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Ojochal and Dominical: Costa Rica 2012

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Apr 11th, 2012, 09:44 AM
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Ojochal and Dominical: Costa Rica 2012

Just returned from a fantastic 8 night trip to the land of pura vida,and except for a family emergency that brought us home early(all is ok) the trip was a blast.After landing we went to tricolor to pick up what I called my" little sewing machine truck", a brand new Bego. I was a little concerned about it being able to handle some of the steep inclines where we were staying, but it turned out to be quite a climber and we were soon on the new hwy 27 and headed to the coast.

Just south of Jaco at Hermosa beach we had our first wildlife spotting, a group of about 8 Scarlet Macaws that were hanging out in some trees on the bluff overlooking the pacific.We pulled off, had a quick bite to eat and enjoyed the wonderful scenery. There was some interesting courtship behavior going on and got some pics. of them, mostly upside down, doing their " thang".As it was already about 2:30 pm we couldn't stay long and continued our trek to our first stop, Ojochal and Villas Gaia, our hotel for 3 nights. We checked in and were sad to find out that you could no longer hike the trails through the mangove forest and down to the beach which was one of the reasons we stayed here again- apparently they had a dispute with the land owner and he put up a fence- bummer!

After check in we headed to dinner at Mirador Los Mangalares a tican owned place several miles south of Ojochal where we had ceviche, beef filet with mushrooms and the largest whole fried red snapper you have ever seen! All was good and I discovered my new favorite CR beer - Rock Ice.The ceviche was the "mixto" with fish and Piangua clam- wow it was great especially the clam- try it sometime.

For our first day we started off with a early am birding tour with Giovanni, a local guide who lives in Ojochal.He led us through some of the few remaining trails you can hike on. Lots of birds were to be found in the fruiting trees around the lodge as well as a large group of Capuchins that kept us entertained as they passed, the end being followed up by a battle scarred old male who acted like he wanted a piece of us before he too passed. After the tour we kicked back around the pool for a while and made reservations at Exotica for dinner.
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Apr 11th, 2012, 11:53 AM
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Ah, scarlet macaws and beer - definitely pura vida.
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Apr 11th, 2012, 12:03 PM
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We arrived for our 7pm reservation and were greeted by Lucy, the co-owner with her husband/chef Robert(?).Lucy is simply fabulous- with her wonderful french accent and her passion for fine food I knew we were in for a treat, and what a treat it was.We started by splitting some vietnamese soup and ceaser salad followed by seared tuna and beef filet that were both simply scrumptious- the sauces and flavors were exquisite.Their attention to detail shows, even the Bloody Marys' were crazy good.

For our second full day we decided to make the long trek to Wilson Botanical Gardens located near San Vito close to the Panamanian border.We decided to go one route there and a different one back to Ojochal to see as much as we could of this part of the country.At Palmar Norte we headed up the mountain route to Paso Real with good roads up to this point, after Paso Real however things quickly changed and we found ourselves on some of the worst potholed roads I have ever been on in Costa Rica-the views of the Cordillera de Talamanca were spectacular but the road was hideous- give me the road to Monteverde any day.After 2.5 hours we reached San Vito and after a little searching found the road to Wilson where we paid the entrance fee and wandered around the gardens which were well laid out and full of all kinds of interesting flora, including the worlds largest collection of palm species.About an hour and a half later we heard some rumbles which quickly grew louder and more frequent and soon found ourselves in the midst of one heck of a rainstorm. We waited about an hour for the rain to stop which it didn't so we decided to start our trip back down the mountain range to Cuidad Neily- about 15 minutes later we were stopped by a landslide and had to wait about an hour for a crew to repair it.This route proved to be much more enjoyable with incredible views of the coast when the rain allowed, and much more user friedly roads.We got back to our room, cleaned up and headed to our next fine dining location, Citrus, also located in Ojochal.
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Apr 11th, 2012, 03:13 PM
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When we arrived at Citrus we were immediatly taken with the decor of the restaurant- drop dead gorgeous and very evident that the owners had dropped some serious coin on the place.Our meals, Corvina for me and vegetarian lasagna for my wife were quite good but we just didn't get the "made with love" feel and service that we had the night before,still was very impressed with the place.

The next day we started off with a morning hike at Rancho La Merced located a few miles up the road in Uvita.We decided to go without a guide and tackle the upland trail across the road- after about an hour of hiking we had enough as it was all uphill-hint: if it says upland it means upland, maybe more than you want!We made our way back to our room, packed and got ready for our next stop just up the road in Dominical.As far as Villas Gaia is concerned I am a little hesitant to recommend yay or nay for it.The grounds and pool area are very well maintained, the rooms however could certainly use a little sprucing up(a little caulk between the boards would be helpful and would eliminate a few of the critters we experienced)the cost however is quite reasonable and comes with breakfast so overall we were pleased.

We made the 20 minute drive up the road past Uvita to Dominical and our next stop, Shelter From the Storm where we had rented the Monkey House.Everything you read about this place is true- Donna and Daryl are wonderful hosts and the place inside and out is very meticulously maintained.Never saw as much as a tiny ant in our room even though it has a kitchen, which was a first for us and we loved it.We really enjoyed being able to buy and prepare the local food which was fantastic.You can go to the BM market in Uvita or the local supermercado in Dominical- it was a amazing what this place had- whatever you wanted, it was there.The local fruit vendors were awesome- we had the best mangoes, pineapples, and bananas ever- fruit salad every day!We also found a local seafood dealer where we got some fresh tuna(a kilo was $8) and shrimp-all very reasonable and delicious.Sorry about all the food references!

From SFTS we decided to roadtrip again and headed to Los Cusingos, the former residence of birding expert Alexander Skutch, now a local reserve.You have to drive to San Isidro and then to Rivas to get there and I somehow missed a completely unmarked turn(imagine that!)and managed to drive about 8km up the road to Cerro Chirripo, the countries highest peak.The road kept getting progressively worse, steep and graveled- finally I brilliantly deduced that this was not the right way and turned around much to my wifes' delight.We soon located the road to Quizzara and soon were at the entrance to Los Cusingos- only to find the place closed!Oh well it was an interesting drive anyway.

From SFTS we made several trips to Hacienda Baru which had not had any rainfall for over a month- it was dry as a bone and not as productive for wildlife as we hoped. We did enjoy meeting the owner Jack Ewing who signed a copy of his book "Monkeys are made of Chocolate" for us. We also made our way into Dominical several times and despite the "dodgy surfer town" reputation we enjoyed walking the streets especially the one on the ocean where many local vendors were selling their goods,lots of good deals to be had.While at SFTS we made fast friends with Balboa(maybe it was the fresh tuna?)one of the owners cats- every morning he would greet me on the deck of the monkey house while I had my coffee-I really enjoyed his company as we have 2 cats back at home.The last night before we left we could not resist going back to Exotica one more time-awesome, awesome, awesome!

We departed the next day for our last stop,a 2 night stay at Villa Caletas near Jaco. At check in we got a message to call home and then we immediatly left for San Jose where we stayed at the Holiday Inn & suites near the airport- it certainly wasn't Villa Caletas but was nice and clean and we were mighty glad to have it! Pictures(hopefully!) can be seen at:
https://picasaweb.google.com/1077454...7jydKSiO-F9AE#
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Apr 11th, 2012, 07:53 PM
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So nice to read your report - brings back great memories. At Rancho la Merced we must have been on a different trail as the one we went on was very flat. Balboa! He keep sneaking into my room to gnaw on the pineapple. Great photos, thanks!
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Apr 12th, 2012, 09:29 AM
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Thanks for the excellent photos!
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Apr 12th, 2012, 10:55 AM
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Nice birds!
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Apr 14th, 2012, 05:38 AM
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Thanks for the report and nice photos. I'm planning a trip in that area for next March. Trying to decide between staying "upland" in the mountains where it's cooler and tackle the roads, or closer to the beach where it's steamier. Was it pretty hot and sticky closer to the coast?
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Apr 14th, 2012, 06:10 AM
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Thanks to all for the nice comments!

Tully- That Balboa! Told Donna to apologize to the next group in the Monkey House if he showed up at 5am- we had a routine!

Janenicole- It was hot- in that area the mountains are very close to the coast which seems to block the breeze and it gets very steamy on the small coastal areas.If you have ac it's really not an issue and we would have been uncomfortable without it and I'm from Florida and use to the heat.The roads were not that bad to deal with- a few steep areas when you venture up the mountain roads in Dominical,Uvita, and Ojochal but nothing our Bego couldn't handle in low.
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Apr 14th, 2012, 03:04 PM
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RTJ, on your HB visits did you get to go birding with Pedro? He is so amazing in the primary forest where you can hardly see anything on your own.
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Apr 14th, 2012, 05:36 PM
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mlgb- Regretably no we didn't use a guide- the first time we went was on a Sunday so no guided tours were available and the second time was in the early afternoon and they were either off or on other tours- my bad for not arranging things ahead of time!We did come across 3 large peccaries who didn't see us(or smell us as we did them) until they were about 10 ft away- they stopped let out some angry squeels and then bolted- thought we gonna have to climb a tree for a minute!
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Apr 14th, 2012, 07:58 PM
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Wow! You know they've seen a puma there...usually near the peccaries...
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Apr 16th, 2012, 09:26 AM
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Thanks for the insight about the heat, artiejay. We'll make sure that wherever we end up, it has a/c.
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Apr 16th, 2012, 09:56 AM
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I loved your pictures.
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