Costa RicaCosta Rica

The Wild Side of Hacienda Baru

Destination: Dominical

We heard a rustling in the leaves not too far from where we stood. In a raspy voice that reminded me of Animal from the Muppet Show, our guide suggested a pair of agoutis searching for a meal. We were 20 minutes into a four-hour hike through hot and muggy rainforest.

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A Dutch couple on our tour had never heard of such an animal, so I tried my best to describe a large guinea pig-ish creature before our guide whipped out his handy lowland mammal brochure. "Ah, like the hamster?" they asked, but the agoutis had shuffled away, eluding our cameras for the moment.

Today was the day of the sloth. Both two and three-toed were spotted curled up in trees, tight balls of greenish fur and strange long claws. We even saw a couple of baby sloth -- one actually moving (ever so slowly) from branch to tree trunk. To me, their faces were both sweet and alien, an odd combination of features that lent an unearthly presence.

Our animated guide was a birder at heart. Each twitter and cluck was matched to its respective species, as he identified various parrots, woodcreepers, mot mots and trogons. Although we didn't come across any monkeys, colorful poison dart frogs announced their presence with a succession of chirps. Chestnut-mandibled toucans and their smaller relative, the fiery-billed aracari, were prolific in the trees.

Much of our hike was spent in silence, as we took in each rainforest sound. Our guide carried a spotting scope, enabling sharp views of scaly iguanas and tiny birds that would have otherwise gone unseen.

I bid farewell to Hacienda Baru and drove two miles south to Dominical where I found exactly what I was hoping for: a chilled-out, undeveloped surf town with great beaches and an eclectic crowd.

I grabbed a fish taco at the Backyard Cafe and lounged on one of their sofas while reading a pile of trashy gossip magazines. The cafe also doubles as a used-book store, and has a hefty selection of pulp fiction and travel books.

I was staying at Roca Verde, a beachfront hotel just a half mile south of the main village. Run by friendly American brothers, the hotel features a large restaurant and bar that doubles as the happening party spot on Saturday nights.

Each room has A/C, a coffee maker and a patio that faces the ocean. I took a quick dip in the pool before heading back into town to scope out the people and places I'd be getting to know over the next couple of days.

The Wild Side of Hacienda Baru in Pictures

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