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Waterfalls and Jungle Tours: Introducing my Parents to "Pura Vida" in Costa Rica

I was fortunate enough to have my Dad and Stepmom come visit me! I was so excited for them to be able to experience the country that I have been calling home for the past month, and introduce them to the Pura Vida lifestyle. We went to Manuel Antonio, which is located in Puntarenas, about a two and a half hour drive south of San José. It is the perfect combination of beach and rainforest and has one of the best national parks in the world.

The reaction I got from some locals when I told them my parents and I were driving to Manuel Antonio was the same every time; they all wished me luck because driving in Costa Rica is loco (crazy). To my surprise, it was not that difficult AT ALL. Luckily the highway was brand new and our GPS took us directly to our hotel.

Tip: If you plan on renting a car, pay the extra cost for the GPS, it is definitely vale la pena (worth the pain) because Costa Rica does not have addresses; they use reference points. I’m sure you can imagine that this is a nightmare for gringos trying to locate anything in this country! 

The purpose of this trip was for a little adventure and a lot of relaxation, which is exactly what we needed. Instead of rushing out the door everyday (like a typical morning in our household), we were able to soak in the breathtaking view and sip on some local brew (which my dad LOVED since he is the ultimate coffee feind). Although we spent the majority of the time at the beach, lounging by the pool and enjoying Manuel Antonio and Quepos, I am going expand on our “little” adventure and to tell you about one of the best experiences of my life!

My stepmom came across “The Vacation Buggy” on TripAdvisor as one of the top excursions in Manuel Antonio. Do not let the name fool you, this was not a rickety old “buggy”. This was a full throttle cross between an ATV and a golf cart that was capable of maneuvering through the treacherous terrain of the nearby mountain and rainforest. I was so excited that my friend Caroline was able to join my parents and I on this incredible adventure. The four of us plus Don drove through small towns with breathtaking views and gradually made our way to the top of the mountain. We encountered a tremendous amount of vegetation, smaller scale waterfalls, and occasionally some locals who called this isolated terrain their home.

Our first stop was a 400 foot long suspension bridge in “Los Campesinos”. I threw my fear of heights out the window and gradually made my way across while attempting to take as many pictures and videos as I could of the waterfalls and jungle below my feet. With my palms sweating and hands trembling, I was completely in awe. We hiked down the hill on the other side to a swimming hole with a small waterfall where we could swim and relax.

Our next stop completely blew me away. We crossed the bridge back to the other side and hiked downhill and alongside a river for about twenty minutes. Little did I know that I was now standing hundreds of feet below where we just were, amongst the very waterfalls we were just suspended above! This was called the “Valley of Waterfalls” where multiple waterfalls converged into the same river. My step moms jaw dropped as we looked up at the tiny bridge we had just crossed. We were able to stand under the waterfalls, swim, and even climb up the side of the smaller one. 

Don, the owner and head tour guide exceeded my expectations. Even though he is an American he is extremely knowledgeable about the area, has established relationships with many Ticos, and is passionate about “spreading the wealth” among the local economy. He embodies the Pura Vida lifestyle like a true Tico, which he is able to share with others while experiencing the natural wonders of this country. It was truly an incredible experience and the best part was that I was able to experience it with a great friend and my parents.

¡Pura Vida!

Emily Franks is the Fall 2013 CEA MOJO in San José, Costa Rica. She is currently a junior at the DePaul University in Chicago, IL. 

Here you can find Don’s gallery of photos, video footage of the entire tour, and book a future tour, which I HIGHLY recommend if you plan on going to Manuel Antonio during your study abroad!

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