Lake Arenal
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You can always pull the car over
Like many adventurers, when we landed in San Jose our first plan was to get out of the city and into the country, which required a four or five hour taxi ride no matter which direction we chose. And when you leave the airport, you'll see the taxi drivers anticipate this. When you're going to be in the car this long, you obviously want to go with a friendly, helpful driver...not someone pushy or forceful, because you're going to know each other by the end. And many a Costa Rica frequenter calls that same cabbie up every time they land after forging a friendship. While our driver Rudy was informative and enthusiastic about his homeland, what we loved more than the recommendations was his willingness to pull over. Although the drive to Arenal is beautifully scenic, it's also curvy and bumpy, and we needed air every hour or two. This became the perfect opportunity to see our first landmarks, to stop at waterfalls and bridges over creeks rather than gas stations or restaurants, and why not? This route's a part of your trip, too and these are pieces of the whole gorgeous, exotic country. Don't hesitate to pull the car over, whether a taxi or a rental, to take in the air and the view and the sound of rushing water and to know you've arrived and that even more is on the way. You'll be ready to take this country on when you don't wait five hours to see and smell and feel it around you.
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Kayaking at Club Rio, The Springs Resort & Spa, Costa Rica
Club Rio Outdoor Center and Wildlife Preserve is located in The Springs Resort & Spa near the base of the Arenal Volcano in northwest Costa Rica. For $99 USD, you can opt for the mult-adventure package, which includes the Springs' hot springs (with three varying temperatures - all incredible!), a Costa Rican lunch, access to hiking trails and a wildlife sanctuary, and a choice of two other activities, one of which is kayaking. If you're a first-time river kayaker, there's no need to worry: the rapids are all Level 1. Though I defintely wobbled down some of the more slippery spots in the river, no one in our group fell out, so you'll probably be pretty safe, too. But, if kayaking isn't your thing, you can also go tubing alongside the kayaking group - no paddle needed. Loved it here - gorgeous river, comfortable boats, very skilled guides. The atmosphere is somewhat targeted to North American travelers, but their mission is unmistakably Costa Rican: to preserve the animals, the land, the waters, and the beauty of this stunning little country. Also, if you're interested, we went with TAM Travel, a local Costa Rican tour operator. They arranged everything for us!
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Feed the Toucans at Club Rio, Costa Rica
If you've ever wanted a family of toucans to jump on your arms or eat mushed papaya out of your hands, Club Rio's Wildlife Center is definitely the place to do it. For one, their Wildlife Preserve (which is part of the larger Club Rio Outdoor Center), works in conjunction with the Ministry of the Environment and Energy to rescue and offer a safe space for animals that have been stolen by poachers or kept as illegal pets. All of their habitats are spacious, full of natural plants and animals, and well-cared for. All of the toucans are used to human interaction by now, too (because of their difficult pasts, they can never be returned to the wild), so when you enter their habitat, they'll be ready to jump all over you in the hopes that you'll let them nibble fresh papaya out of your hand. On top of the toucan awesomeness, you can also see PLENTY of cats (which is a huge plus in my cat-loving book): two pumas, eight ocelots, five margays, and one jaguarundi. We went with TAM Travel, a local Costa Rican tour operator. They arranged everything for us!
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