With the guttural calls of howler monkeys and parrot squawks echoing through the treetops, we made our way along a narrow trail in Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Forty-metre-high goliaths flanked the trail, their enormous trunks anchored by buttressed roots that snaked across the forest floor like giant anacondas. Our short walk ended in a clearing overlooking a magnificent cloud forest ravine. Below us, parrots darted back and forth above the treetops, oblivious to our presence.
Dominating the clearing was a giant ceiba tree shooting some 50 metres up into the crowded canopy. About 10 metres above the ground, a sturdy metal platform wrapped around the tree’s massive trunk. A thick steel cable stretched from the platform across the tops of the trees to another platform on the far side of the ravine. Unlike ours, the far platform hugged its tree about 30 metres above the ground.
Pure adrenaline ¦ Once our guides had ensured that our harnesses were secure, we donned gloves and helmets. As I stepped onto the platform I traced the sagging arc of the cable stretching across the ravine and my heartbeat quickened. For an instant, I thought, “What if?” but my sense of adventure took over, bolstered by a few impatient glances from Barbara and Marilyn, a couple of 70-year-old-plus grandmothers from Vancouver. After all, this was Costa Rica, one of the fastest emerging hot spots for vacationers – a place where adventure is up for grabs in many forms, from the zip lining adventure I was about to undergo, to water sports and cultural explorations.
After some last-minute instructions, I moved to the edge of the “the diving board” and our guide Luis hooked me up to the zip line. I was first. Concerned that my feet might not leave the platform willingly, I instructed Luis to give me a three-count and a push. With one last glare at the grandmothers, I gripped the strap tightly. “Uno, dos,…” Luis began, and way before “tres,” I was flashing across the ravine.
Leaves and branches zipped by my half-closed eyes in a green blur as I silently cursed Luis. Ten seconds later, I shot into the waiting arms of two guides on the far platform.
“So how was it?” one asked. With knees still shaking, I I swallowed and croaked, “Awesome!” as I I made my way to the other side of the platform. Of course, the showoff grannies were whooping it up as they shot across the ravine.
By day’s end, I had shot across 17 more zip lines and crossed a series of suspended walkways stretched between the treetops. All without any help from Luis, who grinned widely each time our eyes met. The lofty catwalks were ideal for exploring the seldom-seen forest canopy. Along the way, our knowledgeable guides provided detailed information about Costa Rica’s cloud forest ecosystem. We managed to see some shy treetop residents: a slow moving two-toed sloth carrying her baby on her stomach and playful spider monkeys dangling from branches by their spindly tails and arms.
Pure landscape ¦ Despite its compact size (a little smaller than Nova Scotia), Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse countries on the planet. Wedged between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean it offers the best of both worlds. Its stunning panoramas of steaming volcanoes, lush rainforests, unspoiled beaches and bucolic countryside make it an ideal affordable alternative to some other busier hot spots.
Tourist dollars play an important role in the country’s economy, but most Ticos (Costa Ricans) are wary of overdevelopment and favour a balanced approach to tourism. As a result, resorts tend to be smaller, widely dispersed and designed to complement their natural surroundings, all qualities that will heighten your eco wonderland experience.
Over the last few years new eco friendly tours and attractions have made it easier to experience the best of what Costa Rica has to offer without having to sleep in hammocks or trek for days through the rainforest. Whether you’re a Gen-X adrenaline junkie, a feisty septuagenarian or an in-between eco dabbler, you’ll find a smorgasbord of exciting experiences to suit your tastes and budget.
Besides dozens of new zip lining adventures, you can whitewater raft on the wild and scenic Pacuare River (some of the finest whitewater in Latin America) or scuba dive off both coasts. If you prefer a slower pace, there are dozens of more subdued distractions such as leisurely hikes or an aerial tram ride through the Carara Biological Rainforest Reserve to search for the illusive resplendent quetzal (the country’s revered national bird). Or maybe you’d like to join a volunteer research group monitoring giant leatherback turtles nesting on Playa Grande or in Tortuguero National Park.
Pure relaxation ¦ History buffs can stroll cobblestone streets fringed with 300-year-old buildings in the historic cities of Cartago, Heredia and Barva and shoppers can bargain for local goods at numerous markets across the country. Or you can just kick back completely and chill out on a hammock under a swaying palm tree on Playa Conchal or Manzanillo beach or indulge in a hot rocks treatment at one of the country’s many spa resorts.
No matter where you are staying on the west coast of Costa Rica, there’s a day trip or adventure tour to suit your nature — and your budget.
At Sunwing, we recommend the services of CAT tours, a Costa Rican company which specializes in amazing outings, whether you’re into heart-racing adventure or lazy river rides. Options include a hike to an active volcano… a jungle boat tour through wetlands… and the famous canopy tour, which will have you soaring through the rainforest, suspended from a steel cable. Or if you like your adventure a little less adventurous, there’s always a city tour or coffee plantation outing. Ask your Sunwing Rep for more information about almost 20 CAT tours.
Costa Rica will touch your heart and mind. With its raw beauty and its sincere and gracious people, all-natural Costa Rica is a refreshing option for sun-and-fun seekers of all ages. So don’t be surprised to see grannies flying through the tree tops.