Finding Your Niche in Costa Rica: Sports and Outdoor Activities
Costa Rica is a country with an immense number of things to do. In fact, the only difficulty is getting the time and the opportunity to do all of them. Yes, I know that many
Costa Rica is a country with an immense number of things to do. In fact, the only difficulty is getting the time and the opportunity to do all of them. Yes, I know that many other countries offer a vast array of sporting and leisure activities, but where else could you enjoy these sports in such beautiful surroundings and in such pleasant temperatures? Costa Ricans are famous for being friendly, but until you engage in a group activity, you can’t appreciate how genuinely sociable they are. In Costa Rica, more than many other places, there are also very sociable activities, and people seek them out not only for the fun and excitement of the activity, but for the chance to meet like-minded souls and become part of a community. Here are just a few of the ways you can engage with others and become part of the sporting and social group of people.
If lunging over a beautiful rain forest on a wire is your thing, you can indulge your hobby with others of a like-minded disposition. People often turn up solo for an exciting fly over the canopy of the rain forest, and end up partnered with a fellow adrenalin junkie. After all, you need someone to give you that little incentive to step off a platform at 100 feet above the jungle floor. You can take the wire in tandem with your partner (an excellent opportunity to get someone to take that picture of you screaming as you push off from solid ground) as you swing from platform to platform like a pair of monkeys. Why would I do this, you might ask? Well, consider that 90% of animals in Costa Rica live in the upper levels of the trees, and zip-wiring is a great way to say hello! The zip line at Arenal Volcano and the Diamante Superman Canopy zip line are highly recommended. However, this amazing experience can be found throughout Costa Rica. And if you’re too busy gazing at paradise to do much chatting, many of the zip wire companies also offer restaurants and bars where you can sit with your fellow zippers and relive the day’s experience. For an idea of the fun, check out this You Tube video.
The Aerial Tram
If you’re not the adrenalin-junkie type, the tram is a wonderful, and frankly, easier way to glide across the rain forest, sharing at tram car with other sightseers. A friend of mine said he shared this experience with four complete strangers. “We’re friends now, and two of them I see every time I want an adventure.” Aerial trams can be found at the Arenal Volcano as well as in Monteverde.
Soccer is, by far, the national sport of passion in Costa Rica. Think of it as a religion! The country has the same amount of professional football teams as the USA, with only 1% of the population. However, the game is played wherever there is grass or concrete and even the most remote communities have a soccer field. (I was recently in a remote mountain village and was shocked when I saw that the half dozen houses or so that I had seen in the area warranted its own soccer pitch!).
Joining a community football club is the easiest thing in the world. There are dozens of local soccer fields and a ‘kick-around’, or ‘mejenga’, (friendly match), can be found at lunch times and in the evenings after work almost anywhere where there is open space. Just turn up at a sports field, called a ‘cancha’ in Tico Spanish, and ‘kick around’ a ball. A schoolteacher friend of mine says that once a month, teachers (both male and female as football is very popular among women in CR) head up to a playing field not far from the center of San Jose and play football for a few hours with local Ticos from offices, factories, and the university. “Locals are there having their own games, some are individuals looking to join someone else’s game. Pretty soon you can have an eleven a side going. Just be careful of one thing. If you’re not used to the heat, take it easy your first couple of times. The first time nearly killed me. I was sunburned and dehydrated. I could barely walk around a classroom the next day!”
For someone with a passion for the game, you can also join one of the amateur teams, which are sponsored by local businesses, including a local brewery! However, if you’re more the sedentary type, but still enjoy soccer, head to most bars on a match day and you’ll be sucked into an atmosphere that can only be described as a sports party. Just go easy on the shots if you have plans for after the game!
Costa Rican surfing areas are abundant. The country is famous for its surf breaks and splendid surfing locations can be found at El Potrero, Roca Bruja, Pico Pequeño, Callejones, Mal País, and Puerto Viejo. The last of these, Puerto Viejo, lying alongside a tall coral reef, offers particularly challenging surfing. If surfing is your thing, it’s easy to join up with one of the many surf clubs around the coasts where you can get advice on equipment, the best places to surf, and where to relax afterwards with a beer and a place to share your stories of the day’s waves. For example, Tamarindo in Guanacaste is an area where national surfing competitions are held, and the area has great bars, restaurants, and nightlife. It’s also a great beginner’s beach, so don’t be put off if you’re not the Silver Surfer. There are plenty of teachers there who will give lessons to the beginner for a modest fee. Of course, I could fill ten articles about surfing in Costa Rica, so check out some other beaches for yourself. Wherever you choose, you can end up at sunset sitting with fellow surfers, eating and drinking and exaggerating the size of the left break you successfully surfed.
Costa Rica has 28 national parks, so you could hike until you’re 110 and still not cover half of it. Whether you prefer an easy walk or a challenge, the options are almost limitless. For example, the Mount Chirripo hike is a one-way 20 km hike with a base camp halfway up the mountain. A friend of mine from Canada told me, “I’m used to mountains where I come from, but this is something different altogether. I don’t have the language to describe how beautiful it is. But to give you an idea, from the peak of the mountain you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Think about that for a view!” So, whether cloud forests, waterfalls, or sky bridges are your thing (or all of them on one hike!), check out one of the national parks and dig out your sturdiest walking boots. For the national parks, there is usually an entrance fee per individual. However, if you want to join with others to share the experience, join one of the many excellent tours. The guides really know their stuff and will show you the rich tapestry of animals, plants and waterfalls of Costa Rica. The organized tours are for expats as well as tourists, and meeting new friends couldn’t be easier.
Whether you’re thinking of a thrilling experience with friends or work colleagues, or a family experience to remember, white-water rafting in Costa Rica is the perfect day out. The best time to enjoy this exciting experience is in the green rainy season, when the rivers are at their fullest. Believe me, when it rains in Costa Rica, it really rains! One of the great places to enjoy white-water rafting is La Fortuna, frequently referred to as the “gateway” to the Arenal Volcano National Park and the adventure hub of Costa Rica. It is the perfect location to embark on a white-water rafting expedition, with a mix of high-adrenaline currents and the softer going areas where you can take a breather. However, like all other activities in Costa Rica, there is an abundance of options over a wide area of the country. For the family rafting experience, the Penas Blanca’s River is a great choice, where you and your family can coast down the river.
If you’re looking for somewhere in between Deliverance-style rapids and a sedate float, the Rio Balsa, located 50 minutes from La Fortuna and has both class II and class III rapids. A rafting tour down this tributary is ideal for the entire family. It isn’t too formidable, but vigorous enough to make it exhilarating. While paddling down the river, you will be surrounded by the beauty of the Costa Rican rain forest. This is an amazing way to experience the forest whilst simultaneously doing something thrilling. A colleague of mine, who moved his family of six to Costa Rica eight years ago, said that it was still the one adventure the kids never shut up about. His advice: “Don’t sit next to the kid with the motion sickness. Leave that to your partner!”
Wherever you choose to enjoy your day, and whatever activity you pick to create memories for a lifetime, remember that most people will mix and socialize in the evening. In many coastal towns and villages, the place comes alive with reggae music, funky bamboo bars and a wild nightlife. Surfers crowd the beaches, while nature-lovers explore the rain forests and foodies sample the exquisite cuisine. Wherever you choose, you are more than likely to make friends. However, if you don’t want to take any chances, many visitors find people to share these amazing experiences by visiting blogs written by expats in Costa Rica, joining Facebook or Yahoo groups, couch-surfing and joining local groups. There is really no excuse for not sharing that experience of a lifetime!