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Costa Rica 5 Hidden Treasures Off The Tourist Trail
Costa Rica is a small Central American country located between Panama and Nicaragua. It has been well known as a tourist destination since the mid 1990s. Vacationers to Costa Rica will typically go to the well known locations of Manuel Antonio National Park, Poas Volcano, Mount Arenal National Park and Tamarindo. These are all beautiful places, but are well marked on every tourist brochure.
It is still easy to find places in Costa Rica where there are few tourists and very beautiful and natural settings.The southern pacific zone of Costa Rica is still largely undiscovered. In the past, the road south was in poor condition after leaving the coast town of Quepos/Manuel Antonio. Manuel Antonio is Costa Rica's most visited National Park. To travel south beyond this point required a four wheel drive vehicle. For most tourists, they may as well have put up a sign, “Only Dragons Beyond This Point”. Now it is possible to travel south all the way to Panama on a good paved highway. In the spring of 2010 the long awaited construction of the coastal highway was finally completed, one month prior to the end of the term of President Oscar Arias.
President Arias was quoted as saying “we are a country of 5 star hotels and 1 star highways”. During the four years he was in office, he was responsible for many improvements to Costa Rica's infrastructure. In a region where neighboring countries have been in the news for their violence, political coups and quasi dictatorships, he was quietly keeping Costa Rica on the right tracks.
Traveling to the southern pacific zone of Costa Rica is easy now, thanks to the new highway. Near the beach town of Dominical, you will find five places that make for incredible experiences.
Top 5 Costa Rican Hidden Treasures
Diamante Waterfalls – Las Tumbas, Costa Rica
The Diamante Waterfalls are an experience you will not forget. From the 3,300 foot summit, the crystal clear waters of the Baru River drop 1,500-feet down a steep canyon to the Catedral de Piedra, before taking the 600-foot plunge off Diamante Falls to the valley floor below. An incredible feature of the falls is that located on one side of the mountain next to the falls is a natural cave dwelling complete with a kitchen and the ability to accommodate up to 25 guests overnight. From the cave you get a clear view to the Pacific Coast, 2500 feet below. It is a two hour hike to the falls, if you are at an average fitness level you can do the hike. There are a lot of rustic steps (didn't count 'em but it's well over a hundred I'm sure) built into the trail, so if you have bad knee's you might need to pass on this one. We did the hike with our ten year old son and it wasn't a problem for anyone, but you will be sweating by the top. I think the hike keeps the falls special because it isn't easily accessible and keeps the fanny pack toting, pot-bellied tourists in white socks away. Getting there makes the experience that much more special.
Dominical Costa Rica
Hacienda Baru – 3 km's north of Dominical
Oh, the overused and abused word “eco-tourism”. How about a jet-ski eco-tour or a sunset booze cruise eco-tour? No thanks. Well if there is one place in the world deserving the ability to use the term eco-tourism in their marketing it is the Hacienda Baru. Since 1978 Jack Ewing and his wife Diane have devoted their lives to Hacienda Baru. The property has been declared a National Wildlife Refuge by the President of Costa Rica. It is through the devotion of Jack and his family that this has happened.
Hacienda Baru has 800+ acres of wetland, secondary and primary rainforest. Three kilometers of beautiful sand beach with no development and seven kilometers of walking trails. There is a butterfly garden as well as an orchid garden.
They have bilingual guides who have been with Hacienda Baru for years. They offer birdwatching and other guided walking tours. There is also a very well done zip line canopy tour.
If you are into surfing, Dominical Beach is only 3 kilometers south. There are surf shops to rent a surfboard or to get lessons. The surf at Dominical can be heavy at times, so if it's a big day, the surf shops will arrange transportation to the more mellow Dominicalito Beach just 4 kilometers further south.
Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica
Ballena Marine National Park – Uvita, Costa Rica
In Spanish the word Ballena means whale. Pods of humpback whales pass through between the months of August to October, and again from December to April. Now, is it because of the whales that the park was given it's name, or do you think it was because of the distinctive feature found within the park? Look at the aerial photo to the right of the beach and you can see why its referred to as Whales Tale beach, found within the park. The whales are not the only reason to come to this park. Between the months of May and October Olive Ridley and Hawksbill turtles come ashore to nest. This is also a wonderful spot to see a variety of animal species. The park has stunning beaches that are practically deserted. The largest coral reef on the Pacific Coast of Central America is located in the park. This makes for excellent snorkeling at low-tide.
When you are at the beach looking back from the waters edge towards shore it is easy to imagine that this would be the same view from one hundred years ago. Development is very low key here and it is easy to forget that you are only a few miles from the highway.
One thing to be aware of when swimming at the beaches inside the park, there are no lifeguards, which is the case at almost every beach in Costa Rica. Please be aware and be safe, whenever you are at any of Costa Rica's beaches. Many of the beaches have strong waves and there are rip tides. If you know what to do in the event of finding yourself in a rip tide, you can get out of them safely. For more information on rip tides you can check out How to get out of a rip tide.
Nauyaca Waterfalls – Between Baru and Platanillo, Costa Rica
Only a 10 minute drive up the road from Dominical Beach you will find the turn-off to the Nauyaca Waterfalls. You can walk to the waterfalls on your own from the road, it's about an hour and a half hike, or you can take Don Lulo's Horseback Nauyaca Falls Tour. The tour starts with a breakfast and then a horseback ride with knowledgeable guides to the two lovely waterfalls that make up the Nauyaca Waterfalls. The main waterfall is a 140 foot drop into a pool of water with clear clean water that you can swim in. My family and I often go swimming in the river found on the way to the falls, where you cross over the river by bridge. Visitors we've had that come to the area list the waterfalls as one of their favorite experiences.
Nauyaca Waterfall Horseback Tour Don Lulo
Boruca Indigenous Reserve – Near the Rio Grande de Terraba
The four other locations in the southern pacific zone were all located in close proximity to Dominical Beach. Getting to the Boruca Indigenous Reserve is going to take a little more effort, but the unique experience is worth it. It's about an hour and a half drive to the reserve. Although most of the Borucans farm for a living, many continue to practice their traditonal arts of mask carving and weaving. Ornate masks carved out of balsa or cedar wood can be found natural or brightly painted.
Weavings include colorful cotton placemats, handbags and other textiles. Make arrangements ahead of time for a day trip that can include a mask carving demonstration, cotton spinning and dying from local native plants and shellfish followed by a further demonstration of weaving using a pre-Colonial style back-strap loom. A delicious hot lunch will round out a great day.
The Borucans hold an annual festival called the Fiesta de los Diablitos between December 31 and January 2. Make arrangements well in advance if you would like to attend this fascinating festival that includes music, dance and costumes.
Borucan Hand Carved Masks
This is a beautiful video of the hand carved and painted masks produced in Costa Rica at the Boruca Indigenous Reserve. The Borucans also produce lovely weavings using natural dyes.
Visit the Borucan Reserve
- Boruca Indigenous Costa Rican Art
Boruca Handmade Indigenous Costa Rican Art Information about the Costa Rican Boruca indigenous people, their art, and how you can help keep their culture alive by visiting them and purchasing their unique, handmade masks, natural woven items
Know of a hidden treasure in Costa Rica?
I'd love to hear from you if you have a "Hidden Treasure" of your own to share about Costa Rica. Leave me a comment and I'll get right back to you. Have you been to any of the places suggested in this article? Share your views in the comment section at the bottom of the article.
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