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The Less Well Traveled Costa Rica

Updated: Feb 14, 2018

If you want to experience some of the beauty and wildlife of Costa Rica, without all the tourists, then consider a stop at the Parque Nacional Piedras Blancas on the southern Pacific coast. Someone who has never seen a Central American rainforest can hardly imagine it, with sightings of spider monkeys, agoutis and a lizard that walks on water. You'll have to fly to San Jose and stay a night in the big city, before hopping on a puddle jumper to the rainforest. The ride is part of the adventure.

A Nature Air flight from the Golfito airport.

A stunning view of the rainforest.

My companion and I flew to the town of Golfito shortly after Christmas. The airport terminal had almost no sort of luxury, but the colorful planes more than made up for the lack of amenities. Flying over the rainforest was eye opening, not just for the beauty, but for the white knuckled experience of hitting a wind pocket.

After flying into the airport in Golfito, Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge arranged for a boat to take us to the lodge, which is powered by biofuels and solar panels. Our open platform wood cabin didn't have windows or air conditioning, but it did feature a pleasant breeze to sometimes break the stiff humidity of the climate, and mosquito netting for each bed. We could relax in one of many hammocks that line the dining hall, or experience a yoga class or massage on a platform overlooking the gulf. Everywhere we looked, there was an animal scurrying about. It might have been a long-tailed coati, rushing to get a dinner of crab. Or what's locally known as the Jesus lizard might be sailing across a pond, flapping its feet on top of the water. Dinner was heart of palm casserole with stuffed red peppers, and pureed black beans. An appetizer of fried plantains had a sweet tinge, along with a dessert of fresh coconut with chocolate.

A dessert of coconut with chocolate.

The coati.

After getting a good sleep in the cacophony that is the rainforest, we opted for the next day's adventure: a hike up a waterfall. We saw spider monkeys swinging through the trees, their long tails anchoring them, and a startling blue Morpho butterfly. The lodge had nailed ropes into the rocks of a small waterfall, so guests could pull themselves up the river and enjoy the rushing water.

The next day, we opted for a boat ride to see the dolphins in the gulf, and snorkeled for a bit, although Costa Rica isn't known for its great snorkeling, and this jaunt proved it. But dolphins are always a treat.

Dolphins in the gulf.

The next day, after breakfast, we kayaked out to an orchid garden called Casa Orquideas, where a couple who had formerly operated a cocoa farm greeted visitors from the small cruise ships that make it into the gulf. The garden includes flowers that bloom for just a day, flowers that can be used for bathing (the shampoo ginger), miniature pineapples, turmeric, and a variety of outrageous looking rubbery gems.

A plant in Casa Orquideas.

A walk through Casa Orquideas.

By the end of the trip, despite lathering on the sunscreen, I looked similar to a tree the locals called "the burned gringo." Nonetheless, I can't really complain. For a trip that's both enlivening and relaxing, not much can beat the beauty of a Central American rainforest.

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