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Heredia-Cypresal-Volcán Barva-Vara Blanca-Poasito-Heredia 80 kilometers; Photograph by Zero Kelvin/Tico, Flickr

Traversing Costa Rica by Foot, Bike, and Paddle

“I forgot to pack my underwear, but I brought a headlamp!” said Winnie.

By now we had known each other five days. We were in a remote, Costa Rican jungle and I couldn’t help but laugh at my new Swedish friend and expedition mate. Her parents named her after the loveable children’s character and bear, Winnie-the-Pooh. It was appropriate.  Adventurous souls have the perfect mix of Pooh-like characteristics—loving life and appreciating their surroundings—along with enthusiasm modeled after the tiger character Tigger, who has bounce in his step and sees the best in every situation.

When I had a week and a half off, and Costa Rica seemed like a good option. So did a did a Google for a unique experience that would allow me to see the country away from the big cities and beach resorts. I found Coast-to-Coast Adventures and their signature 12-day Coast-to-Coast trip that traverses Costa Rica, 234 kilometers (145 miles), from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coasts, all by hiking, mountain biking, rafting, and kayaking. The actual physical adventure would take just eight days, with a few days on each end of the trip for rendezvous, rest, and travel. Further, Coast-to-Coast Adventures provided the bikes, rafts, kayaks, guides, food, and handled the logistics. All I had to do was show up with a sleeping bag, sleeping pad and move. Awesome!

Costa Rica - Pacific Ocean

Our small expedition team included me, Winnie, our four teammates–a pair of Canadians and Norwegians–and two friendly, knowledgeable guides, Maurice and Juan Carlos. Each of us had varying levels of experience hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking. Our ages ranged from 34 to 58 years young.

The 234-kilometer Coast-to-Coast Adventure is rated as this company’s most difficult and physically challenging trip. I quickly learned that they were not kidding.  It is not hard in the ‘technical’ sense, but you need to be in good physical condition and know how to ride a bike.

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Day 1 – Mount Up

It is on the Pacific Coast, in the town of Quepos, next to the popular resort town of Manuel Antonio, we started our coast-to-coast adventure.   On mountain bikes, we cycled paved roads out of the little bustling town and onto a single-track dirt road, surrounded by lush, green forest.  After 25km (16 miles) and lunch by a beautiful waterfall, our bikes were loaded onto a support vehicle.  The afternoon was spent trekking 14km (9 miles) up 800 meters (2,600 feet) through backcountry, over a ridge and then down into a picturesque valley where we camped in tents on the village soccer field in Naranjillo.

Days 2 – We Climb

The next day, we hiked out of Naranjillo and up “Cemetery Hill,” a steep and strenuous 13km (8 miles) ascent up another 800 meters to an elevation of 1,600m (5,200 feet).   It was a great leg workout.  Our support vehicle magically appeared over the hill along with our bikes and a bountiful picnic lunch of chicken, tortillas and fresh fruit.  That afternoon we cycled on paved roads to the small town of Santa Maria where we spent the night in cozy bungalows with Wi-Fi!

Days 3 & 4 – Up & Over the Continental Divide

Over the next couple days we rode, and for some of us this included pushing and carrying, our mountain bikes 100km (62 miles), up and over the continental divide, the Talamanca and Central mountain ranges.  We traveled through the beautiful Orosi Valley, lush coffee fields, and forest into the Reventazon Valley, sugarcane plantations and over the Pejibaye River into Turrialba.  At night we camped in parks.

Unlike the rest of our group, Winnie and I lacked true mountain biking experience and because of this, some sections in this adventure were really hard.  We knew how to ride a bike, but climbing up steep mountain inclines to an elevation of 2,400 meters (7,900 feet) and navigating off-road, dusty, hole-riddled declines, (we affectionately dubbed, ‘vertical death descents’) well, turns out those variables make a difference.  For the other members of our group, it was mountain biking heaven.

I fell twice and Winnie once.  By the time we made it to Turrialba we had varying degrees of abrasions on our knees, hands, elbows and shoulders.  In the towns, when anyone asked about them, we said they were the result of a ‘jaguar attack.’ It sounded way cooler.

We did not quit.  Thanks to our sheer stubbornness and patient guides we got through it. They kept us motivated and laughing all the way.

Days 5 & 6 – To the River & Rest

Thankfully, the last day on our mountain bikes was only 25km (16 miles) on paved roads going downhill to La Cruz, the whitewater rafting “put in” on the Pacuare River.  I gladly turned in my bike for an oar and lifejacket.

No rest for the weary, the big, blue raft was launched into raging class III and IV rapids. People have died in these intense waters and everyone stayed alert.  By afternoon we reach the banks of El Nido del Tigre (Tiger’s Nest) and our home for the next two days.

The Tiger’s Nest is a remote jungle oasis, owned by the adventure travel company.  Platform tents with cozy, foam mattresses line the riverbank and an impressive open, two-story hut sits in the middle of the property and its manicured lawns.  The hut has a kitchen and dining area on the bottom and a ‘lounge’ area with hammocks, couch, chairs and board games up top.  Walkways link the tents to the common area and to the clean, open, yet private, toilets and showers.

In the past five days, we had hiked 27km (17 miles) mostly uphill, and cycled 180km (112 miles). We spent our downtime hiking, reading, sleeping or lounging in hammocks trading stories.   It was here I found myself explaining to Winnie the American term ‘going commando’ (without underwear).

Day 7 – We Raft

Our last day on the raft was filled with intermittent class II-IV whitewater rapids surrounded by trees, monkeys, birds and waterfalls.  We landed the raft in Finca Pacuarito and hiked through banana plantation to our last campsite.

Day 8 – Kayaking to Sweet, Salty, Success

It rained throughout the night and into the morning.   It made for a great sleep. At 6am, wet, excited and paired up on kayaks with packed lunches and snacks we paddled the last part of the Pacuare River to the Caribbean Sea. Six and a half hours, sore arms and 40km (25 miles) later, we heard the sweet sound of crashing waves and saw the ocean. We did it!

Some say that where a river and ocean transition, it is a spiritual place.  It felt magical.   Maybe it was just the rewarding sense of accomplishment. We crossed Costa Rica, in actuality going 258-kilometers (160-miles), all by our own physical power.  The distance difference didn’t matter. On this isolated beach, just south of Caño Blanco, we hugged, cheered and celebrated with champagne!

Established in 1996 by Canadian Mike Laplevic, Coast-to-Coast Adventures is based in San Jose, Costa Rica.  Twenty dedicated employees design, organize and run multi-activity travel within Costa Rica, Panama and nearby Nicaragua.  Their goal is to assist adventurers in exceeding their expectations while connecting with nature and the elements.  For more information: