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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Visiting Costa Rica’s Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge

Change can start with anyone. A mere thought and desire can evolve into something so beautiful if you persevere, have patience, and simply believe in it. Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge is a true example of such an endeavor.

It all began with Jack Ewing. Once living as a cattle rancher in the United States, he and his wife Diane chose to alter their path, they made their way to Costa Rica. And lucky they did, not only did they change their life but this decision also transformed the landscape of Costa Rica.

History of Hacienda Baru

What was once an area of cattle pasture and rice farms evolved to that which is now the gorgeous Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge. Less than 3 hours from Juan Santamaria International Airport and about 30 minutes from Quepos lies this protected area of 330 hectares, just north of Dominical.

Originally a vast landscape of thick untouched jungle but as time evolved and humans settled in, all changed as it most typically does. The trees were cut down and deforestation began as the land was used as a source of income primarily for farming. As trees diminished so did the animals residing leaving much of the lowlands destroyed.

Jack Ewing had an awareness of all that transpired through the years to the environment and arrived with a respect for the land and its nature. He recognized the effect that deforestation, chemicals and pesticides were having and the devastation that it created. He strived for the land to become whole again, planting native and endangered species, transforming rice paddies to teak plantations, and creating reforestation of lowland forest to the highland forest.

It didn’t happen overnight, but as the years and decades progressed reforestation flourished as they left it untouched, allowing nature to take its course. This is exactly what happened, nature led the way returning the environment to what it so beautifully once was and was declared as a national wildlife refuge in 1995.


Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge is a stunning example of ecotourism in Costa Rica and offers a wide range of activities for every type of day away. The 8 km of hiking trails are much more than simply paths to follow along, they take you within the grandeur of the forests drowning you in greenery and the beauty of the rainforests.

It is made up of tropical forests of primary and secondary forests, mangroves, and wetlands. You can choose to do a self-guided walk exploring on your own as the trails are clearly marked and are easily manageable for all levels of comfort.

However, you may miss some of the interesting and unknown animals within that the guided hikes can help you spot. The friendly guides can help you find the countries beautiful species up within the canopies that you may not even look up to see. The sloths resting amongst the camouflaged branches or the white-faced capuchin monkeys watching you from above.

The white-faced capuchin monkeys have played an integral role in increasing the population of other wildlife in the area thanks to the cacao tree. Cacao isn’t just for the human’s pleasure but for the intelligent white-faced capuchins who love to open them up to devour some of the cocoa pods tossing their scraps to the ground below.

As nature takes its course, eventually the cocoa pods develop maggots which becomes yet another food source, however, not just for the monkeys. The animals rummaging amongst the lower grounds reap the benefits as well with the raccoons, coatis, and pacas having a resource for food.

Not only will you see the wildlife amongst the terrain but the birdlife has found a peaceful sanctuary to fly amongst. It has become an extremely popular birdwatching location with over 350 species of birds being spotted. Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge offers several different birdwatching tours with a naturalist guide who can help you find all the variety of birds you are so hoping to see from parrots, toucans, honeycreepers, and manakins.

Explore through the old cacao plantations and through the forests to have first-hand sightings of the strikingly colored motmots, trogons, tanagers, and curassows.  You don’t need a guide to be able to access their 7-meter bird watching observation tower where you are at bird’s eye level at the treetops.

If wanting to take it a step further and actually have a bird’s eye view, in particular, that of a chestnut-mandibled toucan’s view, then the zipline will take you across and through the canopy. The Flight of the Toucan zip line tour has been made for the whole family to include even your small children, learning and seeing wildlife as you hike your way up.

However, seeing Costa Rica at night is a whole different experience discovering the nocturnal world. Learn what eyes are lighting up in the night, have your chance at spotting kinkajous, and learn about the sounds haunting the darkness.  One special feature to connect with the heart of the jungle is the Night in the Hacienda Barú Jungle Camp. There is no better way after venturing through the darkness discovering the nocturnal life than to lay out under the Costa Rican starry sky.

The lodge and eco-tours at Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge make a strongly concerted effort to minimize their effects on the environment, it plays a very large role in their existence. Solar heaters are used to heat the water at the lodge, avoiding the use of electricity, even using solar driers for laundry.

Organic waste is never tossed it is used as fertilizer for the gardens and reusing everything they can until it cannot be used anymore in creative ways. The sustainability of the environment and community plays an important part in their overall functioning and philosophy.

Entry to Hacienda Baru

The entry cost for self-guided exploration is $15 for the day and is open from Mondays to Sundays allowing you to see the wonders for yourself from 6 am until 5 pm and offer plenty of tours on their website. You will definitely want to bring binoculars if you have some available to see the beautiful birdlife so abundantly throughout along with a good pair of shoes for exploring and don’t forget the bug repellant.

The diverse ecosystems and landscape bring forth so much natural abundance in Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge in a setting of peace and tranquility. It is an opportunity to really see and learn about Costa Rica’s natural environment and beauty. The passion and heart of the refuge shine throughout and spreads amongst all those that are part of this renewed and flourishing landscape. It is your chance to walk through Costa Rica’s enchanted forests and see everything that this country is made of.

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