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Friday, February 23, 2024

Costa Rica’s Pérez Zeledón and a Bridge to Remember

One of the great things about living in Costa Rica is that it feels like a bunch of different countries stuffed into one small country. You can sit under the blazing sun on a beach surrounded by dusty, mostly leafless trees in Guanacaste and then hop into your car, drive an hour or two up a mountain, and find yourself immersed in the humid green jungle echoing with insect life. You’ve only driven a few kilometers, but it feels as though you’re in a completely different place.  

My wife and I like to take advantage of Costa Rica’s rapidly changing landscapes by packing our kids and a bull terrier into the family vehicle and spending a few days in part of the country that feels very different from our own little corner. A couple of years ago we wanted to get out of Dodge at Christmas time. When the vacations around the holidays commence, every family that lives in the interior of the country sets out for the beach, making our normally sleepy town significantly less sleepy. So, we thought we’d take the opposite approach and leave the beach for Pérez Zeledón.

While on vacation visiting a part of Costa Rica that we’ve never been to, we go with the not-much-of-a-plan plan. We drive around the area, see whatever there is to see, eat at whichever soda strikes our fancy, and visit any establishment that looks as though it could entertain the kids for more than five minutes. My wife finds the activities. It’s my job to agree to go and drive the whole crew. We started with Nauyaca Waterfall, the most popular waterfall in the area. It was beautiful.

Then we visited Reptilandia, a reptile zoo, which I obviously loved considering my interest in wildlife (They have a Komodo dragon!). After we spent a weird afternoon in a closed petting zoo where the owners weren’t home, but they told us via WhatsApp just to wander in and pet everything, we started running out of options for day trips.

My wife had noticed a sign for another waterfall on the road between Dominical and Pérez Zeledón, so we decided that would be our next adventure. She looked it up on Google Maps and Eco Chontales Waterfall popped up, only 13 kilometers from the main road. So we turned onto the gravelly dirt road and started winding our way through the countryside.

It was the type of road that’s fairly common in Costa Rica, approximately one and a half lanes wide with one side having about a meter of shoulder before plunging off of a cliff. We were driving one of our poorly functioning, way too expensive SUVs that we’ve struggled through over our time in Costa Rica, and though the drive was beautiful, I had a secret stress in my heart that halfway up a hill on this backroad would be a terrible place for the car to break down. 

Just as my wife was assuring me that Google Maps said we were almost there, we rounded a corner to find a pickup truck that was stopped in the road. It looked like it was about to turn right onto a bridge and then just stopped. As we pulled up behind it, the man driving eyeballed me in the sideview mirror, gave me a little wave, backed up and pulled out of our way. I made the same right turn that he had made and came to a dead stop just like he had.

I stopped because before me was an approximately ten-meter stretch of rickety metal bridge that seemed to have no chance of supporting the weight of my car. I couldn’t in good conscience risk my family’s lives for a swim in a waterfall, so I backed up and joined the pickup on the side of the road.

I walked over to chat the driver of the pickup who turned out to be the dad of a little family that was also attempting to reach the waterfall. We both walked out onto the bridge and marveled at the surprising distance that our cars would fall into the water and rocks below if the bridge were to give way.

As we were discussing if either one of us would really drive across this bridge, a man in a dusty, squeaky car came down the dirt road, gave us a little wave, and shot straight across the bridge without hesitation. The bridge flopped up and down under the car’s weight and squealed like a pig but didn’t collapse.

At that, I looked at my new friend and asked, “Well, are you going?”

He said, “Yes… but you first.”

So, I backed up my car and started toward the bridge. Before actually driving across, I thought better of it and walked my two kids and wife across the wobbly metal expanse. There’s no use in the whole family falling off of an obviously dubious bridge. At worst, it would just be me. As I settled into the car to begin driving across, my new friend waved for me to stop. He then walked his wife and kid across the bridge, apparently liking my just-the-dads-fall plan.

Obviously, we both crossed and lived to tell our tale. We had a wonderful time at the waterfall, which I highly recommend. On the drive back my wife recorded the second crossing of the bridge, which doesn’t seem nearly as scary in cellphone video form. Take a look at the video below and listen for my then 6-year-old son quietly exclaiming, “Too much weight! Too much weight!”

About the Author

Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on facebook or instagram. You can also email him at:

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