Rio Claro Aventuras Eco Tours was set up to help fund the Life For Life Sea Turtle Rescue Centre (check them out here – https://www.lifeforlifehosteldrakebay.com/ ) that operates at the mouth of the Rio Claro, between Drake Bay and Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. This small area is home to an astonishing 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity; we only stayed for 5 days but that time was enough to tell us that this place is very special indeed. If you’ve an interest in nature and have the opportunity, please try to visit!

Life For Life also has a hostel situated on an idyllic beach near to the Rio Claro, we’ll talk about that later on, for now if you want to skip straight to it check it out here – https://www.lifeforlifehosteldrakebay.com/accomodations/rooms/

We were staying in the village of Aguitas in Drake Bay and to get to the Rio Claro estuary from there you have several options, with the top 2 being either a water taxi, or walking along the coastal path. We decided to walk as we were told it was a beautiful path, and indeed it was. It’s not paved but it’s easy to follow and it takes about 3 easy hours to reach the estuary from the village. Here are some views of the path and scenery, we were to walk it every day of our 5 days in the area, it was ideal for bird watching and enjoying the rainforest.

Rio Claro wasn’t listed on the sign above, but you’ll come to it just before San Josecito. This sign was just over half hour along the track from the village. As you can see the path is well trodden and fascinating.

The final photo shows the only section of the path that was muddy. We were there in January, which is dry season, so expect to get a little dirty at this 100 metre section if you pass in the wet season, from about May to November. Apart from this though, it was easy going. When you get to the Rio Claro you are greeted with a fine sight, the river easing round the bend from the rainforest on your left to the Pacific Ocean on your right.

If the tide is low you can wade straight across, the water will be up to your waist, and if it’s high tide then carry on walking along the track to the left of the river until you come to this sign.

Blow the whistle and somebody will canoe across the river to pick you up. The Sea Turtle Rescue Centre, and the base for the Rio Claro Aventuras Tours, is on the other bank. Here we met Ricardo, the guy responsible for setting up the operation 20 years ago. Before the tour we spent a short while looking around the centre.

There were many hand made gifts to buy (all profits go towards funding the centre)…

…and opportunities to learn about the work that the centre does. A noticeboard told of the egg hatchery success rate, they have remarkably high numbers and Ricardo said that was partly because the climate there was perfect for the turtles. The temperature of the water coming down the river and that of the ocean make the sands between them the ideal breeding ground. A few of the numbers were listed on the board, Ricardo said they had to update the board with much more good news as nests had hatched recently and all the babies had made it to the ocean.

“We’ve released over 6 million baby turtles since we started here, thanks to our volunteers who come from all countries.” he explained, “We need more help though, so please mention to your friends that if they want to volunteer here, they’re welcome!”

Previous volunteers had collected rubbish from the beach and some was hung around to illustrate to all who passed through here that nothing ever really disappears after we throw it away. We trust that our garbage will be dealt with without harming the earth, but the more I travel the more I see that this isn’t happening as much as we hope it is. Hanging up were beach shoes, mobile phones, cameras and fishing gear. The fishing gear was stamped ‘Made in Taiwan’, it made horrible sense, the Taiwanese fishing fleets are the main culprits in Costa Rican waters in the slaughter of sharks and the other large sea animals that get caught on their long lines and in their nets, such as dolphins, tuna and sea turtles.

Having got changed into clothes we didn’t mind getting wet, and choosing a pair of river shoes and a life jacket, we set off on our adventure.

“It starts right here, if you want,” said Ricardo. “You can jump off that rock there, into the Rio Claro! Don’t worry, it’s very deep at this point, you’ll be safe.” It looked high above the river but I trusted him and went for it. I dropped through the air for what seemed like a minute then Splash! Down, down, boy, the river really is deep at this point, and then I was up above the surface thinking how refreshing the river was. I’d been pretty warm up there on land but now everything felt perfect.

We began paddling upstream. The plan was to head up into the primary rainforest for a while, then float back down, checking out a few waterfalls as we went.

The rainforest here is primary, which means it’s never been logged or farmed. The food chain and circle of life has been relatively insulated from human actions here. Even the plastic that you can find on every beach, no matter how remote, was absent from here.

The paddling was easy, we saw turtles and a heron, and toucans – hidden high in the forest – were vocal. Their call is distinctive, after a few days in Costa Rica you’ll most likely recognize them as easily as you might do a cuckoo. A tour like this shows you beauty, yes, and it also encourages you to slow down, to open up your senses, and to leave space for magic to happen. You can’t force a scarlet macaw to flash across the sky, you just have to be alert to the possibility that it may happen. So we sat quietly, eyes and ears wide open. A toucan broke from cover and flew overhead, giving us a few seconds of sheer joy and wide smiles. Then we refocused, scanning the banks, there was another heron, some smaller birds, and large fish below, and many wide-winged insects hovering. The weight of western life that I hadn’t even noticed was there began slipping away. The things that mattered so much back in the city were forgotten, not because I didn’t care any more but because this was the real thing, this right here around and within us, and as such it demanded me take notice of it.

Soon we came to a mini rapid where we had to get out and pull the boat up and over the rocks to carry on.

There was another chance to climb and jump. My partner Nita gave it a pass, I gave it a go.

Soon after that the river narrowed and Ricardo said “OK, you can jump out if you want, it’s time to float back downstream!” Ah, now I understood, that’s what the life jackets were for. The river hadn’t required them as it was very calm but now we’d be using them as buoyancy aids as we floated back to the Pacific!

There was no rush, we let the river current take us. There was also no reason to worry. There were no crocodiles or other animals here that might give us cause for concern. When we got to the mini rapids Ricardo told us to keep our arms by our sides and float in feet first and this worked fine. Another toucan flashed by, I was laying on my back looking up between the trees at the time it’s bright yellow beak and shiny black body emerged from the deep green. A wonderful moment, impossible to capture either with camera or words. It has to be experienced to be understood.

We rounded a corner and saw the canoe pulled up on the bank, with Ricardo beckoning us to get out of the river and follow him up the side of a waterfall. The climbing was easy as a rope had been put in place, and over the next half hour we explored a series of waterfalls and pools that led us further back into the forest.

It was time to head back, floating once again. We could’ve gone in the canoe – no activity is pushed on your during the tour – but when might we get the chance again to float down a rainforest river towards the Pacific Ocean?!! Best to take these opportunities with both hands whenever they present themselves I think.

We drank tea back at the turtle rescue centre then headed off with Ricardo to have lunch at the Life For Life hostel, about a half hour walk away. The walk was mostly flat and offered some outstanding views.

The photo above shows the beach that the hostel is located right next to. We’d asked for a vegan lunch and that was easily catered for; we had rice, beans, lentil fritter, a vegetable dish, salad, and a fresh coconut to wash it down along with some lime-lemonade.

After lunch Ricardo showed us around. Rates for a stay here can be as low as $25 per night including 3 meals (you’ll need the meals as there are no shops or restaurants anywhere near) if you want to volunteer to help the sea turtle project, or around $45 per night if you just want to stay. All profits go to fund the sea turtle project. Here’s a look at the options; rooms, tents or hammocks.

The temperature stays warm at night so sleeping in a tent with a mesh wall, or a hammock, is preferable for many people who don’t like air conditioning.

The Rio Claro tour was so much fun, offering us experiences we’ve never had before. The money raised from it goes towards helping the sea turtles, which are endangered at the moment. We hope you’ll consider taking one of Ricardo’s ‘Rio Claro Aventuras’ eco tours or staying at the hostel if you’re in the area, or even volunteering if you have some spare time. Sea Turtle conservation can be hard work, especially if you have to walk the beach collecting eggs at night before the dogs or poachers get to them, but it’s extremely gratifying to see the babies hatching and scuttling off to the ocean to carry on the circle of life.

Learn all the details here – https://www.lifeforlifehosteldrakebay.com/sea-turtle-conservation-project and if you have any questions and want to communicate with somebody in English you can contact Caroline at cazerra@yahoo.co.uk

You can also find Rio Claro Tours on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/lifeforlifehostel/