Costa Rica

Rafting the Pacuare River in Costa Rica on a half-day cruise tour

Cruise passengers heading to Costa Rica will get more than they bargained for on shore whether they book an excursion through the cruise line or take fate into their own hands with a tour operator met at the docks. What they won’t get either way is a run for their money. Tourism is big business here. Shady operators in broken down VW vans are nowhere to be found. Rather, the tour guides are highly educated and trained, the conveyances are clean and comfortable, and the experiences are worth the distance.

For those who have only a half-day or a day to spend, the tourism gurus here have figured out how to squeeze an hour and make it last a lifetime. Because it’s Costa Rica, chances are shopping won’t be on anyone’s priority list – unless its for rum, hand-rolled cigars or hardwood cutting boards. Rather, Costa Rica is all beach and rainforest with some of the most beautiful natural environments to ever behold. So it is not surprising that most tours involve some encounter with wildlife – whether that is a visit to a sloth sanctuary where it is possible to pet the two- and three-toed mammals that seem to belong to an era much earlier than this one, or sighting rare scarlet macaws or colorful toucans, screaming at a pack of howler monkeys or moving through a burst of bullet ants wrestled from their nest.

Despite its small size that makes it roughly the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica is home to an astonishing 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity and 3.5 percent of marine life.

Cruise passengers will usually have to drive a bit – two hours from Limon and less than an hour from Puntarenas, but they will arrive at some perfect rainforest experiences that can be managed within a couple of hours and give them tales to take home to the family.

Cute, but poisonous frogs all part of the action in Costa Rica

Rain Forest Adventures Costa Rica runs two rainforest parks – one close to the Caribbean side and one on the Pacific — that deliver the wild with plenty of explanation. The Caribbean option comes with a lodge featuring eco-friendly cottages for those who have time to spend the night under the canopy. Rooms are modest but come with attached bathrooms, shower stalls, hot water, twin beds, wood flooring and windows all around. Lights out at 9 pm means lights out – no electricity throughout the camp (each room has flashlights). The rain along with earthy sounds of animals and insects all night make for a deep night’s sleep. Rates run $150 per person, double, and include all meals, guided walks and a canopy tram ride.

Most visitors come for the day, however, and that means a canopy tour by tram and an option to try zip lining through the canopy on some ten lines plus a 1000-foot bonus cable that takes a full minute to cross. Lunch and repasts are taken in an open air dining hall. A gift shop, a serpent garden and an herb garden can be visited as well. Without packaging, tram tours run $55 and canopy lines cost $42.75. A combo pack costs $70 and takes around 90 minutes.

A similar set up on the Pacific side offers a canopy ride to the top of a mountain that offers pans of the Pacific from these heights. Then, guests can take the tram back down (it’s slow going each way as you stop for bird and animal sightings and learn about the flora. Costa Rica is home to more than 900 avian species so depending on the knowledge of the guide the tram ride may be a slow one, indeed) or zip line their way to the bottom along lines that crisscross through the mountain crevices and offer stunning views over and over.

For clients who want to see Costa Rica through its rich rainforests along the river ways, several options can match interests depending on wildlife preferences. For instance, on a recent two-hour exploration of the Tortuga Canals aboard a 32-passenger open vessel, sightings included 13 sloths, a cayman, a river otter, iguanas and howler monkeys, as well as countless snowy egrets and blue herons. The tour starts at a launch near Limon and ends with a plate of tasty fruit before returning to port.

A river tour available on the Pacific side heads down the Tarcoles River where lies the largest concentration of crocodiles in the world – for the record that is 25 crocodiles per kilometer along a 110-kilometer river. Passengers also see families of scarlet macaws, toucans, black hawks, white hawks, and all manor of exotic bird life in the mangroves. In fact, visitors are given a healthy list of species to check off as the boat makes its way down to the ocean.

Active clients can try their luck riding the river and thrill to class three rapids as they make their way through narrow canyons. Rios Tropicales offers real river experiences to cruise clients coming into Limon. These are not passive floats along idyllic corridors while buff river guides do all the paddling. This is the real thing and visitors should be prepared for whatever comes. Gear and guidance goes a long way to keeping the boat safe and upright in its path down the Pacuare River. But passengers paddle, take orders and run each rapid for all it can offer, usually coming out fine in the end. The ride for cruise passengers is a good half-day excursion that includes lunch, training, a full two hours on the river, some swimming, plus a commemorative CD.

Most of these excursions are available in one form or another, in one combination or another for all cruise shorex itineraries available upon docking in Costa Rica. For more information contact Visit Costa Rica.