Costa Rican Honeymoon: San José and the Pacuare River

Costa Rica is famous for its white water rafting scene.  People come from all over the world to raft here and the Pacuare River is destination numero uno.  Although I’d never white water rafted before, we decided we couldn’t pass up this opportunity.  Plus, there was a hotel nestled in the jungle along this river that I was DYING to experience.  We may have gotten a little more than we bargained for, but one thing is for sure, we will NEVER forget our final few days of honeymooning in Costa Rica.

While planning our trip, I Googled the most stunning honeymoon suites in Costa Rica and found The Pacuare Lodge.  This lodge is listed amongst the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World.  I didn’t know this, I just thought it was gorgeous.  You could book a treehouse with a private pool and we had to try it out.  It wasn’t until we were half way through our honeymoon that we realized why this place was so unique.  The only way to get there was to get picked up in San José at your hotel, take a bus ride for a few hours East and then white water raft two more hours down river.  You are also allowed very limited luggage as it has to also arrive at the lodge by raft.

Scott and I arrived in San José (TERRIBLE TRAFFIC), got a quick bite at McDonald’s, and settled in at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.  Then we spend the rest of the evening attempting to pack ONE backpack with enough clothes for both of us to last three days knowing that we would also need clothes to get wet on the rafting trip.  It was a challenge…I don’t pack light usually.

The next morning we got up super early and grabbed a quick bite at the hotel (I had more amazing mango that I couldn’t get enough of) and waited for our river guide to pick us up.  Our luggage would remain at the Crowne Plaza until we got back.  Our river guide, Danny, showed up right on time and we drove through the city to pick up another couple.  As we drove, Danny told us about his trips to California, Oregon and other parts of the U.S. where he spends time as a river guide and his passion for life on the river.  Then we stopped at Bocadito Del Cielo for a bite of second breakfast.  This name of the restaurant translates to Little Taste of Heaven because it sits overlooking stunning views of the valley.

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Some views of the drive through San José
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Views from breakfast

Finally, we arrived at the Pacuare River.  We were taught on the spot how to raft while we were geared up and our luggage was handed over to a skilled rafter named Rafa.  We were taught commands so we knew when to paddle forward and backward and when to jump inside the raft or lean.

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The start of our rafting journey

At first, I was terrified of rafting.  Especially since I was brand new and would be starting out on Class 3 and 4 rapids.  Scott had been rafting in Oregon, but failed to mention this until after I’d had a few moments of panicking.  It only took a couple big rapids, however, for me to LOVE it!  I was smiling and laughing pretty much the entire trip and the two hours which had seemed so daunting went by in a flash.  We did have one break where we were able to visit a secluded little waterfall and take a swim.   Of course, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity and we were the only ones to jump right in the river, clothes and all.  We did learn later that the Pacuare River is full of piranha, but they have soft teeth and aren’t dangerous to humans.  We also saw the biggest spider I’ve seen to date sitting on a rock that our raft got VERY close to, and enjoyed watching different birds in their natural, untouched environments.

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Eventually, we rafted by a couple of extremely remote and off-the-grid cabins before arriving on the banks of the Pacuare Lodge.

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We were then escorted to the Honeymoon Suite which was a short hike up from the main lodge and restaurant for seclusion.  Our suite was nestled right up against the jungle and raised up a hillside so as to be in the canopy and turned into a treehouse.  This was by far the most gorgeous hotel room I’ve ever been in.  It was made out of rich woods with a tree platform, hanging bridge, hammock, private pool, 4-poster bed, glass walls, and an outdoor shower.  We were then informed that there was no electricity except for in the main lobby and we would need a solar flashlight, rubber boots and an umbrella.  We also told that when we came down for dinner (which was served at a very specific time) a worker would come to our room and light a whole bunch of candles for us.  Being near the equator, the sun sets around 6PM all year round.  We were given two choices for dinner and were asked to make our selections and were left to rest after the long travel and rafting day.

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The pool and the bridge to the tree platform

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The cute little sign they made for us
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View to the tree platform
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Walking back towards the room
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View of the room from the tree platform
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Enjoying the hammock and the deck
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A teeny tiny lizard we found in our curtains

We were so secluded that we didn’t even both to unpack our swimsuits to test out our private pool.  It was cold but so refreshing after a rafting workout in the humid jungle.  Then we quickly changed into dry clothes and went down for lunch.  Our river guides became our servers and chefs at the lodge restaurant!  They served us an elegant spinach soup, mushroom tomato penne, coconut flan and some DELICIOUS beers that they brewed onsite.  After lunch, we went upstairs from the restaurant to the bar and ordered some tasty sangria, the spiciest margarita ever and sweet coconut mojitos.

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Finally, we were just exhausted.  We went back up to our paradise room, watched some downloaded shows on our iPad and had a long nap with all the doors open.

Since dinner was at a specific time, we had to get up from our nap and head down not long after.  The restaurant was also without electricity so we were seated with candle light and had to bring our solar lamp everywhere.  We enjoyed really good wine, bread, and squash ginger soup.  Scott’s entree was steak with eggplant puree and potatoes while I had a tuna steak with green beans and rice.  Dessert was a passionfruit mousse for me and a chocolate torte for him (he made the right choice this time…yum).  The daily menu was designed and executed by locals without formal training but with an inherent love for cuisine.  I thought it was super unique and everything we ate was awesome!

After dinner was when the real adventures began.  We went back to our room in pitch black and got ready to brush our teeth.  As we rounded the corner to our bathroom we saw a HUGE cockroach stuck on his back in the hall.  It wasn’t moving so Scott grabbed some tissue to try and pick him up and throw him outside.  My job was to hold a phone flashlight so he could see in the dim candlelight.  Of course, as soon as he touched the roach it started moving furiously and we both screamed and then he didn’t have any light and comedy ensued.  He tried two more times before finally getting it outside.

Unfortunately, that was only the beginning.  Our bathroom was backed right up into the jungle and wasn’t very well sealed.  There were two spiders hanging out waiting for us and almost no light to see by.  We knew this was going to be a long night at this point.  There were a few small insects on the mosquito nets surrounding our bed AND another layer surrounding the entire bedroom.  This got in our heads and we felt like bugs were everywhere.  After watching some more shows we tried to blow out our candles and go to sleep, but we kept feeling bugs crawling on us (probably just in our imagination) and had to relight a candle and keep it burning all night for our sanity.  At one point I got up and went to the bathroom on my own and saw a shadow on the ground.  When I put my phone’s flashlight on it, I saw that it was a massive cave dwelling spider.  From that point on neither of us went to the bathroom alone or got much sleep.  As terrifying and restless as this night was, Scott and I were totally bonded over our mutual fear of creepy crawlies and the fact that we loved each other enough to accompany each other to the bathroom over and over.  Like I said, we’ll never forget it.

The next day we were scheduled for two serious activities: an extreme seven hour hike and a candlelit dinner in the treetops that we had to zipline to get to.  At breakfast we were surrounded by bees and ants and we had just had a night full of bugs.  We realized that a dinner in the treetops where we wouldn’t be able to really see our surroundings was more than we could handle.  We knew we would be exhausted from our hike and, frankly, couldn’t handle the idea of new and exciting bugs to befriend.  So, we canceled our dinner and got ready for the hike.

This was the most difficult hike we’ve done to date.  Due to the wetness and wildness of the jungle, we had to do the entire thing in rubber boots and long socks or pants.  We were warned about bullet ants (a bite from one of these will paralyze you and give you extreme fever for a couple of days) and poisonous snakes and spiders.  After we were shown the bullet ants we recognized them from right outside our suite…great…However, this hike was a truly incredible experience.  We had two guides: a Costa Rican named Edgar and an indigenous local named William.  They were incredibly kind and knowledgeable and let us practice our Spanish with them.  Their aptitude and fitness for the jungle was astounding.

The jungle was insanely humid and we went through several large canisters of water.  Walking sticks were entirely necessary for the steep and slippery terrain.  At one point, we crested a hill and could see over the canopy.  A breeze from the Caribbean came through and was the most refreshing thing I could imagine at the time.  We walked past indigenous villages and farms completely hidden within the jungle.  The final destination, however, was a hidden waterfall that we could only reach by repelling down a sheer rock face.  Here we had lunch, stripped off our rubber boots, and took a lonnngggg, well deserved rest.

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Getting ready: Scott looking fine in his rubber boots
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The indigenous village
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Trekking through pretty untamed trails
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A look up at the canopy
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The start of the repel
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Finally reaching the waterfall

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Our awesome guides

The trek back was long and painful, but it was totally worth it.  At one point, Edgar found a jaguar den and we had to be very quiet and walk really close together.  Honestly, I was more scared of the spiders in our room, but I had heard of guides and tourists being stalked and snatched by jaguars.

When we returned to the lodge we enjoyed coffee and cookies and hung out near the river for a while before dinner time.  This time we I had duck and Scott had pork ribs.  I honestly still think about this duck dinner, it was SO good.  Night two really didn’t go much better than night 1 and our spider friends returned to torment us.

The next day we were due to raft back West towards San José and return by bus to the Crown Plaza.  We packed up, said goodbye to the spiders and went down for breakfast and to wait for our river guides once again.  While we were waiting, Edgar (our guide from the day before) grabbed us and told us he had something that I’d been waiting to see.  He had set up a telescope and told me to look through it towards a treetop.  On our very last full day in Costa Rica, I finally saw a wild sloth!!!  I was so happy! It was sleeping, but I could still see it really well and watched as it breathed as slowly as you would expect a sloth to breathe.  He also showed us a glass frog which camouflages with its eggs perfectly on the bottom of leaves, a blue jeans frog which is very loud and colorful, and a green iguana-type lizard which was so well camouflaged that we had to look directly at it several times to see it.

On the four hour rafting trip back, we went through much more advanced rapids.  At one point the guide turned the raft completely backward so we wouldn’t see the size of the upcoming rapid.  Apparently he didn’t trust us not to spook and ignore his commands, but it was so fun.  We stopped along the banks and the river guides turned our raft into a buffet and served us a lunch of fruit, salad, sweet tea and delicious chicken burritos.  This is when we were shown the piranhas.  You could throw a piece of cheese into the river and a SWARM of fish would destroy it.  We let them eat out of our hands and felt their soft teeth.

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On the bank where we had lunch and fed piranhas

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The raft buffet
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For this trip we had to have a safety kayaker for the more dangerous rapids

When we resumed rafting, we came upon a canyon and everyone jumped off the raft to float through the green waters and admire the scenery.  It was truly a moment of peaceful surrender for all of us.

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The canyon with a primitive bridge
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Clearly I’m enjoying the float

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Finally, we finished our river adventure, took the bus back to the Crowne Plaza, had some sushi and crashed out in Costa Rica for the last time.  In the morning, we returned our rental car which had driven us all over the country, went to the airport, bought some more amazing coffee, and got on the plane that ended our honeymoon.

We chose Costa Rica because we wanted adventure in a beautiful, relaxing place.  Honestly, we had mostly adventure and not much relaxing, but that’s more our style anyways.  Maybe next time we’ll spend our days on the Caribbean side and take in more of the beach life, but there’s really way too much to experience in the land of Pura Vida.

3 thoughts on “Costa Rican Honeymoon: San José and the Pacuare River

  1. Saralee

    Alex and Scott, what a wonderful descriptive sharing of your Costa Rican adventure. I laughed out loud while enjoying your story, and felt so happy for you.
    May your life together always be so wonderful.
    Love you, grandma

    Like

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