Big fish, good times in Costa Rica |

Big fish, good times in Costa Rica

Photo courtesy of Christine StanleyDoug Stanley shows off a 40-inch needlefish he caught off the shore of Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula last week. Stanley and his wife Julia caught nearly a dozen rooster fish, a jack and a red snapper.

It’s 11 a.m. on a sunny Tuesday morning in the Pacific Ocean when the second fish hits. I bolt from the front of the boat and grab the rod from the hands of my local guide. The weight of a 6-foot sailfish thrashing in the ocean waters is so exhausting for my 5-foot frame that even with assistance, my shoulders and forearms burn.

The fight seems an eternity of effort, and ends in excitement when the iridescent fish finally surfaces and is hauled into the boat and onto my lap for a quick photo. Released back into the water, my catch hovers for a moment then disappears into the blue. It was the first of many Costa Rican experiences that left my family and me grinning, laughing and hollering with excitement on one of the best getaways we’ve had in years.

Few travelers get to return from Easter vacation and boast of catching 6-foot sailfish, being stung by microscopic jellyfish, climbing waterfalls and kayaking through mangrove forests ” but that’s exactly what I did in five active days on Costa Rica’s southwestern Osa Peninsula. It is not only a delightful location, but also a perfect choice for outdoor enthusiasts with a thirst for wild experiences. And with only a one-hour time change from California, getting down and dirty the minute you arrive is totally doable.

The place is Crocodile Bay, known as one of the best sport fishing and ecotour resorts in Costa Rica. It’s accessible, beautiful and wonderfully laid-back; a down-to-earth destination flanked by sandy beaches, secondary rain forests and the bustling little town of Puerto Jimenez. And while sport fishing remains the resort’s primary attraction, a slew of other activities like rain forest tours, waterfall rappelling, snorkeling, mountain biking, bird watching, surfing and many others are led by a team of knowledgeable and accommodating guides.

Better than landing a fish the size of a man, in my opinion, was an afternoon spent kayaking through crocodile- and crab-infested waters in an oversized orange plastic canoe too awkward for my mother and me to maneuver. We made our way ” albeit awkwardly and without an ounce of grace ” through a hidden river of mangrove roots, fallen trees and low-hanging branches, all the while praying that our amateur antics wouldn’t leave us as dinner for the crocs.

And speaking of crocs (cocodrilos in Spanish), the resort has its own private lagoon of wild reptiles. Walk right up to the edge ” there’s no rope or fence ” and toss in some leftovers for a view straight off of Animal Planet.

In fact, getting up-close and personal with wildlife is the best part of Costa Rica, especially in the Osa rain forest, one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. On two separate hikes beneath the canopy, we spotted three species of monkey, poisonous dart frogs, a sloth, a toucan, bats, millions of leaf-cutter ants, a neon-blue crayfish, dozens of scarlet macaws and more Dr. Seuss-looking plants and trees than I could count.

Some of the better views I had of the rain forest were found not on foot, but from the air, whizzing above the canopy on a system of zip-lines in Volcan Poas (Poas Volcano) National Park, outside of San Jose. At Colinas del Poas, my family geared up for two-hours of Tarzan-like play on 13 sky-high cables, the last of which spans 2,000 feet.

After five days of adventure and discovery, my family and I parted ways with the country we had so quickly come to love. My mother made it abundantly clear that she will soon be needing a second honeymoon in Costa Rica. I’m giving some heavy thought to returning to explore the country’s Caribbean side. My brother discovered the delicious taste of fresh Ahi, and my dad, well, he was really eager to escape the humidity in exchange for a few more powder days at Squaw.

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