If you live in the Central Valley, you don’t need to travel far to experience a rain forest, nor must you take along kids to enjoy the Bosque del Niño, or Child’s Forest, a 40-hectare park inside a 2,000-hectare national reserve just outside the coffee town of Grecia, less than two hours’ drive west of San José.
The park was named for the schoolchildren who planted trees in a pasture as a reforestation project when the land was first acquired in 1979. There is also a play area with seesaws, climbing equipment and swings made of wood, old tires and bamboo, to show kids the fun side of recycling. Under a covered shelter, guides provided by the Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE) teach kids about the area’s animals and plants, as well as the rules for good conservation, mainly leaving plants and animals where they are.
The trails through the woods are manageable for young feet as well as more experienced ones. The short trail, about a 30-minute walk – longer if you’re looking around – is pitched at a steep angle in spots, but that does not deter kids or hikers prepared for leafy and sometimes muddy walking. My companion Sonia Araya actually wore heels, which she claimed dug in and let her clomp merrily along. It was her grandson, Robert, age 6 and built closer to the ground, who spotted the caterpillars and other tiny beasties that inhabit this piece of the Earth. The trail passes through different types of flora, starting with tall, colorful Eucalyptus trees and descending into mist and vegetation that’s moist to the touch. Now that’s a rain forest!
The longer trail is an easier climb, at least as a tempting start. It heads uphill rather than down, and culminates 10 kilometers farther at Poás Volcano.We chose not to try this option, leaving it to well-equipped experts, for what goes up must come down, meaning a 10-kilometer return. The trail itself is a mere seven kilometers, but it meets up with the highway to the volcano for those who want to continue on.
But you can beg off anywhere along the trail without feeling like a washout. At a little over a kilometer, you come upon an impressive waterfall that drops a torrent of water 20 meters. Lookouts along the trails give you a chance to stop and enjoy the rolling panorama in this region close to the mountains. An interesting phenomenon is that Grecia, though only 14 kilometers away, may have a completely different climate, sunny and dry, while the park is banked in clouds.
Aside from being a pleasant place to visit, this reserve plays an important role in protecting the water tables of the cantons of Grecia and Valverde Vega (Sarchí) by conserving the soil, and as a green corridor for various species of wildlife. Animals that live in the area include foxes, coatis, armadillos, rabbits, opossums, porcupines and birds. The woods are also full of mushrooms.
Good-size picnic shelters have grills and sinks, and the picnic area offers clean and convenient bathrooms – but bring a supply of toilet paper and paper towels. No food or beverages are sold within the park.
There is ample space for tent camping near the parking lot, as well as play areas well outside of the wet woods but within hearing of night birds. A cabin is available for family groups, with reservations. The MINAE shelter is staffed around the clock.
This is a pleasant day trip for visiting with nature on a national reserve, close enough to picturesque Grecia and Sarchí for a full-day tour. It’s perfect for schools or groups of children. Entrance to the park, open every day from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., is $6 for foreign tourists, ¢600 ($1.20) for nationals and residents, and free for children under 6. For information and reservations, call 2444-2388.
Take theInter-American Highway
to Grecia. Go through the city to the road to San Isidro and Cooperativa Victoria, a sugar and food processor and farm. Turn left about 500 meters past the cooperative to San Isidro and Calle Rodríguez. At the school you will see a sign for Bosque del Niño, four kilometers up the road.