view of a small island from a tropical look out while on guided travel excursions

Do Guided Travel Excursions Make You Feel Safer?

A Guided Hiking Excursion Through the Rainforest in Costa Rica

On a trip to Costa Rica, my husband and I decided that as a family, we would go on a hiking adventure in a section of a rainforest situated inside a popular national park. 

We took to the idea that it would be safer if we were led by a knowledgeable tour guide.

We had no qualms about selecting a tour guide amongst the top-rated tour agencies published in a the popular travel book we had acquired to plan our trip. 

The Weather Conditions During our Travel Adventure

The weather forecast was great. We received clearance to go forward with our hiking adventure by the tour company.

They indicated the ground at the park was muddy and saturated from the previous days’ rain. 

However, the guide assured us that the hike was not intense and the conditions on the ground would still be safe for us. We also received advise before we embarked on the journey to wear a light rain jacket regardless, as the a light shower is always possible.

The Travel Guide Explains What We Should Expect

The excursion guide explained that the hike of a section of the Costa Rican rainforest would take us across two water crossing points. 

The creek was narrow, and if we encountered any water, it wouldn’t be much. 

If anything, he said, our shoes may get wet.

We set out on our exciting rainforest adventure. 

We began as he guided us through winding trails and provided commentary along the way. He talked about the vegetation and animal species common to the area.

He also answered many of our questions.

Some sections of the rainforest looked like scenes from science fiction movies. They were kind of surreal.

Unexpected Setback During Travel Adventure

We eventually reached the first creek crossing. It was narrow, as the guide had indicated earlier. But it was not narrow enough to jump it. 

It was also not possible to walk across it. It was very rocky and had fast water moving through it.

As we approached the creek, the tour guide said casually that the water was a bit higher than usual. 

He proceeded to pick up what looked like a long 2 x 4 piece of dark timber and place it at an angle at the crossing point. One side of the wood landed at the bottom of the creek. The other landed on a big rock just above the running water on the other side. You can view it on the photo below.

He then asked that we take a short jump from the edge we were standing on, and land on the piece of wood with one foot. We were then to immediately skip or jump on to the rock above the wood to clear the creek. We had to help each other not fall in the water.

Wait, what? Yes, we all slowly marched to the crossing point without questioning the situation or considering going back.

It was 9 or 10 of us. There were the members of my family and our guide, plus other park visitors with whom we had merged along the way. 

We finally all made it across the creek and were lucky that the piece of wood did not break or slip off to one side!

It had been a concern because the wood did not appear to rest flat on the rocks beneath it. You could see it spring up every time the next person stepped off of it.

Greater Danger Ahead

We continued on the trail and eventually reached the second creek crossing point. This time, the water was higher and running much faster. The creek at this point was also wider. 

I remember throwing a rock to see how deep it was, and it was much deeper than the previous crossing point for sure. 

This is where we totally messed up and ended up going along with an even crazier idea than the first. It could have resulted in the worst possible scenario and a terrible experience for all of us in the group. 

At Which Point Should You Refuse To Go Along With Travel Guide Recommendations?

The tour guide informed us that he would lead us through to the other side of the creek. How, do you ask? He would do so by holding our hand and asking that we walk sideways on a tree trunk that lay across the creek with fast and furious water running through it.

It was scarry. We contemplated the idea for a long time. Someone eventually volunteered to go first. 

The situation was so tense that as people were crossing, my husband refused to let me pull the camera to take a photo. In his opinion, the risk of injury at this time was greater with unnecessary distractions.

He was right, but at this time, I wasn’t the one crossing. We were far enough away that at the time I thought it would have been ok. However, things were getting tenser by the minute, so I did not insist.

Did We Disregard Safety And Risk Our Lives?

It was getting closer to be our turn to cross. By this point, we knew the danger that each of us was about to face as we walked on this wet tree trunk. We still went along with the plan placed in front of us. What we were about to do was super crazy. 

Our children went first. It was a a nerve wrecking experience to watch them walk across the raging water over a tree trunk, escorted by a stranger.  

In the end, I did end up with the picture of the tree trunk taken with a zoom lens from a distance. I had taken it before any of us knew that we would be walking on it. 

Guilty. I did pull the camera a few times to snap photos along the way, even though my husband insisted more than once that I should not pull it out.

Other Unexpected Surprises from the Rainforest Adventure

There is one other thing that I cannot forget about this experience.

At the end of our hiking excursion that included traversing dangerously through parts of the rainforest, the tour guide made a confession. 

It was dumbfounding. He told us that he had only been to the park to guide others once before. He also mentioned that he did not know that water could rise as high as it did, especially at the second crossing.

How is it possible that we were so trusting and unaware that we were in such a predicament? 

We went into this excursion blind to the dangers of not having considered the possibility that the expert guide was not an expert after all. 

The worst part is that we did not question directives? Whether he was an expert or not, we should not have proceeded with actions that put our lives at risk in the way we did.

Other Risks We Were Lucky to Have Averted

As I reflect on the experience, there is no questions that the trip overall was amazing we had a great time as a family. However, there are other risks that we averted during this trip, not just those described above.

This happened even when we encountered carefully executed safety planning and precautions dictated by the tour guides.

Horsing Around

Take for instance the horseback riding. The majority of the ride was pleasant and we took in the beautiful landscapes.

However, part of the horseback riding trail was narrow and rocky, and on a downward incline. No big deal, it was wide enough for the horse caravan to walk through.

Except, some of the horses did not want to be in the back of the line. They were actually ‘horsing around’ with each other in an attempt to get in front of the line. Unreal! We could see how the horse in front of each of us would twist and stumble on the rocks as he tried to maneuver his position past the next horse. Who would ever consider that horses would be fighting for their place in the front of the line?!

Suspended Kayaking

Not the end yet. We took a kayak excursion from the main island to a small island not too far away. Six of us made the excursion in three kayaks. One of us rode with the guide. We visited the island, took a few photos and checked out the habitat, before heading back.

Everything went smoothly on the way there. We approached the island, the water came in slowly to shore, and we were able to get off the kayak and drag it to the sand easily. We didn’t expect things to be any different on the way back.

We did move along slowly as we approached the shore, just as on the opposite way. Something weird appeared to be happening, though. The water level did not even-out with the sand as we came closer to the shore. The space from the sand to the top of the water appeared to get higher. The wave had practically stopped with us suspended above it. The wave stopped, and there was maybe a 2 to 3 foot drop from the end of the water to the sand. Not something I had ever seen before.

Suddenly, from one moment to the next, in one long movement, and at a high speed, the wave forcefully made its way to the shore, like trying to eject us from it. It was so sudden, we didn’t have time to think.

For two of the kayaks, the experience was a high speed carnival like ride that came to a sudden stop when the kayak reached the sand. The other kayak, however, tumbled over past the drop and had a rough landing. The occupants of that kayak did not sustain any injuries, although one of them lost his eye glasses.

Lessons Learned

I am grateful that we returned from our our trip to Costa Rica safe and sound despite our near mishaps. 

We do not tend to shy away from new travel adventures. However, our Costa Rica travel experiences continue to expand for us the notion of assessing and avoiding travel risks.