Costa Rica Is a Horseback Haven, Agent Finds

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AUSTIN, Texas -- When Leigh Ann Cloutier visited Costa Rica in 1990, it was love at first sight. Cloutier, a native Texan and a veteran travel agent, said she "fell in love with the country immediately because I love to ride [horses], and the riding is so good there."

Cloutier, president of Anderson Mill Travel here, owns a farm in Costa Rica, where she maintains five horses. She also runs Rico Tours, a wholesale operation that specializes in Costa Rica.

Horseback riding is an excellent way to see the countryside in Costa Rica, Cloutier said. "There are some beautiful places to ride either in the mountains or on the beach. It's also a good way to go birding. Horses will carry you places where you can't go on foot."

Among the factors that Cloutier said distinguishes horseback riding in Costa Rica is the freedom that outfitters give riders to set their own pace. Also distinctive are the horses and their training. "The horses are Spanish-bred, a little smaller than our horses. They're very sweet -- strong, healthy horses with some spirit to them," Cloutier said.

Generally, riders in Costa Rica control a horse with what's called a hackamore -- a rope that goes back around the ears -- rather than a bit. "They are so well-trained to that hackamore that they are very easy to turn and stop. Rarely have I ridden a horse in Costa Rica that I wouldn't put my children on," she said.

Horses are available for rent throughout Costa Rica, including at its beach destinations, although Cloutier cautioned that riding on the beach is not as comfortable as inland because of the heat.

In choosing suppliers for horseback riding in Costa Rica, Cloutier opts for lodges or ranches with their own well-cared-for horses. She advises agents who book through a U.S.-based wholesaler to ask if the wholesaler knows the local outfitters and if they have checked out the rides themselves. Before calling a wholesaler, agents are advised to inquire about the client's riding ability, whether they are accustomed to riding English or western and how many hours a day they would like to ride. Also, because of the small size of Costa Rica's horses, body weight limits may be applied.

Among the lodges that Cloutier recommends for horseback riding vacations in Costa Rica are:

  • Buena Vista Lodge. This 45-room property sits on the slopes of the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, where it generates its own electricity and relies on solar panels for hot water. Located on a working ranch with 100 horses, the lodge offers riding excursions to a nearby hot springs and to waterfalls in surrounding dry forest; for the exceptionally fit, there's a challenging combination hiking/riding tour to the volcano's crater. A canopy tour also is available. Buena Vista Lodge. Phone/fax: (506) 695-5147
  • Dundee Ranch. Located en route to Puntarenas from San Jose near Orotina, this 17-room lodge is situated on a working mango plantation and cattle ranch in Costa Rica's dry Pacific zone and features a first class restaurant. Dundee Ranch. Phone: (506) 428-8776, Fax: (506) 428-8096
  • The Eco Lodge. Located in the Guanacaste mountain range overlooking Lake Arenal and next to a cloud forest reserve, the Eco Lodge contains 14 cabins and a 23-room lodge. In addition to horseback riding, there are water sports on nearby Coter Lake, mountain biking and naturalist guides. The Eco Lodge. Phone: (506) 257-5075, Fax: (506) 257-7065
  • Hotel Fonda Vela. Seven buildings containing 28 guest rooms are located on a 35-acre property where private hiking trails wind through a forested reserve; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a 15-minute walk away. Horseback rides here offer excellent birding. Hotel Fonda Vela. Phone: (506) 257-1413, Fax: (506) 257-1416
  • Sample packages follow:

  • Rico Tours offers a five-night itinerary that features four to six hours of riding daily. Highlights include rides on the Pacific beach near Jaco, in a coastal tropical forest, on a working cattle ranch, in the cloud forest of Monteverde, from Monteverde to Arenal Volcano and to Tabacon Hot Springs. Accommodations are at the Hotel Club del Mar, Dundee Ranch, Hotel Fonda Vela, Linda Vista del Norte and San Jeronimo Lodge. The price is $1,380 per person, double, based on a group of 12; one member is free. The price includes lodging, all meals, ground transportation, horse rental and equipment and services of an equestrian naturalist guide. Rico Tours. Phone: (800) 280-7426
  • Equitour in Dubois, Wyo., offers three itineraries in Costa Rica. New this year is a seven-night Nicoya Beaches Ride suitable for riders who are comfortable at a walk, trot or canter. Included are one night at the Hotel Chalet Tirol, where a short morning ride is offered; five nights on the Nicoya Peninsula at Tango Mar, and a final night at the Hotel Palma Real in San Jose. Most days, three- to six-hour rides take visitors to area villages, along the beaches and through the jungles; the itinerary includes time for hikes in the Cabo Blanco Reserve and swimming in waterfall pools and reef snorkeling. Equitour indicates that riders must weigh no more than 185 pounds. The price is $1,190 per person, double, including continental breakfasts, lunches, welcome dinner, lodging, horses, tack and guide, internal roundtrip flight to Tambor, ground transfers. Departures are December through March. Equitour, Phone: (800) 545-0019
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