Honestly, I don’t even know where to start. We had had a long border crossing day and decided that because of the late hour, we would head out to Walmart and get groceries for camping because the border agents took all of our vegetables and dairy products. It had started pouring buckets and we didn’t really want to have to set up camp in the pouring rain. And when I say pouring buckets, I mean like, monsoon rain with flash flooding. Not the kind of weather I envision trying to set up camp.
We booked a hotel at a hot spring desperately wanting to soak the long day away. Online, it said that said it was pet friendly, but when we arrived, they told us they only take service pets. So here we were in the pitch black of night about 7:30, and without cell or internet service. The receptionist at the hotel was very kind and gave us the password to use their wifi and helped try to find accommodations for us on short notice. She called to numerous properties around the area who all had “no pet” policies. We were an hour and a half from Liberia, and the campground that we wanted to book for the following two evenings was closed and was 45 minutes away. The receptionist called to Finca Don Rafa’s and didn’t get an answer, so she called her friend who works as a guide there, who told her that he could open the gate for us and that he’d get a hold of the owner. She told me that there was a short cut to get to the finca and showed us on a map, how to get there. She then received a call from the owner of the finca and he told her to have us meet him at the local bar. She pulled it up on a map and showed us the location and we set out on our way.
The rain had started letting up a bit, nevertheless, there was a river crossing we had to take in this shortcut. We came through tiny little villages, ended up on some random finca with all the farm equipment and no exit, so we had to backtrack a short distance back to the main road. It took about 45 minutes before we arrived at the bar, where a lady was waiting. I explained we were waiting for someone to meet us to open the gate to the finca. She went inside to make a call to the owner, and explained that he had been sleeping so it might take him a few minutes to arrive, but he arrived a short 10 minutes later with his grandson.
He asked us if we preferred to eat at the bar first or just head to the finca. I didn’t feel like cooking, I didn’t want to set everything up just to be drenched with rain and have to figure out how to get everything dry. Kaden quickly chimed in with “I wanna eat here!” We were the only ones in the bar besides the two ladies keeping the bar/restaurant and the finca owner and his grandson.
After a quick bite to eat, the finca owner got in his car and had us follow him to the finca, and thank goodness for that because in the dark, we never would have found it. He led us to a place to park and set up camp. It was right by the river and they had us park between two structures. One that had a bench seat and an upstairs area that you could hang a hammock, or put your tent, and another that was an outdoor kitchen, stocked with wood for the grill and water tank for the sink. Very simple structures, but perfect for what we needed during rainy season in Costa Rica.
We popped up our tent, let the dog run free and meet the other dogs who live onsite. We were shown where the bathrooms and showers were and headed up inside the tent to get some rest.
The following morning, the owner came to greet us and see how we liked the finca and if there was anything we needed. We told him we wanted to set up a tour and he directed us to the reception area. It was only then that we noticed they had an onsite restaurant and souvenir shop. They have numerous tour guides and the tour times are not set, you just show up and tell them you’d like a tour and they get one of the guides to give you a tour. They do have English speaking guides too, if you need one.
The lady at the reception area set us up with the full tour, which included two waterfalls, quite a few swimming holes, bouldering and tubing. We thought about bringing Roxy, but ultimately decided not to. They graciously allowed Roxy to stay onsite and roam about.
It’s a good thing that we left her. The currents in the river were quite strong and the type of bouldering and climbing we did in a few sections, she would not have been able to pass and we wouldn’t have been able to carry her. The water was refreshingly cold and the weather very pleasant. Our guide took us past rocks that the indigenous people used to paint their faces and Kaden and I painted ours.
We scaled more boulders, rappelled down a couple and swam against strong currents to get to each of the waterfalls. This tour is not for the feint of heart. There were plenty of families doing it, but there were some that were nearly crying on their way back. There isn’t a big elevation change and the hike is actually pretty flat. However, there are numerous river crossings with knee deep water where you can’t really see the rocks and even if you’re surefooted, you will definitely slip, maybe even fall. I noticed that a lot of people that were hiking back had scrapes, bruises and scratches. All to be expected in this type of terrain. I definitely suggest life vests for the littler kiddos as those currents really are strong (at least in rainy season) and can get quite deep. When we finally came to the tubing section on our way back, they outfitted us with canvas lined inner tubes and helmets and told us to hold on tight to the straps. I wish I could attach video, it was awesome.
One by one, we were sent like ping-pong balls down the rapids which had a couple of steep drop offs. One, Bronson actually flipped off of his tube and went under. It kinda freaked me out because it seemed like he was under water for a long time. After ping ponging down the river for about half an hour, we came to the end of the tour, which happened to be right at the river where our campsite was. Then the guide said “follow me.” He took us about 100 meters from the campsite where they had a rope drop zipline. He geared us up and one by one, ran us out over the water where he counted to three before letting go of the rope, sending us plunging 20 feet into the water below.
We finished the tour, went to the restaurant to have lunch, which was DELICIOUS. We all had the grilled chicken, which came out crispy on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside. It came with a side of grilled bananas (maduros), sauteed veggies, rice, beans and Hibiscus juice (Rosa Jamaica). One of the important things to note here is that they take payment after everything is done. They just keep a tally of all the things you order or do. They accept payments in cash or card. Which was great because we were running low on cash.
Just as we finished our incredible day of adventuring and eating, the rain started to pour down. We quickly took refuge in our outdoor kitchen where we finished up with many hours of card games, eventually lighting a fire to attract and kill the insects that were swarming around our faces.
No matter what we do and where we go, we always find that Local small business tourism always seems to beat large corporate tourism as far as price and adventure, though I concede, that large corporate tourism has more safety regulations and is *probably* safer. =) For now, I’ll take my chances.