On the fourth day of the Costa Rican leg of our trip, we decided to go for a "canopy tour", or zip-lining as we refer to it at home.
One of the employees had recommended that we go to Hacienda Guachipelin - Adventure Tours in Rincon de La Vieja National Park rather than going on one of the tour packages offered at our resort. They used to work there, and said we'd have a better time there.
As we'd rented a car with another couple from our resort for a couple of days, we got GPS directions for the National Park and set out on our own. If you're going to drive to Adventure Tours, make sure you have a 4x4 vehicle. Once you get off of the Pan American Highway (Hwy 1) you're on a very long unpaved road (in fact that's all our GPS called it, 'unpaved road'), full of potholes, hills, and the occasional cow wandering down the road.
Insider travel tip: When you arrive at the entrance to Rincon de La Vieja National Park, you come to a gate where they ask you to pay a toll to enter the park. Tell them you're heading to Adventure Tours and you don't need to pay!
Upon arrival at Adventure Tours, we each paid our 75 USD, which included lunch at the Hacienda Guachipelín Hotel. I had a local drink to begin with, followed by Mahi Mahi on a bed of rice with some vegetables, and rice pudding for dessert. I enjoyed the meal, probably more than the food at our resort!
After lunch, we headed out to the canopy. The first thing they do is to get all your equipment fitted. This includes your harness, helmet and gloves. My wife and I were both quite impressed with the harnesses they provide. Having done a fair amount of work in the entertainment industry where harnesses are a job requirement, we felt they paid very good attention to the safety of their guests.
We also opted to have the staff photographers take our pictures and video throughout the tour. The cost was $35 for a CD with all the photos and videos, which is well worth it given that it would be difficult to take pictures of your group while participating.
Next up was a brief introduction to zip-lining. While still on the ground they showed you how to position your body while on the line, how to keep your balance, slow yourself down, what to do if you stopped in the middle of the line, etc.
After the briefing, it's time to go flying through Rincon de La Vieja. We started off with a fairly long line for our first run, which just went through the forest. A good introductory run. The second run, probably the longest of them all, goes over a canyon, with an incredible view if you were looking down as you flew overhead!
Next, you arrive at the rappelling line. Here your harness is attached to a rope and you're lowered, head first, straight down along a waterfall. You then swing across the water to another platform, and climb up at 40m ladder to the next platform. This part of the canopy tour is optional, as it requires a bit more physical strength than the rest. If you choose to rappel down, there is no way out other than the ladder climb back up. Only one of our party of 4 partook in this activity.
After another two zip lines, you arrive at the most challenging part of the tour, rock climbing. You have to climb across one rock wall and then down to another platform, with the river running underneath you. You then do a "tarzan swing'" to a platform on the other side of the canyon. Finally, you have to climb another rock wall straight up to the next zip-line platform. After another short rock climb, there's a small walk to the final zip-line location. The staff are very good at guiding you through this section of the tour. Although I must admit I was a little unsure about my ability to complete it, it felt like a great accomplishment to reach the end!
After all of that, there's one final zip-line to the end, which you have the option of doing upside down! We took group photos on the last platform, and then had a short walk back to the Adventure Tours offices where we took off our equipment.
One of the joys of being there at the end of September is that is was pouring rain during many portions of the canopy tour. In some ways, this added to the experience. It felt like a bigger accomplishment doing the ziplines and rock climbing in that weather.
The next part of the day would normally include horseback riding, but given that it was getting a later in the day (we didn't arrive until almost 1pm) and that it was pouring rain outside, we skipped this and went straight to the hot springs.
The hot springs are located about another 10-15 minute drive up the road from the main Adventure Tours office. They're not marked very well - but there is a sign about 100m before you get to them. The entrance is located right at the bottom of a steep hill on the road. There's a bridge over the water here, you can park your car on either side of it.
There are change facilities located a short walk into the forest towards the hot springs. A staff member from Adventure Tours was at the change facilities keeping an eye on everyone's belongings. The pools are located just past the change facilities. There are 3 pools: one hot, one medium, and one cool. If I had to guess that their temperatures, I would say they were about 107F, 103F and maybe 90F. The hot pools are fed with water from a nearby volcano. You can see where the hot water is feeding into the pool.
There's a bridge over the water leading to another cooler pool, but this one was closed on the day we visited because the water levels were too high.
The pools were very relaxing, and felt great on the "new muscles" that we discovered while zip-lining! The pools were very quite, with only a few other guests showing up while we were there.
It was still light out when we started driving back, although it quickly got dark. As we'd discovered on the rest of our trip, the roads in Costa Rica (even the highways and more urban areas) have very poor street lighting, and no shoulders. You have to be very attentive to the pedestrians and cyclists in the dark.
Our return trip was also slowed down because we were stuck behind a line of school buses, with no room to pass. It appears students in Costa Rica go to school for a few hours in the morning, and then again later in the afternoon, with a break in the middle when the heat is at its worst.
Adventure Tours: 5/5 Would recommend this tour to anyone who wants an exciting, adrenaline pumped way to explore the Costa Rican landscape! (506) 2665-2613 or 1-888-730-3840.
Written and contributed by Shawn Hooper