La Palma, Playa Blanca & Rancho Quemado

Dec 20, 2019 - National Geographic Quest

Today is one of the best days of our trip, in which we get to meet the Costa Ricans whose lives we have changed for the better. Today is the day that we explore beyond forests and trails: We explore the hearts and homes of these people.

Guests here today may choose their activities for the morning and afternoon. The first outing option is a combination of two projects, where we visit Doña Rosa and Don Juan’s gold panning venture and then visit Don Carmen’s Trapiche (sugarcane mill) run by Johnny and Noemi. The former used to depend on extraction along forests and riverbanks, though they no longer have to, because they have developed a way that has allowed them to walk from the very hard gold-panning labor. However, most importantly to teach, as they proudly say, their children that through hard work, dreams and perseverance, much can be achieved. For Noemi and Johnny, retaking her father’s abandoned sugar mill, refurbishing it and putting it once more into use to rescue an almost abandoned tradition is another dream come true.

Our second choice was to visit the project named Jacana, ran by two women Eida and Yorleny. Their families took a hard economic blow during the mid-nineties, after embarking in planting hearts of palm in the Osa Peninsula region, and were at the point of losing it all, their land, their homes, their stability, but they would not have it. They decided they would do something about it, and with what little they still had, they began their 15-year vision for their future: a project oriented on educational tourism and a small heart of palm enterprise.

Finca Kobo’s chocolate tour and botanical garden run by Alex and his young family is a project of at least 17 years, after he revamped his parent’s farm into a magnificent botanical garden and long-lost cacao plantation practice, as well as a sustainable farm. Nowadays, Alex can produce small quantities of 100% organic chocolate, which is his key economic crop along with the tourist groups visiting him from all around the peninsula.

Last but not least, we could pick to go to a rainforest hike in the Finca Danta, run by Merlin and his family. Also redoing his father’s property, which used to be comprised of local crops, he realized that he was not made to be a farmer but still loved his home and land. Out he went to fulfill his vision, and he now owns a very popular and personal lodge, which includes a nice array of hiking trails.

Whichever outing we chose to visit, they were all game changers for the families maintaining them, but also and hopefully life changing for us as well. It is always good to know that our decisions can and do make better the lives of others. Further, we got great exposure to a lot of plants and wildlife that we wouldn’t have experienced had we not chosen to partake, including riverside wrens, boa constrictor, bright rumped attila, Central American squirrel monkeys, butterflies, scarlet macaws, leafcutter ants, and many, many more.

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About the Author

Isabel Salas Vindas


Isa Salas is a Costa Rica born biologist, who loves her country and teaching about it.  Known for her professionalism and experience in the field of animal behavior, Isa earned her master's degree in biology from the University of Costa Rica, where she also engaged in research for the chemistry and biology departments. Isa has carried out specialized projects on mantled howler monkeys for Costa Rica’s National Institute of Biodiversity (INBio), and is one of the country’s experts on howler monkey sexual and social behavior.

About the Photographer

José Calvo

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Nicknamed “Indio” (Indian) because of his powers of observation and quiet nature, José has almost two decades of experience working as a naturalist and photography guide; as well as being recognized as an expert birder and nature photographer in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is rich in biodiversity — over 893 bird species have been recorded in the country. Since very young José spent all of his free time in the outdoors in the forest, where he soon fell in love with the birds. He particularly enjoys listening to their calls, and watching their behavior. Oddly enough, another one of Jose’s passions is science and technology, and because of this, he was among the first in Costa Rica to experiment with digital photography. As the technology quickly improved so did his love for it.  He truly believes that nature photography is the perfect combination of both of his passions.

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