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Chachagua Rainforest: One of 1,000 Wonders

Destination: Arenal

My father gifted me the book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” Full of fun, incredible, and memorable journeys around the world, the volume lists three destinations in Costa Rica – and my husband and I were visiting the most private of them all: Chachagua Rainforest Hotel.

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Located at the foot of Arenal Volcano, the hotel's grounds border the Arenal Conservation Area, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and the Children’s Eternal Rainforest. Tropical rainforest, hidden waterfalls, and miles of hiking trails awaited us at Chachagua.

We hopped off the bus after a three-hour journey from San Jose, and were greeted with a roaring river and galloping horses. The hotel grounds were isolated and beautiful, set amid 250 acres of rainforest. A valet took our bags and delivered them straight to our own, private cabin.

After sipping on welcome cocktails, we walked around the grounds, where it became evident why Chachagua made it onto such an acclaimed bucket list. The hotel is a combination of working farm and private reserve where green practices are highly valued. The manager explained that they were in the process of becoming completely self sustaining: installing hydropower facilities to supply the hotel’s electricity, raising pigs to produce bio-gas to fuel hot-water heaters, and cultivating a farm to provide most food for the hotel.

Lunch was served buffet-style, and a delicious fusion of Costa Rican and international dishes decorated my plate – rice, beans and sweet plantains joined chicken parmesan, fresh salad and beef tenderloin. We donned thick, rubber boots and readied for an afternoon hike through the rainforest.

Our guide, Christian, looked around at our group. The balmy air had encouraged many to hike in shorts and t-shirts. Though comfortable, my fellow hikers would not be protected from the forest’s six-legged residents. Glancing around, Christian grabbed a handful of leaves and rubbed them between his hands, demonstrating the plant’s use as a natural insect repellent. I accepted a leaf and applied the oil to every inch of exposed skin.

Striking out into the forest, we noticed an immediate change in ambient temperature. A rushing river hugged the path, and its crystalline waters cooled the air. Chachagua’s trails are rustic and wild – the hotel had just been remodeled, and all hiking paths had been carved out of mud, rock and roots just weeks before.

A true nature lover, I was game for the simple paths – the hotel strives to alter its surroundings as little as possible – but I was never more thankful for rubber boots than when I stepped into an ankle-deep mud puddle. Squishing and squelching my way onward, I did everything but search for more muddy holes to step into. I felt like a kid again, and the urge to get dirty and play in the mud was almost irresistible. I wasn’t the only one; several hikers laughed as their boots sank into the earth, and everyone had fun kicking mud-cakes off their shoes and washing off in the river.

About 30 minutes into the hike, we reached a bridge that crossed over an immense waterfall. Christian claimed it was only 15 feet high, but its thick ribbon of white water looked much taller to me. Our next stop was at a giant Ceiba, the national tree of Guatemala. The ancient Maya believed that the Ceiba stood at the center of the world, and therefore connected the earth to the spirit realm above. When someone died, his body was placed at the base of the Ceiba so that the tree’s vines could help the deceased’s soul ascend into heaven. Ceiba trees are massive, and the one beside the hiking trail towered at least 80 feet tall – despite the fact that it was only 10 years old.

Two hours after entering the jungle, we exited back into open farmland. A beautiful black stallion danced in a pen ahead of us. The spirited, five-year old horse was in training for the Tope Nacional, an annual horse parade held at Christmas time. Costa Rican horses are taught a special walk that is so graceful and rhythmic, it’s more akin to dancing than walking.

The rest of our stay at Chachagua was filled with leisure time spent on our cabin’s private porch, walking around the grounds, and chasing the ornamental roosters and ducks – I couldn’t give up until I had snapped a few good photos!

Our trip to Chachagua had been enjoyable and relaxing – just what we needed as a break from the busy holiday season. If we had an extra day, my husband and I would have hiked several of the hotel’s longer trails – including the five-hour path that loops through miles of primary rainforest. Since Chachagua Rainforest Hotel is just 30 minutes from Arenal, it serves as the perfect place to get away from it all, but close enough to enjoy day trips to hot springs, Costa Rica’s most active volcano, and a host of adventure tours.

Chachagua Rainforest: One of 1,000 Wonders in Pictures

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