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Underexposed: Costa Rica – Mountain Bike Blog Post

No one was sure how serious we should be about the karaoke plans. About an hour after we sat down to dinner with the Adventure Meraki group on our last night, I grabbed the microphone from the DJ and belted out “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks. Immediately afterwards, Merakis founder Matt Mooers tried his hand at a version of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” before spending the second half of the song reading the lyrics to himself and nodding along. The moment kept everyone on the edge of their seats and made the walk to Meraki House all the more enjoyable as we all felt ourselves laughing and marveling at how well these performances were received by the local patrons of the Meraki House bar and restaurant . It would prove to be the perfect exclamation point to a fantastic week in Costa Rica exploring hiking trails and making new friends.

Seven days earlier, I unloaded my Switchblade from the back of Diego’s pickup at Adventure Park, a bike park and zipline facility in Heredia. The Adventure Park sits on 1,700 hectares and is part ecological experiment and part functional lumber operation. 700 hectares have been set aside as an ecological tourism project as part of a program that protects the cloud forest and sells oxygen to the world. Timber harvesting is done in a sustainable manner, using a cypress plantation as the source of production.

The Adventure Park's lush and clay trails are incredible.
The Adventure Park’s lush and clay trails are incredible. Brice Shirbach

Adventure Park is the closest major riding network to San Jose, Costa Rica’s bustling capital, making it an extremely popular choice for locals, especially on weekends. The park is located 6,000 feet above sea level in a cloud forest, meaning that the temperatures here are slightly cooler than you would normally expect in the city, yet are still quite warm and pleasant all year round. You can expect to see bikes of all kinds here, with a high percentage of DH bikes draped over the tailgate pads in the parking lot, as well as enduro models and even a handful of hardtails. The routes are handcrafted and make excellent use of the natural terrain. They offer riders plenty of technical clay and high-speed features, with a handful of wooden elements such as wall rides, ladders and drops accentuating the terrain. Riders have the choice of taking the shuttle to the site or simply climbing the access road to reach the start of most runs. The first full day in Costa Rica was an excellent day for commuting, so we did just that for almost six hours.

My travel for this project coincided with a large guided Adventure Meraki trip that brought members of the group from BC, Alberta and Maine to Costa Rica. Meraki has been leading trips to Costa Rica since 2018, after a random comment in a Costa Rica thread on Pinkbike turned into an adventure among strangers.

The Central Valley of Costa Rica.
Sunset in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. Brice Shirbach

I came here with my family on vacation in 2014.Matt says to me after a day at the Adventure Park. “ When I arrived here I saw the size of the mountains and as a mountain biker I assumed there would be a lot of riding here. The following year I came back alone and explored the country on my bike. I found a few things, but not the goods. I came home a little discouraged, but one day I was on Pinkbike and saw a comment on a forum in Costa Rica. I sent him a message and said, “Hey, can you tell me more about your riding in Costa Rica?”“He basically told me to come back and he would show me. So the next year I went back and met this complete stranger and we traveled all over the country and hit different bike parks and trails and that’s how the whole thing started.

The stranger’s name was Chris Garcia and he would eventually join Matt in forming Adventure Meraki. Meraki is a family affair. Chris’ mother, Marcela Montoya, handles food preparation most of the week, and close friends Diego Somarribas, Pauly Ocampo and Manuel Fuentes assist everyone in various roles, from hiking guide to translator to photographer to shuttle driver and more . The vibe here is authentic and certainly helps create an atmosphere based on comfort and trust.

My itinerary largely followed that of the larger group, but since I was focused on filming and producing, there were a few deviations in our trip. I managed to make a trip to the Costa Rica Open DH race, a Category 2 UCI event, to meet race director Alvaro Castillo and see the course first hand. I also made it to Providencia, a place with a legendary reputation in Costa Rica’s mountain biking community Senderos Retana. The trails here drop nearly 4,000 feet over a 4-6 mile stretch, and while I didn’t have time to film here, I definitely plan on returning very soon to do just that. The trails are very steep, with an unrelenting gradient that stretches for miles, with incredible dirt, breathtakingly beautiful scenery and a harshness found nowhere else. Getting here is a challenge that effectively filters out crowds and offers a very real and authentic experience in this rustic community.

The terrain around Senderos Retana is unreal.
The terrain around Senderos Retana is unreal. Brice Shirbach

I would eventually reconnect with the Meraki troupe at Rafiki Safari Lodge, a glamping resort on a 618-acre private UNESCO biosphere reserve 30 minutes from the Pacific coast. Rafiki is surrounded on all sides by mountains, cloaked in their tropical rainforest finest, with the cacophony of the jungle reverberating off the walls of the steep ridges and reverberating throughout the property. Rafiki offers a variety of experiences at Safari Lodge including white water rafting, bird watching, waterfall hikes, nature walks, an unimaginably fast water slide, incredible margaritas and of course mountain biking.

If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to ride a bike on amazing singletrack trails in the middle of a real tropical rainforest, wonder no more. It’s quite warm, but it’s an experience that combines sensory overload with incredibly fun trails. Located in the heart of the Savegre Valley, Rafiki is home to 113 species of mammals, 53 of 75 endemic bird species and over 20% of Costa Rica’s plant species, not to mention countless lizards, snakes, arachnids and butterflies the size of a football. The hiking trails are a relatively new addition to the reserve, pronounced Lautjie ( Loki) Boshoff, owner of Rafiki and an avid mountain biker, wants to offer opportunities not only to guests, but also to him and his family.

Rafiki is characterized by the fact that you drive through a tropical lowland forest.says Lautjie. “It’s cool to spend time in an ancient forest. The character of our hiking trails is just so different than anywhere else in Costa Rica. We have this clay mixed with gravel so that when the path is cut it just stays there. We try to create as much flow as possible. Also, we’re pretty deep in the jungle and far from civilization, so I tried to avoid the resulting jumps, gaps, and things that might not be relevant to our situation.

Have you ever wondered if driving through a tropical rainforest is as awesome as it sounds?  I'm no longer surprised: it's like this:
Have you ever wondered if driving through a tropical rainforest is as awesome as it sounds? I’m no longer surprised: it’s like this: Brice Shirbach

IIf you’re actually looking for the jumps, gaps, and senders mentioned above, you don’t have to look too far. After two days of riding in Rafiki, it was time to head north about 100 miles along the coast to one of Costa Rica’s newest gems: the Buen Camino Bike Park. Buen Camino is 45 minutes from the sea and also 45 minutes from San Jose (times). very (depending on traffic), making it an extremely convenient location for a bike park. The routes cover 316 hectares of mountain forest, with a mountain swimming pool and a restaurant as well as accommodation and a small bike shop. It’s also home to the country’s first machine-built trail, with some of the most intuitive and creative combinations of technical trails and flow trails I’ve ever ridden. While there are climbing routes, commuting is definitely the way to go if you want to stay fresh for the incredibly fun and fast-paced runs available here.

Buen Camino was founded in 2022 by American Rob Dul’l and Canadian Jason Guihan. They hired Alvaro Castillo to lead the trail design and construction and currently have 13 trails ranging from beginner to pro trail, with plans to expand significantly beyond that.

Our property consists of 3 different drainages,” states Alvaro when asked about the possibility of expansion. “Yes, we have a lot more space. The trails you rode all run along one of the three mountains we have there, and we definitely want to use the other two mountains as well to merge a lot more trails between them. We only had to focus on the main area initially as that is where our shuttle road is located which leads to the main road where the restaurant and accommodation are located. We also have a full-time trail team that takes great care of the trails here. We are currently in the process of tackling the first trails and we definitely have plans for expansion. It just takes time.

The speed and creativity of these trails is incredible.
The speed and creativity of these trails is incredible. Brice Shirbach

Time and patience. Getting around Costa Rica requires both things. Costa Rica is a country half the size of the state of Vermont, but it can take hours to travel even short distances, highlighting the infrastructure challenges facing this otherwise stunning country. Building hiking trails here also requires time and patience. In a country known for its biodiversity – 6% of the planet’s wildlife is native to Costa Rica – access to public lands for two-wheeled recreation requires a lot of patience, time and diligence. Costa Rica may be small, but it already boasts some truly world-class trails, and there’s no doubt more is on the way as mountain biking continues to make waves and gain momentum in this Central American paradise.

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