When you think you’ve seen just about everything Costa Rica has to offer, you come across a place that reminds you of how wrong you were.
It’s a nice way to be humbled.
High in the jagged green mountains south of Pérez Zeledón, in Costa Rica’s Southern Zone, a small, modest lodge called Finca San Miguel might show you a side of Costa Rica you’ve never seen before. Sitting on 19 hectares of land in the tiny coffee town of Zapotal de San Pedro, the finca is a prime example of rural tourism.
Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) officials have said development of rural tourism is an objective for upcoming years. But any sort of tourism funding or promotion has yet to arrive at Finca San Miguel, where, high in the cool, verdant hills of one of the country’s coffee capitals, tourism is relatively rare.
Zapotal de San Pedro, about 40 kilometers south of Pérez Zeledón or San Isidro de El General, sits near the crossroads to several tourism meccas, such as the country’s southern Pacific beaches and highest peak, Chirripó. Despite their proximity to these tourism hot spots, the mountains of the Pérez Zeledón region are often overlooked by tourists.
“Getting people to take an interest in this place has been our primary struggle,” said Marta Quirós, one of the family owners of Finca San Miguel. “This is not an area of the country that is endorsed by the ICT, so we get very little recognition. We offer everything that tourists come to Costa Rica to find – hiking, scenery, wildlife, canopies and close proximity to the beach – but we still don’t get the type of tourism activity here that we would like.”
But in this obscurity lies Finca San Miguel’s charm.
The location remains very rustic. The gravel and dirt roads that wind through the mountains often seem to go straight up steep inclines. Four-wheel-drive vehicles often have to stop a few hundred meters short of the finca entrance, daunted by the steepness of the hill.
The property, which still serves largely as a coffee plantation, has only one guesthouse that can sleep up to 14 people. The house has three bedrooms, a living room, small dining room and bathroom with hot running water. Quirós says the place is perfect for a group of hikers or backpackers passing through, or a couple looking for their own private lodge in the mountains.
Guests at the finca are guaranteed to be well fed. Just 10 steps from the villa is the finca’s large restaurant, which provides a lookout point and panoramic view of the surrounding emerald mountains. The restaurant is run by Quirós’ family, who, in addition to cooking traditional Tico meals and maintaining the finca, also pick and harvest the coffee and run the rappelling and tour activities. Quirós is one of seven siblings who manage the finca.
“We knew we had a beautiful piece of property and that people would be interested in visiting if we allowed tourists on the property,” Quirós said. “It took several years to convert the land, to build the restaurant and to prepare for tourists. We also had to make sure that we could continue to be successful with the coffee harvest. This has evolved into a two-part operation, both a coffee farm and tourism destination.”
The finca’s rural charm and isolation are draws in themselves, but its claim to fame might be its waterfalls. Not many people can say they have seven waterfalls on their land, but the Quirós family can. Lining the eastern boundary of the property, a towering series of falls begins at the top of the mountain and cascades down for several hundred meters. Peering high into the mountains to catch a glimpse of the top of the waterfalls, visitors can spot some of the area’s most distinctive birds, including the legendary resplendent quetzal with its emerald plumage.
Although bird- and animal-watching opportunities abound here, the waterfalls are the finca’s most adventurous attraction. Quirós’ brother, Néstor, has set up a rappelling course on five of the property’s seven waterfalls. Using a rope, harness and clamps, rappellers can make descents of 10 to 15 meters to about 60 to 70 meters, with beautiful mountain scenery behind and rushing waterfalls alongside.
“We set up the rappelling so that guests can wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, hike up the mountain and rappel back down for lunch,” Néstor Quirós said. “It’s a much more adventurous way to go back down the mountain, and is very safe. We always get our guests back in time for lunch, and with no scrapes or bruises.”
At the end of a rappelling tour, a traditional Tico lunch and cool mountain breeze awaits guests after an active morning. As you eat, butterflies drift past, birds swoop through the sky overhead, and the only sound that might distract you during lunch is that of the nearby waterfalls. You are removed from all things city, busy and bustle. It is what rural tourism was meant to be.
From San José, take the Inter-American Highway south to San Isidro de El General (Pérez Zeledón) and continue south another 28 km to La Fortuna de San Pedro. From here, turn left on the road toward the Talamanca Mountain Range and go 7 km to the village of Fátima, where the Quirós family resides and will supply information. The last 5 km to the finca from Fátima is on a gravel road and requires four-wheel drive; the Quirós family can supply transportation.
Packages to Finca San Miguel are offered by Pure Nature travel agency out of San Antonio de Belén (2293-1100, [email protected]) and range from $92 per person for a day trip including transportation, two meals and rappelling tour (minimum eight people) to $140 per person for an overnight trip including transportation, four meals, rappelling tour, hike and lodging (minimum four people).
To contact Finca San Miguel directly, call 2771-4119 or 8847-1803, or visit www.agrosanmigueladventures.com.