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 sunwing.ca/en/ hotel/ costa-rica/ liberia/planethollywood-beach-resort-costa-rica.