Costa Rica Soft Adventure: Thermal pools, whitewater tubing and rappelling

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Enjoying the Mud and Baths

Mud baths in Costa Rica
Compliments of Rincon de la Vieja volcano in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, not far from the Nicaraguan border, the therapeutic benefits of the clay are no myth; I can personally attest to the softening powers of the sludge. After an invigorating dip into the icy waters of Rio Negro, to remove the last vestiges of dried vulcan slime from my flesh, my notoriously desiccated hands feel smooth as a baby's bottom. For an entire week, no less.

We finish off our visit to the healing thermal springs here at Black River with a last delicious soak in one of the seven toasty mineral pools. Then it's time for a final balancing act -- crossing the careening suspension bridge, high above the river and on to our next adventure.

Downwind at the Cattle Ranch

We head back to our resort hotel, Hacienda Guachipelin, situated on a working cattle ranch, to check out the lunch buffet at the open-air restaurant. A trio of butterflies flitters amongst the flowering shrubs. Like the cloud forests Costa Rica is famous for, the resort likewise abounds with lush greenery -- clusters of orange-and-yellow heliconias and budding bird of paradise plants, bromeliads and epiphytes clinging to the arbors--and raucous bird life. Playful lagartitos (tiny lizards) skitter along the meandering pathways; look closely and you might see one sunning itself on the brightly-painted Adventure Tours signpost.

On the way to our room, occasionally the smell of the stables assaults our senses, but only for a moment -- enough to remind us that, just downwind from our lovely veranda overlooking the meadow, real-life vaqueros (ranch hands) eke out a hard-earned living tending to the resort's Brahman bulls and horses. Opt to be a cowboy for the day and you too can rise at the crack of dawn to herd the cattle from the corrals. Riding high in the saddle, you can direct the livestock towards the coarse grasses of the property's 1000-plus acres of verdant pastureland.

Tubing in Costa Rica

Whitewater Inner Tubing on Rio Negro

We quickly don our swimsuits and head out for the afternoon's activity -- whitewater inner tubing. Now, I've straddled an inner tube before, at home ... floating lazily down the gator-infested waters of North Florida, munching on fried chicken and chips while swigging wine coolers. This is not that same kind of "tame" experience. This is full-on, bobbing like a dreidel in the churning chasms of Rio Negro, hanging on for dear life, trying to keep my head from cracking like an eggshell on the gigantic boulders that sail past me at every frothy bend in the river. I say a silent prayer, thankful for the helmet on my head (even with the subsequent helmet hair), as the current funnels the three of us through a narrow gap of thunderous whitewater.

"Whoo, hooo!" I hear myself bray unexpectedly; then, I hear it again reverberating off the surrounding rocks. Supreme adrenaline has kicked in as we navigate Class III and IV rapids. I hunker down deeper against the inner canvas, untether my leg from my husband's adjoining tube, and breeze past him, ricocheting precariously into the next maelstrom of cresting waves.

El Rio Negro finally expels us from its grasp, hurling us against a stony beach at the take-out point. After struggling to regain our "land legs", we return to the Hacienda. A dip in the refreshing swimming pool, flanked by blossoming greenery and chaise lounges, awaits. Our son prefers the adjacent lobby with its giant TV screen, books and magazines, and gratuitous Wi-Fi. Even here in the remoter northern expanses of Costa Rica, surrounded by chirping birds and the trill of insects, Facebook is still only a click of the mouse away.

soft adventure and reppeling in Costa Rica

Waterfall Rappelling

With our fabulous guides from Desafio Adventure Company, we load into the eco-friendly 4x4 'Jungle Limos' (powered by renewable BioDiesel fuel) and bounce along the pot-holed back roads till we arrive at Lost Canyon. We strap on the harnesses, practice a technique or two, then storm the rainforest trail. As we prepare to rappel at the first waterfall -- a mere 10-footer -- I look for signs of collared aracaris, a toucan often seen in this stretch of Costa Rican jungle. But not today. Inches from me, elephant ears wider than my entire body sway gently on their stalks, like oversized fans ... droplets of moisture from the constant mist bead up on the tip of a lobster-claw bloom. We down-climb from waterfall to waterfall, stumbling along the rocks, from floating pebbles to monoliths of remarkable size, of a running riverbed.

We are surrounded by the rhythm of the babbling brook, the songs of our feathered friends, and the distant squeals of zealous adventurers up ahead. Already at the 200-foot cataract. Somehow, I'm coerced into taking the lead. I inch my way out onto the ledge, peering down, over my shoulder. The other Desafio guide waves comfortingly from the bottom ... looking diminutive as an ant, from this distance. "Here I go," I announce, as much for Gustavo and Nicolas, as for myself, and disappear onto the lower ledge. I lean back and suddenly, it's nothing but air ... and a chilly breeze as I fly down the rappel line. More air slaps me in the face. Probably a scream or two escapes my lips. But then I feel the soft moss-covered stones secure beneath my Teva's and appreciate the fact that I've landed without incident, without harm. In the distance, beyond the scope of my vision, I know that Volcan Arenal is smiling placidly, reminding me that, no matter what, I'll always be at Mother Nature's mercy.

If You Go

Hacienda Guachipelin, Rincon de la Vieja National Park, Las Pailas, Liberia, Costa Rica; toll free from US or Canada (888) 730-3840; e-mail:

Desafio Adventure Company, Behind the Central Church, La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica; toll free from US or Canada (855-818-0020); e-mail:

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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 son.

Photos by Gustavo Lillo, Hacienda Guachipelin, and Desafio Adventure Company

Published: June 10th, 2014
Updated: August 23, 2016

© 2014