Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 5: The Pacific Rainforest from a Gondola

Destination: Jaco

Colorful heliconiaWhen I first saw the brochure for the "Tranopy Tour", I couldn't help but picture the latest craze to hit Jaco -- a canopy tour run completely by transvestites. After 9 pm, a different side of Jaco emerges, and Rayna and I had observed a fair number of these lovelies, which had apparently made a lasting impression on me.

The Tranopy Tour was in fact a combination aerial tram and canopy tour offered by Rainforest Aerial Trams Costa Rica, which has a sister tram tour at the Braulio Carillo National Park. This afternoon we would embark on another of their combo-tours, which included a nature walk through heliconia gardens and a serpentarium, followed by a 40-minute gondola ride high above the treetops.

Situated in a park of over 200 acres of primary and secondary rainforest, each gondola at the Pacific Rainforest Aerial Tram affords Medicinal plant gardenguests sweeping views of the Central Pacific while slowly climbing above the canopy layer. The park is located ten-minutes from Jaco, and many tours include roundtrip transportation to this popular attraction.

Rayna and I arrived just as the larger groups were winding down their tours, and the guides made sure to stagger each departure to help avoid large clusters of tourists. After watching a short video on the history of the park, we joined our naturalist guide Walter for a leisurely walk through the heliconia gallery.

Jumping pit viperHummingbirds zoomed by as we got a closer look at several species of bromeliad, and learned about the healing properties of cardamom, black pepper and begonia. We sampled lemongrass, mint and cinnamon leaves while ambling along the lush trails of the medicinal herb garden.

The serpentarium housed both venomous and non-venomous snakes endemic to Costa Rica, including the highly aggressive jumping pit viper and slightly less threatening boa constrictor. We also saw one of the world's most venomous snakes, the fer-de-lance, a common species in Costa Rica, known locally as the terciopelo.

Aerial tramWe boarded an open-air gondola for the 1.5-kilometer trip above towering ficus and fruit trees. Our guide looked for trogons, spider and white-faced monkeys and spotted a great potoo in the distance, an owl-like bird related to frogmouths and nightjars. While Rayna and Walter hurriedly passed the binoculars back and forth to spot this oddly-named creature, I thought they were putting me on. I had no idea a great potoo even existed or could incite such enthusiasm.

That evening we moved to the centrally-located Hotel Mar de Luz in downtown Jaco. Run by amiable Dutch owner Victor, who strives to offer a great value for the dollar, the hotel is warm and inviting with 29 comfortable suites, each with a kitchenette.

Mar de Luz hotel roomMar de Luz attracts an international crowd of families and young couples. The hotel grounds have two large pools, a full-service spa and reading area. We were impressed with the friendly staff that treated us with genuine hospitality.

The hotel is just two blocks from the ocean and walking distance from shops and restaurants. Jaco, like many developed beach towns has its share of troubles, but the staff at Mar de Luz make every effort to keep the grounds family-friendly (i.e. no drugs or prostitution).

Pools at Mar de LuzRayna and I appreciated the free Wi-fi available in the hotel's restaurant and got some work in before setting off for another culinary adventure.

A wide array of exceptional restaurants can be found in Jaco, and tonight we enjoyed the South East Asian fare of Pacific Bistro. We ended our day with a feast for the senses: Indonesian goreng noodles and Thai jumbo shrimp scampi. Jaco does have its benefits.

Day 5: The Pacific Rainforest from a Gondola in Pictures

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