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This 1,280-hectare rainforest reserve (tel. 506/2764-1111, www.rara-avis.com) abutting Braulio Carrillo National Park, 15 kilometers west of Las Horquetas, is one of the original sustainable projects in the country. It contains a biological research station and a host of novel projects designed to show that a rainforest can be economically viable if left intact, not cut down.
Projects include ecotourism and producing exportable orchids and philodendrons for wicker. There’s a butterfly farm and orchid garden. More than 360 bird species inhabit the reserve, along with jaguars, tapirs, monkeys, anteaters, coatimundis, and butterflies galore.
Visitors can view the canopy from two platforms ($35, including two-hour guided hike), including one at the foot of a spectacular double waterfall. Rara Avis gets up to 5.5 meters of rain a year; it has no dry months.
The trails range from easy to difficult. Rubber boots are recommended (the lodge has boots to lend for those with U.S. shoe sizes of 12 or smaller). Guided walks include night tours.
Most people consider the experience of getting to Rara Avis part of the fun; others have stated that no reward is worth three hours of bumping about on the back of a canopied trailer. Even the tractor sometimes gets stuck! Rara Avis is not a place for a day visit; a two-night minimum stay is required.
Rara Avis has three accommodations options ($50–85 s, $100–150 d low season; $55–90 s, $110–160 d high season), all taking you back to the essence of a cozy yet basic ecolodge concept.
Waterfall Lodge features eight rooms, each with private bathtub and hot water, and a wraparound balcony with great views.
Ten minutes’ walk from the lodge, the two-room River Edge Cabin is ideal for bird-watchers and honeymooners and has hammocks on a balcony, solar lighting, and private bath with hot water.
Finally, there are four simple two-room cabins with bunks. A two-night minimum stay is required. Reservations are essential. Rates include meals.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition