Day 4 – Chasing Waterfalls

December 24, 2012
Arenal Backpackers

How does rappelling down a 200′ waterfall sound? Super fun? Good, we can be friends. I don’t know why I like adventure activities – maybe it’s the sweaty palms, hammering heartbeat or the rush of adrenaline that keeps me coming back for more. Whatever it is, it’s totally worth it and nothing makes me happier than being scared.

I’ve done some fun stuff in my 27 years (skydiving, white water rafting, zip lining), but one thing I’ve never done is  a relatively new sport called canyoneering, where one uses a harness and belay system to climb and rappel down waterfalls. Sign me up! We booked with Desafio and they were awesome!

After being picked up from our hostel, meeting the rest of the group and suiting up, we hopped in a 4×4 to slowly climb the mountainside to reach the launching point. As one bumpy corner revealed another for 45 minutes the path got muddier and muddier and everyone started to look a little nervous. There are moments like that when you just have to trust that your driver knows what he’s doing and you’re not about to slide back down to where you started. Eventually we did reach the top, just to begin our descent back down again.

After a very brief explanation of how to belay (and many warnings not to pinch your fingers) we were introduced to our first descent, a 150′ thundering waterfall. I guess it was go big or go home and I carefully watched the first 2 people go over the edge. I got a little more confident as it didn’t look too hard to them, it was only later I discovered they were both active mountain climbers. It wasn’t until I was hooked into the safety line when the guide told me to turn around, lean back and step down that I started to doubt what I was about to do. My legs started shaking as I slowly started lowering myself down and watched Jeff’s grinning face disappear from view.


Breathing slowly I tried to remember exactly what the guides had just told me; keep your hand at your hip, don’t let your glove get pinched and keep your eyes open for footholds so you don’t slip. After you reach a certain point in the waterfall and there’s no where left to step you just let go and zip line to the ground.

With my feet planted firmly on the ground I turned around to watch Jeff take his turn. He said he wasn’t nervous but I think I saw his legs shaking just a little, though he landed with a huge smile on his face.


The tour was more than just rappelling down waterfalls, you also had to hike through a stream to get to each one and that in itself was an adventure. The stream ranged from calf to waist deep and had scattered rocks blocking your path creating slippery obstacles. It was fun scrambling over the rocks, squeezing through narrow passages and generally trying not to twist your ankle.


The last waterfall of the day was a 200′ monster that I graciously let Jeff attempt first. Putting on his brave face he lowered himself over the edge and completely disappeared in the rushing water spewing over the edge. When I peeked over to see how  he was doing he was already on his way, zipping to the ground. Next, was my turn. This waterfall was definitely the strongest as I felt it pushing on my foot as I was trying to find the first foothold. When I was planted and starting my descent I felt the force of the water trying to push me off the side. For that split second I panicked as I tried to hang on until I remembered I was totally safe and secured in my harness and safety line. Letting go of those fears I was able to relax and enjoy the last descent of the day.


When the group finished we were taken to Desafio headquarters to shower off river muck and have a delicious hot lunch. The rain started again on the ride back to the hostel, but we had had such a great day I didn’t really care.

Breakfast: pancakes with fruit salad, orange juice, coffee, tea
Lunch: rice, beans, zucchini, salad, juice, coffee
Dinner: burger, wings, ice cream and beer


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