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Travel Feature – ATV Tours, Take the Road Not Taken

Travel Feature – ATV Tours, Take the Road Not Taken

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Translating the waiver we had to sign before our ATV tour with Xtreme Adventures, I told my girlfriend, “It says you’re not supposed to drive drunk. It also says no wheelies, no tailgating, and ‘It’s not a race’.”

“Maybe I should drive,” she said.

No way. We were in for the ultimate joyride — a fun, wet, bumpy slog down country roads and through swollen rivers that I wouldn’t dare cross in my SUV.

Xtreme Adventures is located on the “Monkey Trail” between Playa del Coco and Potrero, on the same property as the Congo Trail Canopy Tour. It offers a two-hour tour ($65 single, $75 double) to the beaches of Potrero, Penca and sometimes Prieta, a two-hour jungle tour to a waterfall, or a four-hour tour to both ($105 single, $115 double).

We took the jungle tour, and the first thing we did was drive through a river. “Oh, no, I got my feet wet!” I said over my shoulder to Guiselle. “Get used to it!” she said.

All-terrain vehicles, known as cuadraciclos in español, are a cinch to operate — there are no gears to shift, and you accelerate with your thumb, brake with both hands. And they’ll go just about anywhere.

For a while we rode on an actual highway (I thought, I can’t believe they let tourists do this), then we veered onto a gravel road that soon turned into a muddy one-lane track.

Our guide, Fernando Hernandez Fajardo, 46, pulled over and told us all to shift into 4-wheel-drive. And that’s when the real fun started, as we crossed a series of creeks, rivers and major mud puddles.

I felt like a big kid, steering into the mud instead of away from it. I’ve driven a lot of rough roads in this country, but I baby my car, puttering along like a senior citizen. It was so liberating to know I didn’t have to worry about my suspension, my tires or whether I would stall out mid-river and provide amusement for the locals by seeking rescue.

The rainy season, incidentally, is the best time to do this, as there will be lots of water to cross, and the waterfall won’t be dry. When the waterfall dries up, Xtreme takes guests on a tour of local farms and towns, with a visit to someone’s home.

We came to a couple of stopped cars, one of them giving the other a jump, and carefully squeezed by them, with centimeters to spare. I don’t know what happens if you scrape someone’s car in a rented ATV, and I wouldn’t want to find out.

After multiple river crossings, we arrived at a splendid pair of waterfalls called Las Pilas (“the washtubs”), where a bunch of ATVs were parked and a lot of people were getting wet. The more daring among them were cliff-jumping into the pool. We spent 20 minutes there and took a lot of pictures.

I asked Fernando if they ever had any accidents, and they said they were very rare.

“You have to control the accelerator, because if you juice it too much, the ATV is going to go too fast, you’re going to spin out, it’s going to be hard to control it, or you might pop up on two wheels,” he said. “There are people who have fallen for those reasons. Sometimes the ATV doesn’t turn over, the person just falls off.”

He said in three years with Xtreme Adventures, he’s seen this happen maybe five times, fortunately with no serious injuries.

“Sometimes you have a big group and there’s someone doing something he shouldn’t be doing, and so you talk to the person, you bring it to his attention,” he said. “In some cases we’ve had to take away the key and say, ‘If you keep doing that, we’re going to leave you here, or we’ll send someone to pick you up, but you’re going to lose your money.’ Because the most important thing is safety.”

Many of Costa Rica’s most popular adventures are a little scary, as in ziplining, rafting, canyoning and scuba diving. ATVs serve up the fun without the fear factor (unless you drive like an idiot). And they’re a great way to explore Costa Rica, as you’re close to the ground and in the open air, and you can go places you’d never go otherwise.

If you give this adventure a try, closed-toed shoes are strongly recommended, and you must be 16 to drive. Rules vary on whether you need a driver’s license. If you bring your phone or camera, bring something to keep it dry in case of rain.

Happy 4-wheeling!

Popular ATV Companies

Many of Costa Rica’s most popular adventures are a little scary, as in ziplining, rafting, canyoning and scuba diving. ATVs serve up the fun without the fear factor (unless you drive like an idiot). And they’re a great way to explore Costa Rica, as you’re close to the ground and in the open air, and you can go places you’d never go otherwise.

If you give this adventure a try, closed-toed shoes are strongly recommended, and you must be 16 to drive. Rules vary on whether you need a driver’s license. If you bring your phone or camera, bring something to keep it dry in case of rain.

Happy 4-wheeling!

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