For as long I can remember visiting Costa Rica has been at the very top of my travel Bucket List. Lush jungles, brilliant beasts, tropical beaches and adrenaline at every turn. It always seemed like a dream destination for a nature lover seeking a thrill.
I was about to find out whether I was right…
Getting To Costa Rica
Flying direct from Dublin isn’t an option unfortunately but there are plenty of connections.
Dublin > London > San Jose is probably the most convenient but tends to be more expensive as a result.
Enlisting the help of the USIT legend that is Adisa, she found me outbound flights via Newark and inbound via Toronto for under €700!
Flight time: 11:30 hours (6:00 to NY, 5:30 to SJ)
House to Hotel: 19 hours
I’d never been on an adventure tour before but given that I was flying solo, it seemed like a perfect fit. I chose the 9-Day Costa Rica Quest with USIT. Little did I know the people I’d meet, the things I’d see and the experiences I’d have was going to make this the best trip so far.
Two days before starting the tour (Sunday, March 3rd) I got into San Jose needing to fill the time. Costa Rica isn’t a destination for a thoroughbred beach bum. There’s so much to do that wasting time relaxing isn’t an option (until you get to Quepos).
With my accommodation, transport and most meals for 9 days looked after, my adventure was taking shape:
Day One: Tortuguero (Turtles) National Park (booked separately)
Day Two: Irazu Volcano, Orisi Valley, Cartago & Lanester Gardens (booked separately) then meet my Adventure crew
Day Three: Travel to La Fortuna, Coffee Plantation & Hot Springs
Day Four: Canyoneering, White Water Rafting, Arenal Volcano Hike & More Hot Springs
Day Five: Monteverde Cloud Forest, Jungle Night Walk
Day Six: Cloud Forest Reserve, Hanging Bridges, Ziplining, Tarzan Swing, Bungee Jumping & Salsa Class
Day Seven: Travel to Quepos, beach time
Day Eight: Manuel Antonio National Park, Surfing, Sunset Cruise with Snorkelling & Night out in Quepos
Day Nine: Mangrove kayaking, back to San Jose
Day Ten: Pool day in San Jose
Day Eleven: The least I’ve wanted to leave a place in my life 🙁
*Total Tour & Activity Costs: $1,289
*Cost breakdown: Tortuguero Day Tour $100, Irazu/Cartago/Orisi Valley Tour $110, Costa Rica Quest (G Adventures via USIT) $629, Canyoneering $45, Rafting $90, Night Walk $25, Hanging Bridges $15, Ziplining $90, Manuel Antonio Entry $15, Sunset Cruise $100, Kayaking $70
Tortuguero’s Incredible Wildlife
Located in the North East of the country, the village of Tortuguero is only accessible by boat and home to some astonishing wildlife and a local community of just 1,000 people. After a two hour drive on some hilariously bad but enjoyable roads (free massage) we switched to a river boat and followed the meandering streams connected to the Tortuguero delta system.
Crocodiles, caimans, iguanas, howler & spider monkeys, river turtles and lots of bird species all said hello as we floated by. This was the real deal, exploring through the heart of a rainforest bursting with life. Welcome to Costa Rica!
Irazu Volcano, Cartago & Orisi Valley
Irazu volcano is the highest volcano in Central America, some 13,000ft into the clouds. The journey up the mountain offered some of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen with the cities of San Jose and Cartago fully visible at the foot of the spine of mountains that splits the Caribbean and Pacific sides of the country.
Irazu has three craters, one of which you can walk on. They say it’s about as close to the surface of the Moon as you can get on Earth and it definitely felt like that. On a clear day you can see the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Despite not getting that lucky the view from the top was genuinely breathtaking. Being up so high it was at least 15 degrees colder than at sea level too!
Cartago used to be Costa Rica’s capital and here you’ll find a vibrant Latin community full of gorgeous Spanish architecture and friendly locals.
Finally the Orisi Valley offered more stunning views as we began to move back towards San Jose.
Meeting My G Crew and our CEO, Alonzo
The highlight of the journey was the most unexpected, the people I would meet. Our Quest was a 14-strong dream team, with 8 of us solo travellers from the likes of Vancouver, Texas, DC, Halifax, Bristol and Dublin (obviously).
Each one of these tours has a CEO who travels with you for the entire adventure. I’m biased but I think we found the coolest one out there in Alonzo (tanned one above), a free spirited Costa Rican with his own Surf Academy and an infectiously easy going personality.
Almost instantly each of us, Alonzo included became like lifelong friends and while some people wanted to do different activities, we chose to do most together having some epic laughs along the way!
La Fortuna & Arenal Volcano
No traveller can come to Costa Rica without visiting La Fortuna, a small but vibrant town at the foot of Arenal Volcano. Here is where all of us had our first go at Canyoneering (rappels, ziplines and a lot of wetness!) and White Water Rafting (crazy amount of fun!).
Your heart rate will be spiked for most of the day as you jump off waterfalls and submerge yourself in rocky streams before two hours of trying to stay in the raft on the Pacuare River. Our raft guide, Jorge was a friend of Alonzo’s and just as loose a dude. We had a blast with him battling through the rapids screaming ‘Pura Vida’ every time we didn’t drown. Serious fun!
Slightly less exhilarating but no less enjoyable was a 5km hike at the base of Arenal Volcano that included some otherworldly, lava covered fields and our first but not last encounter with a venomous viper.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
The distance between La Fortuna and Monteverde is a little over 100km but it’ll easy take 3 and a half hours on account of the crazy twisting landscape of the mountains. It’s not an unenjoyable journey at all…
Night Walk in the Cloud Forest
This was a dream. The Costa Rican jungle truly comes alive at night and we were going into the heart of it. Fireflies and click beetles illuminated a path in which we encountered vipers, tucans, tarantula’s, sloths, armadillos and even a tayra which are unbelievably rare!
Hanging Bridges & Ziplining
On arrival to the Hanging Bridges we were welcomed by a wild but unbelievably friendly coati, curious to meet a pasty Irishman. They’re little raccoon like creatures and bloody adorable!
The bridges themselves are perched high in the canopy of the Cloud Forest. Once you don’t have a crippling fear of heights you’ll be fine. You can even scale a 30ft avocado tree if you’re feeling brave!
Before the trip, the ziplining was my number one activity I wanted to experience in Costa Rica, especially the famed Superman lines which shoot you 1.5km across the cloud forest. I didn’t find it particularly adrenaline inducing but the views were on a different level and it’s definitely an experience not to be missed for that alone.
They leave the adrenaline rush to last with a 60m drop into a Tarzan swing that is right up there with the most fun things I’ve ever done! It’s totally optional of course but my advice, man up and jump…
Five Hours South To Quepos
Home to the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, a surfer’s paradise and Manuel Antonio National Park, our last night stay was in a sweltering Quepos. Costa Rica’s unique geography means it has 13 climates ranging from heavy tropical rains in Monteverde to hot and humid temperatures in Quepos.
Manuel Antonio & the Beach
This was the part of the tour where if people wanted to relax then they can but I wasn’t here to relax so it was into Manuel Antonio National Park in the early morning for some more astounding wildlife in their natural habitat.
Surfing isn’t really my thing so I let the others at it. The waves that day in Quepos seemed to break way too quickly to actually count it as surfing! Alonzo still managed to impress and have all the girls swooning (#*@%!). I stayed dry but Quepos beach itself was amazing.
Sunset Cruise, Snorkelling & The Last Supper
“If you don’t see dolphins out here, you can have my job amigo”. Encouraging words from our cruise guide Alex (not least because he has an unbelievably awesome job!) as we clambered aboard a 70ft catamaran before setting sail from Quepos marina.
He wasn’t wrong either as a dozen or more noisy, playful dolphins began chasing our boat and showing off for the crowds. It was definitely one of my highlights having never seen them in the wild before.
Snorkelling among sea snakes and jumping from the catamarans slide and roof was followed by cocktails, a lot of cocktails in time for one of the most insane sunsets you’ll ever see.
By now my crew, including CEO Alonzo were like a second family and the only logical thing left to do was a big night out in Quepos to celebrate a truly unforgettable week. What happens on tour stays on tour but the next morning, despite the severe headache, I realised that my first visit to Costa Rica was everything I was hoping for, and more!
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