Hike your way to Health in Costa Rica’s Rainforest
Writer and poet Henry David Thoreau said it best, “I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least … sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”
I agree wholeheartedly. I always feel renewed, refreshed, and more at ease with the world after walking in nature. The wilder, the better. Even if I return drenched in sweat, covered in mud, tired, even hungry and sore … afterward, the feeling of freedom of exploration felt out in fresh air and growing earth lures me back to the trail time and again.
Famous conservationist John Muir expounds: “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity….”
“Exercise is a very good stress reliever in any form, including hiking, and can lead to better mental health. Hiking outdoors will help you feel closer to nature and natural rhythms, which can increase feelings of happiness and help you feel more fulfilled,” according to a hiking fitness article on Fitday.com. “A difficult hike, for example, up a hill or mountain, can also help you feel like you’ve achieved something more tangible than completing a fitness circuit at the gym.”
The nice thing about hiking is that it is inexpensive, simple to start and easy to adjust to any level of fitness. You can get going right away no matter how fit you currently are. Start on a level, well maintained path and work your way up to a pathless mountain. The best part about hiking is exploring; your workout can be different each time depending on the trail you take. Even on the same trail, the landscape can change daily based on the weather, season, time of day or the wildlife seen. You don’t get that variety inside a gym.
The health benefits of hiking are abundant. Fitday.com tells: “Losing weight is another benefit of hiking. This is particularly true of hiking uphill, as this can burn similar amounts of calories to jogging. As hiking puts pressure on your bones, it encourages healthy bone structure and reduces the chances of osteoporosis. Being exposed to sunshine will also increase your levels of vitamin D. Hiking is a cardiovascular activity, depending on how hard you push yourself during a hike, and thus has benefits for your cardiovascular system, such as reducing the chances of heart disease, and increasing your overall fitness. Hiking is excellent for muscle tone, particularly cross country hiking, as your body and legs have to compensate for the rough terrain by working harder.” More health benefits can be found here at Goodhiker.com.
Hiking in Costa Rica
The mountainous terrain of Costa Rica makes for some exceptional hiking. The scenery and wild nature brimming with life are outstanding. Hiking in Costa Rica is an excellent reason why many travelers visit the Central American country. There are easy hikes along flat and well-maintained trails, as well as more challenging treks up mountains like Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest peak (12,530 feet).
Some essential objects to take on a hike in Costa Rica include plenty of water, good hiking boots, a hat, insect repellent and sunscreen. In Costa Rica, a hiker must consider the rain factor and take extra socks, a rain jacket or waterproof poncho, and a waterproof bag for your camera.
A fantastic area for hiking in Costa Rica is in the foothills of the Talamanca Mountain Range bordering the vast La Amistad (“Friendship”) International Park on the Caribbean side of the country. It is an area of breathtaking tropical rainforest. Here, the sounds of civilization fade away, replaced by a concert of insects, frogs, bird calls, monkeys and other animals in the forest. The thick, earthy smell of dank earth mixes with spicy scents of ripe fruits and flowers.
Veragua Rainforest Research & Adventure is a 1,300 hectare (3,212 acre) biology research and adventure center located in the middle of this forest, about an hour inland from Costa Rica’s historic Caribbean port town of Limón. Veragua’s property contains walking trails through the rainforest, a river and waterfall, an aerial tramway, a canopy zip line tour, biology research station and wildlife habitats, along with a restaurant, café and souvenir shop.
You can choose from a few walking trails at Veragua to explore the rainforest. There is the “Trail of the Giants,” a leisurely stroll on raised wooden walkways through the centuries-old gigantic primary forest trees along the Victoria River. Or you can hike to the 20-meter-high (65 foot) Puma Waterfall that cascades in two tiers to a large pool; you get a good workout going up and down about 150 steps to get to the falls viewing point. The last trail, aptly named the “Trail of the Brave,” takes you on a 1km (0.62 mile) hike up the side of a canyon to the Park’s main area. It’s steep, basically going up about 700 feet in less than a mile, and is recommended for persons in good physical condition – the views are worth it!
Veragua Rainforest Research & Adventure is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. Admission is $66 for adults and $55 for children/students; children under age 4 receive free admission. Veragua is located 40 minutes from Limon and 2 ½ hours from San José, in Brisas de Veragua, 12 km south from the Liverpool entrance on the highway to Limón.
By Shannon Farley