Tucked into the mountains of the Toro Amarillo region, north of San José, the Catarata del Toro cabinas offer visitors a tranquil getaway at the edge of a lush rain forest.
A two-hour drive from San José on the surprisingly well-maintained road to San Carlos, a town in north central Costa Rica, the hotel is a stone’s throw from a powerful 300-foot waterfall.
The sound of the rushing falls, which emerge from a cavern at the edge of the forest, is audible from the cabinas, and on a clear day the nearby Poás Volcano is visible from the parking lot.
Thick blankets of clouds sometimes sweep in during the afternoon, giving an air of romantic isolation to the already tranquil spot, 15 miles northwest of Sarchí, a coffee and craft town in the western Central Valley.
Painted in earth tones and supported by beams made of uncut tree branches, the rustic cabinas are meant to blend into their surroundings, said owner Donais Alfaro, who is helpful and bilingual.
The no-frills layout is one of the charms of Catarata del Toro.With no Internet, no television and no phones, guests are left alone with the sounds of birds and the falls.
Alfaro’s cell phone does get patchy reception, so guests are not completely isolated in case of an emergency. She is working on getting phone service in the cabinas.
The cabinas have their own open-air restaurant, which is pleasantly simple. It serves plain but tasty standards including arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), spaghetti, casados (plates of the day, usually with beans, rice, salad and meat or fish) and sandwiches at low prices. At ¢2,200 ($4.30) the arroz con pollo ties with spaghetti as the most expensive dish on the menu.
Rooms are equally basic. The smallest room, for example, has a comfortable double bed, a small bathroom with a shower, a bedside table, a reading light and nothing else.
Advance reservations are required as the 10-month-old facility has only three rooms, with one, two and three beds respectively. At $45, $55 and $65, they are a good value for a weekend getaway.
Location is the main attraction of Catarata del Toro, where the drama of the landscape inspired a legend. The region is called Toro Amarillo – Yellow Bull – because, according to tradition, its indigenous people once built an enormous bull out of gold and threw it over the waterfall as a sacrifice to their gods, Alfaro said. When the moon is full, legend has it that the golden bull can be seen reflected in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall.
In addition to the waterfall, the 10-hectare property includes secondary and primary rain forest complete with vines and large ficus trees.
Just steps outside the restaurant, visitors find a short but pretty and well-maintained trail. Each of its two branches leads a little more than a kilometer out. For beautiful vistas and a workout, guests can take one branch past three viewpoints and down hundreds of steep steps to the base of the waterfall.
The other snakes through a dense secondary forest where the silence belies the proximity to the hotel.
Tranquility is the hotel’s principle attribute for now, but Alfaro hopes to soon incorporate a variety of adventure activities into its offerings.
There is a 400-foot rappel next to the waterfall, and a group of the hotel’s employees are being certified to guide guests down it.
The hotel does not have a permanent guide, but Alfaro said she can arrange trips with advance notice. She estimates that staff members will complete their certification by late August, after which the rappel will be available daily.
A two- to two-and-a-half-hour rappelling outing costs $50.
Horseback riding should also be available before the end of the year, Alfaro said.
She and her business partners own another 80-hectare plot near the cabinas, which provides ample space for rides. The property includes a working cattle farm and thick forests. On a test ride, a Tico Times urbanite found the property’s horses friendly and easy to handle.
In the future, Alfaro also hopes to offer mountain climbing in the ravine below the waterfall.
In addition to expanding the cabinas and the activities available there, the former real estate agent plans to develop some of the open space near the facility.
The idea is to develop 20 to 25 lots on some of the farm’s open space – enough to profit off of the real estate, but not enough to “lose the ecological concept,” she said.
For more information, call 399-7476 or visit www.catarata-del-toro.com. The office is open every day from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
By car: Coming from San José or Guanacaste, take the Naranjo exit and drive to Sarchí Sur. The cabinas are 15 miles north of Sarchí, on the road toward Río Cuarto. A map can be found at www.cataratadeltoro.com.
By bus: It’s a challenge, but it’s possible. From San José, take the bus from the Tuan station in Barrio México to Grecia. From Grecia, take the bus that goes toward Río Cuarto. Be aware: One bus leaves from Grecia daily, at 3 p.m. To return, the bus from Río Cuarto passes by the cabinas at 6:15 a.m.