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Costa Rica’s "Rich Coast"
Ballena Marine National Park

As we descended the narrow one-kilometer rainforest trail from La Cusinga Lodge toward Playa Arco, our gear was starting to seem just a little awkward. The lodge had supplied my wife with a bodyboard of her selection. I had picked a surfboard, and now some of the trail turns required tight maneuvering. We knew we were properly equipped at our first view of the deserted beach. The tide was coming in and the surf beckoned. With at least two hours before high tide would lap at the jungle, it wasn’t long before both of us were catching waves, hollering to each other as we glided beachward. Well-formed yet gentle waves were just right for our beginner-level skills. The good surf and warm water invited us to keep going until we were both exhausted.

Playa Arco
Playa Arco, Ballena Marine National Park

After lounging in the tropical sun to recapture our energy, we walked the still-private beach to a waterfall, and then passed through a rock tunnel to another isolated beach. Howler monkeys roared in the nearby forest. "This is incredible!" declared my wife. "I think Costa Rica really deserves its name… rich coast tells the story." Although we knew that early Spanish colonialists had named the country for its imagined mineral wealth, it is Costa’s Rica’s natural riches that warrant the namesake.

La Cusinga Eco-Lodge… "Location" and Warm Hospitality

Located at the center of Ballena Marine National Park, La Cusinga Lodge provides the perfect vacation abode. Its 500 acres of terrain include primordial and second-growth rainforest stretching from the sea into the mountains. The covered veranda, dining porch, and eight secluded cabins provide excellent views to the Pacific, including Uvita Point, Ballena (Whale) Rock Island, and Tres Hermanas (Three Sisters) Islands. After each exciting day exploring the forest or the coastline, we’d lounge on the veranda to enjoy another uniquely beautiful sunset. The perfect cap to the day would then be a tasty home-cooked Tico supper of fish, chicken, or beef with rice, beans, and vegetables. The friendly Costa Rican staff gladly gave us a great opportunity to practice our Spanish.

View from veranda
Geinier Guzman and Uvita Point

Dining Porch
La Cusinga dining area

Sunset from veranda

La Cusinga is an eco-lodge in the best sense of the term. Five Costa Rican families live on the property handling farming (most food comes directly from the land), carpentry, and attending to the guests. Some of these residents have been here for decades. The owner of the property, John Tresemer, was one of the key people in the area to initiate the national park in 1989 for conservation of the coastline and protection of the humpback whales, hawksbill turtles, and other endangered species that frequent the area. His stepson, Geinier Guzman, manages the resort and has focused on sharing this naturalist’s haven with a small number of guests. The few cabins and a dorm are all constructed of natural woods from the property. As an example of Geinier's "sustainable resources" philosophy, all of the resort’s power requirements are provided via a small creek-powered hydroelectric generator, as well as solar cells. The original farmstead at this location had cleared much of the forest for pasture 70 years prior. John Tresemer purchased the farm 33 years ago and has been steadily reforesting the property with native trees, plus some teak for local carpentry.

 La Cusinga’s friendly staff gladly guides guests on the rainforest trails to provide the best exploration of Costa Rica’s coastal flora and fauna, with special emphasis on bird watching (over 300 species identified). Additionally, they arrange tours for their clients with local operators for horseback riding, kayaking, deep-sea fishing, surfing, and whale watching.

Naturalist’s Haven

Two days of trekking La Cusinga’s rainforest on the beautifully maintained trail system enabled us to experience a small but impressive fraction of the extensive flora and fauna of this area of Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. We awakened early each morning to a cacophony of birdcalls and howler monkey roars, urging us to explore the surrounding forest. One of the most memorable sightings included three red-backed howler monkeys in the upper canopy of the primordial rainforest, swinging from tree to tree. Other animals we encountered included a large group of coatimundis (raccoon-like mammals) digging for insects, a large agouti rodent, white-faced monkeys, a rare and endangered hawksbill turtle swimming off Punta Pargo, bats, geckos, and land crabs.

(Photo: courtesy La Cusinga)

Ajo tree
1,00 year old ajo tree

Howler Monkeys
Howler monkeys
(Photo: courtesy La Cusinga)

Bird sightings included toucans, tanagers, black-hooded antshrikes, humming birds, doves, turkey vultures, pelicans, boobies, cattle egrets, and frigates. The most interesting insects were the leaf-cutter ants with their large nests and connecting trails of burdened workers carrying large leaf pieces. Other insects included termites, various colorful butterflies, and huge golden silk spiders. The most spectacular flora included a 1,000-year-old ajo tree, large ceiba trees towering above the rest of the primordial canopy, and strangler fig vines sending their 30-foot long roots down to the ground. Various flowering shrubs included hibiscus and heliconia. Useful food-source flora included banana trees, breadnut trees, tropical almonds, cacao trees, and cilantro bushes.

Exploring Coastal Waters

A highlight of our stay was a 10-kilometer sea kayak tour of the coast. My wife and I paddled a double kayak, following our Costa Rican guide, Mauricio. We started by paddling through the surf at Playa Pi˝uela then followed the rocky coastline past an isolated beach to the headwall where we found Las Cavernas, the caverns. We timed the waves to surf through the largest cavern to the opposite site of the rocky point, then kayaked to Las Tres Hermanas, the Three Sisters, a grouping of three rocky islands. Here we landed at a pebbly beach where we sighted pelicans and boobies nesting on the cliff above. The two of us snorkeled and sighted parrotfish, sea bass, and wrasses in the warm waters. Views of the coastline of the National Park were available throughout our tour. Just as at Playa Arco, we felt as if we had the coast to ourselves. No other craft was seen during the entire three-hour paddle and snorkeling adventure.

Talking with guide Mauricio
(Photo: Les Furnanz)

Three Sisters
Tres Hermanas Islands
(Photo: courtesy La Cusinga)

Paddling into Las Cavernas
(Photo: Les Furnanz)

Humpback whales are a major attraction of this coastal environment. During our visit to La Cusinga in early January the humpbacks were expected to arrive "any day now." Geinier at La Cusinga informed us about these huge beasts and the research that is in process in the national park. The humpbacks arrive at different times of the year from both Alaska and Antarctica, with some overlap in their residency in the waters of the national park. The southern hemisphere humpback migration of over 8,000 miles has been declared to be the longest known natural migration of any animal on the planet. DNA studies of the northern and southern hemisphere humpbacks indicate possible interbreeding. Sightings from La Cusinga and surrounding waters have included humpback pods as large as 15-20 whales.

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

We had elected to rent a 4-wheel-drive vehicle for a circle route from Costa Rica’s main city of San Jose where we flew in and out of the country. While La Cusinga was the above-and-beyond highlight of our tour, we enjoyed our stay in the Jacˇ area of the central Pacific coast and our drive past Manuel Antonio National Park and Dominical. A 40-kilometer section of dirt road on the coastal route with a required river fording was a traveler’s challenge, as was the pothole filled route from Dominical to San Isidro. An added highlight was a stay at a lodge in the cloud forest section of the Cordillera de Talamanca mountain range near Cerro de la Muertre. The curvy, two-lane Pan American Highway runs at 10,000-feet altitude in this section. The lodge at 7,250’ altitude was cool in the evenings, but provided excellent hiking in the cloud forest and along the Savegre River with its falls, pools, and torrents. We had the good fortune to sight a rare tropical bird, the resplendent quetzal with its long green-tail and bright red chest. Another major challenge of our trip was driving through the San Jose area and finding the airport from the east side of the city. We decided that our next trip to La Cusinga would take advantage of the local airline flight from San Jose to Palmar Sur, a mere 45-minute drive to the lodge.

La Cusinga –Best of the Rich Coast

It’s only been a few days since our arrival back home in the United States, but we’re already asking ourselves when to return to the nature, serenity, and warm hospitality of La Cusinga Eco-Lodge. The lodge and the region of Ballena Marine National Park offered the best that we’ve experienced in two trips to Costa Rica. Stephanie Fish, one of the Spanish-speaking interns from the United States who guided us through the rainforest, summarized it best for us when she said, "I’ve been to Costa Rica five times for extended tours, and I’ve seen almost all of this beautiful country. I plan to settle in Costa Rica… I love the people and the natural riches. And there’s no question in my mind… La Cusinga is the best that I’ve experienced!"

Stephanie of La Cusinga

Click here for details to plan your own trip to Costa Rica's Southern Pacific Coast.

        Les Furnanz
        Photos by Rita Furnanz

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