Though better known for its tropical beaches, Costa Rica is also very much a country of mountains. Just ask anyone who’s endured a slow, precarious and dizzying drive from San José to either of the nation’s two coastlines. But while their presence can hardly be denied – or avoided – highland areas, such as the centrally located Talamanca range, are often ignored as travel destinations in and of themselves. That I was reminded of this during a recent visit to Bosque del Tolomuco retreat and bed-and breakfast is a shame – because by offering everything the beach does not, a mountain getaway can be the perfect alternative to a muggy, sandy and crowded day on the coast.
Just off the
, some 16 kilometers north of fast-growing San Isidro, in the Southern Zone, Bosque del Tolomuco sits perched on a steep Talamanca mountain slope. At 1,800 meters in elevation, the air is cool and refreshing, a stark and welcome contrast to the constant high temperatures and humidity that bake the coastal region below.
The weather is mercurial to say the least – bright sunshine, fog, a brief rain, then maybe more sun, all between breakfast and lunch – though not unpleasant. And, except for the constant chirping of birds, it’s quiet. Unlike some of the more popular beach resorts, Bosque del Tolomuco has just five cabins, meaning that the few guests lucky enough to stay here have the mountainside property’s 40 hectares virtually to themselves.
“The main thing here is the discovery of fresher air and a completely different environment,” said Lise Zersch, who owns the retreat with her husband Rolf. “It’s a different Costa Rican experience.”
The couple moved to the Talamanca mountains a few years ago from Canada. At that time, the property, formerly used for cattle grazing, was relatively undeveloped. The Zersches decided it would be a fun retirement project to launch a bed-andbreakfast.
In doing so, they’ve literally transformed the place. The amount of work the “retired” couple has put into the property has been monumental, though not surprising given their backgrounds. Both spent years living and working on farms, and neither shows signs of slowing down anytime soon.
To start with, the Zersches had to build themselves a house. The result was a tasteful, one-story home that also serves as Bosque del Tolomuco’s dining and common area.With its polished cypress ceiling, comfortable chairs and wood-burning stove, the common space is an excellent refuge from the sometimes chilly mountain evenings. It is also where guests can begin their days with one of Lise’s superb breakfasts.
Think rich coffee, cereal or eggs, fruit, fresh-baked bread and homemade pineapple-banana jam.
The couple later built the individual guest cabins, which, like the main house, have a charming, rustic feel and are comfortable and immaculate. Each cabin contains a large double bed, a spotless bathroom with hot shower – very hip shower curtains – and a small writing table. The cabins are set up for couples, though slightly larger groups are also encouraged to visit. Three of the units come with an extra bed and one has a builtin kitchen.
Bosque del Tolomuco’s greatest asset, however, is its outdoor space. The Zersches did a wonderful job of landscaping the area around the house and cabins, where they planted flowers in abundance, started a vegetable garden and have even begun cultivating orchids. There is also a lovely swimming pool. Mornings are often hot and sunny, making this a particularly attractive feature.
Behind the cabins, the property rises at a fairly steep slope before topping off at a ridge. Visitors can follow a neatly trimmed path uphill. Steps are carved into the earth, making for fairly easy walking, though given the combination of grade and elevation, don’t be surprised if you’re huffing and puffing a bit by the time you reach the top. The climb, though, is well worth it, especially after following signs to a well-marked vista point, which on a clear day boasts spectacular views. To the south, Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica’s tallest peak at 3,820 meters, rises out of the clouds. Directly east, way in the distance, is the Pacific Ocean.
The other side of the ridge is also well worth a visit. Just follow a sign that reads “trails.” A gentle path leads downhill, through an eerie but beautiful forest, eventually coming to an intersection from which guests have a choice of three routes. Like the bows of a shoelace, all three paths – loops really – share the same beginning and end point. That way, Lise told me, “nobody can get lost. They always come back to the same point. Nobody can get lost in the forest because that’s one thing we really don’t want.”
The trails are extremely popular among birders, who so far have identified more than 160 species on the property, including the rare resplendent quetzal. But even without binoculars and a bird guide, the paths really are wonderful. All alone in the woods, accompanied only by the rush of a nearby river and the constant chatter of birds, I felt like I was in my own private nature reserve.
Far away from it all, Bosque del Tolomuco really does offer a “different Costa Rican experience.”
For information, visit www.bosquedeltolomuco.com or call 847-7207.
If driving from San José, head south on the
until kilometer 118 – about 14 kilometers shy of San Isidro. Take a right just before Bosque del Tolomuco’s colorful sign and head up the hill to the end of the driveway. The drive should take about two and a half hours.
The retreat is also accessible by bus. Buses leave San José’s MUSOC station (corner of Calle Central and Avenida 22) every hour between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. Ask the driver to drop you off at Bosque del Tolomuco. If the driver is reluctant to do so, ask him to stop instead at Restaurante Vista del Valle (it’s just one kilometer farther down the highway). From there, you can call the Zersches, who will be happy to come pick you up. Tickets cost ¢1,600 (about $3) each way.
Rates and Food Options
Cabins cost $40 for singles or $60 for couples, per night. Groups of three or four must pay $10 for each extra person. Discounts are available for visitors interested in longer-term stays. Lise’s homemade breakfasts come included. The prices listed do not include a 16% sales and tourist tax.
As long as she has some warning, Lise is happy to make evening meals (provided couples or groups agree to all order the same thing). Options include steak dinner (¢8,500/$16.30), herbed chicken breast with potatoes (¢5,500/$10.60), Cajun shrimp pasta (¢7,500/$14.40) or fish dinner with rice (¢6,000/$11.50). Guests can also purchase beer (¢600/$1.15) per bottle, or wine by the glass (¢600/$1.15) or bottle (¢3,000/$5.80).