Pura Vida: Visiting Rincon de la Vieja and Playa Carrillo in Costa Rica

¡Hola and Feliz Año Nuevo! I’m back in Dallas ready to start 2018 and am fresh off my big adventure to Costa Rica! Several months ago, my mom and I decided to take our yearly mother-daughter adventure to Costa Rica and opted to travel with REI Adventures.  This was my first experience with an organized travel company and letting go of the reins for planning, and I am so glad I did! The value was exceptional, and I don’t think we could have seen as much or done as many activities without being part of the guide-led group. We often ordered meals ahead so they were ready for us when we arrived at the restaurant, travel was taken care of with a personal bus, and we were moved ahead of individual travelers for some activities. We lucked out by having two other families on our group – one was a family of five from Chicago and one was a family of four from New York City. Our collective group was supportive and fun and we all got along great! Below is a recap of the first half of my Costa Rican trip visiting Rincon de la Vieja and Playa Carrillo.

Day 1: Travel from Tampa, Florida to Liberia, Costa Rica

I was in Tampa for Christmas with my family, so my mom and I travelled to Costa Rica together. Upon arrival, we were greeted by our guide and driver at the airport and transported to Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin in Rincon de la Vieja. This sustainably focused eco-tourism hotel is family-owned, and I loved feeling like we were truly in the middle of the National Park and experiencing the best of Guanacaste.

A view of the rooms at Hacienda Guachipelin

The horses on property at Hacienda Guachipelin

Day 2:  Ziplining, hiking to a waterfall, tubing and hot springs

This was our most action-packed day of adventure! We started the morning by ziplining and rappelling through the canyon for two hours. This was the longest amount of timed I have ziplined and I loved every second of it! We even got to rock climb to a pier after completing one zipline.

Next, we took a 2-mile hike through a dry tropical forest to Chorrera Falls. This waterfall meets up with the Blanco River, and we got to jump in a swim for about an hour before heading back for lunch.

Swimming in Chorrera Falls

The view of Chorrera Falls

After lunch, we packed up and headed out for our tubing adventure down the rapids of Rio Negro. This was so much fun! We tubed about 2.5 miles and encountered about 25 rapids with contrasting stretches of calm river currents. I shouted and squealed the whole way down the river, much to our guides’ enjoyment!

Our day still wasn’t over! Next, we headed to the Rio Negro Hot Springs, which are naturally heated by the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano – the largest and most active volcano in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. I tried the heated volcanic clay before washing it off in the hot springs.

Day 3: Hiking

We went on an extended hike through Rincón de la Vieja National Park and got to see the many different environments on a single 8.5-mile strenuous hike. We spotted white-throated Capuchin and coati in their natural habitat, and our turn-around point was at the beautiful Cangreja Falls.

After a well-earned lunch, we took a shorter and less difficult 1.5-mile hike to see the geothermal area filled with boiling hot mud springs and fumaroles. Smooth gray volcanic mud bubbled and exploded in large pits. It reeked of rotten eggs due to the Sulphur, but was still a unique experience.

Day 4: Travel, Snorkeling and Kayaking

We left Rincon de la Vieja and headed along the Pacific coastline to Playa Carrillo along the Nicoya Peninsula. During our drive, we stopped at a restaurant with gorgeous mountainside views.

After reaching Playa Carrillo, we started our time at the beach with kayaking and snorkeling. I was so excited to snorkel and swim freely that I accidentally followed the wrong kayak guide and found myself with a different group. Woops! I swam through some tough waves and passed rocks before realizing that everybody in my group probably wouldn’t enjoy the tough swim, and questioning how the others were faring. I looked up and then realized I was following a blue kayak, not the yellow kayak my guide was in. I turned around and swam back to join my group. In the words of Bob Ross, I’m calling it a happy accident because I got to swim farther and really enjoyed my time in the water!

We then kayaked about 2 miles back to the beach and enjoyed some delicious fresh fruit.  We checked into our modern digs at the Nammbú Beachfront Bungalows and enjoyed another delicious group dinner.

Kayaking back to shore

Our view from breakfast at Nammbú Beachfront Bungalows

Day 5: Stand up paddleboarding and surfing

I have wanted to try stand up paddleboarding for years, and have really built up the experience in my mind. I wanted my first experience to be someplace exotic and unique, and I am thrilled I wanted to do it at Samara Beach! As expected, I was wobbly at first. But the guides gave excellent instruction and I found myself off and paddling in no time! I could see myself doing SUP on a regular basis, but of course that depends on where I live and access to water.

After SUPing in the morning and then lunch, I opted for the afternoon surfing lesson along with three others in my group. Continuing my day of firsts, this was my first attempt at surfing. Again, we had excellent guides that gave really detailed instruction.


Heading out to surf

I stood up and surfed several times! It was a lot of fun and I’m really glad I did it, but I discovered that I actually had more fun paddling – I guess that’s the swimmer in me! I would probably enjoy bodyboarding more, so I’ve added that to my list of activities to try!

Day 6: Travel and conclude with REI Adventures

Sadly, this was our last day with the REI Adventures group. Our guides transported us from Playo Carrillo back to the Liberia airport, and then my mom and I were on our own for the second half of our Costa Rican adventure.

Enjoying our final sunset in Playa Carrillo

Final thoughts on my first REI Adventures experience

I had such a great time with the group and am already searching for my next experience through REI Adventures. It was so well organized and I thought well worth the value. Have you ever travelled with an organized group before? What was your experience like? Drop a comment or tweet me!

Next up, a recap of our time in La Fortuna and San Jose!