Costa Rica Mountains & Coast

By Will Robertson

Pura Vida, man!” says my snorkeling guide as I slide off the boat into the clear blue pacific water. Beneath me are thousands of fish (in all shapes, sizes, and colors!), turtles, rays, and eels. It’s is a beautiful sunny day and we’re just off the shore of Costa Rica’s Caño Island, a protected Biological Reserve about 50 km off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. But I’m getting ahead of myself — let’s back up and talk about how I found myself in this magnificent setting on this December day.

The view of Caño Island from the snorkel boat.

I’m writing this blog post from Costa Rica this morning because my directors tasked me with the exciting job of planning and scouting one of our new trips for the 2018 summer: Costa Rica Mountains & Coast. Now, ye Apogee faithful will know that we’ve been offering a trip in Costa Rica (Costa Rica Language & Service) since 2016. Costa Rica may be a small country, but it has more than its fair share of attractions — well worth offering two Apogee trips in the same country! What’s the difference between the trips, you might ask? Costa Rica Language & Service (CRLS) is a nine-day adventure focused on (you guessed it) improving Spanish language skills and engaging in meaningful service that will also give students a chance to practice their Spanish skills. It’s not all work and no play — CRLS students will also have ample time to explore their natural surroundings with trips to waterfalls, a guided tour to see the impressive wildlife in Manuel Antonio National Park, and of course, a Costa Rica essential: zip-lining. Costa Rica Mountains & Coast (CRMC), falls under our “hiking trip” category, and will contain a backpacking portion, day hikes, snorkeling, surfing, and zip-lining. What both trips will have in common is the Apogee backbone: up to 12 great kids, 2 super leaders, and the goals of fun, friendship, accomplishment, community, and adventure for all.

From tall mountain to lush rainforests and white sand beaches, Costa Rica has it all.

Now that we’ve distinguished the two trips: what exactly have I been doing down here in the land of Pura Vida? Well, aside from eating a lot of arroz con pollo and platoons amarillos, I’ve been doing a lot of hiking, driving, and talking. Let’s start in San Gerardo de Rivas.

A river cuts through the mountains, as seen from San Gerardo.

San Gerardo is a small town tucked in the mountains in the southern half of the country. It’s a sleepy village, but has one big claim to fame: the trailhead for the twelve-thousand foot mountain Chirripó leaves right off of it’s main street. Chirripó is the tallest mountain in Costa Rica, and on a clear day you can see both the Atlantic and the Pacific from the top of the mountain. Part of the mission of my scouting trip was to see if summiting Chirripó would be an accomplishable goal for our trips. So, on Thursday, I set off on my Chirripó adventure.

The well-maintained Chirripó trail.

As I ascended the mountain, I saw and heard monkeys in the trees, marveled at the density of the forest, and took countless “selfies” at the lookouts along the way. Once I got past tree-line, there were breathtaking views every time I turned the corner, all the way to the Base Crestones, an alpine hut where hikers can spend the night before conquering the summit of Chirripó.

One of the aforementioned “selfies.” This one features Base Crestones in the background.

The scenically-placed hut also serves remarkably good food and I was able to chat at length with some of the folks who work there, who were all very excited at the prospect of our groups hiking Chirripó. I summited and descended the mountain following day (which our groups will split into two days, staying one more night at the alpine hut). After a quick shower at the lovely hostel in San Gerardo that will house our groups the night before and after their hike, I jumped in the car and headed to Uvita, a beach town on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.

Huge rock structures from the Chirripó hike.

A big part of scouting a new is looking at accommodations — looking at location, layout, and making sure the atmosphere of the accommodations lines up with what we want for our groups. That final point becomes even more important on a trip like CRMC, since students will be staying indoors for the whole trip (camping in Costa Rica is very restricted). Internet searching can tell you a lot these days, but the only way to really get to know the “feel” of a place is to go there in-person. I toured dozens of hostels and cabins in Uvita and Dominical before I found the place that is just right for our groups. In addition, I spent yesterday on the aforementioned snorkel tour, getting a feel for the layout of the tour and checking in with the outfitter about their safety practices.

The beach in Uvita shortly after sunset.

Tonight I’m headed deep into the rainforest to meet with the owners of the eco-lodge where students will spend two nights on our CRMC trip. We’ve worked with this family-run eco-lodge for the past two years on our CRLS trip, and we’re now shifting our time at the eco-lodge to CRMC, as it caters more to the theme of CRMC than it does to CRLS — I’m excited to re-connect with the family and plan out the two days of activities that our students will engage in at the eco-lodge.

Pura Vida!

When people ask me what I’m doing down here, they all look astounded when I explain that I’m here for work. I feel incredibly lucky to be here in Costa Rica, planning a trip that will be fun, challenging, and community-minded. I’m so excited for the first batch of CRMC’ers – it’s going to be a phenomenal trip. Pura Vida, indeed!