Sloths, Toucans, and Trees that Walk: how Sumak Travel changed my perspective on DIY travel.

This post is on of several in a series on ethical tourism in Costa Rica, written by myself as well as Kasi (The Peahen Blog) and Simone (The Ethereal Edit).

To learn more about our experience with Sumak Travel, read Simone's post on Finca Sura organic farm, my posts on visiting San Jose and the Juanilama Community, and Kasi's posts on slow food and secondhand fashion

Hills surrounding Arenal volcano

Hills surrounding Arenal volcano

I watched a lot of nature documentaries as a kid, so the rainforest was pretty close to how I'd pictured it before visiting Costa Rica and experiencing it for the first time in real life. 

There were a few things that I didn't expect, however. The darkness, first of all. The tree canopy overhead is so thick that even on a bright, sunny day not much light filters down to the forest floor. Second, I didn't quite expect to feel so emotional while trekking, but I found myself quite overwhelmed by the beauty of nature, awed by the sheer diversity of plants and wildlife, and sobered as I thought of all the beautiful rainforest areas that have been destroyed or are in danger of disappearing. 
 

View from the rainforest trails near Arenal volcano 

View from the rainforest trails near Arenal volcano 

Third, I didn't expect to have my travel perspective changed. You see, I've always been a fiercely independent, DIY traveler. I love lists, I love planning, I love the thrill of showing up somewhere I've never been and navigating my way through a well-thought-out itinerary.

But then I met Jose Pablo, our guide booked through Sumak Travel. I love being around people who are truly passionate about what they do, and Jose certainly fits that description. His love for the wildlife, culture, history, and people of Costa Rica is apparent, and his knowledge on each of those subjects is extensive. I quickly realized that without Jose's guidance my experience would have been much less rich and informative. 

Jose Pablo teaching the group about how cinnamon is produced

Jose Pablo teaching the group about how cinnamon is produced

On our first day, as I traveled with Kasi, Simone, and the Sumak Travel team to our first destination (a sustainable farm), The van suddenly came to a halt. Jose excitedly got out, grabbed his telescope, and pointed toward a tall, scraggly tree near the road. Sure enough, a sloth was perched in the highest branches, scratching itself sleepily. 

The next day we woke up early and headed out to see the toucans we could hear squawking in the trees. I would have missed most of the bright flashes indicating their presence in the branches above us, had it not been for our guide's practiced eye. Seeing toucans, creatures I'd only seen caged at a zoo, flying freely in their natural habitat was breathtaking! 

The day before my group flew home, we visited Arenal volcano. The weather was rainy and grey, and we couldn't actually see the volcano through the mist... but our hike certainly wasn't ruined. As we walked the muddied trails at the volcano's base, Jose showed us medicinal plants, identified bird calls, educated us on the history of the volcano, and regaled us with tales of jungle trees that "walk" toward sunlight (moving and stretching in minuscule increments, but still!). 

Our other guides during our Arenal Volcano experience- horses that took us on a trail ride through the rainforest. 

Our other guides during our Arenal Volcano experience- horses that took us on a trail ride through the rainforest. 

Each of these moments would have been a moment that I would have missed out on, had I chosen to travel on my own. I'm immensely grateful to Sumak Travel and to Jose for showing me the value of enlisting a local guide- I've actually already booked local guides for several upcoming trips because of my experience with Sumak.  

Kasi and I during our horse riding excursion 

Kasi and I during our horse riding excursion 

If you want to experience South America through the eyes of a local guide, choose from one of the 12 countries where Sumak Travel offers trips, and start planning your adventure! 

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