Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Trip to Guanacaste, Costa Rica!

My wife Susie and I recently went on a vacation trip to the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, and did we ever have a good time! It is such a beautiful country, and we had a chance to have some great adventures. Below is a recap of our week, which is a little longer that most of my normal blog entries; but I did add a few pictures and a couple of videos to try and keep it interesting : )

Arrival and Hotel
We flew into a small airport near Liberia, quickly found our transportation, and in about 20 minutes had arrived at our hotel - The Occidental Grand Papagayo. Here are a couple pics of the view from the hotel lobby/entrance:

It was mid-afternoon when we got to the hotel, and we spent that first afternoon and evening getting settled, exploring the grounds, checking out the pool and the beach, etc. The rooms were nice, although we did have an AC unit that sounded like a small diesel engine... so it would be really loud and then all of a sudden there would be a big click when it shut off and then dead silence until the cycle repeated : )

New friends and Gelato (these are a few of my favorite things...)
Sunday was our first full day, and we spent some time that morning talking to a couple we had just met, Chuck and Glenda. All four of us seemed to hit it off right away, so we decided that we'd all talk to the tour representative together and book the same tours. We spent some time looking through the options, picked out what we wanted to do, and got everything settled. In the meantime, it had been pouring down rain in buckets (for my fellow Texans... yes, that was quite an unusual sight!). The rain was going to be a background theme for the week, as they are not kidding when they refer to it as the "rainy season"!

Later that morning, the rain had slowed down; so we decided that we would all split a taxi and go to the nearby town of Playa Coco to look around and do some shopping. I had read that Playa Coco had a great little gelato shop, so I was eager to check that out!

Playa Coco was only a few minutes away via Taxi, and was a nice little beach town with various shops, restaurants, bars, etc. The rain stayed away for most of our time there, with only some occasional light rain. And yes, there was a gelato shop and it was great! Imagine going to Costa Rica, of all places, and finding some good Italian gelato : )

The picture below shows Susie standing near the beach. You can see that an offshore storm was creating some decent waves, and there were actually a number of people out there surfing.

Arenal Volcano - Ziplining and Hot Springs
Monday we went on our first paid tour, a trip inland to the Arenal Volcano area. We had heard that one of the best ziplines was out there, and that was one of the things that Susie really wanted to do. I'd never ziplined before, so I was looking forward to it as well (I love new experiences...).

It was a fairly long drive (just over 3 hours), but we had a great time thanks to our tour guide Daniel from CAT tours. His style was more conversational and friendly, instead of being one-sided and scripted as tour guides can sometimes be. On the way to our destination, we stopped to get a couple pictures of Lake Arenal (click on the picture to see the full panoramic image).

We had one quick stop for lunch, and then made it to our first destination: the Sky Tram/Trek tour. This tour consisted of a tram ride up through the rain forest, and then an amazing zipline tour to bring you back down. Here we are with Chuck and Glenda getting ready to get started (with the Arenal Volcano in the backround):

Note how clear and sunny it is... we got lucky with the rain yet again. It had rained the entire morning as we drove, but cleared up in time for the tour.

This is a view from the tram as we went up higher to start the zipline. That's Lake Arenal in the background.

Once we got to the top of the tram ride, we got on our gear and were ready to zip!

After a short "test" run, we were ready to start the real ziplining. And wow!!! Here is a picture from the platform for the first actual zipline run. It was around 1400 feet long and went over a valley that dropped down 650 feet below (!), and I have to admit that made me a bit nervous... You may have to click on this picture to make it full size to be able to see this, but at the top and in the middle section just left of center there is a tiny white square - that is the next platform we were heading for!

I waited my turn and anxiously watched the people in front of me. One thing that was pretty wild was the sound from the little pulleys. These ziplines were long and steep, so once somebody took off that little metal pulley was winding with a loud and high pitched whine as they zipped along at amazing speeds (the longest of the lines is 1/2 mile and you go 40-50 mph!).

Finally it was my turn and I was off... speeding along at tremendous speed hundreds of feet over the rain forest... whoo what a rush! : )   Due to the high speeds, you actually can't stop yourself like you do on most ziplines, so they had a "stopper" at the end of the zipline that they used to slow you down. I hit that stopper and came to a quick stop, got out of my harness, and was ready to go on the next line : ) Altogether, there are 8 ziplines, the longest of which is about 2500 feet; and the full system of cables is 1.9 miles.

We had gotten off the zipline and were in the building for no more than 2 minutes when the rain started coming down in buckets again. Thank you for waiting : ) Now it was time to drive to the Baldi Hot Springs. On the way, our eagle-eye driver spotted this toucan sitting in a tree:

When we arrived at the hot springs, it was very different than what we had expected. I had pictured something akin to small holes in the ground with spring water bubbling up : )  But this was actually a series of very nice pools, each with different water temperatures; ranging from lukewarm to way too hot (for me...). We really enjoyed our time there exploring the different pools. They even had three water slides at one of the pools : )  Here are a couple of pictures:

Susie relaxing and enjoying the water and the view

Me getting a back massage from a waterfall (waterslide behind me)

Me standing in front of the big waterfall

Beach and Pool Day
Tuesday was a rest and relaxation day, so we spent most of it just hanging around the hotel pool and beach areas. The day before had been a long one, so it was nice to have some down time.

The beach at the hotel, nice and quiet...

Susie relaxing at the beach on the lounge chairs

Enjoying a couple drinks poolside
Whitewater Rafting
Wednesday it was time for some more adventures, as well as another first for me (and for Susie) -> whitewater rafting! This time there was a few more people on the tour, and we all headed out in the morning for the Tenorio river. As we arrived, we could hear the rushing water, and this was our first view of the river:

Ummm... that looks just a bit rough as a starting point for a bunch of beginners, doesn't it?!? I looked around and saw the same thought on many of the faces there, but we all just got on our gear and got ready to go:

And then it was time to head into the water:

Once in the water and took off right away... this was going to be great! The water was cool, but felt pretty refreshing. It took Chuck and I a while to get the hang of things, I think we were both too busy looking around... but before too long we had caught on to the various commands - Up, Forward, Back, Stop... and my favorite, the "Get Down". And we had an excellent guide named Wider. Wider and his brother had represented Costa Rica in a rafting championship not too long ago, so they definitely knew what they were doing. He was also very friendly, and very patient : )

Here is one of the calmer parts of the ride:

And here is one of the "not so calm" parts : )


This next picture is me in front of the one drop that we had to walk around, it was just too big of a dropoff. You can't really tell from the picture, but it was about 12 feet down and very fast. The guides took the rafts over after we got out, and I could see why they didn't want a bunch of beginners in the boat : )

And finally, here is a short video clip I took of the raft behind us as it navigated through some rocks. It clips off a bit too early, but still gives some good perspective:

Zipline part II and horseback riding
Thursday we went on our last official guided tour. This tour combined another zipline with some horseback riding, and then a stop in Liberia to look around and do some shopping. Our tour group was back to just Chuck, Glenda, Susie, and myself... and we were happy to once again have our good friend Daniel as tour guide.

The good news was that we did not have to drive as far as we did for the Arenal trip, it was only about an hour and 15 minutes or so. This particular zipline was a more "normal" zipline, the lines weren't as long or as fast as the Sky Trek tour; but a lot of fun just the same. On these lines, you wore gloves and stopped yourself by tugging downward on the line when you got close to the end. That did provide a little more opportunity for looking around and playing a bit; including one line where they have you hang completely upside down!

It was another rainy day (surprise!), but the rain let up after the first zipline, and allowed us to have a great time. Here's Susie going down the first line, wearing her fancy garbage bag rainsuit  : )

After the zipline tour, we walked over and got on our horses for a trail ride. The trail was fairly steep in some places, and with all the rain that made for some muddy and slippery going. It was a typical horseback ride (I would have preferred to be able to open it up a little more), although there was some fantastic scenery and views like this:

After the horseback riding, it started raining fairly hard again, so we stopped at a strip mall in Liberia that had covered awnings and looked around for a while. I think we all had the most fun in the supermarket, just looking around at what they had and how things were priced, etc. We ended up buying a few things there, and then headed back to the hotel for dinner and sleep.

Our final full day on Friday was another day to just relax and enjoy. I started the morning with a nice long run on the roads near the hotel. It really makes the time and miles go by quicker when you are out exploring and have those kinds of views! One of the things I found on my run was a little road right near the hotel that was in the process of being built, so there wasn't any traffic on it yet. I talked Susie into going on a little hike with me when I got back to the hotel, which turned out to be a great decision...  Here's a view from the road - notice the mudslide that is covering half the road across from the yellow road sign:
Once we got to the top of the hill, there was a flat area where we could look over the bay on both sides. On one side was the area where our hotel was, and on the other was a hillside covered with colorful homes and small hotels. Here's the view towards Bahia Culebra (Snake Bay), and you can see the rooftops of our hotel buildings:

When we got to the bottom of the hill, the one thing that had slightly disappointed me was that on the whole trip we had never seen a monkey! We had been told by a couple of the locals that the monkeys moved a little more inland during the rainy season, but whatever the reason they just weren't to be found. Until...

No more than 50 yards from the hotel Susie stopped and pointed into the trees; and there was a howler monkey just sitting up in the branches!

And not just one... as we looked closer we saw quite a few, including a family with a small baby (you can see the baby in the picture below, right over the head of the biggest monkey):


We sat there for quite a while just watching the monkeys, and then walked back up to the hotel. What a great way to cap off the trip! I could have easily stayed in Costa Rica a lot longer, and hope to go back someday soon and enjoy more "Pura Vida".
Adios a mi amigos en Costa Rica... Esperamos volver a verte pronto!!!


  1. How fun and relaxing!! I am glad you had a good time

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