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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bahia Santa Elena, CR (hiking)

During our week at anchor in Bahia Santa Elena (March 30 - April 7, 2008) we enjoyed several morning hikes along the dirt roads accessible from three different beach landings in the bay. We had some difficulty finding the roads, mainly because we were looking in the wrong place. So the main thing you should keep in mind is that none of the roads are difficult to access from the beach. If you find yourself bush whacking through the underbrush and trees, you are NOT in the right spot! We enjoyed catching glimpses of wildlife and birds including iguanas, spider monkeys, a white-faced monkey, two kinds of kingfisher birds, a small falcon, the ubiquitous white-throated magpie jay (any interesting noise you hear is likely to be this bird it being so gregarious), white-tailed deer, butterflies (including a beautiful, large, iridescent blue kind), and paper wasp (?) nests.

We've heard that if you're not checked into or have already checked out of Costa Rica, the navy may kick you out of Bahia Santa Elena. This didn't seem to be the case as we saw only panga fishermen and a Guardia Costa (Coast Guard) boat which made a brief pass by both boats in the anchorage solely to ask us if everything was okay. Friends saw a park ranger on shore but were not asked to pay a fee.

High tides can go right up under the tree line at the beaches so be sure to lock/tie your dinghy to a tree. Conversely low tides expose the shore so you'll need your dinghy wheels.

The deer/horse flies and other bugs can be a nuisance so you might want to take/wear insect repellant.

There are lots of thorn trees so watch where you step especially in the dry brush on the beaches. Flip-flops are not recommended (I found out the hard way)!

Take plenty of drinking water, especially for the longer hikes. It was very hot and dry when we visited.

HIKE #1 (Falls and pools)
Wear shoes suitable for walking on dirt roads, rocks and boulders, and wading through water.

10 54.543'N 085 47.599'W Beach landing (at the SW end of the bay)

10 54.481'N 085 47.588'W Beach road T's at the main road (take a Left)

Cross two small (probably dry) stream beds.

10 54.339'N 085 47.167'W Road crosses third (and larger) stream bed (there's a palm tree on the right side of the road); turn Right to walk up the dry stream bed; we found water in the stream bed before we reached the fallen tree visible from the road.

10 54.032'N 085 47.159'W Falls and first swimming pool; there are a few smaller swimming pools up and over the falls if you feel like going farther.

HIKE #2 ("Monkey" road)
10 55.115'N 085 47.235'W Beach landing (at the SE end of the bay north of the mangrove rivers; it looks like a single lane launch ramp cut into the mangroves).

From where you've pulled your dinghy up high into the mangroves take a Right and follow the back of the mangroves around a rocky ledge to the dirt road. The rocky ledge may be under water at high tide. It might be possible to leave your dinghy tied off to the mangroves there (a stern anchor would help), although this is where tour pangas unload their bird-watching passengers so be sure to keep out of the way of their landing.

10 54.604'N 085 46.635'W Road crosses a large stream bed (it was before this point on two separate walks that we saw three spider monkeys in trees off to the right of the road; you will hear them first, if they're there).

10 54.360'N 085 46.515'W Road intersects the main road to the falls and Playa Blanca (to the right); we took a Left.

10 54.346'N 085 46.415'W Road crosses stream bed again (probably leading to one of the two mangrove "river" rides at the head of the bay, both of which are navigable in a dinghy at high tide).

There was another road forking off to the right which we didn't explore. This road is not on the chart.

10 54.310'N 085 46.074'W Top of the rise in the road (this is as far as we went; this road continues on towards Bahia Cuajiniquil and beyond).

HIKE #3 (Playa Blanca)
We recommend timing this hike to arrive at Playa Blanca during a low tide. The high water mark came right up to the tree line, and it would be very disappointing to have walked all that way and then not be able to walk the beach. We arrived to find sand flats, an estuary system walled off by the beach, no birds, and no shells. However the hike itself was interesting in that it passed through several varieties of vegetation, and crossed dry, rocky, river beds (which would be amazing to see during the rainy season).

10 55.338'N 085 49.116'W Beach landing (this beach is to the south of the rock islet, and the road is at the north end of the beach).

10 55.298'N 085 49.273'W Right turn at main road

10 56.272'N 085 51.701'W Road ends at Playa Blanca

For a nice photo opportunity of the bay either turn towards Playa Blanca from the beach landing for the Falls hike, or turn towards the Falls from the Playa Blanca beach landing. The overlook is a little closer to the former.

10 54.833'N 085 48.261'W Scenic overlook to anchorage

We hope you enjoy your visit to the Bahia Santa Elena area of the Santa Rosa National Park as much as we did!

Linda and John