Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 3: A Horseback Ride & a Natural Mud Bath

Destination: Playa Hermosa - Puntarenas

Dan and Cathy on horsebackJaco may be popular for its consistent surf and miles of grey-sand beach, but its lush mountain backdrops peppered with secluded waterfalls are ideal for a leisurely horseback ride. While there is no shortage of tour operators promoting such excursions in the area, as an avid rider and proud horse owner, I made sure to do my research and choose a reputable outfit that properly cares for its animals.

With nine healthy and happy steeds, Discovery Horseback Tours, owned by British-born Chris and Andrea Wady, came highly recommended. Rayna and I met Andrea for the waterfall tour at their ranch in Playa Hermosa, a fifteen-minute drive south of Jaco. 

I was pleased to learn that Discovery limits their tours to no more than six people to ensure a safe and personalized experience. Today, our group included a nice couple from Colorado who were novice horse people, or "vacation riders."

Andrea serving fruit

Horses were matched to riders according to ability, and we each took turns mounting our lovely Criollos, a hardy mixed-breed with Spanish and Peruvian bloodlines, common in Costa Rica. Before setting off, Andrea took time to explain the basics of maneuvering, making sure that we all felt comfortable and were not too harsh with the reins.After riding English for several months, it was a nice change to ride western-style, on deep McClellan saddles that afforded comfort and stability.

We followed a backcountry trail, riding side by side so we could talk to each other, while Andrea pointed out flora and fauna endemic to the area. The road was lined on either side with an eco-friendly living fence that marked boundaries and kept livestock in their rightful place.

We dismounted in the cool shade of the dry tropical forest and let our horses rest while we walked a bit farther to a cascading natural spring. First waterfallStanding behind towels and trees, we changed into our bathing suits for a soothing waterfall massage.

Andrea grabbed a handful of mineral-rich mud beneath the falls. Touting its healing properties as a sort of natural spa treatment, she encouraged us to cover our bodies in the clay-colored goo. Without hesitation the four of us were suddenly kids again, rubbing mud on every inch of exposed skin and hair. We interrupted our frenzy with a small fruit snack of fresh pineapple, watermelon and papaya and then resumed our mud baths with gusto.

As much as we tried to wash it all off, Rayna and I discovered remnants of our organic spa treatment later that day. But we had to admit that our skin and hair were soft and glowing. Our waterfall ride was the perfect blend of relaxation, adventure and fun, and we all appreciated the health and contentment of Chris and Andrea's horses.

Esterillos West BeachI learned that several were local rescues which had arrived in sorry mental and physical shape. But after months of love and recuperation, they had grown strong and learned to trust again. We thanked our enthusiastic host, and promised to return for Discovery Horseback Tours' mountain ride, a longer journey that caters to seasoned riders.

That afternoon, we explored the deserted beaches of Esterillos, just a few kilometers south of Playa Hermosa. Divided into Esterillos Este, Centro and Oeste, each offers long stretches of palm-fringed coastline and right and left beach breaks with some reasonably long rides.

Coconut palmSwimmers tended to stick closer to the northern end of Esterillos Oeste, where a calm tidal pool offered shelter from the area's dangerous riptides. In each village there were a few scattered hotels, cafes and vacation rentals, but the area had largely escaped the mass development that is so prevalent in Jaco.

A bit later we drove into town for some window shopping and dinner before returning to Doce Lunas. It was our last evening at this peaceful retreat and we looked forward to re-visiting all of our favorite amenities.

Day 3: A Horseback Ride & a Natural Mud Bath in Pictures

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