Location : Coast of southern Nicoya Peninsula, 4 miles (7 km) S of Paquera, 44 miles (70 km) from Nicoya.
Size : 208 acres (84 ha).
Information / Reservations : (506)661-2392; operates also as a fax evenings only. Advance reservations needed for day or overnight visit.
The Curú refuge has a deserted-island kind of feeling – maybe from the coconut-strewn beach, or the mangrove swamp, or the jungled hills rising at the end of the bay. Walking through the tall forest behind the palm-fringed beach, you sense the wildness of the place. Small islands, one of them Tortuga Island, jut up in the Pacific in front of Curú Beach, one of three sand beaches in the refuge. On the distant horizon is the mainland.
Boa constrictors are at home here, as are pacas, agoutis, ocelots, white-faced and howler monkeys, rattlesnakes, iguanas, white-tailed deer, herds of peccaries, mountain lions, and margays (a small, spotted cat with a long tail). Waters along the beach host giant conch, lobsters, and oysters, and offer good snorkeling. Hawksbill and olive ridley turtles come ashore to nest. The magnificent frigate bird soars overhead. Parrots squawk. Hummingbirds, trogons, hawks, swallows, egrets, motmots, tanagers, roseate spoonbills, and fish eagles are among 223 species of birds. There are 78 mammal species, 87 of reptiles (two big crocodiles live in the river), 26 of amphibians, and more than 500 plant species. You’ll see pochote trees and guanacaste trees, which indigenous peoples called curú, hence the name.
Creation of the Curú refuge was the doing of
Federico and Julietta Schutt, who established Curú Hacienda in 1933 for commercial logging, reforestation and agriculture. When squatters took over a chunk of the farm in 1974, the Schutts looked for ways to protect habitat and wildlife. Within a few years, the remaining forest and mangroves received protected forest status; in 1983, national wildlife refuge status was secured for the fragile marine and beach habitat. The refuge comprises 5 percent of the farm’s 3,697 acres (1,496 ha): 75 percent forest and 20 percent in agricultural and cattle production.
Visitors can explore 17 trails with names like Mango, Killer, Laguna and Rio, rated from easy to difficult. On some, the plants’ scientific names are marked. One-hour Finca de los Monos (Monkey Farm) Trail gets off to a picturesque start across a rustic hanging bridge over the Curú River.
Walking with Doña Julieta or her children is walking with the best guides around.
Walking with Doña Julieta’s daughter, Adelina, you'll receive an introduction to forest, swamps, and Adelina’s life in this wonderland, where boas can be in bedrooms and dinner can be for family or hungry hordes of researchers. Adelina has spearheaded environmental education programs, leading more than 750 students from 16 schools on walks and giving talks.
A spider monkey reintroduction program is off and running; this species has disappearted in many areas of Costa Rica because of hunting pressures and habitat loss.
Other conservation efforts here include an artificial reef, built of old tires, for marine species; rearing of sea turtles in captivity for release into the Pacific; reforestation of almost 500 acres (200 ha) with native tree species; and use of insect traps and natural pest predators to decrease pesticides in agricultural operations.
Though the very rustic cabins along the beach at Curú are primarily for researchers and student groups, space may be available for an overnight stay – 36 beds in all. Typical meals, served family-style, are ample and tasty.
By bus : from Paquera, take Cóbano and Montezuma buses and get off at the Curú entrance on the highway; 1.5-mile (2.5-km) walk to refuge.
By car : entrance 4 miles (7 km) south of Paquera on main road to Cóbano. The sign is hard to see; watch on the left for a tall, gated entrance next to a house.
Other : area hotels, lodges, and tour agencies offer day tours. Easily accessible by boat or kayak.
Source: Costa Rica Adventures in Nature by Ree Strange Sheck, John Muir Publications, Santa Fee, New Mexico.