Day trip­ping in Costa Rica

Ex­trav­a­gant re­sort of­fers ad­ven­tur­ous ex­cur­sions


There is a cer­tain irony to fran­ti­cally rush­ing to see a sloth.

But that was the sit­u­a­tion on a blaz­ingly hot af­ter­noon in Costa Rica this Novem­ber, when a group of Cana­dian jour­nal­ists were told that one of the stars of Dia­mante Eco Ad­ven­ture Park, a two-toed sloth named Lucy, would be mak­ing her once-a-day feed­ing ap­pear­ance to sloth­fully munch on some veg­eta­bles and en­ter­tain the tourists.

Sure enough, we make it just in time to see Dia­mante’s an­i­mal sanc­tu­ary staff feed Lucy, still hang­ing up­side down and show­ing lit­tle if any in­ter­est in the grow­ing crowd of tourists, strips of veg­eta­bles. A feed­ing frenzy it was not. But it was a re­lax­ing, even med­i­ta­tive, ex­pe­ri­ence and made for an in­ter­est­ing con­trast that af­ter­noon. Min­utes ear­lier, I was mak­ing my way through the park’s oc­ca­sion­ally heart-stop­ping zip-line ad­ven­tures, a se­ries of mostly oceanview rides that in­cluded a spec­tac­u­lar 1.6-kilo­me­tre seg­ment known as the “Howler.”

Mild ad­ven­ture. Lots of food. Even more sun. These were the prom­i­nent themes dur­ing our five-day trip to Costa Rica. The ex­cur­sions were or­ga­nized by our hosts, Sun­wing, and set off from the two-month-old Planet Hol­ly­wood Beach Re­sort on the Papagayo Gulf in the Gua­nacaste Prov­ince of Costa Rica, not far from Liberia. They tended to fo­cus on ad­ven­ture rather than his­tor­i­cal or purely cul­tural treks.

With its Juras­sic Park feel, Dia­mante’s cer­tainly fit the bill. And while Lucy and the other crea­tures at the sanc­tu­ary, which in­cluded a col­lec­tion of sleepy ocelots, mar­gays, pumas and jaguars, a hammy tou­can named Sam (“He LOVES to pose,” our guide in­formed us) and a gor­geous col­lec­tion of but­ter­flies in a separate ob­ser­va­tory, were fas­ci­nat­ing, the high­light was un­doubt­edly the zip-line ad­ven­tures.

Granted, they are not for ev­ery­body. One per­son in our group re­fused to par­tic­i­pate in any of the half-dozen or so rides. An­other two bowed out after the rather mild prac­tice run was fol­lowed by a slow shut­tle up the steep and twisty road to what was the main event of the zi­pline ad­ven­tures: the afore­men­tioned Howler. Also dubbed the “su­per­man” be­cause you ex­pe­ri­ence it face down, it’s a de­scent over the jun­gle to­ward the Pa­cific Ocean.

After some semi-stern lec­tures from the young guides, in­clud­ing one who was re­as­sur­ingly named Je­sus (“You’re in good hands,” he said), we were set loose to­ward the ocean, two peo­ple at a time. Is it scary? Those who don’t like heights should ob­vi­ously give it a miss. And, de­spite all the safety pre­cau­tions, I will ad­mit I still ini­tially felt as if I was at risk of slip­ping out of the elab­o­rate con­trap­tion used to strap me onto the line. (Ob­vi­ously, I wasn’t.) But once you get over that, it is ac­tu­ally a fairly re­lax­ing ride with a breath­tak­ing view that, last­ing just over a minute, is over far too soon.

It’s also the sort of ac­tiv­ity that, while re­quir­ing no real dis­cernible skill from its par­tic­i­pants, can nev­er­the­less turn cyn­i­cal jour­nal­ists into chat­ter­ing school­child­ren ex­cit­edly com­par­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences. It of­fers a glimpse into the dif­fer­ing philoso­phies of trav­ellers. In our group that in­cluded peo­ple who seemed gen­uinely puz­zled why any­one would put them­selves through such a thing to oth­ers who thrived on it (“Faster! More dan­ger­ous! Can we set it on fire?” joked one trav­eller.)

But the trip where we were most tempted to suc­cumb to our in­ner sloth was the sun­set cata­ma­ran cruise that set sail right out­side the re­sort and came com­plete with open bar, a pound­ing pop and hip-hop sound­track and what was likely the most beau­ti­ful sun­set I’ve ever wit­nessed. As a bonus, the trip also of­fered a stun­ning, vi­brant dou­ble rain­bow. Ob­vi­ously, the main thrust is re­lax­ation thanks to the flow­ing booze and unbelievable vistas.

The two-man crew pi­loted us through the calm waters of Coco Beach past the won­der­fully creepy look­ing Mon­key Head Is­land, a rock for­ma­tion and pop­u­lar div­ing spot that is shaped like, well, a gi­ant mon­key’s head, and into the open Pa­cific. We did some light snorkelling, ex­pos­ing us to some schools of colour­ful fish, at least one spot­ted tiger snake eel and, most dis­con­cert­edly, small worm­like jel­ly­fish that even­tu­ally helped bring an abrupt end to our snorkelling ad­ven­ture. (To be fair, the stings of these par­tic­u­larly jel­ly­fish were fairly mi­nor. I hadn’t re­al­ized I had been stung un­til it was pointed out to me.)

With most of our meals pro­vided by the Planet Hol­ly­wood re­sort — which boasted no fewer than seven restau­rants, none of which spe­cial­ized in lo­cal food — our ex­pe­ri­ence with true Costa Ri­can cui­sine was lim­ited to one meal dur­ing the five­day trip. (The coun­try is not known for its gas­tron­omy, one of our Costa Ri­can guides in­formed us.)

That was in a quaint res­tau­rant that was part of our “vol­canic ad­ven­ture” — a day­long jaunt that in­cluded time spent in the hot mud springs in a spot nes­tled be­tween the Mi­ravalles and Rin­con de la Vieja vol­ca­noes. Rice and beans, a sta­ple in Costa Ri­can cui­sine, and a de­li­cious potato pi­cadillo were served with pan-fried tilapia, a sim­ple but el­e­gant meal that gave us plenty of en­ergy for a brief hike and horse­back-trek through the rain­for­est. While far from dan­ger­ous, the nar­row path­ways that took us through beau­ti­ful bromeli­ads, or­chids, elephant ear trees and lichens and onto swing­ing, mist-cov­ered bridges hov­er­ing above wa­ter­falls and tree tops did oc­ca­sion­ally give off an In­di­ana Jones-type vibe. So did warn­ings to not touch any­thing off the trail for risk of com­ing in con­tact with some­thing dis­agree­able, in­clud­ing the charm­ingly named bul­let ants.

But it was quickly back to lux­ury, as we vis­ited the gur­gling and de­cid­edly foul-smelling crater (sul­phur, it is a vol­cano after all) for its hot springs and mud bath. The fa­cil­i­ties were suit­ably ex­otic, in­clud­ing stone show­ers shaped like naked and ex­ceed­ingly well-en­dowed gods (“In Costa Rica, ev­ery­thing is big­ger,” our guide ex­plained) and beau­ti­fully re­lax­ing nat­u­ral hot tubs. The mud-bath treat­ment, mean­while, was a fairly sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence, at least for the unini­ti­ated. De­pend­ing on the ex­u­ber­ance in which you ap­ply the smelly vol­cano mud — re­port­edly good for your skin and pores — you will ei­ther look like a slightly messy child or some sort of Gol­lum-like crea­ture emerg­ing from the bub­bling grey pits. In our group, there was a mix of both.

With tourism now eclips­ing agri­cul­ture and electronic ex­ports as Costa Rica’s main in­dus­try, the ex­cur­sions or­ga­nized by Sun­wing are no doubt just a small sliver for what the coun­try of­fers for tourists. But, if safe ad­ven­ture and lux­ury is your thing (it helps, of course, if Sun­wing and Planet Hol­ly­wood are pay­ing for said lux­ury), the coun­try is a great spot for both.

This trip was spon­sored by Sun­wing and Planet Hol­ly­wood Beach Re­sort Costa Rica. Nei­ther or­ga­ni­za­tion re­viewed or ap­proved the con­tent of this story. Sun­wing of­fers va­ca­tion pack­ages to Costa Rica and Planet Hol­ly­wood Costa Rica with di­rect flights to Liberia from Toronto, Cal­gary, Ed­mon­ton, Mon­treal and new this sea­son Van­cou­ver. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit sun­ ho­tel/ costa-rica/ liberia/plan­ethol­ly­wood-beach-re­sort-costa-rica.

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