It is with heavy heart that I have to tell you: I am back in the freezing London after 2 weeks of what can easily be called trip of a lifetime (at least for me and at least so far). After two weeks of cycling across the stunning Costa Rica in hot temperature and extreme humidity, two weeks of having rice and peas at least twice a day and staying in some breathtaking places left me close to tears on the last day. And that wasn’t only because of the 5.5hours of delay in Houston, courtesy of United Airlines, which meant camping at the airport from 6pm until 2:20am the next day.
If I were to give Costa Rica and the amazing trip and people I met over the last two weeks justice, this post would take days to write and read so I decided to approach it differently and make it a sort of advertisement for outdoor cycling – as if it needed one 🙂
Flora & fauna in Costa Rica
I have never been anywhere like it! Wherever you turn you see birds of every colour, size and type. There are all kinds of herons, egrets, hawks, vultures, stunning and loud macaws and the amazing toucans. Unfortunately I only had my iPhone with me and that was not good enough to capture the birds but I have seen them all.
Some places like Tortuguero can only be described as butterfly madness.
Plants? Flowers? Don’t get me started on that. From all kinds of gingers, cocoa, oil palms, pineapple fields, sugar cane, coffee, banana plantations, star fruit, palms, the list is never ending…
I was gobsmacked with all the colours and wonders around me. I had a big grin on even when I was in my room on my own.
Yes, there were creepy crawlies like the massive spiders outside some of the cabins. Or the big squashed tarantula on the road which gave me the creeps. Or the slithering garden snake outside one of the rooms in Tortuguero but we also saw a sloth scratching itself high up in the tree, we saw capuchin and squirrel monkeys, we were woken up by howler monkeys on more than one occasion.
There were iguanas we saw in the branches on our boat trips but there were also a few massive ones in the trees in a local park where we stopped for a short rest. You know, the way you see squirrels in London. You look up and there is a huge iguana chilling in the shade.
Not to mention that on one of the first days we saw these:
We also saw a little crock from a little bridge on a river that we were cycling through. It was all a bit surreal. And our guide was fantastic at spotting all these wonders.
Food in Costa Rica
If you are a cyclist you know that if you face a long ride or a short but hilly one it’s important to fuel up beforehand. We all know about the benefits of slow energy releasing porridge etc right? Wrong. I have been converted: RICE AND PEAS rule! We had breakfasts and lunches the Costa Rican way. That means loads of fruit, yes. Great coffee, yes. Juices – especially the fresh fruit frozen in portions and then put through a blender with some water – mhmmm… But also rice and peas (black beans) at least twice a day. And eggs. Huevos. Scrambled huevos. And plantain. This is like rocket fuel people! And my IBS didn’t mind it either 🙂
Don’t get me wrong: you can get burgers, pizza etc but “casados”: rice and peas + chicken/beef/pork/fish, are the staple. And plantain. Boiled or fried. Loads of it.
You also get to taste bananas, watermelon and pineapples that were picked RIPE and not green and RIPENED AT HOME. What a difference. And a welcome refreshment midmorning when you are on the road. especially when the bus driver takes them out from the cooler.
Oh, and you can drink water from the tap. Everywhere. Yes, it tastes like water from the tap but the point is – it’s safe to drink it.
I just came back yesterday so 21st of November and we got there on the 7th. It is almost the end of the rain season which meant hot but dry (as in clear skies but humid in most places) until 1-2pm. Then generally the downpours start. They are very warm though but can be torrential and last for quite some time. Not fun to cycle through. But the rains finish in December so that is something to consider.
Temperature? It was about 25 to 30-something degrees all the time. Apart from the high altitude places in the mountains. Hot hot hot! You can take waterproof jacket for hikes but believe me – you will boil wearing them so it is better to get a bit wet…
I went out there with Exodus who I went cycling with before and it has proved again to be a company worth recommending. You can check out their offer here. There were people in my group who have done 20 trips with them and have never been disappointed.
Costa Rica is a poor country and when you look at the houses as you pass by through villages and small towns you can see people live simple life – even though they all have smart phones 🙂 The accommodation we were put in over the two weeks though was incredible. There were couple of basic places especially in big towns like Fortuna where the room looked more like a motel room but all the remote location were dreamy.
Warning: little lizards you can sometimes find on the walls in your bedroom? Harmless and eat all the mosquitos. Use loads of bug repellent anywhere you are. Nights in the jungle are very noisy: insects, frogs and some very annoying birds. Then the howler monkeys. Sometimes bats fighting with birds on your roof. Sometimes things running on the deck of your cabin? You may want NOT to check what that is. Just use earplugs 🙂
Cycling in Costa Rica
We spent two weeks on these beauties:
These were really MTBs with suspension but they were perfect as we had a couple of days off road. Same gearing as my beloved Pinnacle Hybrid made it very easy to ride. And when caught up in rain or on gravel etc they give you a great grip. We spent a few days cycling on the PanAmerican highway with loads of traffic, big lorries, buses and four-by-fours. They are noisy and fast however the road is really wide so you don’t feel squashed and you soon get used to the noise etc.
The bikes we were provided with had the Cat’s Eye odometers and then I used Strava to document our rides.
Costa Rica is made for cycling. In some parts the hills are crazy difficult and the heat makes it twice as hard to climb them. And the altitude. Then the descents are deadly in places because of all the tight turns and oncoming lorries. I managed to record a little over 40mph downhill which is a record for me.
Unfortunately I got into a bit of health problems right before the day when we were to face the hardest 8km climb and all I could do was to be the team photographer:
Who is this type of trip for?
EVERYONE! Man, you would not believe the fitness and determination of my team of 16 🙂 Were they pros? Nope. Apart from Brendan who was nothing short of a tank on that worst hill and climbed to the top even before the tour guide 🙂 Elaine only started cycling outdoors 3 months ago.
I didn’t ask everyone for their age but I know the youngest in the group was 34 (the mechanic was 19 but he’s a Paralympian cyclist – yes, you have heard that right) but there were people in their 50s, 60s and maybe more than that.
One of us (I hope he doesn’t mind me mentioning it) is even a Parkinson sufferer who keeps fit by cycling around the world with his wife. We all had one thing in common though – the love of cycling and the great outdoors.
Our guide Memo and Dionisio (our mechanic) took turns at leading and closing the group and we could all cycle at our own pace which was fantastic. And having the bus with us all the time meant that when I got into trouble I could just follow everyone from the bus. A couple of times when the temperature soared a few more people chose the bus for a part of the day too.
At the end of each day though we all smelled just as bad as each other regardless of age and profession, we were all just as hungry as each other and we could not wait to cycle again the next day.
I could not have asked for a better group of support team in Costa Rica. I think my next trip may be this one (the one I thought I had booked all along):
Have you been on a cycling holiday? Would you recommend it? Did you organise it alone or used a tour operator? I did a few long weekends with family and friends like Amsterdam or Norfolk or West Sussex using just Airbnb accommodation. If you have any questions about my trip just drop a line in the comments.