You’re in for a special treat today, kids, because this post was written by both Erin AND Katie. They both loved this particular Costa Rican adventure SO much, that they couldn’t agree who would get to write the post. So they opted for the third-person introduction, while the blue font that follows was written by Erin and the green font was written by Katie. Look out, TLC! We’re chasing some waterfalls, whether you like it or not.
Now that we’re done making forts with our luggage and have finally put them away, let us commence, as promised, with the juicy deets (the kids are still saying that, right?) of our last week in Costa Rica.
So, last Monday we spent five hours navigating an assortment of buses west to stay overnight in La Fortuna, a quaint town with clean streets, high-end restaurants, unique arts and crafts shops and jacked-up tourist prices tucked cozily in the looming shadow of Arenal Volcano. La Fortuna’s cooler climate, lush tropical vegetation, and proximity to a large number of waterfalls, whitewater rapids and the aforementioned volcano have made it a well-established hotspot for tourists seeking tales of daring outdoor adventure to take home with them.
Which is precisely why we were there. On the enthusiastic recommendation of Aaron and Becs, our friends, hosts, tour guides and all-around upstanding citizens (ok, they were our bosses, too, but that didn’t influence the description, promise), we’d come here determined to try our luck at waterfall rappelling.
Waterfall rappelling is exactly what it sounds like, and despite the astounding array of travel company reps pitching their packages (ahem, tour packages) to us along the sidewalk, apparently there are only two companies that offer this unique experience in La Fortuna. But we’ll get to that in a minute. Stick with me here, people.
So we arrived in La Fortuna in the early afternoon, checked into Gringo Pete’s, a clean, charming and ridonkulously cheap (hello, $4!) hostel recommended by a backpacking Canadian couple we met, and then proceeded to semi-stalk, on the bus ride there. After dropping our bags off, we spent the rest of the day walking around and window-shopping before making our way to the Lava Lounge to talk with the restaurant’s California-bred owner, Scott, over a couple of industrial-strength piña coladas. Aaron and Becs had met Scott a few years ago when they were in town for their first rappelling experience, and had asked us to stop by and drop off some hot sauce to him.
Fortunately for us, Scott happened to be good friends with Cynthia, the lovely owner of Pure Trek, one of the two companies that offered rappelling in the area. So when we mentioned to Scott our plans to go rappelling the next morning with her slightly cheaper competitor, he phoned Cynthia on the spot and she proceeded to make us a counter-offer we couldn’t refuse. So Pure Trek it was!
[Editor's Note: Yes, I admit that, at the time, it was all about the Benjamins. However, having done my post-trip research since then, I now see that our reasons for choosing Pure Trek should have been:
(a) their commitment to safety. Their slightly higher price tag covers the cost of regular equipment change-outs and safety upgrades; and
(b) the fact that their belaying technique provides customers a more authentic rappelling experience than the standard zipline style used by most other rappelling companies.
Thus, even though we ended up choosing wisely, it was for incredibly unwise financial reasons. So don't be stupid like us and try to scrimp on this once-in-a-lifetime experience, mmkay?]
Next morning arrived right on time, and the bus came to whisk us off on our adventure, which started with a 20-minute drive out of town and then a 15-minute putter up a steep and winding dirt road in an off-road Jeep.
The view from the dirt road. I could live there.
This being the rainy off-season, our group was small and intimate, consisting of only three other American tourists and five Pure Trek employees. Our guides were Ticos who spoke English very well and exuded an air of confidence and outdoor prowess befitting their Teva sandals; if they had no idea what they were doing, they at least put on a really good show otherwise. And it didn’t hurt that every single one of them was cheek-pinchingly adorable.
At the top of the hill, we stopped at a small outpost station where we proceeded to trade in whatever remaining cool points we had for ginormous helmets and underwear made of seatbelts.
Safety first. Fashion, an extremely distant second.
From there, we locked our valuables in the truck and descended down a rocky yet well-maintained trail into what felt like the beating heart of the jungle. Even though it was only a five-minute walk, it truly felt like we were the first explorers ever to set foot there—everywhere you looked were palm leaves the size of Volkswagens and thick, tangled vines in a thousand variations of green competing ruthlessly for the sun.
In fact, we were in such awe of our primal surroundings that we almost forgot what why we were there in the first place. And that little nugget of awareness came back to us just about the time we approached the edge of the 175-foot waterfall.
While the rest of the staff efficiently went about ensuring all the safety measures and belays were in place, our main guide briefed us on how to properly hold the ropes and position our feet so as to preserve our knees and faces in case we wanted to use them at a later date.
And then the time came for us to demonstrate our listening comprehension skills.
Despite the abundance of safety ropes snugly attached to you, it’s still a somewhat terrifying feeling to take that first backward step off the edge of the platform and let yourself dangle in midair, contemplating the 175 feet of nothing standing between the bottoms of your sneakers and the ground.
But just as quickly as that fluttery-stomach feeling came, it went, and the experience was no longer awesomely terrifying but just awesome. While that first waterfall was by far the tallest, each of the three subsequent ones we rappelled down presented different terrain challenges to keep you entertained, as well as new opportunities for our playful guides to keep themselves entertained by dunking us in frothing 60-degree water. The little scamps.
What’s that? You want me to hold you right in the middle of the fall while my friend takes pictures of you gulping down mouthfuls of riverwater like a large-mouth bass?
What’s that? You want me to hold you right there while your face takes a tsunami-force shower?
By the end of the morning, our little group had pretty much gotten the hang of rappelling and needed the belayers below to keep us from smashing ourselves against the rock wall only a few times.
Soaking wet and a little tired (in a really, really good way) from navigating jungle canyons spider-man style, we thought our Pure Trek experience was over. But our guides piled us into the vehicle and trucked us back down the mountain to the Pure Trek oasis. It was really a resort-like compound, but I call it an oasis with its cozy lodge, open-air restaurant, and the most beautiful restroom we’d seen in Costa Rica.
Erin and I were thrilled to take a nice, hot shower in the spa-like facility, complete with towels, shampoo, conditioner, and even body lotion.
That’s it. I’m moving in.
We felt invigorated and refreshed after our showers, but we also felt something else… HUNGRY.
Apparently physical exercise does that to people. Who knew?
We walked through the lush garden to the open-air dining area where Pure Trek’s chefs had an authentic Tico lunch waiting for us.
A hot plate of rice with chicken and black beans and a wonderful salad (sorry, no picture – did I mention we were hungry?) was brought to our table. We were able to relax with a glass of fresh pineapple juice and watch a slideshow of the professional photos taken of our rappelling adventure on a monitor in the corner.
After our completely satisfying lunch, we were escorted back through the garden to the main lodge, where hot Costa Rican coffee awaited us.
The space was incredibly inviting and relaxing. We were waiting for our transportation back to our hostel in town (provided by Pure Trek), but it hardly felt like waiting – we didn’t want to leave!
This experience truly was one of the most outstanding highlights of our trip. Thanks to Aaron and Becs for telling us about it, Scott at Lava Lounge for setting us straight on where we should go, and Cynthia and the guides from Pure Trek for showing us a completely amazing time.
It’s gonna be hard to top this one…