The tour starts quickly and never looks back. The dirt road that winds out of Jaco to the mountains on El Tour de 7 Pueblos runs through a wide, lush valley. Near the rutted path, a river flows through the heart of the open grassland, bending around massive, lonely Guanacaste trees. On the edges of the valley, a thick jungle reaches down from the surrounding mountains.
Those willing to squint can almost see the pterodactyls; if you keep your eyes peeled, though, you can see the monkeys and the sloths, the morpho butterflies and the screaming scarlet macaws.
If you are coming from a structured world of offices and schoolrooms, freeway traffic and interminable meetings, the freedom you can find on the back of an ATV is exhilarating. There is no hulking steel body enclosing you in a quiet, sterile, soundproof world. Your view of paradise is unimpeded; the ground flies past your feet and the tropical sun is on your back. This, you might realize, is not a roller coaster, a tracked tour with built-in thrills. You are driving your own adventure.
As you leave that first stunning valley and the mountains swallow you up it's easy to get lost in your driving. The wind and the roar of the engine can be hypnotizing as, passing waterfalls and crossing streams, you fly up close to 1,500 feet. Here you can leave the ATV's and take a short walk to the waterfall “Pura Vida.” A good place to relax, swim, or jump from ledges and platforms into the cool water below. Those looking to relax in nature, far from fences and cement, need look no farther.
After the Pura Vida you wind your way another 1,500 feet up the mountain to your first mirador.
Here at this 'lookout' it's hard not to be speechless. The coastline stretching into the distance far below, the apparently tiny ferries and cargo ships crossing the bay towards the Nicoya Peninsula, the towns and the houses dotting the living mountainside—these are not everyday sights.
You won't want to have forgotten the camera.
By the time you arrive to lunch, a small restaurant called “La Paz del Campo,” you will have worked up an appetite. They have ice cold drinks and some of the best typical Costa Rican food you can find—I like fried green plantains (“patacones”) with guacamole to start followed by a casado, a plate overflowing with meat, rice, beans, salad, plantains and more. If you have kids you can let them fish for the Talapia in the small pond.
The trip out of the mountains is just as exciting as the way up; carving through the muddy clay, around the rocky, unkempt paths of the rainforest you might find yourself thinking about your plans for the next day. “What,” you might wonder, “could compare to this?”
If the water is low enough, your guide will take you out of the mountains along the riverbed in the valley you visited hours before. As you rumble over the stone bed, crossing the river, passing those giant guanacastes before re-entering Jaco you'll probably have found your answer.