Experiencing Costa Rica the Second Time Around

February 21, 2023   4 Comments »

Experiencing Costa Rica the Second Time Around

May 2, 2019 4 Comments »


I stared at Arenal shrouded in clouds; it looked the same as it did when I visited in 2003. However, the town around it – La Fortuna – had changed immensely. It was more established and ready to handle tourism. The restaurants all had English menus and served cappuccinos. Humans and society change fast, while nature seems to change slowly.

I love revisiting countries I went to before I was a writer. I enjoy seeing how they’ve changed and developed from a tourism perspective. Plus – I think when I travel as a writer I tend to take much more in and really experience the place in a different way than I did when I was escaping for my annual vacation.

I first went to Costa Rica in 2003 with my girlfriend Angie; we traveled independently. I was a novice traveler, but Angie and I made our way through the country hiking, zip-lining (I question the safety of that now in 2003!), enjoying wildlife, drinking lots of cerveza, meeting boys, and working on our tans at the beach (likely with SPF 10)! Travel was different back then…and apparently so was my metabolism and waistline.

Costa Rica By Small Group Tour

“I’ve never taken a small group tour; I normally travel independently.” That’s the normal reaction I get when I tell people I’m going on a small group tour. It’s as if all they hear is the word “group” and they immediately get visions of coach buses and following a guide with a flag. I get it – it makes me cringe too. But don’t overlook the word “small”. Small groups are normally around 10 people; my Costa Rica tour only had 5 on it! There is no coach bus and flag-carrying tour guide herding you up. Instead, it’s actually a lot of fun!

costa rica small group tour
Our group spotting animals in the rainforest!

I understand the trepidation though – as I too like to travel independently and have done a great deal of travel that way. However, I have found small group tours to be just as fun and immersive as my independent travel. The key is that the small group trip still allows you time to be individual and make your own script. And the recent trip I took with Club Adventures was a good example of how small group tours can be an incredible way to see and be immersed in a country, while still remaining an individual.

The Route

This return trip would take me back to some of the same places, but this time there was more local interaction, local experiences, and of course more SPF, less beer and boys.

Costa Rica is in a prime location; think of it as the little, narrow center of an hourglass – where the sand squeezes through and connects the two primary parts. That is Costa Rica’s role in North and South America; the land bridge. When the land bridge formed it provided a way for all animals to pass from one area to the other. Because of that, it’s left with an incredible amount of biodiversity. It may only have 0.03% of the surface land in the world, but that small area packs a big punch.

My stops this time included La Fortuna (Arenal Volcano), Tortuguero National Park, and Puerto Viejo. This was a perfect diversity of locations; inland volcanoes for hiking and rugged adventure, canals and wildlife viewing, and a stop in a laid-back beach town.

Never too Old for Adventure

One thing that hasn’t changed in the last 15 years is my love of being active when I’m on vacation. This trip to Costa Rica was full of adventures in each region we went to.

Hiking at Arenal

How does it feel to hike on some of the newest lands on the planet? Well – it doesn’t have that ‘new car smell’, but it was pretty cool knowing that the soil beneath our feet was the result of a 50-year transformation from lava rock to the soil to the forest. Arenal Volcano last erupted 50 years ago and lava flowed down the side forming the land that we hiked on!

With a Local Insider, we took off on a beautiful hike up to a great viewing point of Arenal Volcano. When I first went to Costa Rica this was an active volcano that occasionally had lava seeping out of it; that was the big draw. However, the lava stopped in 2010, so now it’s the hiking and hot springs that draw people in!


Ziplining has come a long way since I went back in 2003! While at La Fortuna we did a ziplining tour that had us flying through the rainforest at great speeds! I think it’s so important to push yourself into things that scare you, and that’s exactly what I did while ziplining in Costa Rica. It seems that ziplining companies are now adding ‘extras’ and somehow I got talked into an ‘extra’ on something called the Tarzan Swing. While in the zipline harness, you basically jump off a platform (short free-fall) and then swing super high in the tree like Tarzan! I’m scared of heights and was totally freaking out prior to being let go and falling off the platform! But I did it…and after the initial loss of my stomach, the screams turned to laughter!