The eagerly anticipated day to meet our Detours Travel gay adventure group had finally arrived. This time we were setting off to discover a tiny rugged Central American country with rich rainforests, bordered by Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, notorious for balmy beaches and vivid sunsets, active volcanoes and stunning biodiversity. Costa Rica has been high on our list of leading destinations for some time and of course San José, the capital, would be our starting point.
Detours has been guiding gay tours through Costa Rica for the past six years. Our party of twelve eager wanderers met at the Balmoral Hotel in central San José where Dan, our highly experienced guide, naturalist and entertainment planner, welcomed and introduced us and provided a brief overview of the program for our 11 day tour of this fascinating and diverse little gem of a nation.
The first evening together in San José we ate at a traditional Costa Rican restaurant called Nuestra Tierra, giving us the opportunity to get to know each other as well as sample some of Costa Rica’s local food. Later in the evening we had a taste of the gay bars with a visit to Puchos Men’s Club for a few drinks and a chat with the locals, punctuated by the nightly program of steamy strip shows.
Next morning, before our departure at midday, those who had not explored San José had an opportunity to make a visit to some of the city’s attractions like the Gold Museum, Jade Museum, Central Market or the very beautiful National Theatre.
On our comfortable bus we drove west to the famous coastal tourist town of Manuel Antonio. Along the way we stopped to see crocodiles lazing like spiked logs on the banks of the river and caught a glimpse of ruby red macaws in full flight.
We passed the somewhat rundown coastal town of Jaco and arrived at our destination in time for refreshing cocktails, a dip in the infinity pool and a spectacular, scarlet sunset.
Our hotel, El Faro, was perched sky-high overlooking the beach and the National Park. Built in a unique style, giant shipping containers co-joined enormous decks to take full advantage of the majestic, elevated position. Walking to the room was a heart pounding affair. Golf buggies provided welcome assistance from the reception below up to the rooms built like beehive cells on the side of the mountain slope.
We learnt quickly not to forget anything when setting out on one of our expeditions, especially in the stifling humidity which arrived early and only retreated partially after the sun slowly melted into the ocean at the end of the day.
Tonight we would dine at El Avion. This restaurant is set around an authentic war plane which serves as the bar. You can even climb into the cockpit for a true sense of a bygone era. After dinner our crew discovered a local gay bar called Mogambo. Even though the bar was an interesting post-dinner pit stop, the ‘sloth’, hanging precariously upside down from the electric cables outside the bar, stole the show. No strippers required at this wild little ‘hangout’.
Detours sensibly offers tour groups many options, doing either as much or as little as you like. Zip lining, Costa Rica’s most celebrated recreational pastime, was chosen by some of our group. This activity was certainly one of the trip highlights with the course covering nine stations strung across the forest canopy.
Others in the group chose the more intrepid activity of lazing on the beach with lunch, cocktails and a bevy of local talent to admire. Manuel Antonio was once well known for being a lively gay tourist town, however, this has transformed more recently. There is still a gay area on the right hand side of the beach but the town is now popular with the full range of tourist species.
Later that afternoon Dan organised a snorkelling trip. Even though the water was a little cloudy, the elegant, velvety stingrays, the brilliant sunset and the ice cold beers made up for any shortcomings. In the evening we piled into the bus and headed off to Emilio’s Café, Dan’s favourite restaurant in Manuel Antonio. The grilled, garlic jumbo prawns were succulent and charred to perfection. The spicy fish curry was a favourite, as was the seared tuna and the coffee encrusted steak.
Tired, fed and watered, we called it an early night and headed back for our encounter with the incline. Fortunately, our golf buggy awaited for an easy transfer to our ridge-side retreat.
Our last full day in Manuel Antonio was devoted to a walk through the National Park with our local gay guide Gama. Bats, deer, spiders, lizards, anteaters and monkeys were some of the wildlife on display. Later we spotted a sleepy, hairy sloth with her baby.
The hour long walk ended at two secluded bays where it was snack and swim time. Peace and tranquility soon gave way to mayhem when a visiting family of white faced monkeys decided to sort through the belongings of unsuspecting swimmers in search of their own selection of snacks.
While desperately scrambling to hang onto our bags we were able to capture some delightfully incriminating photos of these adorable villains.
Back in Manuel Antonio we settled on a light lunch of delicious shrimp tacos, followed by swim in the pool and a rest before a final dinner at Victoria’s Gourmet Italian restaurant. On the level below the restaurant we enjoyed farewell drinks at Club Karma, a popular gay bar with a regular local following.
Villa Los Aires
Our bus made its way to a secret location high up in the mountain slopes, through mist and past thick jungle shrouded valleys where we would find our hillside hideaway for the next three days.
Villa Los Aires with its well appointed rooms, crystal clear pool and courteous, welcoming staff overlooks a picturesqe, undulating valley which forms a central focus from the open air entertainment court.
The group camaraderie was now well developed and this three day retreat allowed us to share stories over sociable drinks and leisurely dinners with only the singing cicadas and the echoing wail of a nearby Howler Monkey to interrupt the serenity of the evening.
Breakfast and a swim in the pool had the next morning off to a fine start. Then it was a trek down the steep forest track to a nearby waterfall. Although not a huge volume of water due to the dry weather it was a refreshing relief after clambering across the rocky path in the mid morning sun.
Our meals were provided by the on site chef and her team of friendly local assistants who prepared, served, cleaned and departed so efficiently we were barely aware they were there.
After lunch some decided to gain maximum relaxation from their stay at Villa Los Aires and organised a massage by a local masseuse, while others soaked in the pool or took advantage of the time out to catch up on emails or reading.
In the evening a delicious three course dinner was served followed by a movie in the media room, while some ventured down the forest path to spend time luxuriating in the steamy hot tub. It had been a difficult day but it wasn’t too hard to endure.
Horse riding in Costa Rica’s mountains was an anticipated highlight and the adventure certainly delivered. The horses were well cared for and the two hour journey over hilltop trails with panoramic views of mountain valleys, lush rainforests and flowing creeks seemed to be second nature for our pretty, prancing ponies.
Again, local guides, all belonging to the same family, provided us with expert assistance for our ride. As one person in our group said, “this feels like the real Costa Rica”.
In the afternoon those still with energy after the ride embarked on a long forest walk, wading waist deep through creeks and looking for the illusive red macaws. It was hard to leave this mountainous sanctuary but we still had one more destination left on our itinerary.
Arenal Volcano And La Fortuna
The next day a long drive traversing Costa Rica’s countryside from bottom to top took six hours before arriving at the base of Arenal Volcano and our hotel Lomas Del Volcan. With dark descending we had a quick freshen up and made our way into the small nearby town of La Fortuna to the Lava Lounge Bar and Grill for dinner.
We chose this restaurant for several reasons: good food, lively music, gay owned and 10% of all the profits go to supporting a local dog shelter. The Arenal Volcano area is one of the most popular in Costa Rica famous for hot springs, waterfalls, kayaking, whitewater rafting and canyoning.
It is the most perfectly formed volcano cone in the world and during our visit we were fortunate enough to see the whole top of the cone clear of the usual cloud and mist cover.
After breakfast the next morning several of our more fearless group members headed off for canyoning the cliff waterfalls. This involved repelling down high 40 metre cliffs. We thought they were very brave. The majority of the group opted for the pool, hot tub and then lunch in La Fortuna. The town is filled with cafes, pubs and souvenir shops.
The Rainforest Café makes excellent beef burritos. We stopped into the Choco Museo and the kind host Victoria explained the whole process of chocolate making. Here you can also experience deluxe chocolate making workshops where you get to create your own style of chocolate bar.
Dan organised a night walk for those who were still in search of illusive nocturnal creatures. Unfortunately, most were not cooperating that evening.
By 8:30am the next morning we were on our way for whitewater rafting with the guys from Wave Rafting. Suited up in life-vests and helmets first came a short training session by Jeffrey, our hunky whitewater team leader, before embarking on the river.
Our first rapid called ‘morning coffee’ was certainly a wake up call and within a few minutes two of our crew were overboard and getting a complete ‘morning soaking’. Both slightly shaken they were soon dragged back on board and we continued ducking and weaving down the river rapids, faces filled with water, trepidation and excitement.
The grade 2/3 rapids required a fair effort and team work to negotiate boulders and currents and still remain upright. By the end of the two hour ride down the river we were thoroughly exhausted and completely soaked but all agreed whitewater rafting was an absolute blast!
Unexpected perks included refreshing post-rafting beers, a delicious lunch, sugar cane tasting and free shots of homemade, Costa Rican, 60% proof liquor which turned out to be the ideal sedative for the trip home. The rafting was awesome, hassle free, with wonderful weather and fun guides. It was perfect for beginners and included a ton of thrills.
On our last day with Detours we firstly paid a visit to La Fortuna Waterfall and Visitor’s Centre and then continued the six hour long journey back to San José via some strikingly beautiful countryside that included roads winding around volcanoes, crossing mountain rivers and spotting feeding howler monkeys.
Dan, always the true naturalist, heroically released a green basilisk lizard that was caught up in wire at our lunch stop. This species is also known as a Jesus Christ lizard because of its amazing ability to run atop the water.
A farewell dinner in an old mansion house followed by drinks at our favourite Pucho’s night club was the agenda for our final night together.
We would be departing early so it really was a last good-bye to our group and to Dan. Now understanding how this could be a tricky country to explore independently, we were very glad we chose to experience Costa Rica with Detours Travel.
As we discovered on our last adventure with this tour company, it’s always difficult to leave a fantastic group like this behind, especially when there has been so much fun and so many laughs along the way.
However, we were all on our way to new adventures elsewhere and, with some luck and a little manoeuvring, our paths may cross sometime in the future. With a list of new Facebook buddies we bid our group a fond Buen Viaje, until we meet again.
Know Before You Go
- You can be as active as you like or as relaxed as you like on a Detours Travel Adventure.
- The group is all male and made up of 12 plus a tour leader.
- Most people on the tour are between 40 and 70, some couples and some singles.
- The cost of extra activities are not included in the tour price.
- You will need to pay additional tips for some activities.
- Allow one and a half hours for the trip between San José and the Airport.