WATERFALL CANOPY TOUR, JACO COSTA RICA……….James Smith
"Listo." The guide yells as he steadies himself and leans out over the platform suspended a hundred feet above the rain forest. A few seconds later an answering, listo, ready, comes back from the surrounding trees. There’s a quick final check of my harness, and he gives me the thumbs up. I grab the pulley a little harder, and lift my feet off of the platform sitting back in my harness. Gravity and inertia quickly takes over and before I realize it I’m hurtling along the ½ inch steel cable.
Within seconds I’m zooming along at an ever increasing speed. Trees and branches flash beside me a, green blur. Passing through a last set of branches I see the other platform ahead. The guide there gives me the signal and I gently begin to apply the brakes as I’ve been shown how to. As I approach the platform I raise my legs and easily land safe and sound on the wooden structure.
The guide quickly unhooks me from the cable and attaches me to the safety line wrapped around the tree trunk. Adrenaline pumping and legs wobbling, I brace myself against the trunk and get my camera out to shoot the next person to cross. That was a rush, I can’t wait to go again, and again.
Canopy Tours have become almost synonymous with Costa Rica. The first was established years ago by a couple of Canadians. It is now known as "The Original Canopy Tour." Now it seems that almost every month a new operation is being set up and/or expanded somewhere in the country.
While it is probably not the best way to experience the country’s flora and fauna, you’re travelling too fast and honestly making too much noise to really see anything. Nevertheless it is a rush in and of itself and something not to be missed. For the more sedate, there are also a couple of companies offering aerial walkways, suspension bridges, and even an aerial tramway.
Waterfall Canopy Tours just north of Jaco on the Pacific Coast is the one I tried, and is typical of the operation. The guides there though will proudly disagree with me on that point. They are as proud of their company as they are professional and as far as they’re concerned theirs is the best in the country. At the very least its better than the competing Tree Tops Canopy Tours about twenty minutes drive south of Jaco.
Basically you travel on a system of steel cables suspended fifty to a hundred feet above the ground and move from tree to tree. Special pulleys and safety harnesses similar to those used in mountaineering and caving allow you to move quickly and easily. The cables are attached to large trees and wooden platforms have been built on them to allow a brief rest and a place to "change" cables.
It may look dangerous and exhilarating, but actually it’s quite safe. The guides are all trained professionals and the equipment does work. There were three guides with our group of ten and they were always in complete control.
Waterfalls has thirteen platforms of varying heights and with differing cable lengths. There are several unique attractions that this company offers. First as the name suggests is a waterfall which is the start point for your adventure.
The second unique surprise comes about midway through the tour. Most of the platforms, as I said are simple wooden discs, attached to the tree trunks. They are safe, and roomy enough for the whole group, but as one member of my tour commented, she now knows where the term "tree hugger" was invented. One of the platforms is a little more elaborate though. As you slide over to it you realize it’s a large tree house. Once inside you find a three story elaborate construction, complete with a bedroom with double bed and champagne bucket.
Waterfalls offers a special couples overnight tour. It starts with a sunset waterfall picnic. This is followed by a special persoanl canopy tour and a gourmet meal served in the tree house. Your guides will then discretely leave you for the night, there’s a "walkie talkie" if you need them, They return with breakfast the next morning.
For the normal tour, you leave the tree house and continue on with each cable becoming slightly longer and faster. The second last one is another unique feature. There is no cable, it’s been replaced by a Tarzan swing. Pounding your chest and screaming at the top of your lungs as you cross is strictly optional.
The last cable is an optional one. It is four hundred feet long and you really pick up speed as zoom along it. There are stairs for those who’ve had enough at this point. The guides also have a quick discussion to determine if anyone may find it too difficult. As I said they take safety very seriously. Everyone in our group including a preteen girl made it. I can personally attest that it is fast. Almost too fast, I was really enjoying it.
The finale is a controlled rappel ninety feet back to terra firma. Then it’s take of the harness and bask in the bragging rights you’ve just earned. The total tour usually takes about two hours dependent on the size and skill level of the group.
Waterfall Canopy Tours are run four times a day. Cost is between $50.00 and $60.00 US depending on whether you need transport to and from your hotel. The special overnight couples tour costs around $325.00. Tours can be booked through Gray Line/ Fantasy Tours at their office in Jaco or at either The Best Western Hotel in Jaco and/or The Marriot Hotel just north of the town.
Waterfalls Canopy Tours, 2 kms. north of Jaco, Puntarenas Costa Rica
Ph:643-1103 Fax: 643-2439
LA BRUJA BAR, JACO COSTA RICA…………..James Smith
Jaco Beach is a young town. That is obvious the minute you set foot in the place. The bars, cafes and streets are full of twenty something’s doing all those things young people do on vacation. Costa Rica does like to bill itself as good retirement destination and every year thousands of Americans Canadians and Europeans flock here to enjoy their "sunset years." They don’t come to Jaco though. If they do they seem to keep a low profile, or at least they did during the four days I was there.
I was really beginning to feel my age as I wandered around among a community that was half my age. There were the locals with businesses, that catered to their own age group like surf board shops. The "tourists" included large numbers of young and affluent "Josefinos" who flock down the highway from the capital for a little weekend debauchery on the beach.
Finally there was the international back pack brigade. Youths from all over the world searching for whatever it is that you travel around the world searching for at that age. It’s been so long since I did it I forget what it was. I can’t even remember if I found it. Probably not because I’m still travelling.
The age gap became really obvious in the evenings when I went for a drink or two. Loud music and a youthful crowd are ok, but I was soon feeling out of place. I was almost resigned to spending my evenings propping up the hotel bar when I found out one of Jaco’s secrets. The place where the old fogies go to drink, La Bruja, Bar Y Restaurante, the witches bar.
La Bruja is an elegant laid back place right on the main drag and about dead in the centre of town. It’s easy to find wedged in amongst other bars, restaurants, gift shops and travel agencies. There is a high thatched Palapya style roof, with a large witch riding a broom painted on it. Trust me you can’t miss the place. If you do then maybe you shouldn’t be looking for another bar at that point.
The place is quiet, dark and rather elegant inside. A nice change from the loud booming kiddie hangouts up the street. The owner operators, Simon and Jeanette are easy going and friendly. Especially to lost middle aged travel writers I guess.
There is a brick oven/fireplace over in corner, although I could never imagine it getting cold enough to need or use it. The large circular bar contains a good selection of local and international brands among its ranked bottles. There is a full menu available. There are quite a few circular couches and table and chairs scattered about big enough to accommodate a small group of friends.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the place is the "air conditioning." After a bit who become aware that there is a soft cooling breeze coming from somewhere. A quick look up at the high peaked ceiling with its crossed wooded beams gives the answer.
Rather than use an air conditioner or even old fashioned ceiling fans they’ve come up with something unique. Several old brooms have been tied to a central pole which rotates around something like a windmill. It is as effective as it is subtle., gently circulating the air around the room.
Well La Bruja was listed in my guide book as both a good restaurant and quiet bar, it wasn’t until I’d been there a couple of days that I found the place. Posters around town advertising live entertainment caught my eye and I promptly showed up one night after dinner. The featured entertainer that night was Benjamin am expat from Arkansas who makes his home in Jaco. His life style and repertoire of songs really suite the place.
Benjamin states he gets gigs five night a week at various places and could get more but that’s enough for him. I’m sure that’s only in high season, but I know of several local musicians who would be extremely envious of that much work. I hope I don’t start an exodus of Toronto artists with this.
Midway through his second set I was convinced that this was the bar for me. I got confirmation a few minutes later. A large group of elegantly dressed young affluent Josefinos came wandering in. The grabbed a table and oblivious of the entertainment continued with their conversation. The rest of us in the bar were enjoying the mood and music, while they gaily chattered on, either with each other or on their cell phones. These I’m convinced every Josefino is born with.
Eventually the penny dropped and they realised that this was probably not the place they wanted, at least not for another ten to twenty years. They merrily disappeared into the night probably heading for one of the towns several discos. Those of us who remained in La Bruja were allowed to return to our peace and quiet and tranquil enjoyment.
LA HACIENDA BAR, JACO BEACH COSTA RICA………….James Smith
There is something about a tin roofed bar that just screams the tropics. Even more than the humidity, the heat, the pulsating music, or the palm trees swaying outside, this simple feature is somehow one I identify with a drinking establishment in the southern climes.
La Hacienda Bar is on the main drag in Jaco, and at least during the days I spent there it was the place to be and be seen at. The first night in town I kind of stumble in on my own. The next night I’m there with a couple of the guys from the canopy tour I’ve taken that morning. They confirm what I figured out the first night. La Hacienda is the place to be in Jaco
The disco across the street never seemed to have more than a half a dozen poor souls in it, and that included the two doorman, the bartender, DJ and waitress. La Hacienda on the other hand was packed. After ten at night there was a line up on the sidewalk The narrow stairway leading up to the bar on the second floor was jammed with people. It actually looked like they were laying siege to the place. One look at the doorman’s expression, as I was leaving and maybe they were.
Downstairs, La Hacienda is a small bar restaurant typical of several others that line Jaco’s main street. It’s not pretentious at all, and the foods good and inexpensive. You can while an afternoon away here in the shade and watch the comings and goings on the street.
Upstairs is the main bar. It’s simple place, long bar against one wall, waist high walls to let in the air and the tin roof. Lots of tables and chairs, pool tables, foose ball, dart boards and other things to amuse yourself with. The centre of the place is wide open, for dancing or more than likely just milling around in.
The place seems to get going fairly early every evening. There’s a fair crowd by eight of so and by ten you can’t move around without difficulty. That is assuming you can even get in. It seems to thin out early though too. Around midnight or so everyone either seem to call it a night or head off to one of the discos at the south end of town.
It’s a young crowd that frequents this place. Surfers and wannnabe surfers and the international back pack brigade that seem to be drawn to Jaco. The young locals who live and work in the area are here too, and on weekends all are joined by the rich young Ticos down from San Jose for a little fun. Despite the youthful crowd and energy they project, or maybe because of it they’re not a heavy drinking lot. Even in this crowded place the two bartenders don’t seem overly worked, and I never have to wait long to get a cold beer.
Another bar owner points this out to me later in the week. They’re mostly kids here to dance, listen to the music and meet and mingle. Some can’t afford more than a couple of beers. Others don’t drink for a variety of reasons. First and foremost is they have to be real early to catch the first waves. Like I said it’s a surfer’s bar. I guess once you try surfing with no sleep and a hangover, it’s something you don’t want to repeat.
Later in the week I’ll find some quieter "older" places where I can sip my cervaza in peace. However I still keep heading back to the building on the corner. There I slip in for a quick one where the crowds are gathered and the music makes the tin roof vibrate in the night.
LOS FAROLES BAR, JACO COSTA RICA……………James Smith
It was my last day in Cost Rica, and while part of me was looking forward to getting home, mostly I was dreading leaving this charming little country. I was therefore more than a little excited when the front desk at my hotel advised me that my flight had been delayed for at least two hours. It seems there was a severe snow storm in the North Eastern US and Eastern Canada, and flights couldn’t get out.
There was also the possibility of further delays, and even a chance we might have to spend another night in Jaco or the capital San Jose. Some choice, another dinner in a beach front restaurant, or struggling to get a taxi at blizzard swept airport. I knew which one I was hoping for.
I told the hotel rep that if he needed me, I’d be across the street at a local bar, checked my bags with the porter, and strolled across the street to Los Faroles to spend the last of my Colones. I figured that this was a better place to kill a couple of hours wait than either the hotel’s bar or worse yet pacing in the lobby, like several others were doing.
I’d discovered this great little bar the night before. It’s on the main drag of Jaco, at the north end of town. It’s literally across the street form the Best Western Hotel, where I’d spent the last couple of nights. I’d gone in the night before to catch a local singer, a guy named "Benjamin", and expat from Arkansas whom I’d seen the night before at another bar in Jaco. His style of laid back music seemed appropriate for what I thought was going to be my last night in the country.
What I found, in addition to an excellent singer, was a great little bar which I wish I’d found earlier in my stay. It was perfect, and not just because it seemed to sell the coldest and cheapest beer in all of Jaco, and probably Cost Rica. It was nice little place, furnished in a lot of dark wood, and open to the evening breeze coming off the Pacific, a block away. This was supplemented by several large ceiling fans.
I preferred this to an ice cold air conditioned place, like a couple I’d visited earlier in the week. My only complaint, were the fans are so powerful, that it was impossible to light a match while sitting under them. It took me a couple of attempts before I figured out why I couldn’t get my cigar going, and then had to step outside to get it lit.
When I went back the next afternoon, I had a chance to chat with the owner operator. He’d been involved in pool game the night before, so I’d only had a chance to have a few words. Besides whenever he took a break, Benjamin was over at the bar chatting with me. I guess he must have said something to the owner, after I left. The next day he was very willing to chat with a travel writer from Canada.
Having a couple of hours to kill, I got his life story. It’s probably similar to a lot of expats in Jaco, and throughout the rest of Costa Rica. He’s an ex navy type, who fell in love with a Central America while working here. Later he moved down here and fell in love with a Tica, who is now his wife. He also opened a diving business which he still runs.
Later on he ignored some advice from another expat, about never opening a bar or restaurant. He bought Los Falones, which he calls a work in progress. There’s a lot of work still to be done to get it the way he wants it to be.
One thing is to double the length of the bar. That would be a nice start I think, as it is a little short now. While it can be a bit cozy, when all of the stools are occupied, it could be a bit crowded especially considering a two of the nightly regulars are a couple of large dogs who love to nap under the bar stools. After a night of tipping back bottles of ice cold Pilsen, they could be a hazard to someone leaving the bar. Trust me I speak from experience on this one.
The location is good though. Literally the first bar in town as you drive in from the highway. There seem to be a good core of regulars, expats who stroll in to gossip and here the news from "home" wherever that may be. There appear to be a fair number of Ticos frequenting the place too. I guess the quiet laid back atmosphere appeals to them more than the high intensity tourist places further down the strip, as do the more than reasonable prices.
The food is good too, and as reasonably priced as the beer. I can personally vouch for the steaks. A lot of places in the Caribbean and Central America it seems "steak" is an adage for a thin piece of what appears to be old boot leather. Not here thick, pink and juicy, the perfect match for a bottle of beer so cold there’s drops running down the side.
For now though he seems content to slowly run and expand his business and enjoy the good life that Costa Rica has to offer. Hey that’s why he moved here in the first place. When my flight finally came in and I had to pry myself off of the bar stool to catch the shuttle back over the mountains to the airport I was more than a little bit envious.
Los Faroles Restaurante Y Pizzeria 100 m Norte del Hotel Jaco Beach, Jaco Costa Rica
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Last updated May 30, 2001
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