Costa Rica Traverse

January 18, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

DominicalDominical I'd noticed a Costa Rica "Coast to Coast Traverse" a few years ago and liked the idea of a continental traverse using various forms of human-powered transport. Finally the dates of the World Expeditions trip fitted in with my travel plans in January 2014. We arrived in San Jose from various different parts of the world: seven Australians and one Norwegian.
The first day was spent driving west from San Jose to Dominical on the Pacific coast. We stayed in a jungle lodge in Dominical, which is a surfing town. We made the most of the nearby beach and went for a swim late in the afternoon. There was a huge tropical downpour which stranded us in a beach shack for over an hour. Eventually we decided to walk back in the pouring rain rather than get stranded for longer. Good decision as the rain continued for a while afterwards.
Pacific OceanPacific OceanThe start of our traverse across Costa Rica from Dominical The first day of our coast-to-coast crossing was on mountain bikes. Initially we rode along the coast highway then turned onto an off-road track following a river (Rio Savegre) up into the mountains. After a lunch break, we continued to climb some large hills which was a challenge in the heat and humidity. Eventually we arrived at our campsite in Esquipulas just before the afternoon rain arrived. There were no showers so we found a waterfall in a nearby river which offered a very good replacement.
We had an early start the following day and hiked further into the hills. Our support vehicle had to drive for several hours around to meet us on the other side as the path became impassable for vehicles. There were plenty of butterflies and birds. As we were climbing higher the vegetation had changed from coastal farmland into cloud rainforest. Part way along the walk, we came across a couple of young bulls on a narrow part of the track. I continued to walk through and one of them started to chase me. Not sure what to do I jumped off the side of a steep part of the track so the bull decided to stop chasing me. Phew! Our last part of the walk was down into Naranjillo to set up camp.
WaterfallWaterfallNo showers at our camp but this waterfall was handy.
Our walk the following day was up through coffee fields and across several rivers. We continued to gain altitude as we were heading east to the continental divide. It continued to be very hot and humid so we were grateful for any shade we could find. Our support vehicle met us a the top of a hill and we welcomed our bikes for a fast downhill run to lunch. After lunch we had a long climb into Santa Maria where we stayed in cabins for the night. After a couple of days camping we were happy to have decent showers to clean off all the sweat, sunscreen and insect repellent! 
The next morning we were up for a 5am start to ride up a 700m climb to cross the continental divide at 2,300m. It was a relentless climb with plenty of twists and turns and it was hard to find were the top was! Fortunately we all made it up within a couple of hours and we celebrated with a huge breakfast to try and recoup some a calories. The vegetation was more open again. We had a long decent on some decent gravel tracks which offered terrific views across the other valleys. There were some very steep dirt tracks which require us to walk our bikes down in some parts. We had a quick lunch and continued into the Orosi Valley which offered plenty more good coffee. An early night for everyone after a long day, 47km on the bike in total.
FlowerFlowerI don't know what kind of flower. The next day was the toughest day of the trip. It was another full day on the bike where we had to cover 66km and finish with a steep climb. There were also steep climbs to start the day but we were fortunate that the weather had become drizzly which meant it was relatively cool for our exertions. The initial part of the day was on bitumen which allowed for relatively quick riding but then we turned onto dirt tracks which were very rough as we continued. The bikes were showing a few signs of wear and tear but with a bit of mechanical help and we were able to continue. There was another steep climb before lunch and we were relieved to have another big feed! The climb continued up a rocky road and we all resorted to pushing our bikes to the top of the hill. A quick decent and just one more hill before we finished. We stayed with local families in the village of Mollejones for the evening in an attempt to speak some Spanish. The locals even put on afternoon tea and a dance for us after they watched us push our bikes up their hill. As most of us were exhausted from the day's cycling we were all in bed by 9pm.
MontjolleMontjolleA nice sunrise after our home stay. The last morning of hiking as we walked down to the river. A 6am start and we were on foot to descend to the Pacuare River, the best river for rafting in Costa Rica. We started on a dirt track which took us down to a bridge over the river. The track narrowed and we were soon walking through some thick mud. We had hired a local to help guide us along the valley as the track stopped and we needed to get through the thick vegetation and hilly terrain. He brought a machete and hacked out a path for us. We reached the road head and soon our support vehicle appeared along with some rafts.
We loaded up the rafts with enough provisions to last for a couple of days. One raft had all our food and clothes and two other rafts were for all of us. It took a couple of hours to reach our jungle camp at El Niño del Tigre. We negotiated some grade two and three rapids. The rafting included surfing a wave at the bottom of a rapid, something I hadn't done in a raft before!
River crossingRiver crossing Our jungle camp was awesome, tucked away in a quiet, steep valley. There was no power and we only used candles. There were outdoor showers and we had our own tents. There was heaps of wildlife around and we could see toucans in the distant trees along with lots of spiders. A tarantula lived in a tree right next to the kitchen so I gave it a wide berth. We had a rest day at the camp and had a short walk up to a nearby waterfall for a swim.
After a refreshing day off, we were back on the rafts for a full day on the Pacuare River. The rapids were at a higher grade and we managed to negotiate them without too many incidents. We jumped out of the rafts to float down a canyon before having lunch on the river bank. There were only a few more rapids before we crossed under a main road bridge which meant we had left the wilderness behind. We had another camp at Finca Pacuarito to enjoy before our last day of exertion. 
RaftingRafting We were back on the mountain bikes for the next day. The terrain had flattened out and we negotiated some rocky roads through large banana plantations. These weren't the quietest roads as there were large trucks full of bananas driving back to the main road. After only a couple of hours, we made it back to the river to pick up our kayaks for the last leg of the trip. They were sit-on kayaks so it was easy to pair up and paddle downriver with no rapids. We spotted more wildlife, including a sloth, monkeys and an alligator. Incentive not to fall in! We could hear the sound of waves which meant we were close to our goal of the Caribbean coast. Finally, we rounded a corner and could see the ocean! We celebrated on the beach with champagne and took plenty of celebratory photos.
Our kayaks were loaded on to motor boats and we enjoyed a boat trip through some canals back to the road. It as a strange feeling being driven somewhere after spending the past couple of weeks making our own way across the country. There was one more surprise on the way back: a moving sloth! We had searched for a non-sleeping sloth for most of the trip and our eagle-eyed guide spotted one swinging in the trees.
We left the power boat and got on the bus to drive back to San Jose. Not long after we started, there was a torrential downpour. Perfect timing as we were nice and dry inside the bus. We had been very lucky with the weather for the entire trip and our luck continued right until the last day.
The finishThe finishAll eight of us finished the trip! With our guide, Maurice. It was a very enjoyable trip. I've been to wilder places and climbed higher mountains but the combination of the friendly local people, the physical challenge, the wildlife and the excellent organisation made it a memorable expedition. Now I'm in Miami for a couple of days then on to Antigua.
Here's our statistics for the traverse:
  • 283km total 
  • 196km cycling
  • 48km hiking
  • 30km rafting
  • 11km kayaking

More photos from the traverse are in my photo gallery.

A video of our rafting is available on YouTube:


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