Bicycling Costa Rica
I had the good fortune of finding myself in Costa Rica this past February participating on our Butterflies, Bicycles and Beaches cycling tour. I’ve never been to Central America and didn’t really know what to expect, but I did know that nine days of riding through Costa Rica was better than…well…anything else I could think of. Certainly better than my other option, which was riding in a dark room and listening to bad music during Spinning Class at my local health club. So, armed with my new camera, a Spanish phrase book and plenty of #33 sun block, I set out with 14 fellow cyclists to discover what Costa Ricans mean when they say "Pura Vida!"
What I discovered was a country full of surprises. From thick tropical rainforests to mystical cloud forests and sunny beaches, Costa Rica has something unusual or unexpected around every bend and over every hill – and, yes, there are plenty of hills! Much of the country, approximately 25%, is protected in special reserves, allowing you as a visitor to enjoy nature first hand. During our journey we had ample opportunity to see an array of tropical birds, flowers, mammals, and even reptiles. Our guides were experts in pointing out howler and capuchin monkeys, tree sloth, caimans, coatamundi, toucans and sometimes even the rare three and fourcans. We also saw iguanas, both large and small, and the elusive Resplendent Quetzal, a bird revered as a god by the Aztecs and Mayas.
Throughout the tour there are plenty of opportunities to take part in activities other than cycling, both planned for you and that you can enjoy on your own. On my tour, as a group, we floated down the Peñas Blancas river, soaked in a lava heated hot springs, and visited a working Costa Rican farm. On our own, several members of our group, including myself also enjoyed a canopy tour in the rainforest. The most memorable event for me, though, was a nature walk that Jose, one of our guides, took us on as a group in the Los Angeles Cloud Forest. As he pointed out and explained different plant and animal species, you could tell that he not only loved his country but also delighted in sharing his knowledge with us.
Costa Rica packs a lot of life into a small space. There are more than 10,000 identified species of plants, 850 bird species and 500 species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles found within its borders. In fact, at only half the size of Kentucky, Costa Rica contains 12 of the 116 "life zones" scientists have identified on earth, fully 5% of our planet’s biodiversity! It seems that our tour explored all this and more.
Our ride began in the Central Valley, surrounded by fields of coffee, sugarcane plantations and ornamental plant farms. We cycled around an active volcano and past papaya and yucca farms. Our route took us over the great divide and over the Cuesta Grande, or "Big Hill." We rode through rainforests, cloud forests, and even the rapidly vanishing tropical dry forests of the Guanacaste plain. And after nine days, we eventually ended at the Pacific Ocean on a beautiful, virtually deserted, white sand beach.
As I write this from my office in Fort Collins, I have a great view of the clock tower downtown displaying time and temperature. Glancing over and seeing that it is 23 degrees outside today, my mind travels back to Costa Rica. I’m reminded of the warm tropical sunshine, delicious seafood, great cycling and wonderful people that I met on this trip. And although my tan is beginning to fade, I know the memories will stay forever.
Hope you can join us in Costa Rica.