Of all the adventure sports one might attempt in Costa Rica – canyoneering, rappelling, white-water rafting – nothing gets the adrenaline pumping quite like… driving. Required equipment: 4WD capability, ample insurance and unshakable resolve.
En route to El Silencio Lodge & Spa, a mountainside retreat in Costa Rica’s central volcanic valley, you may need to brave the following: roads shouldered by sheer cliffs, one-lane bridges on two-lane roads, bridges constructed from three wobbly wooden planks and crossings preceded by the ominous sign PUENTE EN MAL ESTADO (you do the translation).
Other obstacles may also include: packs of children running around blind corners, whiteout-causing clouds and chickens crossing the road (you supply the punchline).
All this stunt-driving excitement makes arriving at this secluded resort high in the misty cloud forest, all the more gratifying. Like that first frosty beer after a long run, you've earned it.
And, from the moment Mr Smith and I drove onto the 500-acre jungle property we felt embraced. Anticipating our arrival, a uniformed manager stood waiting for us (always nice to feel like a guest of honor) with a reviving pineapple-mint-arugula concoction.
Tropical drinks in hand, we were shown to our private cabina – one of just 16 eco-luxury tree houses hidden in the mountainside. Rich, chocolate-brown wood floors and furniture were softened by cream walls, the cool marble and bamboo accented ensuite and the floor-to-ceiling windows that glowed with lush jungle greens. There was a problematically comfortable king-size bed, handcrafted rocking chairs on one porch and a private Jacuzzi on the other.
Said Jacuzzi takes two hours to heat, but that's exactly the time needed to hike the place (we like to think they designed it that way). And a little walk was certainly in order after our adventures in driving.
Trekking the over six miles of trails winding up and down the property thick with exotic butterflies and hummingbirds to the triad of hidden waterfalls, we didn't see another soul – except for a black bird nearly my size. It's the right exertion for occasional outdoorsfolk like Mr Smith and me. Sure, we're up for a bit of a climb, but prefer it with the promise of rum and a Jacuzzi at the end.
Both are promises that El Silencio, which feels like a luxurious summer camp, more than delivers on with thoughtful, personalized service. Just-baked cookies and hot chocolate are brought to your cabin each afternoon. Muddy hiking shoes are whisked away and returned cleaner-than-new.
Fires continually crackle in the hearth of the main lodge. And, once I recovered from the initial shock an unexpected warm and squishy surprise at the foot of our bed, I looked forward to the hot water bottle tucked in at nightly turn-down. A welcome perk in this tropical rainforest where the cloud cover can quickly make you reach for a sweater.
Like any good summer camp, there are enthusiastic counselors, too. Each cabin is assigned an eco concierge who coordinates hikes and activities and pushes you just enough. Venicio, a local, was our fearless guide, leading us on the ‘Hidden Treasure’ hike.
This mud-trekking, rock-scrambling, stream-leaping climb progressed toward a towering waterfall, tinged electric blue by the minerals of the Poas Volcano. During our hour-long ramble, Venicio pointed out the metallic-green tiger beetles scurrying under our feet. They mate once, he told us, and afterwards the female eats the male's head (I felt scandalized when I later saw an intact beetle running away from a headless one).
Inching our way up to a precipice, perhaps a 20-meter drop to the swirling waters below, Venicio reminisced, ‘We used to jump off this cliff, straight into the water, when we were teenagers.’ Not wanting to spend our holiday on crutches, we opted to walk down.
Following our waterfall hike, we may or may not have enjoyed a few rounds of cane sugar liquor… that may or may not have been fully licensed. (I do want to tell you more, truly, but I'm not the kind of girl who betrays confidences.)
Despite being quite relaxed already, I had a hot-stone massage scheduled at the tranquil Esencia Spa (why quit when you’re ahead?). Remarking that I loved the spa's essential oils, my attendant sent me away with a fragrant vial of oil as a souvenir.
Generosity was catchy among the staff. Upon learning that Mr Smith has a way with the cocktails, the bartender lent him a shaker and handed us a bottle of raw sugar simple syrup. This led to us sipping afternoon daiquiris while lolling about our secluded hot tub as we soaked up our last views of paradise – our idea of a jungle adventure.
We’ll be sure to have Venicio add this to the activity list for next time…