Story taken from a piece written by VBT travelers in the Marietta Times.
Whenever you decide to leave the cold winter weather to go somewhere that’s warmer, you face the prospect of being delayed by that aforementioned cold winter weather.
My husband Joe and I booked a trip to Costa Rica for the end of January. Leaving out of Akron well before sunrise, we had to be de-iced twice, and the runway had to be plowed. Luckily, all went well and we arrived in Costa Rica early afternoon.
This was our fourth trip with a company called VBT. It offers worldwide bicycling and walking vacations. We have never gone wrong with them before, and this last trip met the same high standards.
There were 19 people from all over the country, and two tour guides from Costa Rica participating in daily bicycle rides and sight-seeing activities. We look at their tours as a means of discovery — not as an athletic event. They are designed to provide exposure to diverse, local cultures and landscapes from the seat of a bicycle. Active vacations provide us a way to see places we’ve never seen and do things we love to do.
Our tour started in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. On the first day we had a bike-fitting session, followed by a warm-up ride. We were then shuttled to San Ramon, home of many Costa Rican presidents and poets. Lunch was in a cloud forest, followed by an amazing zip-line experience. Now here’s where I have to mention that my fear of heights provided a perfect excuse for watching everyone else take the “canopy tour.” But when I realized what I would be able to view from flying through the rain forest, I had to do it, or never forgive myself! For the last of the eight rides we flew face down like Superman! I don’t believe I ever heard Superman scream, or laugh like I did though. Wow! What a high!
Our second morning started with an early guided bird watching walk. Our naturalist explained how rain forests sustain themselves. It was truly fascinating.
Please note: Costa Rica is not flat. Our first full ride was about 21 miles long — again not flat. Beautiful, enjoyable and tiring. We rode to La Fortuna, in the foothills of the Arenal Volcano — the youngest in Costa Rica, first erupting about 7,000 years ago. We were told that the clouds almost always obscure the view of the top of the volcano, so we were extremely lucky that day that we got to see the top, venting steam.
The next day began with a scenic boat ride along the especially picturesque Lake Arena shore, to our ride’s starting point. We rode about 20 miles along the lake’s shore by rolling fields and forests. Lake Arenal is Costa Rica’s largest lake, and is crucial to the country’s energy production, providing nearly 70% of the country’s electricity through a hydroelectric dam completed in 1979. Another highlight of that day was our tour guide screaming the noise of the howler monkey, way up in the trees, and the monkeys responding with the same sound.
Generally, the VBT tours offer bike riding each day, and other sight-seeing experiences. Our adventure for the next day was a river rafting safari on the Penas Blancas River. We drifted by lush rain forest, volcanic hot springs and cascading waterfalls. We saw lizards, monkeys, toucans, herons and an alligator, as well as many beautiful native plants and butterflies. Interesting to note that 25% of the country’s land has been set aside for conservation.
One truly exceptional part of this day was stopping at the farm of a friend of one of our tour guides. They have cows, horses, chickens, wild turkeys and a peacock. They make their own cheese there. The last of the oldest generation died recently at 102. Three generations of the family still live there, including two of his daughters who have never married. Electricity was put in to the home only after the grandfather died. The home is nearly impossible to get to unless you come in a boat. It was like a still-existing piece of history!
On the last day of the trip we took a shuttle to the top of the Poas Volcano, which has seen only occasional eruptions since 1828. We were all hoping that day wasn’t the next. After observing the crater in the top of the volcano, we rode down from it to a family owned fruit stand where we snacked on local strawberries and cheese.
We had some time that afternoon to explore on our own, so Joe and I took a walk on the botanical path and explored the orchid house and the two beautiful waterfalls on the grounds of the hotel. The tropical climate allows for so many different plants and animals than we see at home.
Then our final dinner was at a local family’s home. It was exquisitely prepared and served. Dinner for 21 people at one time from your home kitchen can’t be easy, but they did it beautifully.
What were my favorite parts of the trip? Definitely how lush and green everything is there; how exhilarating the zip-lining was — I have conquered a fear! Hearing the birds and seeing the variety of plant life; meeting new people with like interests, and sharing stories. And in general, what a fulfilling experience we had in a country with such a variety of sights and sounds.
I really believe that travel is transformative — physically, emotionally and spiritually. And that it is the surest way to become the best version of yourself.
About VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations
VBT offers 59 deluxe, small group bicycling and walking tours in 27 different countries, including destinations to Italy, France, and other destinations throughout Europe, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Vietnam, Peru, Chile, South Africa, and the United States. Each trip includes all accommodations, many meals, two expert local Trip Leaders, unique sightseeing and cultural activities and on-tour vehicle support. Unlike other companies, VBT also includes roundtrip international airfare from over 30 U.S. cities and select Canadian cities for all overseas vacations. In 2017, VBT was rated by the readers of Travel + Leisure among the “World’s Best Tour Operators” for the seventh consecutive year. www.vbt.com.
Even when considering the pantheon of ancient architecture from all over the world, the ruins of Machu Picchu are in a class by themselves.
The remnants of this Incan city and UNESCO World Heritage Site, located at the foot of a mountain and surrounded by thick verdant forest, are reminders of the majesty of the Incan civilization from nearly five centuries ago. It’s a clear highlight of our Peru: Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley walking vacation.
Not far from the wonder of Machu Picchu live Peruvians who do their own part to preserve the country’s traditions through the practice of unique artistic disciplines.