If you’re visiting Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast, be sure to plan a trip to Hacienda Barú. This wildlife refuge, which encompasses an impressive 330-hectare swath of land along the Pacific, offers spectacular bird and wildlife viewing. At Hacienda Barú, you can walk seven kilometers of trails through primary and secondary forest, mangrove, grassland, and even beach. In this variable landscape lives hundreds of types of birds and animals, including sloths, monkeys, peccaries, and toucans. Getting there is easy too. It’s just north of the popular beach town of Dominical and an easy, 45 minute drive south from Manuel Antonio. What’s better is that this reserve is a lot less busy than its well-known neighbor to the north, Manuel Antonio National Park.
Below is everything you need to know to plan your visit to Hacienda Barú.
What was once a working cattle ranch, Hacienda Barú is now a thriving private nature reserve thanks to the foresight of current owner, Jack Ewing. Ewing banned hunting on the property in 1976, sold all of the cattle by 1990, and has been reforesting the land ever since. In 1995, Costa Rica declared Hacienda Barú a national wildlife refuge. Today the property is funded primarily through its lodge and restaurant and through nature and zip-line tours.
Hacienda Barú has four trails that you can explore with a guide or on your own. All of them are flat, except for Lookout Trail, and easily can be walked in a day. The Pizote Trail is 1.5 kilometers and meanders deep through the rainforest. Along the trail, you are likely to see wildlife and birds coming to water at the nearby stream. Some of the highlights from our visit were white-faced monkeys, collared peccaries (pictured below), blue morpo butterflies, white-nosed coati, and toucans.
If you follow the Pizote trail to the end then cross the highway, you come to Lookout Trail (2.5 kilometers), so named because it ascends up a hill with views of Dominical beach. Be sure to wear hiking boots or sturdy sneakers if you venture here because it’s steep and the clay ground can get slippery.
Strangler Trail and Teak and Canal Trail can be explored together as a loop. Strangler Trail passes through grassland before bringing you back into the rainforest. Once you get close to the beach, you pass a turtle hatchery. Staff at Barú take sea turtle eggs that are laid on the beach and put them in the nursery to protect them from poachers. Once the eggs hatch, they release the hatchlings into the ocean.
Teak and Canal Trail is two kilometers and is accessible from the road near the beach. Be sure to keep an eye out for the opening in the fence that connects the two trails; it wasn’t marked on our visit. Birders: After you’d had your fill of canopy-level species at the seven-meter tall tower on Strangler Trail, hit up the open pasture of the Teak and Canal Trail. Here you can spot several types of flycatchers, vultures, and even parakeets. Either way, with a whopping 300 kinds of birds spotted on the property, you’re certain to add some species to your life list. Arrive early for the most sightings.
From Manuel Antonio and points north: Head south along the Costanera (Highway 34). In about 45 minutes, you’ll pass the Río Hatillo. The entrance to Hacienda Barú is just a few kilometers past Hatillo. Look for the large sign on the right.
From Uvita and points south: Head north along the Costanera (Highway 34). Pass Dominical and the intersection of Route 243 on the right. In 50 meters, you will see a gas station on the left. The reserve entrance is just after the gas station.
From Quepos station, take the bus going towards San Isido or Uvita. The bus will turn off the highway in several small towns along the way. After it passes through Hatillo (about 1 hour), start looking for the Hacienda Barú sign on the right. If you pass a gas station, you’ve gone too far. Be sure to tell the driver when you get on that you want to get off at Hacienda Barú.
From Uvita, take the bus going towards Quepos. You’ll pass through Dominical and then the intersection of Route 243 on the right. Shortly after you pass Route 243, you will see a gas station on the left. The entrance to Hacienda Barú is just after the gas station. Be sure to tell the driver when you get on that you want to get off at Hacienda Barú.
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Hiking boots are recommended
Swimsuit (part of the reserve is the beach)
Hacienda Barú is a great addition to any nature lover’s travel itinerary. Over 60 kinds of mammals and 300 kinds of birds have been spotted on the reserve, so you’re guaranteed to see some of the wildlife on your list. Before you go, be sure to take a look at what’s been observed so far. Maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to discover something new.
Have a question that we didn’t answer or just want to learn more about the Dominical area? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!
Post by: Jennifer Turnbull-Houde & Matthew Houde