Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 2: Adventure at Hacienda Pozo Azul

Destination: Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui

The telltale warble of an oropendola gently woke me at 7 a.m. Thinking myself an early riser, I was surprised to discover that all of the other guests at Hotel Gavilan Rio Sarapiqui were long gone. They had already devoured their morning gallo pinto (rice and beans) and departed for another day of adventure.

I left Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui and drove 20 minutes in the direction of La Virgen to Hacienda Pozo Azul -- a 2,000-acre working ranch and adventure center. From mountain biking and whitewater rafting to canopy tours and horseback rides, Pozo Azul is the ultimate adventure destination. Thrill-seekers looking for that next adrenaline rush can rappel down the Sarapiqui River canyon or zoom 1,000 feet across the river on a zip-line canopy tour.

Before joining their canopy tour, I had a couple of hours to explore the ranch's butterfly gallery, hiking trails (complete with Indiana Jones-style suspension bridges) and frog garden, where I got up close and personal with a few strawberry poison dart frogs, commonly called blue jeans for their vibrant indigo legs.

Our group of 20 (small by Hacienda Pozo Azul standards) geared up in helmets and harnesses, eager to speed above the canopy on one of the country's safest zip-line tours. Our friendly guides gave us a quick rundown on safety procedures before confidently clipping us in to the first of our nine zip lines. The cables ranged from 200-1000 feet in length, and most were 80-100 feet off the ground, high enough to get butterflies in our stomachs as we soared from one platform to the next.

I was flying alongside a group of students from North Carolina who cheerfully screamed varying forms of "Pura Vida!"(perhaps one time too many) as they took to the skies. The last cable carried us 1,000 feet across the Sarapiqui River, depositing our shaking bodies right next to the parking lot, where friends and family stood watching our smiling faces as we made the final descent.

Hacienda Pozo Azul is owned and run by the Quintanas, a Costa Rican family of nature lovers and entrepreneurs who clearly had great visions of ecotourism and adventure for this budding vacation destination. I was impressed by the genuine friendliness and hospitality of the ranch's staff and guides, and was looking forward to my horseback ride with them the following day.

It was late afternoon by the time I returned to Hotel Gavilan. Even though my travels were smack dab in the middle of the rainy season, I had been super lucky with the weather. The region of Sarapiqui is a true rainforest ecosystem, with no distinct wet or dry season (much like La Fortuna and Arenal), as it rains year-round. There are drier months, of course, but most days see at least some rainfall.

I took advantage of the hotel's empty Jacuzzi and enjoyed a sunset soak before dinner. Other guests straggled in as the light began to fade, and everyone gathered in the outdoor dining area for drinks and conversation. The hotel has both standard and superior suites, and will soon have four new rooms overlooking the lush gardens. Hotel Gavilan Rio Sarapiqui is perfect for visitors seeking a quiet and intimate lodge, with great wildlife watching and a homey atmosphere.

Day 2: Adventure at Hacienda Pozo Azul in Pictures

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