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Costa Rica 5 Hidden Treasures Off The Tourist Trail

Updated on October 3, 2014

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.

Costa Rica Flag
Costa Rica Flag
The elusive Quetzal.
The elusive Quetzal.

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.

Diamante Waterfall - Costa Rica
Diamante Waterfall - Costa Rica
Inside the cave of Diamante Waterfalls on our 20th wedding anniversary.
Inside the cave of Diamante Waterfalls on our 20th wedding anniversary.

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.

One of my favorite birds, the toucan
One of my favorite birds, the toucan

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

Humpback Whales
Humpback Whales
Whales Tale at Ballena Marine National Park
Whales Tale at Ballena Marine National Park
Sea Turtle
Sea Turtle
One of the beaches inside Ballena Marine National Park
One of the beaches inside Ballena Marine National Park

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 Waterfall, Costa Rica
Nauyaca Waterfall, Costa Rica

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 festival, note the intricately carved Borucan masks
Boruca festival, note the intricately carved Borucan masks
Bourcan weaving we purchased at the Boruca Reserve
Bourcan weaving we purchased at the Boruca Reserve

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.

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.

Pura Vida

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    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      4 years ago from United States

      Great information. We are planning a trip to Costa Rica this summer. Thanks for the tips about some of the lesser known spots to visit.

    • Valene profile image

      Valene 

      5 years ago from Missouri

      This is my most favorite place on Earth. I can't wait to go back someday.

    • profile image

      Fred 

      6 years ago

      Thank you very much!!! It's really appreciated! :)

      If finding this fall would be easy... that would not be a gem anymore.. right!

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      6 years ago

      It's on the left shortly after crossing the first bridge after Las Tumbas. Not super easy to find the access road. Look for a small sign on the access road, there isn't a sign on the Las Tumbas road itself, drive slow after crossing the bridge and you should see it. The people that own the property sometimes have retreats scheduled up there, so it's wise to call ahead and make sure it's cool to go up there. The Tree of Life people could tell you. It would be a drag to hike up there to discover there was a group doing a retreat.

    • profile image

      Fred 

      6 years ago

      Oh... thanks for the tip!! :)

      But I guess we can go up there by ourselves right?

      Is the trail head easy to find from the road?

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      6 years ago

      Hi Fred. There have been some changes (early 2012). One of the people involved with the Falls has returned to the US. I would suggest for now, to contact Tree of Life at http://artofunion.com/home_community/tree_life. They can arrange trips up to the falls.

    • profile image

      Fred 

      6 years ago

      Hi!

      I'm really interrested to see the Diamante Waterfall! There are lots of pictures of the waterfall over the internet, but it's hard to find the exact direction to the waterfall (or the trail head). Could you please tell me where to find the info?

      Thanks!! Pura Vida! :)

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      7 years ago

      Gypsy, thanks. It's amazing that in such a small country there are so many interesting places to see.

      Thank you Jocey.

    • JoceyPosse profile image

      JoceyPosse 

      7 years ago from Toronto

      Great hub! Lots of ideas for my next trip ;)

    • Gypsy Jane profile image

      Gypsy Jane 

      7 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for sharing. I'll definitely be checking out these sites while I'm living down here!

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      7 years ago

      Well, now you have another reason to come back and visit the area.

      Corcovado.... yes it is a beautiful protected area. I was just down near the area last month at Playa Matapalo.

    • Curt_Swinndorf profile image

      Curt_Swinndorf 

      7 years ago from Germany

      I have recently been to Costa Rica and especially the southern Pacific Coast. Damn, that I missed those waterfalls! My favourite treasure off the tourist trail would be (apart from what you said) Cabo Blanco National Park as well as Corcovado. Cabo Blanco is the oldest national park but still a very quiet place. Corcovado... of course you know about it ;-)

    • chrispreynolds1 profile image

      chrispreynolds1 

      7 years ago

      Love it my friend....You have some great articles

    • profile image

      Skinny Minny 

      7 years ago

      Wish I would've went to the falls! Maybe next time!

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      8 years ago

      Hi PSG, Chirripo is an amazing place to hike. The hot springs on the way up to Chirripo are great.

    • PSG profile image

      PSG 

      8 years ago from San Gerardo, Costa Rica

      You forgot to mention Chirripo!!;)

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      8 years ago

      Thanks Pat,

      I live in the southern part of Costa Rica, so it was fun to write about the places in my "backyard". I was just up at the Diamante Waterfalls last Wednesday.

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      8 years ago

      I decided to write a hub about moving to Costa Rica, after the last comment.

      https://hubpages.com/moving-to-costa-rica

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      8 years ago

      We haven't had any "big" surprises. We had been traveling to Central America for about 14 years off and on, so we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Three years ago we were in Nicaragua, working on some fair trade projects with artisans. Nicaragua was harder for us, but we really love it there. Our hearts are really in Nicaragua but Costa Rica is easier for a family. Health Care and Education for starters. You said you are considering a possible move to Costa Rica, if you ever want info/resources on moving to Costa Rica, just send me an email and I'll let you know some of the sites I have bookmarked.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      8 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      What was the biggest surprise when you finally "moved in" and called Costa Rica home?

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      8 years ago

      Thanks travelespresso and nikipa.

      Yes, zip-lining is a blast lakeerie. I believe zip lining first started here in Costa Rica in the mid-90's. Of course it's all over the world now. My son did a zip-line tour for the first time when he was 5. We did one last year near the Osa Peninsula that was crazy, it had one line that was over 500 meters long.

    • lakeerieartists profile image

      Paula Atwell 

      8 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      Gorgeous pics here. My sister and her husband traveled to Costa Rica last year and really had a great trip including doing the zipline which I thought they were crazy to do. :)

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      8 years ago

      Dallas, Costa Rica has been a great place for me and my family. We've been living here for a couple of years now.

    • nikipa profile image

      nikipa 

      8 years ago from Eastern Europe

      Love it!!! You did a great job!

    • travelespresso profile image

      travelespresso 

      8 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Thanks for your most interesting hub on Costa Rica. Good stuff! Great photos too.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      8 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Thanks for your well research hub. I definitely am going to visit, perhaps live there... I must research more.

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      8 years ago

      Yes, I think Costa Rica is a beautiful place. I see you're into fishing, great fishing here too.

    • Uzdawi profile image

      Uzdawi 

      8 years ago

      Really great hub, thanks!Costa Rica sure is beautiful:)

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      8 years ago

      Thanks fetty. The Hubnugget nomination has been good exposure for this article. A friend of mine, created and maintains the Borucan Reserve website that is referred to in the hub, I am glad that I've been able to promote the Borucan's work and some people are seeing the beautiful masks that they create.

    • fetty profile image

      fetty 

      8 years ago from South Jersey

      Beautiful hub jam packed with information and exquisite pictures and videos. I must take a trip to Costa Rica, now. Congratulations on you Hubnugget Nomination,too.

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      8 years ago

      Thank you Pamela. The canals are a real treat aren't they, there is a lot of wildlife to be seen on the canals. Anyone going to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica should try to take a boat through the canals.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      I love Costa Rico and I only spent one full day there when on a cruise. We did get to go to the rain forest and saw a white face monkey and also visited the Tortuga canals. I have wanted to return ever since that time.

      Your hub is excellent with so many beautiful pictures and details of the country. The waterfall video was excellent as well. Congratulations on your nomination.

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      8 years ago

      Thanks ripplemaker. I am happy about the nomination for this article. Glad you enjoyed the waterfall video.

    • surf traveler profile imageAUTHOR

      surf traveler 

      8 years ago

      Elayne, your articles make me want to hop on a plane and head to Hawaii. Your family trip to the bay with the sandbar near your house sounds great to me.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I love the falls. I so love watching the waterfalls!

      Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination! Check out the Travel and Places categroy. There you will find your hub. Be sure to cast your own vote and then promote your hub to your family and friends! https://hubpages.com/hubnuggets10/hub/A-HubNugget-...

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 

      8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Incredibly beautiful place. You make it sound so inviting. Hopefully some day . . .

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