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Puntarenas

Location : at Las Mellizas, about 16 miles (26 km) NE of San Vito, 7 hours S of San José near Panamanian border. Rates include lodging, meals, guided tour, taxes. Packages available. Information / Reservations : San José (506)290-2251, (506)220-2331, fax (506)232-1913. Lodge number is (056)773-3193.

The bird list for this place tells the story of incredible biodiversity here – almost 400 species so far: more than 20 species of hummingbirds alone.

La Amistad Lodge is on Hacienda La Amistad, with elevations from 4,100 to 7,218 feet (1,250 to 2,200 m). It includes thousands of acres of rain forest within the Las Tablas Protected Zone. On the Pacific slope of the Talamanca Mountains, Las Tablas was declared part of the Amistad Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations and a World Heritage site by UNESCO for its rich biodiversity. Sixty percent of the flora and fauna in Costa Rica is thought to exist here.

3-inch (7,6-cm) grasshoppers are the largest in existence. To walk in this forest is to walk in a sacred place; one of the trails even has a cathedral – an immense, awe-inspiring fig tree. More than 37 miles (60 km) of trails are suited to different energy levels and physical abilities. Watch for dead man’s finger among the incredible variety of mushrooms along the paths. Howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, and peccaries live here, among an estimated 215 mammal species.

Owner Roberto Montero, whose grandfather owned this land, can relate area history, how Las Tablas became a Protected area, and how he believes conservation through sustainable development is the key to preserving natural resources. At La Amistad Lodge, guests get more than rain-forest ecology; they also see almost 400 acres (160 ha) devoted to organic farming: more than 10 years since any kind of agrochemicals were applied on this land, including pasture for cattle. The La Amistad brand name is now on coffee, hot sauces, chips, refried beans, and other organic products for export. Fruit pulp from coffee is composted for organic fertilizer. Guests can see the coffee-processing plant from the lodge.

The lodge is a three-story marvel of tropical woods. In he downstairs dining room, delicious buffet-style meals are served by friendly local people. Beautiful pre-Columbian pieces from the property are on exhibit (petroglyphs can be seen on some trails). The huge, high-ceilinged lounge area n the second floor has comfortable seating in front of a big stone fireplace and opens onto an ample balcony. Five rooms, shared baths, are off the living area. Across a walkway in back are five additional rooms with ceiling fans and private baths. Radio, computer and telephone operate on solar power, and a hydroelectric plant provides other electricity. Optional guided tours on the hacienda include half-day and full-day adventures, mostly in the $20 to $35 range: natural history walks, horseback riding, bird-watching, trout fishing, a hardy hike to the Río Negro waterfall, a tour of the hacienda. Though there is much to do at the hacienda, day tours are offered to Wilson Botanical Garden at Las Cruces and to Bambito in Panama .

Guests may choose to stay at campsites deep inside the forest reserve. Cotoncito, with six rustic cabins, shared baths, and a dining/common room, is the first of several planned inside the huge 37,000-acre (15,000-ha) forest reserve. With Cotoncito as a base, guests venture out on tours or simply delight in this secluded retreat’s surroundings; forest, the fauna, and nearby Coton River. Cotoncito is an hour from the lodge via four-by-four pickup. Don’t miss this high adventure.

Getting there By bus : San José-San Vito bus; arrange transfer from there with lodge. By car : from San Vito continue through Sabalito (pavement ends here) and Las Mellizas, following lodge signs. Other : La Amistad offers transfers to and from San José as well as to destinations such as Tiskita, Golfito and Jacó.

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

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