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“I had a wonderful time at Rara Avis!”

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Rara Avis Rainforest Lodge & Reserve
Reviewed March 19, 2014

Ii wanted to do something unique and away from any mass tourist venues in Costa Rica & Rara Avis fitted the bill perfectly. After an e mail to request a very quiet horse, I was met at Las Horquetas by Diego and his helper & assisted to mount Maria, who behaved perfectly. I am over sixty, have arthritis of the hip, cannot ride, & had not sat on a horse for thirty years, and I found the three hour trek to El Plastico wonderful! Beautiful views, a much better track than I had expected....never would I take the tractor, it must be so bumpy & noisy by comparison with the clopping hooves. I had read the website instructions & taken my own boots in case the boots supplied did not fit; I would recommend knee-high socks as is suggested if you cannot manage to bring your own boots, as the edges can cut bare legs. At El Plastico, the staging post on the edge of the forest, we were met by the excellent guide, Jonathan, who led us on what was a two hour trek to Rara Avis. I disagree with the reviewer who thought the trails poorly maintained; while maintenance in the luxuriant vegetation must be a constant challenge for the staff, the trails are quite good enough. Jonathan was always ready with a helping hand for me, knowing intuitively when there was an extra slippery bit. I covered myself with insect repellent, btw, but never had to shoo away any bugs & was not bitten at all. You do need light rain gear. It rained heavily in the afternoons & at night; going down, the horses had to wade through some water up to stirrup level.
My accommodation in Waterfall Lodge was simple, but not damp as in another reviewer's account. You can feel the planks under the mattress, it is true, but I slept very well. There was lighting only in the dining room, so a torch was necessary as indicated and the hot water in my room did not work (it did in some other rooms), but it was not too difficult to have a cold shower as the water was not icy. There was a hammock strung on the balcony outside the room, a good spot for a rest in the afternoon.
Doris, in the kitchen, did her best; rice & beans do feature at every meal but that is Costa Rican cuisine. There was always plenty to eat & the tropical fruit at breakfast was delicious.
I stayed two nights, trekking up one day, going on a guided walk to the primary & secondary forest & beautiful waterfall the next, then doing the reverse journey back. Jonathan pointed out frogs, birds, snakes poisonous & harmless, trees, insects...a wealth of creatures an unpracticed eye would not see. The forest is magical! I have never been so oxygenated as there, breathing that marvellous air night & day (the windows have no glass, just mesh.)
Perhaps only people who don't mind slightly spartan conditions would like Rara Avis; it is true that the pictures on the website give an impression of more luxurious accommodation & must be rather outdated, but the four or five of us there over the same couple of days all felt the experience was special, including the journey there. I loved every minute!

Stayed: February 2014
4  Thank Honor D
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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15 - 21 of 63 reviews

Reviewed December 31, 2013 via mobile

Going into this my girlfriend and I read all the reviews on here and honestly, not one paints an accurate enough picture to prepare you for what you are signing up for. We assumed the people who spoke poorly were just not the outdoorsy type and could not handle a little rustic accommodation. I was wrong, I love camping and the outdoors and this was well beyond awful. Read this in its entirety, despite the unappealing start you will find I mention all the pros as well.

The trip starts off at the meeting point in Horquetas, the first thing that will give you perspective on what's to come is the tractor and trailer which you will be riding for the next 3 hours. All the rims are bent out of shape and no two are alike. Moreover, the tires are all bald, but hey, these guys must be doing this trip daily so you give them the benefit of the doubt, dawn the rubber boots the give you and hop on board. About 500 meters into the trip you realized you missed something in your observation, this thing has no shocks, it's gonna be a bumpy ride... About 20 minutes in one of our tires fell off, this was still when we were or relatively fair ground, where regular cars could still pass, but luckily we had a skilled driver and with his bucket of spare parts (clearly this wasn't the first time this had happened to him) he put the wagon back together and we we're off once again within 45 minutes. Slowly the road starts getting worse and eventually there is no "road" just boulders and rocks with the occasional mud pit. But the driver never gives up, he just lays on the gas through the smell of burning rubber until the trailer reaches the end of its 3 hour 12 kilometer journey and you arrive at... El Plastico??? it's only about and hour and fifteen minutes on foot through the jungle from here... This is what you came for right? Of course so you follow the guide up the trail and sure enough you finally arise at Rare Avis.
Lunch is waiting and hot coffee is in the thermos. The service at Rare Avis is FANTASTIC! Be prepared for typical Costa Rican food. If you like rice, beans and casados, you will be happy, if not, you're out of luck.
After lunch it's time to get settled into your rooms. Those of you who paid extra for the glamorous "Waterfall Lodge" will be slightly disappointed do to the misleading name as there is no waterfall in sight. However, you will be glad you put down those extra $20 once you see the "Casitas", (this is where we stayed). Built in the early 1980 and never renovated since you will be shocked to find what they consider accommodations fit for human living. The infrastructure is rotten and the whole place is damp, even the sheets and mattresses are as they suck the humility out of the surrounding rotten wood. The bug screens that make up the top portions of the walls don't reach the roof and the door locks don't work. There is a hot water heater but, of course, it doesn't work... the mattresses are actually little foam pads, which after being slept on for thirty years are thoroughly compressed so you can enjoy the feeling for the wooden planks beneath it. we turned our noses at the situation for a few minutes but... whatcha gonna do now? The tractor left while you were eating lunch. We showered, changed and went exploring. First things first... let's check out this waterfall!!! it's beautiful and plenty of opportunity to swim and dive but getting there, well that's a whole different story. The trails which were made 30 years ago where done really well but upkeep has left them unmaintained. Stepping blocks have rotted, cracked and gone missing, the stairs have rotted through and become a lawsuit waiting to happen and the path to the bottom of the second falls has not been cleared in a decade. This is the same for all the trailer, plenty to see but disappointing conditions.
The guide, Jonathan, is the best thing this place has to offer. He goes above and beyond to make the guests as comfortable as he can given the little he has to work with. The night hikes were fantastic, we saw plenty of frog's snakes birds and spiders, we could not ask for more.
The second night my girlfriend and I were the only ones there, the staff were so warm and welcoming! My girlfriend grew up in Costa Rica and desperately wanted to make home made tortillas with Monte Verde cheese, she spoke to the kitchen staff and they opened the kitchen to her were happy to prepare the snack together with my girlfriend. When Jonathan returned from escorting the rest of the guests back to El Plastico, he, the two other staff members my girlfriend and I all sat down together for the snack she had prepared. That night we had another incredible night hike lead by Jonathan.
We opted to take the horses back over the tractor. Good call...

Recap:
Guide (Jonathan) - A+
Cooking abd cleaning Staff (Doris and a lady who's name I do not know) - A+
Tractor ride - B-
Accommodations - F
Food - A-
Trails - D
Nature and Wildlife - A+

I'll post pictures of the waterfall lodge, Casitas and Cabinas. We explode them all to compare and document for this review. If you are absolutely sure you want to go, stay only in the Waterfall Lodge, and demand a discounted rate as the accommodations are truly old and decapitated and this place is starving for patrons. There were 4 other people there on the first night and only my girlfriend and I on the second, capacity is roughly around 60, you do the math... Moreover, if you go and hate your life, don't take it out on the staff there, they can't do anything about it and did not sell you the trip. Document your experience, post it here and take it out on management.

Do not stay more than 2 nights, or you will become Jack Nicholson from The Shining due to lack of dry and comfortable accommodations.

  • Stayed: December 2013
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9  Thank lzlatkin
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 15, 2013

I rode a horse 2 1/2 hours and then hiked mostly uphill for an hour with the guide to reach the hotel. It was a gorgeous trip. I enjoyed it. The horses are good for beginners and if you don't ride well you can hang onto the saddle horn. Or take the tractor ride instead. The weather was hot and the guide let us stop to rest when we needed. I'm a 52 year old woman in ok shape. I stayed for six nights.
This place is way out in the forest. A great way to connect with nature. Many hiking trails right from the hotel. No need to travel anywhere. No sounds here except birds, insects, and animals.
The food is good and plentiful - typical Costa Rican family style. I was so hungry at each meal from all of the hiking and fresh air. It was good eating.
The waterfall is one of the best in Costa Rica. I swam in the pool at the base of the first waterfall after hot hikes.
The people working there are all so nice. The guide Jonathan brings the forest to life. He has an exceptional knowledge of English, as well as animals, insects, amphibians, birds, serpents, and plants. We spotted a pair of yellow-eared Toucanets on a hike, certainly a rare bird. I saw coatis, white-faced monkeys, snakes, anoles, many birds and butterflies including the beautiful blue morpho. I especially liked the glass frog. Night hikes are fun, this is when I saw the fur-de-lance. Things come out at night that you don't see during the day.
The hotel is rustic and basic. Hot water is only at night when the generator is on.
I brought a pair of all leather Vasque hiking boots but found that the boots they provide are better. Good traction, comfortable and there were a few spots in the trails that you can sink into mud above your ankle, but only for a few steps.

Room Tip: Second floor of waterfall hotel has a view.
  • Stayed: December 2013, traveled solo
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Thank Lisa E
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 6, 2013

I completely agree with HRG903 and with Nic K.You can't send most people here, mostly because it is so rugged. But you will be completely off the grid, deep in the rainforest, and you will see things you will never see again. I could not stop dreaming about the forest for weeks afterwards, it was such a dense sensory experience. My husband and I had a volunteer guide and she was fantastic. She took care of us, and I think we would not have noticed half as much if we did not have guidance from her and the biologists who were there. The night hike was incredible. Swimming in the waterfall - amazing. We were the only people there other than the researchers and the employees, and we felt very much at home. The tractor ride is massively rugged, and that was the only difficult part of the trip. Do not go here if you like a luxury vacation. DO go here if you want to have an experience that will stay with you forever.

Room Tip: Stay on the second floor of the lodge so you can look out over the rainforest. You are pretty much...
  • Stayed: April 2013, traveled as a couple
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Thank bettyaf
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 2, 2013

I first travelled to Rara Avis twenty years ago, followed by a visit ten years after that. I almost didn't return this year, when planning a Costa Rica vacation, after reading some of the negative reviews here on Tripadvisor but thankfully, followed my intuition and stayed at Rara Avis for five nights, June 2013. It was amazing! Rara Avis offers what few other "eco-lodges" can-- access to pristine and incredibly scenic, biodiverse, truly wild rainforest. If your goal is to immerse yourself in an amazing rainforest environment, leave the rat race behind and re-connect with the timeless rhythms of nature...then Rara Avis is for you. If you want to stay in a 5-star hotel, then you will likely be disappointed. At Rara Avis, nature is the 5-star experience; we only used our room (at the Riverside Cabin) to store our stuff and to sleep. The trails are in excellent condition, the food was authentic, Tico-style homecooking and the surroundings were inspirational.

I agree that some of the infrastructure has seen better days and could be updated, e.g. the bed in the Riverside Cabin was a bit on the small side for my 5', 11", 240 lbs frame and I found myself missing my comfortable bed at home at time. However, at Rara Avis, you are roughing it a bit, removing yourself from the comforts of civilization for awhile and the pay-off is having access to amazing natural experiences. Our days were filled with unstructured hikes, following the trails and encountering luxuriant tropical vegetation everywhere, looking for tropical wildlife. We encountered nearly a dozen species of frog, dozens of species of birds, three kinds of monkey, Coati, anteaters...fresh signs of tapir on the trails. Yes, you will encounter poisonous snakes (especially eyelash vipers), stinging ants, huge insects and spiders...familiarize yourself with the potential dangers of the rainforest, pay attention to your surroundings and you will have no problems...I suffered little more than a few mosquito bites.

It's hard to convey the overall quality of the experience in the rainforest at Rara Avis with words. I have travelled to many rainforest locations throughout the Amazon, Panama, Guyana, Ecuador and other parts of Costa Rica and still think of Rara Avis as the most beautiful rainforest, almost a spiritual experience being there. A morning spent swimming at the base of the Rara Avis waterfall will change your life! The Bromelia and Nicholas trails are great introductions to the rainforest and the Platanilla trail is the ideal destination for the more physically adventurous.

I am far from being an athlete or in perfect physical condition (I am 50 lbs overweight and in my 40's), but I found the notorious tractor ride more interesting than a burden and the trails were in great condition and easy enough to negotiate without slipping or falling. After too much time spent sedentary behind a computer screen in Seattle, my days of hiking for eight hours per day, day and night at Rara Avis were a great way to reconnect with my body and spirit.

I get the impression that the staff at Rara Avis are really committed to the reserve and many have been working there for 10 or 20 years. I felt like the reserve manager, Gian Carlos was intelligent, responsible and was constantly concerned for our safety. We enjoyed our hikes with Gian Carlos and he is an excellent birding guide. I have only a rudimentary grasp of high school Spanish but was able to communicate well with the Rara Avis staff.

So what are you waiting for? Are you a nature-lover, naturalist, bird-watcher? Are you up for an authentic rainforest experience, ready to challenge yourself in a wondrous environment that is fast disappearing from the world? Book your trip to Rara Avis and have amazing trip that you will remember for a lifetime.

Room Tip: We stayed at the Riverside Cabin and found it very nice-- with the sounds of the frogs and insects a...
  • Stayed: June 2013, traveled as a couple
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2  Thank stevewoodydebris
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed June 26, 2013

What a beautiful place. We wouldn't recommend it to just anyone, because
1. The ride to RA from the nearest town, Las Horquetas, is kind of rough and at times uncomfortable (but it's a fascinating transition from pastures and secondary forest to DEEP primary rainforest).
2. You won't find manicured trails with paved walkways here as you see in some parks, such as at Monteverde. Some of the trails in fact are only for those in pretty good physical shape.
3. Definitely not a good place for small children.
4. No electricity (at least not as of last year....we're just now getting around to starting reviews). The river cabin, where we stayed, did have low-level lighting for a couple of hours each evening, powered by solar cells and batteries.

This is one of the most remarkable places we've ever stayed. Despite the points made above, we found it to be quite comfortable. The meals are not fancy but are delicious and more than ample. We were accompanied on most of our hikes by a well-informed, English speaking guide. There is an extra charge for a fulll-time guide now. The rainforest is really magnificent. With the reservations listed above, we highly recommend it.

  • Stayed: July 2012, traveled with friends
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2  Thank HRG903
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed June 17, 2013

I have been to Rara Avis seven times--most recently when I spent nine days this April. This place was one-of-a-kind when I visited initially in the 1980s and it still is in 2013. In the 80s there was little eco-tourist infrastructure and Rara Avis was the place to go. Now it is the place to go as one of the few places that really gives you the pristine rainforest. Yes it is muddy. Yes the tractor ride is long. Yes the food is plain. But, the forest is remarkable. I have visited more than 20 other lodges in Costa Rica and most of the national parks and Rara Avis remains my favorite location. I spend all day walking the trails seeing what I can find. There is a great variety of birds and you won't be running into other birding groups all day. I saw fer-de-lance 2x on my last trip and a great variety of other herps. When I ran into monkeys (3 species) they didn't try to steal my food as at Manual Antonio but were wild and upset at my presence. Still, you do have to be ready to entertain yourself searching the forest on muddy and sometimes difficult trails. So, being experienced and being ready to search the references at the restaurant needs to be part of the fun. I also suggest that you should stay not less than three nights.

I should say that on other trips, my wife and children had a great time reading on the lodge balcony and swimming in the waterfall and making a few short hikes. Also, some updating to the maintenance would be nice. But, just be prepared for what is there and what isn't and you'll not be disappointed.

  • Stayed: April 2013, traveled solo
    • Location
2  Thank Nic K
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Rara Avis Rainforest Lodge & Reserve

Address: Horquetas 1000, Costa Rica
Location: Costa Rica > Province of Heredia > Sarapiqui > Horquetas
Amenities:
Free Breakfast Free Parking Children Activities (Kid / Family Friendly) Restaurant
Hotel Style:
Ranked #3 of 5 Specialty Lodging in Horquetas
Price Range: $176 - $201 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Number of rooms: 18
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Rara Avis introduced the concept of ecotourism as a conservation tool to the region in 1983, in which nature-based tourism is now the second largest industry. We preserve 12km2 and 20km of trails, we guarantee you the most authentique and unique experience on Costa Rica rainforest. The lodge is designed to maintain the feeling of being deep and isolated in the forest, while offering basic but comfortable rooms and excellent traditional food. We maintain the sense of the real Costa Rica of many years ago, while offering daily guided walks in which our resident guides explain how the rainforest works. In good weather it is possible to swim at the base of our pristine waterfalls. Other guests simply prefer relax in hammocks on the private balconies of their rooms. This a place for serious naturalists and those who like to have a learning experience on the rainforest. ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
Rara Avis Rainforest Lodge And Reserve
Rara Avis Rainforest Lodge & Reserve Hotel Braulio Carrillo National Park
Rara Avis Rainforest Lodge & Reserve Costa Rica/Sarapiqui - Horquetas

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