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Sport: R&R in Costa Rica

Stephen Jermanok

The Blue Morpho butterflies that floated above our heads certainly were enchanting, and the sight of the rare, ochre-bellied flycatcher was something I will boast about back home at the annual Audubon Society meeting. Yet, as we come to another stop on our hike through a Costa Rican rain forest, this time to listen to our naturalist guide wax passionately and lyrically about the delicate beauty of a stick bug, the group’s collective patience begins to wane. Finally, one member demands, “Show me the monkey!” He speaks for all of us who have had our fill of birds and bugs and want to see some primates.

As if on cue, four white-faced monkeys appear, jumping from vine to vine of the thick-rooted ficus trees found here at Manuel Antonio National Park. In front of their audience, the little fellas run, jump, fight, and even fornicate. “That’s something you don’t see every day,” says the naturalist, forgetting for the moment about the stick bug. 

 

This is day two of a six-day jaunt through Costa Rica that was arranged by the active-travel outfitter Backroads. Best known for its bicycling trips around Napa, Provence, and Tuscany, Backroads also offers adventures—around the world and throughout the year—with varieties of activities: biking, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, rafting, even zip-lining. Costa Rica, with a landscape that includes rain forests as well as Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, is an ideal setting for a multisport journey. During Backroads’ Costa Rica Premiere Inns Trip, we would traverse a canopy bridge over waterfalls and 300-year-old wild cashew trees, zip-line across that same rain forest canopy, follow herons down a plunging river in a raft, and bike and sea kayak along sugar-white beaches. 

One day we mountain biked on rutted roads through fields of African palm trees and then hiked the last several miles to our destination, the Rafiki Safari Lodge, one of the premiere inns to which the trip’s name refers. The lodge, which sits on a verdant mountainside, is owned by a South African–born couple and is reminiscent of the upscale safari-style lodges found at Kruger National Park. At Rafiki, we smoked cigars that had been rolled that morning, drank mojitos, and then dined on South African sausages and local mahimahi while listening to the call of a toucan. We departed the next morning on rafts down a serpentine river that showed few signs of civilization.

The trip’s most impressive lodging is Hotel Punta Islita, which is set on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. The resort’s accommodations include villas with hammocks and private plunge pools. Massages are available at the full-service spa inside the hotel or on the beach, where you can listen to the waves lapping ashore.

We arrived at Hotel Punta Islita following the raft ride, a short plane flight, and a bike ride along a sublime stretch of nearly empty beach. That morning, a rafting guide had been screaming, “Paddle to the left! Dig harder!” And now, at twilight on the beach, as the masseuse digs into my aching calves, she whispers, “More lavender oil?”

Backroads, 510.527.1555, www.backroads.com

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