to get up before three so that we could arrive at the summit for dawn.
Kit: 24:57 The dorms are mixed genders and there's a shared bath down the hall. They do not allow camping. It's the dorms or nothing. Everything was really clean and functional and they provided blankets and a pillow. We set our alarms for 2:50 in the morning and slept in our dirty clothes. John, who is another hiker in the group, Terry, and I set out at 3:00 for the two hour climb. Amazingly, there was frost on the ground. In fact, a pipe must've frozen overnight and had thawed and burst by the time we made it back down to base camp. The resulting spray cascaded over the nearby plans creating a beautiful ice sculpture. It was cold enough obviously for us to be wearing our thermal jackets, gloves and headgear. Who knew you could be cold in Costa Rica? At around 5:00 am, we could start making things without our headlamps. Right before the summit, there's a huge rock scramble of about a hundred yards. We decided not to risk our ankles and found rocks to sit on to watch the sun come up. It was breathtaking. On a clear day from this vantage point, you can see the Caribbean and the Pacific. Mike, another hiker from our group did the unimaginable and hiked both up and down Chirripo in one day as he wasn't able to get one of the overnight passes.
Kit: 25:46 Mike was lucky enough to have a clear view as his reward for this heroic hike. John, Terry and I were above the clouds, which at that time of the day we're still hadn't dissipated yet. And I suppose Terry and I could've hiked to the summit the day before to see both oceans, but we were kind of tired. It's one of those things that if we had to do another five hours of hiking, we of course would have, but since we didn't have to and we had the relative comfort of base camp, we didn't. Looking back, I kind of regret that. If I had to do it again, I would shoot for two nights at base camp. You could hike to base camp on Day One. Day Two, I'd do some minor hikes around base camp. They have lots of trails right around the base camp and then rest in the afternoon and then climb the summit to watch the sunset.
Kit: 26:27 This would give you the best opportunity to see the Pacific and the Caribbean. That would get you back down to base camp around 8:00 PM. You'd go to sleep until about quarter three in the morning and then you'd get up and then climb back up that summit to watch the sunrise. The Park will allow you three nights at base camp. I think two is sufficient. Kit: 26:27 What Terry and I chose to do was when we got back from summiting at sunrise was take a nap for a couple of hours because next up is the long slog downhill. Actually it is harder for me to hike downhill. We were barely moving the last two kilometers and our knees were swollen, although they weren't injured. Terry did bruise one toenail from the constant pressure on the toe squishing in the top of the boots going downhill. And as a reminder, whenever you're doing hiking, make sure your your toenails are clipped pretty short.
Kit: 27:14 From base camp, it took us a sluggish six and a half hours to get down, so we only shaved about two hours off our uphill time. It took us about five hours to get up to the summit, hang out for a little bit, and then return to base camp, so our total height time of Chirripo is about 21 hours. Our friend Mike who went up and down in the day, did that whole thing in 16 hours. To give you some perspective. In recognition of Mike's accomplishment, Terry and I reworked the Village People's “Macho Man” song to sing to him in his honor. PS: this is the same Mike that I interviewed in Episode 009 where we white water rafted the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
Kit: 27:59 Overcoming obstacles and solving problems is one of the appeals of adventure travel for me, but sometimes when things go wrong, it actually makes it right. We had a very serendipitous afternoon one day: we were trying to hike towards a certain peninsula at Lake Arenal and we missed a trailhead and we're walking down what was basically a boring little road in the middle of the park. We realized our error, but it was too far to go back, so we decided to head up to a little beach head a little further ahead. And just sitting and just chilling out on that beach head… we packed stuff to make sandwiches, so we had a little picnic lunch and Roger, our leader, saw a guy in a boat pull up and so he goes down and talks to him, negotiates taking us out to the peninsula via boat and so we do that. It was just a beautiful boat ride. We'd go swimming in the lake and it was just a lovely afternoon. Totally not at all what we had planned, but ended up being one of our fondest memories of the trip.
Kit: 28:47 The tourist infrastructure in Costa Rica is excellent, so it makes it very easy for you if you choose to plan your own adventure to do so. Everybody's got a website, I'll put notes in the show notes and on the Travel Planner to make that a little easier for you. There's also some great tour companies that can make the arrangements for you and I'll also include those in the travel planner as well. If you choose to use a guided tour company, they of course make all the arrangements. If you do plan this yourself, which is certainly very easy to do in Costa Rica. I would recommend picking the places that you would like to go and get a rough idea how long you'd like to stay there and then book the stuff when you're there, unless it's something like Chirripo where you must get the permit in advance, the infrastructure, so good, there's plenty of tour companies there that'll sell you the day package to do this or that, so and it's often cheaper on site than it is if you book it through somebody before you go. That will also give you the opportunity to check out the weather before you actually do an event and talk to other people to see what they've enjoyed and who they've enjoyed doing it with. Also, virtually every place that you stay can make the arrangements for you as well. As far as getting around, the bus system works well if you want to do it on a budget or you can rent a car. Of course on a guided tour, they do all the pickups and transportation and make all the arrangements for you. If you've ever wanted to experiment with unplanned travel, Costa Rica would be an excellent country to do that in because the tourist infrastructure is so well set up that you literally can say, Oh, I'd like to go the La Fortuna, the Arenal area.
Kit: 30:16 You get there and you can pretty much, there's agencies all over the place selling you whatever it is to go to the hot springs, to climb, to horseback ride, to zip line, so it makes it very easy to travel without any kind of a plan. Sometimes a little bit, it's almost too set up. If you're more adventurous, you may prefer Nicaragua because the landscape is very similar. It's cheaper. Costa Rica has gotten a little bit pricey, but they don't have the tourist infrastructure in place it all yet, so in Nicaragua, you're pretty much a trailblazer. If you go to Nicaragua, I do recommend that you hire a guide to go with you the whole time just to smooth out any wrinkles. I've gotten information on that, on that episode Number 001.
Kit: 31:06 Whether you choose to go on your own or with a group. Costa Rica is just a beautiful, beautiful country. There's no ugly and Costa Rica, no matter where we went, everything is beautiful. I've found the people to be super warm and friendly and welcoming, and if you like adventure and you like beautiful and you like animals, Costa Rica is a definite for your bucket list. And the plants are amazing. I'm a plant person. I don't know if I've ever mentioned that I used to have a wholesale plant nursery and I would re-wholesale tropical plants that I would bring up from Florida. It was really cool for me to see all these plants growing natively and wild throughout the jungles and that was just super cool for me.
Kit: 31:50 If hiking in the jungle isn't your cup of tea or if you just want a little change of pace, the beaches of Costa Rica are stunning. Also, if you'd like to surf, there's lots of great surfing opportunities as well. One of my favorite days was we were going down to get to Corcovado National Park, which is way far south. I was especially excited to see Corcovado because of its reputation for the diversity and quantity of birds and animals that they have in the park. I also wanted to take the famous night bug lady tour, but it was cool. We had to take a boat and do a wet landing to get to Drake Bay where the boat got us up pretty close, but we, there's no dock or anything, we just had to trudge through the water to make it to the beach. The place that we stayed was kind of cool too. And you'll find Costa Rica is not really geared up for people that are handicapped. Our room was almost 200 steps up and of course no elevator. They do have some great porters though to help you with your luggage.
Kit: 32:34 It was at that lodge that are hiking partner saw the jaguar under Terry's and my deck. Going through the mangroves and the and the rivers and the bay to get to Corcovado… it was just beautiful. You felt like you're on Robinson Crusoe island or Gilligan's island or something. It's just stunningly beautiful. You'll also see a lot of coconut palm plantations as well en route.
Kit: 33:20 I just want to make some comments in general about Costa Rica. Some of the key places that people like to go to is the Arenal volcano area and Arenal lake area. The town that services it is La Fortuna, but if possible, stay in the park itself. It is absolutely gorgeous, so you have some great little day hikes. Not really heavy duty hiking in that area, but it's still very pretty even though they're not strenuous hikes. We don't always have to be doing strenuous. Corcovado I mentioned is where you'll see a lot of wildlife. It's not as heavily visited, but is does require a guide. You can also stay in the park itself. It's kind of pricey, but to see the animals, the dawn and dusk are the best time, so that might be a great option if you're really into the animals. If you want to see animals for sure, go to Manuel Antonio National Park. They're all over the place and as you approach the park, there's a booth right outside the ticket office. You can hire a guide there. That's where we got the fabulous biologist. Very reasonable price. They'll give you a two hour tour. You had the scope so you can see up close and personal and even take photos of the animals by using the iphone on the scope, so that's kinda cool. And be sure to bring your bathing suit because Manuel Antonio has some beautiful little cove beaches that you can go swimming in and there's also multiple trails, so once your tour guide is over, there's still plenty of hikes throughout the park to keep you entertained.
Kit: 34:17 One place. I have not been that I still is on my list. – I've got to go back to Costa Rica at least one more time– is Tortuguero National Park. This is where the turtles come to lay their eggs and hatch, generally speaking, in the rainy season, but I don't really care. One day I will go back there just so that I could go see all those turtles hatch. That's up in the northeast corner. I spent most of my time in my previous trip in the northwest corner in the Guanacaste area. That's also a big surfing area, and so if you're into surfing, that's the area that you probably would like to go to them and you'll also see some other. There's national parks all over the place. I encourage you to go to as many national parks as you can to do hiking, but like I said, pick any touristy towns and they'll have all sorts of activities for you to do from horseback riding to zip line to hiking to soak in hot springs.
Kit: 35:08 A couple of other things about Costa Rica: their plumbing system cannot take the toilet paper, so you'll see a trash can next to every single toilet. All toilet paper goes in there, and so just your bodily waste is all that goes down the toilet. Really, really important because you don't want us to step up the systems. But the good thing is is because it becomes a touristy, most of the better restaurants will serve you filtered water. Just make sure you ask, is it filtrado? Is it filtered and you can drink the water and many, many restaurants now, which is kinda nice.
Kit: 35:56 And before I forget, if your in the Arenal area, there's a touristy waterfall, La Fortuna. On Route 708 there's the Catarata del Toro, the bull waterfall. It's a private waterfall that this couple bought from a farmer and had this beautiful trail down to the base and it's a stunning waterfall that is well worth going out of your way to go see. Of course, I'll put pictures on the website.
Kit: 35:56 Remember I mentioned that this was my sister's first adventure travel holiday? And so I thought it'd be really cool to ask her and get some insight on what it was like to do this for the first time. Here's my interview with her. Kit: 35:56 We all have limited time and money to travel. How come you decided to go on an adventure trip to start with? Terry: 36:33 Well, yeah, that was why I was putting it off I guess, and then it was just, I just knew if I didn't do it I would go out of my mind. I had to go.
Kit: 36:44 You had to go on a trip or you had to try adventure travel.?
Terry: 36:48 I had to try adventure travel. I knew I was lacking adventure and I was, you know, kind of waiting for something and this opportunity came up and I just knew I had to do this adventure travel. I, I needed it so much and it filled the void.
Kit: 37:08 Oh good, good. What were your hopes and fears prior to the trip? What were you thinking about? Were you anxious at all or were you excited? Tell us what was going on in your head.
Terry: 37:17 I was very excited. It kept me going. My life is a little crazy. Felt a little out of control and knowing I had signed up for this trip that I just went on recently. It kept me going for eight months, so now I need another travel to sign up for so I can keep going for six to eight months. I did have a little anxiety right at the last minute before I left. Only thinking wow, 17 days. That is a long time. I've never been gone that long, but now that I'm back for two weeks, I think it was perfect timing because you need time to unwind and then you know, like took me five days to unwind once I was there to just get unplugged from work and family then that next half total play and adventure and it was awesome and I want more.
Kit: 38:13 Our first hike was in the pouring rain. What were you thinking that day?
Terry: 38:17 Well, I was having fun. At least I wasn't cold and so I didn't care. I'd run in the rain. I don't mind. I find it kind of, it's like a test. This doesn't bother me. And I remember repeating to my companion saying, oh, this is testing my mettle. I'm trying to negotiate traveling through muddy gullies and not fall, but in which I did. And you know what? The sky didn't fall down and I was OK. I just got a little muddy. So it was, I found it fun, very fun, especially after muddy, wet because everybody kinda bonded. We all went for coffee and it was just a fun day. I look back on it fondly
Kit: 39:06 Now let's talk about Chirripo. And Chirripo for the audience is the tallest mountain in Costa Rica. It stands at over 12,500 feet, which is about 2,800 meters. And that was my highest mountain ever. And I've climbed some mountains. And this was your very first real mountain. Why don't you tell us a little bit about what was going on with Chirripo and what you felt on the way up, when you got there, and on the way down.
Terry: 39:28 What I felt was just exhilarated. Going up wasn't as hard for me is I, again, I didn't really give it that much thought until maybe the night before when I was packing, packing my backpack and I realized “Oh boy” and then people were starting to talk about it. So, I hadn't been that high before, only in Colorado. I have no idea how high it was, but I did have some headaches and I thought, “Ooh, I hope I don't feel bad”. And I felt good and luckily my bootcamp class prepared me for going up. It was just fun to challenge and see if I could do it. And I, and I felt good the next day when we summited was very fun. Got no sleep, but just the anticipation of hiking in the dark. I don't know, that was fun seeing, the crystal as we walked in the dark and navigated our way up.
Terry: 40:25 And then I was a little bit worried when we got to the final stretch where you had to actually heave yourself up over rocks. I was a little… I wasn't as worried about getting up, but I was starting to think, “How am I going to get down these rocks?” It was just all exhilarating and we shared it with two people and maybe have a couple of people who are ahead of us before dawn and seeing the sunrise was worth it. And it was just a moment. It was just a moment. I loved it and I can do it. I was very pleasantly surprised that I could do it. I physically, I was fortunately prepared by the exercise classes I go to.
Kit: 41:06 Yeah, you're one of the strongest hikers in the group by far. Now let's go down the mountain.
Terry: 41:20 Down the mountain, I guess people say… had told me that's going to be more of the challenge. You're going to be tired. And I have done a marathon and some half marathons and going downhill was always the hardest for me. It's harder on your knees. And I had borrowed thankfully one pole and I was watching people who use polls and I was watching this really tall guy from Italy and he was just like… and he had been just beat us by dawn and there he was at the top and then he's standing straight up, not hunched over or looking, worried, very relaxed and he's just like going down these rock mountain. And I thought all right, there must be some strategy to this. And it was just kind of looking at them and I don't know, I just followed you and John just trying to keep up.
Terry: 42:08 And then, I don't know, it worked. It just worked. I have no idea, but it was very tiring at the end it was just lifting up the thighs and the knees and being careful because people had warned me that, yeah, you're gonna be tired. This is when people fall. So I tried to listen to, to that and just be careful. So, and I carried a very heavy pack, had no idea how much even little ounces at up. I'm kind of proud of that. It was dumb, but hey, I did it and next time when I do it, I'll have a lighter pack.
Kit: 42:43 Looking back, did going on this adventure trip change you in any way?
Terry: 42:52 Yes it did. Reflecting upon my return, I realized how confident I was when I went into the office after my vacation. I just thought, number one from the vacation high, I guess I could handle anything, anything that was thrown at me.
Terry: 43:06 It's a very busy office right now, like, yeah, I can deal, deal, put it on the list, but also the fact that I climbed the mountain and summited, I think it just has given me more self confidence. You know, if I can do that, I can tackle other challenges or adversity. And also so that was the main thing. Just gained confidence in myself reaching a goal, but also I realized yeah, I waited too long to take a vacation so I'm going to change that in. And I do try to play on weekends, but I think it's not enough. You need to just take a little step away, take a break, unplug, challenge yourself in other ways. It doesn't mean be a blob when you take a break, but I think I prefer to take that physical and mental challenge gives me a high.
Terry: 43:57 That's how I've changed. I'm going to make that more of a priority. I've always enjoyed physical challenges, but I realized that was, that had been lacking and I was getting very antsy over the last couple years. And I think in reaching for that, were there any other ways? Definitely the physical endurance I loved. And, and now I'm actually I already went down and exercised today because it's hard to keep that up. I mean I can see why people do get addicted to it. I'm not an addictive type so I worry that now I'll slough off. But you just get that physical challenge that you want to keep. That happens for me. And then just the fun of it all. It was like play. I noticed our group… just observing the group. People work hard and we all need play and everybody got away on this trip to play. It was great. It was just great and I learned that and I learned that you shouldn't wait too long to do it because I it took me a while to unplug from my job and unplug from things that I was thinking about. But then when I did, I got even more relaxed and it was great. So we all need that, certain level. Everybody has different levels. But anyway, and I learned I want to do more and challenge myself more and I liked the people.
Kit: 45:26 I wanted to talk to you about the people too. On our particular group, it was just you and I as the only girls with seven men ranging in age from age 50 to 74. I believe all really nice people. But we're all so different that it's unlikely that many of us would be friends in our normal day to day life. So tell us what you think about the fact that you bond with people that might not ordinarily be your people.
Terry: 45:50 I probably wouldn't run into them. Yeah, like you said, it's just circles, but I was thinking about them today as I was coming back from my run. It is definitely bonding because for whatever their life is about, they like adventure travel and that is your bond and you do get dirty and sweaty and you're kind of off the beaten path and we're on a bus, you know, not like everybody's chatting all the time. People are doing whatever they're doing or just what their thoughts, but it's just those little moments that we did have that we share that brought us together, I think is enough where we all let her hair down a little bit. Played, enjoyed the company of other people who, who want that same adventure. And I grew fond of them. So over time, I have those memories in my head forever.
Kit: 46:48 One last question, what advice would you give somebody that thinking, oh, they'd like to maybe try adventure travel, but they're a little bit nervous or they're not quite sure. Any advice you could give them?
Terry: 46:57 Well to know themself, if you can just roll with the punches, just accept people for who they are because you might be with a group that maybe you wouldn't necessarily hang out with, but you do share, you know, the reasoning and everybody's there is they want that adventure. They want that kind of rush of adventure doing something different and challenging their body and not really caring if they're in five star hotels. They want to rough it, they want to rough it. So just remember that that's your bond and just have lower expectations and just have fun yourself and that kind of rubs off on everybody else. And if you can do that, it'll, everything will be fine. If you can't, then maybe search around for something else because you wouldn't have fun and you'd wreck other people's time if you're not mixing well with everybody.
Kit: 47:50 That's good advice. When you're talking about becoming part of a group, particularly since they're everybody's so disparate in their backgrounds, experiences and such, what about advice for the person whose worried physically about doing adventure travel?
Terry: 48:00 Well, I guess talk to the leader . This group, the leader, there are varying levels and it didn't matter. Everybody just kind of hiked up the mountain at their own pace and it was all fine. Nobody expected everybody to stay together the whole time. Certain activities lend themselves better to stay together, but a lot didn't. There was no pressure. I didn't feel any pressure and see it put on anybody else and everybody had been together before and traveled with this leader. So I guess they all knew it so they had no problem saying I'm not doing that today. You know, someone didn't want to hike in the rain. Someone didn't want to go up to base camp. They knew themselves, but they felt comfortable in sticking to that and no pressure. So I think maybe that's probably comes from the leader. So you need to communicate with a leader and make sure you're matched, matched yourself with a group that you think you'd be more successful and just prepare. And then it's OK. I've talked to all these people who have climbed many mountains. These were very experienced hikers and they were like, oh yeah, sometimes we didn't summit… sometimes when we didn't do this. And that made me feel better from hearing that from experienced people.
Kit: 49:18 Is there anything else you'd like to share with the audience?
Terry: 49:20 I highly recommend it. It will change your life. If you love to be outdoors, if you love to challenge yourself physically and mentally, I think you check so many boxes. You can see a new place, learn a new culture, meet new people, just get out of your comfort zone and you will have a blast.
Kit: 49:46 I'm so grateful for Terry for coming on the program and also for coming with me to Costa Rica. She is by far one of my favorite travel partners ever. You can do the Costa Rica adventure with a difficulty rating of about two to three with the great exception of if you decide you want to hike Chirripo, that's a definite five for sure, but Costa Rica is a wonderful place to explore. It's gorgeous. There's … I've never seen an ugly part of Costa Rica. Whether you're at the beaches or in the mountains or in the cloud forest, it's just beautiful, and I've been to a good chunk of the country. I have not been up to the Tortuga area and the Caribbean and I've spent most of the time in the Pacific, but it's just a beautiful country with very friendly people. It's the priciest I've found in Central America, but it's still very reasonable relatively speaking for an adventure tour.
Kit: 50:36 It's a little pricier than the neighboring countries because it is so well established tourist wise, but it's still a good value, I believe, and it's certainly a beautiful country. I've spent most of the time on the Pacific side, but I've yet to see the ugly part of Costa Rica. It's all just stunningly beautiful. Hope you enjoy today's program on Costa Rica and liked meeting my sister Terry. I loved having her on the program.
Kit: 50:57 If I could ask you a favor, whatever podcast app you're listening to this on, if you would punch the art and scroll down… If you would give me a rating and review. It helps other people find the program. I'd be really grateful. If you have negative comments, I would really appreciate an email at kit,@activetraveladventures.com and let me know what I can do to improve it. I did have a lovely conversation with one of our listeners, Laurie, the other day and we got some great feedback that I hope to incorporate in upcoming shows and I will be back in two weeks with another great adventure and until then, Adventure On!
Hike and Raft Costa Rica : Adventure Travel at its best! by Kit Parks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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