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Puntarenas

Location : 87 miles (140 km) NW of San José, 56 miles (90 km) SE of Liberia, mainland side of Gulf of Nicoya N of Punta Morales.

La Ensenada Lodge is a delightful surprise at the end of a dirt road through rural landscapes. The 865-acre (350-ha) property is registered as a private wildlife refuge. Guests can enjoy water- and land-based birds – more than 140 species, including white ibis, tri-colored heron, purple gallinule, double-striped thick-knee, parrots, parakeets, bellbirds, trogons and kingfishers. With luck, you might see a jabiru. Crocodiles, coyotes, howlers and white-faced monkeys, sloths, agoutis, and iguanas are about. A freshwater and saltwater lagoon add to mangrove, river, and forest habitats.

Also a working farm, Ensenada offers a chance to participate in Costa Rican farm life : cattle, horses and various fruit crops, including watermelon. Ride native criollo horses ($15) to explore refuge trails, visit a salt flat (January to April see sald produced much the way indigenous peoples did it) and go to a freshwater lagoon and through forest to a hilltop view of the gulf at sundown. Boats carry guests on a two-hour island and mangrove tour to see roseate spoonbills, hawks, black-bellied whistling ducks, and egrets, along with crocodiles and howler monkeys.

A three-hour boat trip to Palo Verde National Park. Marked hiking trails go through dry forest, mangroves and wetlands. Tennis, swimming in the pool, water-skiing, and windsurfing are other options, but be sure to leave time to relax in the hammock on your front porch. Lodging is in wooden bungalows facing gulf waters (ensenada means cove or small bay). Eight cabins have two rooms, each with its own bath, while four larger cabins are ideal for families; one has a ramp for wheelchairs. Meals are served in a large thatched rancho with checkered tablecloths

Getting there By bus : from San José, take the bus to Punta Morales and catch the afternoon bus to Abangaritos, where lodge staff picks you up with advance notice. By car : from San José, take the Inter-American to Punta Morales turnoff and continue for 12 miles (19 km) on gravel road (watch out for the chickens); from Liberia, take the Inter-American to the Costa de Pájaros turnoff and continue 9 miles (15 km).

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

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