Feature: A Taste of Costa Rica


The group gets fiesty during Ultimate 200km course recon filming.

I didn’t know I’d be back so soon. Just 2 weeks ago, I was invited back to Costa Rica and was ecstatic to make my return. A man named Juan Carlos Villa Solano decided that mountain bike racing in Costa Rica needed to be something more than the famous La Ruta. Last year was my first time in Costa Rica to race La Ruta. I met some really great friends, Federico and Ligia who ensured I had such a wonderful time that I would have to come back to their beautiful, dynamic, ardent country. Ticos (a self-appointed slang term by Costa Ricans) are some of the most vivacious, animated, friendly people on the planet. Fast-forward 10 months and I was once again stepping off the plane in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Juan Carlos and his sharp brown-eyed wife, Laura were waiting for me at the airport with warm smiles. Juan Carlos had his first vision of what he needed to do for mountain biking in Costa Rica and executed it at the end of August. It was the first 100 mile mountain bike race in Latin America called the Rincon de La Vieja. It is the only single day race to navigate around a stirring, active volcano, punished riders with unrelenting climbs, offered enchanting cloud forests, and topped off with a total elevation gain of 10,862’. My teammate raced it this year. You can bet I’ll have that number plate zip-tied to my bike next August. Juan Carlos didn’t ask me to come to Costa Rica to talk about the Rincon, he invited me to talk about another new budding brainchild begging to get out.

The weather in Costa Rica can change quickly into a torrential downpour, and downpour it did! Pictured is Teammate Jeff Kerkove.

For 2014, there will be another ultra endurance race in Costa Rica. Some sections will be just a stone’s throw away from the Nicaraguan border. It’s called the Ultimate 200km; a 124 mile dirt challenge in the saddle. My teammate, Jeff Kerkove and I met with Juan Carlos and some other Ticos to do some video filming of sections of the race. Our 3 day trip involved a boat ride on a river through the jungle with our bikes, marching through tepid rivers in front of a camera, riding through full sprouting fields of rice, red dirt contrasted with angry black skies, cold Imperial, many Platanos, and plenty of Pura Vida.

Taking a boat ride down a river with bikes. At the finish of the Ultimate 200km, people will ride in a boat downstream with jungle on either side.

When you hear about Costa Rica, people always talk about the beach or the surfing. What they might not tell you is that there are mountains everywhere, 6 active volcanoes, 61 dormant volcanoes, and incredible food. That means not only can you go to Costa Rica to enjoy much needed beach time, but you can mountain bike too.

Shocking to look into the crater lake of an active volcano.

We had time to go to Volcan Poas, a very active volcano bubbling sulfur and smoke out of its crater lake at 8,885’. We made it to the viewing site just one minute before it was was swallowed by an enormous monsoon rain cloud. I could see the grays and reds looking into the hot mouth of the volcano; within moments it was gone.

Later that day, we enjoyed typical Costa Rican food including fried plantains, fried yucca, tilapia, Juan Carlos’ special homemade hot sauce, coconut rice, and black beans. Let’s not forget the array of fresh tropical fruit blended juices. My favorite was Guanabana. They blend the whole fruit with ice and a little sugar.

Rice, black beans, potato, fried plantains, and omelette.

I can’t wait to be back, load my breakfast plate with Gallo Pinto and that gloriously rich local coffee, and ride my ass off.

About the author: Sonya Looney

It’s energy and attitude that have propelled World Champion Sonya Looney on a mountain bike across the rugged Himalayas, through sweltering sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, and through the clammy jungles of Sri Lanka. Sonya Looney is an adventure traveler on a bike seeking out the hardest races in the most remote, beautiful, and interesting places in the world. She believes in pushing limits because that’s when you realize you are far more capable than ever imagined. Sonya is also a professional speaker, keynoting at large conferences and has spoken at TEDx. Don't let her accolades fool you though, she loves craft beer and joking around. Follow her on social media!

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  • Alex says:

    That is awesome, I went to CR this past summer and really wanted to get a mountain bike ride in. I did find one guided tour but it was in the area of Arenal. I also found a private mtb park close to Jaco Beach. CR is amazing I need to meet some local riders there. I also visit Nicaragua regularly and would love to ride there as well. So if there are any Ticos or Ticas or any Nicaraguan peeps lets link up!!

  • Alex says:

    oh and wheres the video Sonya? pura vida

  • Jim says:

    more on mtbing Rincon de la Vieja here via XXCMag: http://issuu.com/xxcmag/docs/xxcmag_no.16

    for local mtb in CR, guana bikers in the northwest, and over by turrialba, go to CATIE and ask about APOT coffee cooperative to find local/private mtb trails on farms, and along the river.

  • Alex says:

    thanks for the info Jim. Guana bikers seem really cool, great prices. I had a contacted them last time but I was by Quepos. They have a ride that you first ride horseback uphill and then jump on the bike! I will keep the other recomendations for next time.

  • JuanCarlos Villa says:

    Sonya, can’t thank you enough for the amazing article. It is big names like yours (and Jeff’s) that will make the Rincon de La Vieja Challenge (www.rincondelaviejachallenge.com) and the Ultimate Challenge 200km (ultimatechallenge200.com) possible and famous. Looking forward to zip-tying a number to your bikes. See you soon!

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