How Much Can You Cram into a Day?

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The river water is clear, cold, and moving fast. The rocks slide by as my rubber kayak bounces off boulders and careens down the rapids. Ahead is a seven foot drop, which seems really big from where I’m sitting. I lift my paddle above my head so it doesn’t smash my face, and laugh as the boat tips down and hits with a splash. What a rush! I am with my sister, Suzanne, and we are having a day of adventure in Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica is all about eco-travel and organized adventures for tourists. The adventure is pretty tame compared to others I have experienced, but it is still a lot of fun. Our tour starts with some tired-looking, slightly ornery horses, who obviously do not enjoy their job. We amble slowly in a line on a dirt path to the edge of the river. Left to their own devices, the horses just turn around and walk back to the barn. Not an exciting day for them!

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For us, the river is a real highlight of our day. We each have our own kayak and guide to get us down the rapids. At times, the jungle closes in with abundant trees and other vegetation.  At others, the river flows through canyons, with sandstone walls on either side. My guide is a joker, splashing water on my sister and pretending to throw a spider in her boat. The spiders are cool, but we definitely don’t want one on us! They hug the canyon walls, right near the water’s edge. They’re big, too! We also see these amazing bats that sleep on a tree trunk. They join together to make the shape of a snake. When they feel threatened, they undulate to mimic a snake climbing the tree. Fascinating, and effective, too.

We dock our boats and climb up to a rope swing hanging over the river. My sister and I are the only ones in our group of ten who are brave enough to go off the swing. It’s a lot of fun and not hard at all. Our clothes are now soaked, but it’s worth it.  Why should kids get all the fun?

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Next on the agenda is the river spa. We stand in a row and get painted by warm mud, which we leave on to dry. One of the guides, who is also our driver, remembers our conversation in the car about wine, and goes out on his own to get some for Suzanne and I. So nice of him! The others drink the local beer, which we aren’t that fond of.  We all head into the sauna to bake until we are completely overheated. There is a nice cliff by the river, so Suzanne and I jump off into the cooling water. It feels great. We are all able to soak in the hot tub by the river, sipping our drinks. It’s beautiful and relaxing. We are not done adventuring yet, though!

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We move on to ziplining and rock climbing. I have done enough ziplining that I don’t feel much of a thrill any more. The scenery is nice, though, and everything is safe and well done. The rock climbing is much harder than I anticipated, especially after downing half a bottle of wine. Two others and I make it to the top of the climb, while the others watch from a swinging bridge. We’ve worked up an appetite, which is good because they have a feast waiting for us. All the traditional foods; rice, beans, chicken, plantains, salad and dessert are on offer. We try it all, get cleaned up and walk to the vans for the return trip.

If you are looking for hardcore adventure, this is not it. If you are looking to have a fun day and squeeze in as much into as possible, this is the tour for you. I plan to use every moment of my five days here. Tomorrow morning, I am up bright and early to go scuba diving. Wonder what I will see?

Helpful info:

We use Go Adventures for our day trip. The guides are great and it is a very fun day. They  come and pick you up at your hotel and deliver you back at the end of the day. I  recommend them. http://www.goadventurescostarica.com

Bring your waterproof camera or you won’t get many pictures. I use the Olympus Stylus Tough and love it.

I could write a dissertation about renting a car in Costa Rica. Suffice to say, it was not a good experience. At home, we were given a quote for the 5-day rental. When we arrived, we were told that we had to add on all kinds of insurance, which doubled the cost of the rental. In addition, they want to put a hold on your credit card for thousands of dollars. Everyone trying to pick up their rental car was in the same situation. We ended up walking around to check out different companies, but the situation was basically the same everywhere. I don’t have an answer to how to solve this, but since I’m going to be in Mexico next month, and I have heard similar complaints about their rentals, I will be coming up with a solution fast! In Costa Rica, if you can manage without a car, do it.

Good luck!

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Gilligan’s Island…More Than a 3-hour Tour

The kayak moves through the clear blue water with ease. I feel the water from Rafael’s oar dripping on my back and it feels great on my hot skin. The sun is shining, the water is calm and Gilligan’s Island grows bigger every second as we close in. I look to my left and see Rachel with her two cousins paddling as fast as they can. With their erratic steering, they’ll be lucky to make it to the island at all!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our group of four kayaks pulls up to a small beach in the mangrove forest that is Gilligan’s (spelled Guilligan’s by locals to get the hard G sound) Island. The Island is actually divided into a few pieces of land separated by narrow canals. We go to the one that is closest to the mainland, which is not the one where the ferry boat takes passengers. Being on the smaller island gives us more privacy and quiet, as the crowds tend to stay where the ferry drops them.

While the others unload the coolers and bags, Rafael and I take our kayak out exploring. The narrow canals have an amazing current. Later, we all go and snorkel through them. When we get tired of swimming, we hold onto the mangrove roots. If we let go, we are pushed back the way we came. It’s a great workout! One canal we swim against the current, but coming back through the other one is a breeze as we are pulled back to the start.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After our swim, we relax on inner tubes in the water while some of the others kayak to an island in the distance. We drink our beers and relax in the sun before we all picnic on the sand. Gilligan’s Island is a great place to relax, explore and get away from it all.

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult

Courage Level: 1 This is an easy day. Kayaking, lying in the sun, snorkeling and munching on goodies is a wonderful way to spend a day.

Fitness Level: 2 Gilligan’s Island is only about 10 to 15 minutes by kayak to the mainland. You can take your time, go at your own pace.

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There are no facilities except an outhouse on the bigger island (which you want to avoid if at all possible!) You must bring water at least. We have a fabric collapsible cooler that can be packed into a suitcase. We use it every time we are at a beach away. Also, make sure you have lots of sunscreen, maybe a hat and sun shirt and some bug spray, just in case. We had some inner tubes that you can buy at home and pack. Without air in them, they are tiny! They make the day more relaxing since there is not a lot of room to spread out on the island. If you have snorkels and masks, bring them. We didn’t see a lot of colorful fish, but it makes it easier to swim around the island.

More info?

We rented our kayaks from Gilligan’s View Apartments. They do not list anything about it on their web site, but call them. They have kayaks, even one that fits 3 people. We paid $20 per adult and $10 per child to rent them for the whole day. They don’t take credit cards and won’t guarantee the kayaks will be there if you get there late. Go early. We arrived by 8:30 am and we called them on our way to reassure them that we were coming.

To get there from San Juan, you will take Route 52 over the mountains and through Ponce. After Ponce, it will turn into Route 2 West. Continue to Guanica and take the exit for 116R. As you near the town of Guanica, you will take a left onto Route 333. This is a small, beautiful winding road. Gilligan’s View Apartment will be on your right, number 27. You will pass the place where the ferry takes people to the Island.  Plan on about 2 hours to get there from San Juan.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My advice: DO NOT GO TO THE ISLAND IN THE SUMMER! It is very popular with locals and will be mobbed with people. Avoid weekends as well, if you can. If you don’t want to kayak and want to take the ferry (for about $7 per person,) wade over to the smaller island when you get dropped off. It’s much better than being stuck with everyone else.

This post also appears at http://clapway.com/