At some point each visitor to Manuel Antonio has wondered, “What was it like 50 years ago, 100 years ago – before the restaurants, before the hotels, even before Manuel Antonio Parque Nacional? Do you want to take a trip back in time? Now you can. The Santa Juana Rural Mountain Adventure Tour provides a window into the land and people of Costa Rica before tourism, before agribusiness, even before surfboards. Combining nature, adventure, education and an authentic cultural experience, this is total immersion into the Costa Rican life of the campesino. Begun in 2009 the Santa Juana Rural Mountain Adventure Tour exposes visitors to Costa Rica’s environment without damaging it.
Above Manuel Antonio National Park and within the Talamanca Biological Corridor the tiny village of Santa Juana de Tarrazu is the watershed of the entire Central Pacific and an unspoiled treasure of tropical flora and fauna. Geographically the village is 27 km from Quepos, but the Santa Juana Rural Mountain Adventure Tour begins at each adventurer’s hotel lobby with a 7:30 am pick-up. Hop on board the 4-wheel drive, all-terrain vehicle for a scenic country excursion through tropical palm plantations and along the jungle-shrouded slopes of the Fila Chonta Mountain Range to Santa Juana. When you arrive you’ll be welcomed with a light breakfast. Not only has everything been prepared on site, but each item from orange to fresh ground coffee has been grown in Santa Juana’s own organic farms.
Suitably nourished, you’re ready for the 3 km interpretative nature trail. The rushing jungle streams you’ll cross are headwaters of Rio Paquita, but fear not: you won’t be on your own. Each of the accredited naturalist guides is not only trained in the area’s unique biodiversity of flora and fauna, but is also Red Cross certified in first aid. With one day’s notice, you can even request a specialized guide for birdwatching, reptiles and amphibians or photography. After 3 km of user-friendly trails you’ll reach the Rio Rodeo which eventually threads its way into Manuel Antonio National Park, but it also has carved some of the most breath-taking mountain pools which just beg you to take a swim. Go ahead: linger under the pristine waterfalls -it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Besides the waterfalls there’s the oasis Gardens with yoga and meditation platforms to renew your spirit, and, for the sportsmen, catch-and-release tilapia fishing. Of course, all that activity is bound to work up an appetite. The ride to lunch is just as much fun as the journey to the pools. Climb on board the local Costa Rican horse called a criollo, known for their comfortable gait, and amble on back to Santa Juana where lunch has been prepared in the restoration of a typical farmhouse from Costa Rica’s past. Lunch is proudly made ready by members of the local community headed by chef Roxana using traditional family recipes with ingredients grown in the village. One visitor described it as “heaven on a plate.” Aside from its delectability, food production and preparation are an important part of the Santa Juana Rural Mountain Adventure because participants will also learn about the roots of Costa Rican agriculture from sugar cane processing to coffee production on a local and sustainable level.
The farmhouse at Santa Juana feeds more than one sense, however, and you’ll need your camera for the next one because the mountain views from the farmhouse porch are unparalleled; and definitely don’t overlook the up-close scenery. Not far from lunch is an original sugar cane mill called a trapiche. This is the way that sugar used to be made using farm oxen. The mill is user friendly and guests are encouraged to lend a hand and then take a sip of the cane juice. A cautionary word – it is sweet! A little uphill, because they require higher elevation, are the coffee terraces and fruit orchards, another opportunity for guests to participate in a community’s efforts to sustain itself while respecting nature and its past. Santa Juana is a working community and the experience cause one guest to remark, “What an experience! You have shown us, this is what a true community is.”
The Santa Juana Rural Mountain Adventure can end with a return trip to each guest’s hotel, but it doesn’t have to. Guests have the opportunity to combine the Adventure Tour with the Canopy Safari Zip Line Tour. See the jungle from the canopy and fly between 10 platforms. There are also two rope rappels as well as a Tarzan swing. When your tour does end at your hotel door each participant receives a Tree Adoption Certificate, a great souvenir, and a very real reminder that income from your tour goes to sustain the environment, biodiversity and projects like the Carbon Offset Reforestation Program which has planted and maintained more than 10,000 native trees in the area. Additionally, it provides villagers alternatives to manage and participate in sustainable development while conserving Costa Rica’s heritage. This is a trip which can you can feel really good about. Yes, you will have mastered the rope bridge, leaped into the waterfall, caught tilapia and rode the horses, but you will have also experienced rural and agro tourism at its best and helped conserve Costa Rica’s biodiversity while respecting its culture. One guest may have said it best in two words, “simply priceless.”
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