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Puntarenas

Location : on the Pacific coast a mile (2 km) N of Dominical, 29 miles (47 km) S of Quepos, 24 miles (38 km) SW of San Isidro de El General. Rates included breakfast and tours. Information / Reservations : (506)787-000”, fax (506)787-0004; e-mail baru@cool.co.cr; web site : www.cool.co.cr/usr/baru.baru.html.

Hacienda Barú, is an 800-acre (324-ha) private national wildlife refuge. Jack Ewing and his wife, Diane, came to Costa Rica in the 1970s, expecting to stay four months. Come and discover what has kept them here.

Hacienda Barú has come a long way since the Ewings first managed it as a cattle operation, undergoing a metamorphosis that now brings two-legged beings to wander through regenerating pasture and along lowland forest trails. Steve Stroud and Mayra Bonilla joined the partnership in the nineties, equally committed to conservation and responsible tourism.

Some visitors arrive in the tropical forest expecting boas to be hanging from the trees and jaguars to appear on the trails. Boas are on Barú’s reptile list, though you’re not likely to see one. And no jaguars have been spotted here, though there are pumas, jaguarundis and ocelots. But visitors still have plenty to see.

More than 310 species of birds have been counted, 57 species of mammals (including bats), and reptiles and amphibians that run the gamut from caimans to red-eyed tree frogs and tiny, colorful, poison-dart frogs. Hump-backed whales pass by offshore from December to April, and olive ridley and hawksbill sea turtles lay eggs on the beach from May through November. The hacienda helps with a nursery where about 2,500 baby turtles are hatched and released every year. Dolphins inhabit these warm waters.

About half of the hacienda is forested, both primary and secondary forest; the rest is mangrove, river and beach habitats. Patches of lowland forest are being connected by a 100-acre (40-ha) biological corridor to protect biodiversity.

Day visitors are welcome at Hacienda Barú, choosing from a variety of hikes with naturalists or native guides : a three-hour Mangrove and Beach Walk includes a look at reforestation with native species; the popular six-hour Rainforest Experience explores tropical wet forest ; and two- to three-hour horseback rides take in tropical waterfalls, beach, jungle trails and pastures . More than a mile (2 km) of self-guiding trails over level terrain are free for overnight guests, with a nominal fee for day visitors. Day and overnight guests can kayak through mangroves, no experience necessary; try whitewater kayaking; or experience a guided night estuary tour by kayak.

An incredible experience awaits those who ascend into the canopy by rope. Harnessed and helmeted, the visitor is gently lifted more than 100 feet (30 meters) to an observation platform - fantastic views of canopy vegetation and surrounding forest guaranteed. Possibilities of wildlife to be seen are countless . For more adventure, choose tree climbing, with a naturalist guide beside you all the way.

Spend a night in the jungle, camping in tents next to a shelter with flush toilets and shower. Observe nocturnal animals; take a night hike. Morning bird-watching in the small clearing is excellent.

If your taste runs more to cabins, there are six two- and three-bedroom units with kitchenettes, fans, screened windows with shutters, bamboo sofas with flowered cushions, and double and single beds. A complimentary continental breakfast is served in an open-air dining room. Cabins are near both forest and beach. On a small hill nearby is a two-story observation tower, terrific for bird-watchers.

Be sure to see Diane’s orchid collection : 250 species and growing. And do look in at the gift shop. Getting there By bus : Quepos-San Isidro de El General buses pass by the office. By car : from Quepos (unpaved road) start watching for signs after passing El Ceibo gas station. From San Isidro, when the road dead-ends, turn right towards Quepos, continue about a mile (2 km); office on left.

Source: Costa Rica Adventures in Nature by Ree Strange Sheck, John Muir Publications, Santa Fee, New Mexico. 

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