By Margot Black
Our family memories from our recent holiday in Costa Rica include rafting in the Sarapiqui River and zip-lining through the rainforest canopy. Our International Expeditions "Volcanoes, Rivers and Rainforests" journey had us embracing our inner nature enthusiasts at every turn. In addition to thrilling outdoor adventure, we got to experience the spirit of "Pura vida," a local expression that means "pure life." Pura vida summarizes why Costa Rica's unspoiled nature and tranquil "Tico" culture make it a family-friendly destination that's incredible to explore.
International Expeditions provides all the ingredients to do deep dives into nature by mixing exhilarating outdoor activities with local cultural interactions, all hosted by experienced nature guides. Their approach to ecotravel aligns with my goal to keep our family in nature whenever possible and to explore our planet. They take great care to connect you to individuals caring for their rich land, so you're able to get deeply immersed in both nature and culture in a way that allows your family to just breathe and enjoy the moment.
We arrived one day early for Carpe Chepe's Market Tour in San Jose. Spending two hours sampling the flavors of the Central Market with a local expert made our family feel like locals. We stayed at the historic Grano de Oro Hotel, a "Grain of Gold" nestled in San Jose, where we met our group and our capable guide, Jonathan. He was so kind and patient with our son, taking care to share his passion of plants, nature and wildlife every step of the way. He's also an extraordinary photographer who helped us capture some great shots.
White-water rafting on the Sarapiqui River was a fantastic way to kick off our tour. The water was warm, the rapids were flowing and we screamed in excitement the whole trip. There was a point where families could jump into the water from the side of a mountain and just float down for a quarter mile. Our son even got to ride "cowboy" at the front of the raft, which was not something we could do back in the United States.
The next day we went deep in the rainforest to Tortuguero, where we enjoyed some morning hikes and tasted exotic fruits at an organic farm. We got to chat with the farm's owners over lunch, and I purchased some vanilla to take home. Time spent relaxing with the friendly locals was so much more valuable to us than strolling through a gift shop.
We also visited Tortuguero National Park, where we experienced one of travel's most supreme lessons — the ability to go with the flow. In this case that meant three days of pounding rain. This was when one of our most valuable travel assets became our beloved $8 ponchos. We made the best of it and learned why "Pura vida" means enjoying life no matter what your circumstances. It reinforced the lesson that sometimes in order to get the rainbow you've got to put up with a little rain.
We visited the Hanging Bridges at Arenal, still sporting our signature rain ponchos, and saw bountiful vibrant flowers, wildlife and stunning views of Arenal Volcano. At one point a snake was hanging off a tree right by our heads. Among my favorite afternoon activities were soaking in the Hidalgo Family Hot Springs' waters and enjoying lots of Caribbean-inspired culinary delights with the sprawling rainforest surrounding us.
The next morning, in Arenal, we went on a hike along the trails of Ecocentro Danaus Ecological Reserve and saw a sloth (a total highlight!), a poison-dart frog that I was afraid to focus my eyes on and so many tropical bird species. We met a member of the local Tonjibe community at the Maleku Indigenous Cultural House, which was established to preserve the tribe's traditional languages, dances, food and natural medicines. On a funny note, he showed us a picture of traditional medicine he called "tribal Viagra" after explaining how their men could have up to seven wives. While other men cheered, my husband leaned in and quipped, "Wow, seven wives — that seems like a lot of work."
After lunch we went to a Tico-style coffee estate and tried our hands at making our own corn tortillas. At the Monteverde Cloud Reserve knowledgeable coffee guides gave a fantastic tour that highlighted the importance of the coffee bean in Costa Rica's social, cultural and economic development. Here we were able to enjoy the hands-on experience of processing sugarcane and making coffee.
We stayed at the gorgeous Monteverde Lodge, and the next morning we visited the wildlife-rich Curi Cancha Reserve, home to quetzal, armadillo, kinkajou, ocelot and three monkey species. I loved every minute spent in the vibrant butterfly garden. After heading back to San Jose, we visited the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum and the National Theater before we flew home and said goodbye to a natural paradise that did not disappoint. "Pura vida" indeed!
WHEN YOU GO
International Expeditions allows you to immerse yourself in "Tico" culture as much as possible: www.ietravel.com.
For the market tours: www.carpechepe.com/tours/carpe-market
Margot Black is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The Arenal Volcano is a must-see for visitors to Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Margot Black.