In April of 2022, nine of us set out on a 10-day hiking trip on El Camino de Costa Rica, from the Caribbean sea to the Pacific Ocean. The entire trail consists of 16 segments, requiring 17-18 days. Since we had 10 days to work with, “Urri Trek” customized our trip adding some extra events such as river rafting and leaving out some of the less nature-oriented legs (near, or on roads). Our guide was a 21 year old local lad, full of energy, very knowledgeable on flora, fauna and their history. He took excellent care of us and managed to get all 9 of us back in one piece.
The terrain is beautiful and varied from beach, to mountains (sometimes above the clouds), to rain forest. Click here to see a short video of the El Camino hiking trail. Much of the land is cultivated. With coffee and fruit planted on incredibly steep hill sides. This means that much of the planting and harvesting is done by hand.
Our timing was at the end of their dry season and the beginning of the rainy season, so the weather was in flux. Most days were warm to hot, while by the end of the trip we were experiencing regular late afternoon thunderstorms. Thanks to the hiking gods, these were usually after we had arrived at our destination and settled in for the evening.
Lodgings were varied from hotels, to basic lodges to glamping (huts). Traditional Costa Rican food for the most part is comfort food consisting largely of beans and rice. Always good and filling, but it seems Costa Rica is not fond of spicy food 😉 The fruit on the other hand was of great variety, right off the tree, or vine and several times along the way, we were invited into an orchard or garden to pick and eat to our hearts content.
We had a fantastic start to the trip: Taking a small boat along the Madre de Dios river, where we saw a sloth, howler monkeys, some small 3 inch bats, many types of birds and a very photogenic crocodile which posed for the cameras. We then hiked about 6 miles and settled into the Pacuare Reserve, where we were treated to a presentation on local flora and fauna by the research students. After dinner we walked a few miles of beach with a researcher and were able to observe two Leather Back turtles coming onto the beach, preparing their nests and laying their eggs. It was truly magical to witness this first hand.
Another day we river-rafted to a take-out point on the Pacuare river, where two local indigenous guides led us up a steep mountain path to the Tsiobata village. We met with the folks of the village, were introduced to the school kids and then had a traditional lunch. As they say “what goes up, must come down”, so we headed back down the mountain, packed back into the rafts and continued down the river to the final take-out spot.
Over the next several days we had the opportunity to hike through and stay at some bird sanctuaries where we saw toucans along with many other birds of many colors and sizes. We heard the elusive quetzal, which is not only the most attractive of birds, it seems to be the shyest as well. We did see a “Wood Owl” sitting on a post which was so well camouflaged that standing within 4 feet of it, you would not be able to see it, without its eyes open.
Two of the lodges we stayed at were on the tops of the mountains, with beautiful views above the clouds. One morning we awoke to a sea of cloud below us and a smoking volcano above in the distance. We also visited some hot springs, where you could coat yourself with clay to soften the skin and relax in several natural hot pools, with a beverage of choice. We visited a butterfly farm, filled with colors and the fluttering of delicate wings. Took an optional horseback ride up the mountain through a coffee plantation. Hugh was told by the locals, their coffee is some of the best in the world and by his fellow travelers, that it was quite good, depending on where you got it. Unfortunately for him, not being a coffee drinker, he cannot really confirm, or deny this.
It was a great 10-day hike, with plenty of exercise a relaxed atmosphere and some special events integrated into the trip. The Costa Rican people (Ticos) are justifiably proud hosts, a compliment to the country is likely to be met with a smile and an enigmatic two-word reply: pura vida. The phrase is a bona fide mantra for the Tico way of life.
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