As people who love hiking, we are always on the lookout for the next great trek. When considering the possibilities in Guanacaste, the Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve piqued our interest. Not much information was available about this reserve, but we had heard that it featured a river and watering hole year-round. Anyone who has visited the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica during the dry season knows that water can be extremely sparse this time of year. After visiting for ourselves, we can say that Lomas Barbudal did, in fact, have lovely, flowing water and lush greenery even at the end of the dry season. In this post, we’ll share why our recent hike was one of our all-time favorites and let you know what to expect on the trails.
Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve (Reserva Biologica Lomas Barbudal) is a relatively small, 2,646 hectare (6,538 acre) area of protected land in Guanacaste Province. Although most people have never heard of it, it shares a border with one of Costa Rica’s more well-known national parks, Palo Verde. The main entrance to Lomas Barbudal is located a short distance off the Interamericana (Highway 1), in between Bagaces and the city of Liberia.
Although the park is easy to get to, the road for the turnoff is not marked and easily missed. See the end of this post for detailed driving directions.
About the Reserve
Travel guides often describe Lomas Barbudal as being an area for scientific study. The reserve is indeed home to an impressive number of insects, including about 250 types of bees alone, as well as many birds and animals. Though no doubt research-worthy, we found the reserve to be a great stop for anyone looking for off-the-beaten-path hiking in Guanacaste. Not only were the trails easy to access, but the park offered so much to see for visitors.
Tip: Many of Costa Rica’s parks get very busy, but this is a great option if you’re looking for something lesser known. On our visit, we were the only people there. We asked the park ranger how many visitors they had per day, and he said three or four!
In addition to insects, the park is also known for its trees. Endangered Ron-Rons, Mahoganies, and Rosewoods all grow within the park. These species are hard to find elsewhere in Costa Rica due to logging and their use in furniture-making. Other interesting trees you might see include the Pochote (which has dangerous-looking spines), Guanacaste (Costa Rica’s national tree), and Naked Indian. If you happen to visit in March when the brilliant Corteza Amarillas are blooming, you’ll also get to see a showering of yellow flowers.
Trails at Lomas Barbudal
Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve has three public trails. Each is accessed from Casa Patramonio, the visitor’s center/ranger station that marks the entrance to the park. If you have a few minutes before you start hiking, take a quick walk through this rustic visitor’s center. There are a number of displays with artifacts that have been found in the reserve like pre-Columbian pottery and casts of different animal prints. There are also photos with information about the park. Much of it is in Spanish, but you can get still get a lot out of it even if you don’t speak Spanish.
Trail Map: The park ranger did not provide trail maps when we checked in, but they do have one on display. Click here for a picture we took of it.
Sendero Gigantes del Bosque
Sendero Gigantes del Bosque (Giants of the Forest Trail) is the shortest trail at Lomas Barbudal. The dirt path is flat and well maintained. After a quick 15 minute walk from Casa Patramonio, you will arrive at a nice pool surrounded by green forest (see cover photo, above). When we visited at the end of the dry season in April, it was still full of water and looked quite refreshing. We didn’t opt to swim, but you probably could. Just watch out for the little cichlid fish (yes, just like the ones you find at the pet store). Note: We did encounter some aggressive mosquitoes along this stretch so be sure to bring repellent.
Sendero Catarata (Waterfall Trail) also starts at Casa Patramonio, but intersects with Sendero Gigantes del Bosque later on, making for a nice loop. This is one of the longer trails, but is still fairly short at about 2.4 km (1.5 miles). We spent the most time on this trail and highly recommend it for wildlife viewing and the waterfall.
The trail follows the Rio Cabuyo (Cabuyo River). As we mentioned, Guanacaste gets extremely dry for part of the year and it is common for rivers to dry up completely. That is why we were so surprised to see a lovely flowing river. Interestingly, the river was keeping the foliage nice and green on the right side of the trail, closest to the water, but the left side was dry and barren.
Lomas Barbudal, like much of this region, consists of tropical dry forest, meaning that the trees lose their leaves during times of drought. The first picture above really shows this.
This river and the reserve’s many other streams, pools, and springs are so important to not only the trees and plants, but also to wildlife. Animals come here year-round to drink water, especially during the dry season when resources are limited. A sign inside the visitor’s museum says it best:
Given this, it should be no surprise that wildlife was abundant on our visit. For animals, we saw howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, paca, and agouti. We also saw several kinds of lizards, including the brown basilisk and Jesus Christ.
If you’re into birding, you’ll also be happy at what you can spot. Over 130 kinds of birds have been seen in Lomas Barbudal, including hard-to-find species like the Scarlet Macaw. On our visit, we saw two types of trogons (Elegant and Black-headed); a Turquoise-browed Mot-Mot; Long-tailed Manakin; Squirrel Cuckoo; Royal Flycatcher; Dusky-capped Flycatcher; Slate-headed Flycatcher; White-collared Seedeater; and Striped-headed Sparrow.
After following the trail for about a mile, you will reach the waterfall. This small cascade is only about 12 feet tall (3.7 meters), but very pretty. It is visible from the trail, but you’ll have to climb down to the riverbank for the best view. You can also swim here, and right at the base of the falls is a bench where you can sit and let the cool water shower you from above.
Trail Conditions: Sendero Catarata was mostly flat, but did have some narrow, rocky areas that were more difficult to navigate. There were also a few parts that would cross water, depending on the season. Makeshift bridges made with old boards had been put down, but many of them were in disrepair. Although this wasn’t a difficult hike, sections of the trail were completely exposed to the sun. With temperatures in the 90s (32°C), walking even on flat ground can be a workout.
Sendero Carablanca is another trail off Sendero Catarata that is supposed to have a couple of scenic viewpoints. We didn’t do this one as it cut through the extremely dry part of the park where all the trees had lost their leaves and it was quite hot.
Open daily, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
$10. Note: The park ranger did not charge us on our visit.
Tips for Visiting
- Plan to spend about 3 hours to do Sendero Gigantes del Bosque and Sendero Catarata, and an additional hour or so if you plan to do the third trail. It doesn’t take that long to walk the park, but you’ll want to go slowly to see the most. We found the birds and animals here to be more skittish since they are not used to seeing people.
- Bring plenty of water (at least 1 liter per person) as temperatures are often well into the 90s (32°C) and some snacks. The nearest small store is at the highway, several miles away.
- Wear lightweight clothing that dries quickly and bring sunscreen, a hat, and insect repellent. Here is a link to our post on preventing mosquito bites, which includes some recommendations for repellents that work well in Costa Rica.
- Hiking boots or sturdy sneakers are recommended so that you have solid footing on the makeshift bridges and rocky areas.
- Rainy Season: The ranger said that the trails don’t get too muddy during the rainy season so visiting that time of year should be fine. He did warn about more mosquitoes, however, so be sure to use repellent. We would also recommend waterproof hiking sandals like Keens or hiking boots or sneakers you don’t mind getting wet/dirty in case you have to cross the small streams.
Directions to Lomas Barbudal
From Liberia, drive south along Highway 1 for about 14 km (8.7 miles). When you approach the small town of Pijije, look for the turnoff on the right immediately after the pedestrian walkway that crosses the highway. It is near a small store called Abastecedor Pijije. Take the dirt road and follow it for about 7 km (4.3 miles). The road is flat most of the way and passes open fields and a few houses. Towards the end, it becomes steep. 4×4 with higher clearance would probably be necessary during the rainy season.
We weren’t sure what to expect when visiting the Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve but had such a wonderful time. We have hiked throughout Costa Rica and are usually partial to the rainforest, but the tropical dry forest of this reserve was so rich with life. Not only did it have water at the end of the dry season, but it was also full of wildlife. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path day hike around Guanacaste, we highly recommend Lomas Barbudal.
Have a question about the reserve? Leave us a comment below. (Email subscribers, click here to post a comment online.)
Looking for more information to help you plan your visit to Guanacaste? Check out these posts:
- Playa Brasilito: An Authentic Costa Rican Beach Town – Guide to visiting the local fishing village of Brasilito. This town might be worth checking out if you’re looking for a more authentic experience but still want to be close to the amenities.
- Diria National Park – Diria is another lesser-known place for hiking in Guanacaste with a different feel from Lomas Barbudal. Check out our tips for visiting.
- Costa Rica Rental Car Discount – If you’re staying at one of the beach towns in Guanacaste, renting a car is the best way to do local hikes and see many of the attractions. Click here to learn more about our rental car discount.