Costa Rica 2009: Lookout Trail

The Hacienda Baru is located on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast between the towns of Quepos and Dominical. The owner of this ecolodge and wildlife refuge is Jack Ewing. Jack made his initial purchase of Baru in 1973 in order to establish a cattle ranch. In his now infamous story about a capuchin walking between forests and the unfortunate dog who made the wrong decision to attack, Jack realized the need to construct a corridor between fragmented forest patches. In 1973, this region of Costa Rica was fragmented and heavily cultivated. Forests were cut and turned to pasture. Jack’s encounter with the grounded monkey opened the door to a new beginning. Since that time, Jack purchased and reforested land along the pacific coast. This reforested tract that includes both primary and secondary forest is now referred to as the Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge. 

The Baru refuge extends from primary highland forest, through lowland secondary forest, and terminates at a pristine volcanic sand beach lined by tropical almandros trees. The biodiversity at Hacienda Baru is staggering. Jack is a self-trained naturalist who created a comprehensive list of biota found in Baru. The list includes 360 species of birds, 70 species of mammals, 95 species of herps, 87 species of butterflies, 45 species of ants, and 293 species of plants. As a photographer, naturalist, and biologist, Hacienda Baru is the ultimate playground. 

Although I have traveled to Costa Rica many times, waking up to the sound of exotic bird songs never gets old. The chorus of birds begins with a few pre-dawn risers and ends with a jazz concert during improv night. It is not hard to roll out of bed when there is so much opportunity for good photography. 

Tamy was beat from the flight and ride to Baru, so I snuck out on my own to scout some prime photo locations. After walking the grounds, I decided to make a short hike to the birding tower. The tower resides in a thicket of secondary growth and is an ideal location to spot toucans, hummingbirds, tanangers and even butterflies (see images). Over an hour later, I returned to the room to get Tamy, have breakfast, and begin our hike into the primary forest.

The hike into the primary forest is called “Lookout Trail;” I’d suggest that Jack rename it as “Ass Whooping Trail.” Although the trail is only 2.5 km long, it is a fairly steep climb that begins in the lowland secondary forest and meanders into the primary upland jungle. While I am fairly slender for a 44 year old guy, I am not in very good shape. A steep climb in the humid jungle with over 40 lbs of photo gear is not the same as a nature walk in Minnesota where the topography could be compared to a warped piece of plywood. 

In the end, it took us nearly 4 hours to hike the trail; our slow pace was made slower by the occasional attempt at photography or breathing. Tough hikes are a right of passage for the accidental photographer, and this one was well worth the effort.

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