The day after our horseback riding adventure in Costa Rica, Arienne and I set out to hike the trails of La Marta Wildlife Refuge. This natural reserve is near the Pejibaye town in Cartago and the Atirro, a small river that runs through the northern province.
It’s hard to believe some of the land was destroyed by squatters in the 1980s. Since then, it has been declared a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site and locals now dedicate their time to protection, preservation, and conservation of the natural wildlife that lives here. The town is also beginning to open up the area for tourism (they are even starting to pave the roads nearby) and like all tropical rain forests in Costa Rica, this one is used by students and researchers at local universities to study natural habitats and ecology.
Costa Rica is known for its outdoor adventures and it’s the perfect place for active travellers like me. I also came to Costa Rica because I wanted to experience what makes the Ticos tick. Costa Rica is ranked the happiest country in the world by the New Economics Foundation’s 2013 Happy Planet Index, based on human well-being and environmental impact or low ecological footprint that causes the least amount of permanent damage to the planet and impact on future generations. The country’s mystical rainforests, lush landscapes, quiet streams, and high elevations make for some of the most serene retreats and a true pura vida. Hector, our local guide, promised us la mirador. I’m not sure what this meant but I liked the way it rolled off the tongue and was eager to see what it could be!
At the entrance of La Marta, you first need to cross the suspension bridge. There is a neat little surprise at the end of the bridge – it’s an archeological find of an ancient gold mine and a historic rail system that was once pulled by donkeys to help extract valuable gold. Miners decided to stop mining and focus on conservation of the forest instead.
Tree of Life
The Ceiba tree is a roosting place for nature and wildlife where mammals, birds, and reptiles continuously give birth then nurture their young inside. It’s known as the tree of life because there are always interesting creatures being born and crawling around in there.
Hector led the hike most of the time – mainly to scope out snakes or camouflaged creepy crawlers before they could get to us first.
La Marta becomes greener the deeper into the rainforest you get. And steeper. And muddier. I slipped a few times on the climb and half way through the trek my shoes gave out. I still kept going. I wanted to learn what this “mirador” was all about.
I also learned you need better hiking shoes than these!
Somewhere between 750-2000 meters above sea level there is an incredibly tall gazebo in La Marta. It was at the end our hike that we finally reached what Hector was talking about! La mirador is Spanish for balcony and this one rewarded us amazing views of the Talamanca mountain range to the north and Friendship National Park (shared with Panama) to the South Pacific!
Location: Cartago, Costa Rica
Length: 6 km. 3.5 hours long
Level of Difficulty: The trail has different levels of difficulty from easy walks to more steeper ones so anyone can do this hike.
What to Budget: It costs only 7,500 Colones (or $14 US) to enter but the money goes back into the reserve and helps workers maintain the rainforest.
What to Pack:
- A light jacket (for higher altitudes)
- Rain gear (you are in a rainforest, just sayin’)
- Good hiking shoes (or shoes that don’t break)
- Water (rainforest temps get up to 20°C-30°C with 90% humidity)