Costa Rica's Stunning Rain Forest Adventure
By Tom Wuckovich
seemed no end to it. This vast green abyss
— one of many rain forests in Costa Rica
— was thick and lush and drowned the mountains
in an emerald tapestry, descending to
kiss the rolling surf of the Pacific coast.
It was as intimidating as it was alluring.
What secrets it held, what mysteries it
hid, what dangers it offered darted through
my mind as I prepared to venture into
its green maw — anxious, yet undaunted.
was going into the bosom of this rain forest
on horseback with several other riders,
bent on catching a glimpse of the vast
indigenous inhabitants of Hacienda Baru,
a biologically diverse private reserve
of nearly 1,000 acres near Playa Dominical.
The reserve has been set aside to protect
the varied species of birds, mammals,
trees and insects in the rain forest. Our
final destination was the Nauyaca Waterfalls,
a torrent of cascading water from the
river Baru, which winds its way down the
mountains and through the heart of the
forest before emptying into the sea.
would be no easy trek. The horses, though
seemingly surefooted, would be tested
on this day thanks to the steady drizzle
that turned the crude trail into a quagmire
of mud and slippery stones. It was treacherous
at times, but never more so then the final
descent from the trail down along a foot
path barely wide enough for man and beast.
The trail was beset with cavities of grasping
muck and slick, table-sized volcanic rock.
Barely a word was spoken, as we all concentrated
on negotiating this last bit of wilderness
before emerging into a small clearing,
where we heard the distinct roar of the
nearby waterfalls. We all dismounted with
a collective sigh of relief, and at last
had the opportunity to really concentrate
on our primitive surroundings.
wind, heavy with the hot breath of summer,
still felt cool on our wet skin. In quick
succession, the two guides pointed out
a three-toed sloth lounging in a tree,
several toucans, a scarlet macaw and a
poison dart frog. We scrambled to reach
under our ponchos and retrieve cameras
to record the native creatures. After
a few minutes of shutters clicking, it
was time to hike to the waterfalls and
perhaps take a refreshing swim in the
wading pools formed beneath them.
The jaunt was worth the effort. The water
— thousands of gallons a minute — gushed
over the precipice and crashed onto the
immense slate-colored boulders below,
just yards from where we stood. This was
nature's stage, and it was a spectacle
this audience appreciated.
Several in the group had brought bathing
suits and walked further away from the
powerful falls to take advantage of the
opportunity to cool off in the glistening
pools. Two brave souls climbed up and
around the rocks to a makeshift platform
where they dove headfirst into the water.
The obstacles we overcame to get here
were all but forgotten in the giddiness
of the moment. However, there was still
the ride back. Fortunately, the return,
though daunting, also went without incident.
It was an auspicious beginning to my first
trip to Costa Rica's burgeoning west coast,
though it would not be my last foray into
the Hacienda Baru.
other activity awaited me-a zip line ride
through another part of the dense forest.
Zip lining affords you the chance to literally
zip through the rainforest while dangling
from a harness with a carabiner attached
to a steel wire.
Before that undertaking, I was ready to
return to Kiana Resort, a new development
in Playa Dominical that prides itself
on its "light footprint" approach
to construction projects. Simply put,
the resort is small and compact with much
of the land set aside as ecological reserve.
This commitment to being non-intrusive
translates into a secluded hideaway that
offers a wealth of amenities but allows
for plenty of space between humans and
the flora and fauna.
Kiana Resort as my base, I could savor
all of what Playa Dominical offers. The
waves are revered among the windsurfing
set, and there are windsurfing competitions
held throughout the year. Other water
sports include snorkeling and diving,
ocean kayaking or river rafting, whale
watching and sports fishing. If you prefer land-based
horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking
and bird watching can all be booked through
Kiana, in addition to zip lining.
The rush of adrenalin that zip lining
gives you as you step off the platform
and glide through the openings in the
trees is indescribable. Baru contains
nine lines that crisscross through the
jungle in varying lengths. Two guides
always accompany you. One goes first to
catch you and bring you onto the platform,
and one helps you to prepare for being
If these adventures are a bit taxing,
you can enjoy the customary resort offerings
such as spending time at the pool or Jacuzzi,
walking the beach or enjoying fine dining
at the restaurant.
also gives you the opportunity to have
a private chef cater your meal in your
room. Not only will you get VIP treatment,
you'll have the opportunity — if you desire
— to take a cooking lesson from the chef
and his staff during the affair.
If you don't mind driving - though many
of the roads are still barely passable
- there are other sights to see both north
and south of Playa Dominical.
Corcovado National Park, to the south, is
the country's largest tract of virgin
forest. Wildlife in the park includes
jaguars, pumas, tapirs and monkeys.
Manual Antonio National Park, to the north,
is one of the better-known national parks
and features nearly 200 species of birds
and all three species of monkey found
in Costa Rica.
Just north of the park is Los Suenos Marriott
Ocean & Golf Resort, with an 18-hole,
par-72 championship course designed by
architect Ted Robinson Jr. It is worth
taking the still unfinished road to play this
time permits, spend at least one day in
San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. This
culture-rich metropolis has a number of
interesting venues for the traveler, including
a fantastic gold museum, national theater
and many buildings with historical or
architectural value. If you have only
a short time here, hire an experienced
I was fortunate to have the services of
Ignacio Solom of Urbanaddicts, who met
me at the Hotel Grano de Oro, a small,
but luxurious boutique hotel near the
center of town. The walking tour Solom provided
presented a unique perspective of the
city and its history. I capped off the
evening with a superb dinner at the Grano
de Oro restaurant, which resembles a stately
mansion rather than a hotel restaurant.
As impressive and rewarding as that first
day and night were in San Jose, what came
later at Playa Dominical whetted my appetite
for more. Costa Rica has not seen the
last of me.
Fax: (506) 787-4006
Antonio National Park
Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort
Playa Herradura, 5024005 Costa Rica
Phone: (506) 630-9000
Grano de Oro
Phone: (506) 255-3322