Highlights of Costa Rica with Explore - Part 2
Costa Rica is undoubtedly heaven for anyone
interested in the natural world, but there are plenty of opportunities to
combine a man-made adrenaline rush with your sloth.
rafting on the Balsa river was a blast. With Class 2-3 rapids, it’s fun and
safe but still gets the pulse racing. The guides were as entertaining as
they were competent, and I can still taste the fresh pineapple, laid out on one
of the upturned rafts with watermelon and yellow oranges, as we caught our
breath on the riverbank, half way down the 10 km route.
And for a thrillingly different perspective
of the Monteverde Cloud Forest, dare to experience the Sky Trek Ultimate Zip Lines.
Whisked by gondola up to an altitude of 1,600 metres; 8 zip lines; longest
cable 750 metres; highest cable 100 metres above the forest canopy; total
zipped journey of almost 4 km; and a surprise at the end, called Vertigo, go
and find out for yourself what that might be.
Strapped to the zip line like a
spit-roasting hog, we screamed along the first couple of cable slides into
thick cloud - a leap into the dark, way above the lush green forest. And then
the sun emerged, and the clouds cleared - like the parting of the Red Sea - to
reveal a rare, perfect view of the distant Arenal volcano.
Too energetic? Relax in the many natural
hot springs near Arenal, the volcano’s geothermal activity creating bubbling
bathing water as warm as 105F.
If you like coffee, that’s just one more
reason to visit Costa Rica. An important part of their history, culture and
economy, they are the world’s 13th largest producer, again punching way above
their geographical weight.
90% of the production, from 70,000 farmers,
is exported around the world. Coffee represents 11% of the country’s total
export revenues, and a significant proportion of its GDP.
And it’s good coffee. Very, very good. A
Presidential decree in the late 19th century ensured that only Arabica
coffee is grown in Costa Rica. How prescient was that!
We had a fascinating tour of the Doka Estate, on the fertile slopes of the
Poas Volcano. We learned about the complete growing and production cycle; how
each worker is paid $2 for filling a cajuela, a basket containing 1.5 kg of
perfect coffee beans and how a very good picker can fill 20 cajuelas a day.
During the harvest - 6 months from October - most of the Estate’s workers are
from neighbouring Nicaragua, and their deal includes a house, water and
Naturally, we had to try some mature,
finished product, which takes a full 4 years from end to end. It’s worth the
wait. The Estate’s Espresso Italiano is strong enough to make you want to
wrestle crocodiles; try their French Roast, Breakfast Blend or House Blend for
something a little less punchy; or - for something completely different -
sample the Peaberry,
a sweeter brew produced from a bean which represents only 5% of the total
harvest and which produces one round seed, rather than two flatter pods.
In 1948 the President of Costa Rica, Jose Figueres,
took a sledgehammer and smashed a hole in the wall of the country’s military
headquarters. This symbolised the remarkably forward thinking decision to
disband the army, and to redirect any military budget towards spending on
education, healthcare and environmental protection.
All the ‘Ticos’ - as Costa Ricans call
themselves - we met in 2016 seemed educated, polite, friendly, happy, proud,
kind and deeply aware of their environment and sustainability issues.
I wonder what would happen if we made a
similar decision about Trident, and the rest of our own defence budget.
Throughout our trip, meeting local people
was a joy and an integral part of the travel experience. And they may have
originally plagiarised a Mexican comedian, but the phrase ‘Pura Vida’ very much
sums up the Costa Rican psyche and culture today. The literal translation is ‘Pure
Life’, but to Ticos it means much more. It is used to say hello and goodbye,
how are you, have a good day, enjoy life but on a deeper level, it represents
how Ticos live their life every day, how grateful they are for what they have
and a recognition that others are less fortunate.
So start saying “Pura Vida” now and embrace
life like a Tico as soon as you reach beautiful Costa Rica. It really is an
enriching place to visit.
The group and accommodation
Our group crossed the generational divide,
ranging in age from 26 to 66. By the end of the tour we were like family, no
surprise, given the incredible experiences we had shared.
Mario, the tour leader, was a 34 year-old
Costa Rican with a passionate enthusiasm for his country, its wildlife and
people. His knowledge added significant value to the holiday, and his humour
made even the bumpy transfers in the bus a fun experience. Catch-phrase of the
week was “no se monte, mae” – “don’t push it, mate” – and the epic selfie video
of us all singing it in the bus, to the tune of 1972’s Chirpy Chirpy Cheep
Cheep by Middle of the Road, will linger long in the memory. Look out for it in
the Costa Rican charts.
All Explore group tours are planned and
operated on a twin-share basis, meaning that the standard cost you see on their
website and in their brochures is based either on individual travellers sharing
accommodation with another group member of the same sex, or people who book
together sharing accommodation.
If you’d like the single room option it would be an additional £385 for this tour for departures in 2018.
Additional information for Silver Travellers:
This is an adventurous holiday - you will need to have a decent level of fitness and be prepared for some reasonable activity levels.
Travel is by private bus or coach, with air-conditioning. Roads in the National Parks are rough and may at times be a little bumpy.
Accommodation is at 'Standard' hotels.
These are comfortable, clean, and usually have air-conditioning and a swimming
The optional excursions for which you would
have to pay locally are:
- hot springs – $34 or $56 with dinner
- white water rafting - $89
- zip wiring - $71
- night walk - $30
- catamaran - $67
These optional costs are in US$. The local currency is the colon, but US$ are accepted everywhere.Silver Travel Advisor recommends Explore