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A Gallop to Hidden Waterfalls in Villanueva

Destination: $

Soft sunlight streamed into my room, gently waking me at 6 a.m. I enjoyed some delicious coffee while Vincent scoped out a troop of white-faced monkeys near the Las Cascadas property. A coffee purist, I was duly impressed by the whole grain coffee beans and grinder in our kitchen. As it turns out, Gary and Catalina also own a home in Atenas, just down the street from me, and appreciate the fine (yet inexpensive) coffee that is grown in the area. Our kitchen provided all the comforts of home as it came equipped with a blender, microwave, full-size fridge and gas stove.

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Our hosts were happy to book tours for guests and were very familiar with all of the local tour operators. However, we had already made plans to ride horseback along backcountry roads with Valmy Tours that day. 

Our guide, Valentin and his partner Silvia have been offering horseback tours on their farm for the past ten years and provide transportation, healthy horses, lunch and extensive knowledge of flora and fauna in the area.

We drove through Quepos to the small farming community of Villanueva, about 45 minutes away. As we readied ourselves for a three-hour journey, Valentin plucked some ripe rambutans from a nearby tree. We pried open the red hairy fruit, known locally as mamonchinos, and devoured the sweet and sour meat inside.

Our horses were a mixture of criollo and quarter horse- a blend noted for nobility, gentle temperament and endurance. Finca Valmy has over 60 horses, including pintos, palominos, appaloosas and our criollo blends.

Vincent and I had the pleasure of joining Quepos residents Julia and Paola for our scenic ride. As we ambled along hard-packed dirt roads, Valentin pointed out cinnamon trees, sour oranges, noni and other medicinal plants. My gentle horse, Sergeant, eagerly nipped bites of sugar cane and sweet guava along the way. We walked through the town of Tocori and sloshed through shallow rivers bordered by dense jungle.

The day was balmy and clear, the perfect riding weather. I was itching to gallop a little, but our horses knew the drill. As we approached a small incline, Julia's mare took off, with Sergeant hot on her tail. We galloped uphill to a vista that overlooked the luminous sea surrounding Manuel Antonio. There, our guide Silvia pointed out a six-foot long non-venomous snake perched delicately in some branches next to our horses.

We continued on through both primary and secondary rainforest to a secluded waterfall in what seemed the middle of nowhere. We stripped down to our bathing suits and, carefully gripping the slippery rocks, climbed the first waterfall to a second, larger one where we swam in water that was refreshingly cool but not too cold.

Our loop trail traversed several more streams and, as our horses delicately navigated river stones, Valentin told me about an overnight horseback trip they offer to Tarrazu Mountain. The trip takes roughly five hours each way, and guests spend the night in cabins at a coffee plantation atop the mountain. The journey sounded ideal for seasoned riders and coffee addicts who want to experience something off the tourist trail. I'd have to come back.

At the end of our ride, we stopped at a local cafe for a typical Costa Rican lunch of chicken, rice, and salad. After our meal, we drove to another part of Finca Valmy where we watched several horses and their foals frolicking in the pastures. Valentin lured the mares in with molasses, one of their favorite treats.

It was nearly 4 pm by the time we returned to Las Cascadas Condotel. The rains held off, and I had time for a quick dip in the pool. I grabbed some pulp fiction from our condo's lending library and lazed about in the late afternoon sun. Gary popped by to see how our tour had gone. We chatted about mutual acquaintances in Atenas and what a small world Costa Rica can be.

Along with Gary and Catalina, Vincent and I toured another three-bedroom condo, this one with spectacular ocean views, an outdoor patio and wet bar. The terracotta buildings cleverly blended in with the green environs, which occasionally attract squirrel and white-faced monkeys along with hundreds of birds.

The condotel is a quick five-minute jaunt from town and offers a quiet retreat after a long day of adventure. But what impressed us the most was the genuine hospitality of owners, Gary and Catalina. We would be sure to visit Las Cascadas again.

A Gallop to Hidden Waterfalls in Villanueva in Pictures

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