I was surfing on Facebook a few months ago and saw some photos from one of our riding buddies from Iceland, Gísli Rafn Gylfason. He was on a riding trip in Costa Rica with the team from UltimateRidesCR.com. Upshift reached out to Heiner “Jake” Valverde to set up a five-day trip to this tropical off-road destination, and soon enough we were on the plane heading south to “Centro America.” My travel partner for this trip was an old friend, Randy Commans, aka @my1090R on Instagram. Needless to say, by the end of our trip we had some pretty epic adventures featuring sun, rain, mud, rivers, and Imperial beers nightly.
After an easy overnight 5-hour flight from LAX, we landed early on our first day at the San Jose, Costa Rica airport. UltimateRidesCR’s founder Jake picked us up in his 4x4 and we met up with his wife Rebecca for a sightseeing drive around San Jose’s downtown. Rather than getting right on some bikes, we thought it best to spend the day getting acclimated and getting to know our hosts. Dinner was one of the highlights of the whole trip, as we met up with my motocross friend from Costa Rica, ex-moto legend Ernesto Fonseca. Jake and Rebecca were really excited to meet up with Ernesto as he is a national motocross hero.
As we rolled up to Jake’s compound the next morning, we had some fresh KTM and Husqvarna bikes waiting for us. Randy picked a KTM 350 and I chose a Husky 350 for myself. Jake and his two guides, Pablo and Danny, were all on two-strokes for the week.
The plan for our first ride day was to hit some trails in the hills around San Jose. This would give Jake a chance to see our riding level and then plan accordingly for the week’s route. I thought I was in decent riding shape, and having just moved to Boise, Idaho a few months back, I had been riding quite a lot on some challenging trails. Well, let’s just say that the UltimateRidesCR guys are really good! With rain pretty much a daily occurrence in June, the first few muddy and slippery uphill single tracks proved to be just outside my skill set. The sun was out, and being a Sunday, the trails were busy with local riders. My only consolation was the fact that no one really made it up the trails with ease. This could be a long day…
The beauty of working with Jake and his team is that their tours are all about the custom experience. They quickly realized we were not hard enduro experts, so the trails eased off for the rest of the day, fortunately. We wound our way up and down the steep hills for an overall great day to get acquainted with our guides and our bikes.
Our goal for today was to head east out of town towards the Turrialba Volcano in the Cartago province east of San Jose. Little did we know how our day would end up. We started with some faster fire roads and made our way through small remote villages. We really felt out in the rainforest at times with river crossings, waterfalls, and old rickety wooden bridges.
As we gradually got closer to the volcano area, the fog rolled in, then turned to heavy rain. The slopes of the Turrialba volcano got torched in the eruption of 2017, so the monochromatic ash turned to a slick slimy riding surface with the addition of the big downpour. If you could go back to the evil grey mud battlefields in Europe during WWI on a Husqvarna 350, it probably looked like this. We had gone from beautiful lush green forest to pure desolation in the volcano’s shadow, in the space of a few minutes.
The terrain was extremely challenging as we snaked our way through the harsh landscape dotted with flash floods and lightning strikes. The struggle of the day proved to be worthwhile as we finally rode across florescent green fields and made it to our ranch lodgings before dark, wet but happy. The ranch had a perfect view of the volcano in the distance, as we had a few cold Imperial beers and tried to dry our soaked gear in front of our room’s wood stove. We were really out in the heart of Costa Rica farmland, and loving it.
Up early today to the sound of cows mooing and farm dogs barking, we made a quick run up to the foothills of the Turrialba to snap some photos. It was a different experience to see it without the tropical depression storm dumping moisture upon it.
We headed out mid morning to our next destination: the Pacific coastal town of Jaco. The trails were still somewhat treacherous in spots with the red clay surface turning to something akin to riding on ice. I definitely struggled on the red mud sections with trying to slow down on the steep, rutted downhills whilst staying off the brakes to avoid sliding and losing control.
Today was a already going to be a long one, and the customary June afternoon downpour did not help matters, but we pushed on through and arrived at a wet, humid Jaco before dark. An evening stroll through this party resort town was quite an experience, as after dinner we were offered several illicit recreational items. Let’s just leave it at that!
We awoke to a heavy rain shower. A short muddy trail south of town led us to a much more traditional quiet Costa Rican beach. Well, it was quiet until we took a few runs up and down the sand on our 350’s. I was actually glad it was raining as Randy managed to launch off a large sand roller at high speed, land in the sea water, and fully send a six foot salt water wave in my direction.
Pablo, our guide for the day, asked if we wanted to ride the El Diablo trail. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with a name like that? We traversed the steep, wet fire road trail with a few dramatic moments, and then crossed a very wide river that was more than a few feet deep in spots. Our treat for getting through unscathed was an unscheduled stop at the remote cacao farm of La Iguana Chocolate where we loaded up on some chocolate bars. Heck, we earned it!
As the day went by and the rainfall increased, so did the river levels. We were supposed to cross the same river farther along, but the water had risen enough to make it impassable. As light was fading and the rain was unending, it was time for Plan B, basically to make a direct route back to San Jose for the night.
Time for something different- Jake had set us up with two KTM 1190 Adventure bikes, and kitted them out with some Shinko knobbies for a day of exploring north of San Jose. Once out of the morning city traffic, we hit the windy asphalt roads and eventually made it to the dirt roads of the Ruta del Quetzal. Our guide today, Jorge, had all the good local knowledge. As we were here to document our trip with photos, Jorge knew all the good spots to take us to get the best shots.
As we sat down for a great lunch, the skies once again unleashed some torrential rain. Our ride back was a little sketchy in the heavy rain, but we made it back to town in one piece before nightfall.
We asked Jake about the best time to visit Costa Rica. January to March is hot and dry, moving through the rainy season from May to mid November. We managed to hit a particularly rainy week to visit as a tropical depression decided to visit at the same time. This did not dampen our spirits though, and we had quite the adventure each and every day.
If you are interested in having your own Costa Rica adventure, contact Jake at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a custom trip on Enduro or ADV bikes. These guys really have all the local knowledge to make a great trip.
What to bring on your bike. If you plan on riding in the rainy season, you will need to obviously be prepared to get wet, I mean really wet!