Soft Adventure in Costa Rica: ATVs, rafting, and thermal soaks

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It was a whirlwind five days in Costa Rica with hiking, rafting, and ATV riding--a rejuvenating soak in the therapeutic mineral waters. And all of it was great.

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ATV Riding at Jaco Beach

At the beginning of the week, we had been at Jaco Beach, a mere hour from the capital of San Jose, darting along the unpaved back roads of Costa Rican countryside on all-terrain vehicles. We bounced over ruddy trails, through potholes, past a mother Brahma and her calf lazing contentedly in the middle of our track. Without a care in the world. They looked up enough for a quick picture, and then returned to chewing their cud, plucking up the budding grasses and hanging liana vines lining the path.

In front of us, our guide from JaguaRiders hesitated for a second. Only for a second though, before he hit the throttle of his motorcycle and forged a channel across the river. Not to be outdone, my husband revved the ATV's engine and we spluttered through the muddy brine. It was much deeper than it looked. Bracing against the back of my seat cushion, I pulled my feet up as high as possible. Watery sludge surged across the floor of the 4-wheeler, up over the back tires, dousing us with murky river water. We laughed.

No matter though. A fork in the road ahead and a short hike through tropical forest led us to a remote waterfall, where we cavorted with the locals in the cooling cataract. We relaxed on the boulders that rimmed the turquoise pool, snacked on salty plantain chips purchased at a tienda en route and snickered at a green basilisk lagartito (Jesus Christ lizard) skittering across the adjacent rocks. Just before our retreat, an iridescent blue morpho butterfly landed on a mossy liverwort near my foot. Its wings, though stationary, twinkled like diamonds in the sun's light. Learn more about JaguaRiders <here

Riding the Rapids at La Fortuna

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This morning, we'd been thrill-seeking as well -- whitewater rafting on the Rio Balsa. At the private put-in, we were equipped with life jackets and bright-red helmets, perhaps intentionally to match the vermilion-colored rafts.

From this point on, it was about two hours of cutting through the waves and riding the rapids -- sometimes intense, sometimes not -- surrounded by the natural beauty of the Costa Rican rainforest. Tufts of grass, algae, and flowering blooms sprouted to the water's edge, and past, their verdant greenery overhanging the banks. We saw small blue herons balanced on spindly legs amongst the reeds, plucking a fish from the swells.

There were occasional moments of serenity on our trip, with only the gentle gurgling of the river lapping against the side of the raft. In the quiet, we heard the growling of Howler monkeys or the chatter of capuchins. These 'moments of serenity' were usually short-lived, however, and our attentions quickly refocused toward the waves of roiling whitewater, which vaulted the raft into midair and propelled it against the protruding rocks.

Entirely engulfed for a few seconds, we disappeared into an abyss of whirling, foaming surf. Then we ricocheted out of the froth, only to be whisked away again into another swirling vortex of whitewater. Read more here about Desafio Tours.

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Riding the Waves of Memory - Arenal Volcano and The Springs Resort

The last days of our sojourn in La Fortuna was sweeping past us almost as quickly as our raft was swept along by the current. Churning up reminders of my first trip to this tropical paradise. I'd been here at the turn of the new millennium, in 2000, when Arenal had belched open a fissure and billowing gases had erupted from the thundering mountain. Had snapped some fabulous photos. I'd seen the raw power of Mother Nature, up close while dangling from a zip line up above the jungle canopy. I had respect for that volcano.

As I was lost in a moment of reflection, suddenly the clouds began to dissipate. The brume that had impeded our view faded into the shadows, briefly revealing a fleeting glimpse of the stratovolcanic cone. Finally, Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica's most famous tourist attraction, was coming into the spotlight. After a couple of days of intermittent rainfall, I felt like applauding. The volcano was grinning almost. Fingers of hardened magma from years of continual erupting waggled towards me, beckoning.drawing me under its spell. I didn't want to waste this opportunity; I fumbled for my camera and began clicking away. As the haze returned, once again blurring the slopes of Arenal with a filmy miasma, I languished back down into the tepid water, and finished off my cocktail relaxing. Read more about Springs Resort here

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Vickie Lillo is a Florida-based travel writer, multi-lingual, and an avid adventure traveler who appreciates meeting new people and experiencing new cultures from around the world. She is proud to say that she has already given the gift of the love for travel to her 13-year old son.

Photos courtesy of JaguaRiders and JaguaRiders

Published: February 17th, 2015 Updated: August 23, 2016

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