Last Updated: October 4, 2019
Everyone knows about Manuel Antonio’s famed national park, but if you’re looking for something more off-the-beaten path, there’s another great option. Rainmaker Conservation Project located just outside Quepos is a private nature reserve with hiking trails, hanging bridges, waterfalls, and tons of birds and wildlife. Below are our tips for exploring Rainmaker on a day trip from Manuel Antonio or Quepos.
History of Rainmaker Conservation Project
Before we share the details of planning your visit to Rainmaker Conservation Project, it is worth hearing about the project’s fascinating history that spans 25 years.
Sometime around 1990, a farmer named Don Victor Fallas needed some cash so was looking to sell a portion of his land near Parrita. A Costa Rican named Mauricio Gutierrez entered the picture and agreed to purchase 200 hectares (500 acres) on behalf of the company the Body Shop, which wanted the farmland to grow products for use in their cosmetics. Don Victor also owned a large amount of primary rainforest on a nearby mountain. Though he needed to sell it because of his debt, he wanted to find someone who would keep it preserved. Mauricio shared a similar vision and agreed to buy 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of the forest in his own name, thinking the pristine land could be valuable in a future tourism business.
Just as the paperwork was being finalized, Mauricio died tragically in an accident when he fell into a waterfall on the property while trying to save a child. With no buyer, the deal was about to fall through when Mauricio’s wife, Ann Gutierrez from the US, stepped in. She didn’t have the cash upfront but somehow got Don Victor to agree to a five-year mortgage. The only problem was that Don Victor wanted $100,000 as a down payment—and he wanted it in a week. The story then goes back to the Body Shop. Ann contacted Gordon Roddick, co-founder of the cosmetics giant, who agreed to lend her $100,000 for the down payment, and the deal went through.
Today the land is completely paid off and preserved. If it hadn’t been for Ann and her children Alessandra and Mick stepping in, the land probably would have been turned into a lumberyard. Apparently the bank that owned the property was in talks with a Japanese wood company that was set to buy the land if Don Victor defaulted on his loan. After visiting the property and seeing for ourselves how special it is, we can really appreciate Ann, Alessandra, and Mick’s efforts to keep Mauricio’s vision of conservation alive.
What to Expect on Your Visit to Rainmaker Conservation Project
Rainmaker Conservation Project has a 2.5 km (1.5 mile) trail system that passes waterfalls and runs alongside a beautiful winding river. The tract of land is primary rainforest, meaning that it has never been cut down. The old growth trees and topography of the reserve create spectacular, majestic views that are hard to match. We’ve done a lot of hiking in Costa Rica and found Rainmaker to have some of the best views around. The way the trees tower along the mountain creates almost a wall of rich, green forest.
In terms of difficulty, the main loop is moderate and suitable for most people, though there are some areas that are steeper and slippery. Short loops off the main trail are more difficult and climb farther up the mountain to a lookout and series of suspension bridges. These hanging bridges are suspended high above the ground, giving you a unique vantage point from which to observe the rainforest. They are narrow and rickety, so if you’re afraid of heights, you might want to skip them.
Just outside the area where you buy your tickets is a large sign with the trail map detailing where the hanging bridges are located and the best spots for swimming. Click here to view a photo we have taken of the map.
Because it is a bit out of the way, Rainmaker sees a lot less foot traffic than the often busy Manuel Antonio National Park. This means that you’re more likely to have the trails all to yourself and see more wildlife. More than half the plants and animals that live in Costa Rica can be spotted at Rainmaker. On our visits, we have seen a green and black poison dart frog, whiptail lizard, and several kinds of butterflies including a glass-winged variety. We’ve also seen lots of birds, including the Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Blue-crowned Manakin, Black-throated Trogon, and Baird’s Trogon.
Planning Your Visit to Rainmaker Conservation Project
Self-Guided vs. Guided Tours
You can easily just show up, pay the admission fee ($20 per person), and do a self-guided hike of the reserve. Going with a knowledgeable guide can be very beneficial, though, so that you see more birds and wildlife. The rainforest at Rainmaker is really thick so it can be hard to spot much on your own. If you’d like to go with a guide, we work with one who used to do tours for the reserve so he is extremely knowledgeable.
Here is some information about the tour through his company. All tours are private, meaning that they are only with your group/family.
Information About Private Guided Tours
$75 per person adults; $55 per person children ages 6-11; kids under 6 are free.
2 hours of hiking, 1 hour to swim in the natural pools, private bilingual naturalist guide, round-trip transportation from your hotel in the Manuel Antonio-Quepos area, entrance fee, typical Costa Rican lunch served at the reserve, and water.
8:00 a.m. pickup time
5.5 hours (approximate, including transportation time)
How to Book a Private Guided Tour
Contact us through our Tour Booking Service page or email us at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com with your preferred date, the number of people in your party (adults and children), and hotel if you would like transportation. We bill through PayPal and take care of all PayPal fees so the price is the same as if you booked directly through the company. Once your reservation is confirmed, we will send you a confirmation document with all the details.
What to Wear/Bring
- Hiking boots or sturdy sneakers as the trail is often muddy and slippery
- Bathing suit and towel for swimming in the natural pools
- Plenty of water
- Insect repellent, especially if you’re visiting during the rainy season (May through November)
Rainmaker is open daily 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Lunch can be purchased at the small restaurant onsite for $7 per person. It’s a typical Costa Rican casado.
Directions to Rainmaker Conservation Project
Rainmaker is located about 20 minutes off the Costanera highway, Route 34, in the village of San Rafael Norte near the town of Parrita. There is a sign for Rainmaker at the turnoff on Route 34. The road leading to the reserve is rough dirt, however, they are in the process of paving sections of it right now (September 2019). Four-wheel drive is not required but would be useful during the rainy season.
Because the reserve is quite far off the main road (about 7 km), we don’t recommend taking the bus and walking the rest of the way from the highway.
Rainmaker Conservation Project is a great place to spend a few hours if you’re visiting the Manuel Antonio/Quepos area. Not only will you take in some beautiful scenery and see interesting plants and animals, but you’ll get to experience a special part of Costa Rica that was almost lost.
Last Updated: October 4, 2019
Have you visited Rainmaker? What did you think?
Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:
7 Off-the-Beaten-Path Things to Do Near Manuel Antonio: Check out these ideas for more lesser known activities in the Manuel Antonio area.
Manuel Antonio Restaurant Guide: With over 75 restaurants, it can be hard to sort through the options. Read our updated guide to get the best meals in town.
Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge: Another great nature reserve is Hacienda Baru, about 45 minutes south of Manuel Antonio in Dominical. This private reserve never gets too busy and has lots of wildlife and excellent birding.