We are so sad to be leaving the Leaves and Lizards Retreat today and our tranquil cabin that has become our little slice of heaven. Just a few weeks ago we had never even heard of this place. We were planning on staying at a nearby resort, but our friends Marsco and Audra came back from Costa Rica raving about their stay here. We didn’t really know what we were getting in to and booked it purely on their recommendation…and I am so happy we did! Even on the rough and tumble ride up mountains to get there, we knew that we were on our way to something special. Looking down at valleys of endless pastures with grazing cattle and wild horses, we felt worlds away from tourist traps and entered the true Costa Rica.
At the retreat we stayed in the Hummingbird Hacienda, a two-bedroom cabin on top of a hill with a large furnished porch to soak in spectacular views of the Arenal Volcano. This amazing view of Costa Rica’s most famous active volcano flooded every room of the cabin. Our only neighbors were horses and cows grazing in the nearby pastures. We felt like we discovered a hidden gem.
True to it’s name, the Hummingbird Hacienda is a haven for watching hummingbirds flutter around the tropical foliage surrounding the house, along with several species of butterflies and other birds that I’ve only seen in magazines. There is also an orchestra of other critters that you can’t see but you can hear, which seems to grow louder around dusk. Sounds that I have never heard before and each one different, but they manage to somehow blend into a perfect harmony.
Leaves & Lizards is a true retreat in which you can fill your days with adventures or just relax on the porch admiring the view and reading a book in the hammock. There is a lot to do in this area including tons of hiking trails, zip lining, canyoneering, horseback riding and soaking in natural hot springs. However, we felt so much at peace at our cabin that we found it hard to leave the porch and that amazing view of Arenal.
Our 4 nights here was perfect and so much more than we ever expected. Every night we dined with the owner and other guests. We each shared the day’s adventures and our life stories over a delicious meal made with fresh ingredients straight from the property. Besides finding our Zen on our porch, we also spend our time exploring Monterrey to brush up on our Spanish, driving to the Arenal Observatory Lodge for another fantastic view from the base of the volcano, and floating around in a free natural hot spring; away from the touristy ones that charge up to $70/ person. The best adventure was a horseback riding tour from Leaves and Lizards that trekked into the jungle to a private waterfall.
Even an adventure, such as trekking through a jungle full of snakes, spiders and bugs that look nasty enough to give you goose bumps turned out to match the same peaceful ambience of our cabin with the rolling hills and beautiful foliage as our backdrop. Our tour started with a history lesson on the types of horses in Costa Rica and then an introduction to the horses at Leaves and Lizards. We then got to choose the horse to be our buddy for the rest of the day. I chose a yellow horse named “Dorado.” She was a barrel racing champ in her prime, but has since retired. Doug selected “Amarillo”, a matching yellow horse, but twice the size of mine with a fiery spirit. Amarillo was the latest addition to the farm. Unfortunately, Amarillo and Dorado where not on good terms yet and Dorado’s ears would pin back with an angry tone anytime Amarillo and Doug would try and ride next to us. Then again, maybe it was Doug that Dorado didn’t like.
Overall, both horses were very well behaved and I was surprised at how well they responded to our lead, especially for me being a beginner. On my one and only experience riding a horse on Ian and Yvonne’s ranch in Southern AZ, the horse went so slow that it actually got bored and fell asleep on me. Thank god it was just after I got off of the horse to take a break! However, it made for a scary sight to watch a horse tip over close to the side of a cliff as I held onto the reins thinking I could save him if he fell over. The horse survived with a few cuts and bruises, and I made sure to keep Dorado awake to avoid another potential disaster.
On our journey we followed a trail up and over mountains, through the jungle, across streams and to our very own private waterfall. We encountered some cute and not so cuddly creatures along the way. The 1st one being a poisonous Eyelash Pit Viper snake hanging out on a tree by our narrow trail, so there was no avoiding it and was way too close for comfort. The only good thing was that it was a baby snake sleeping and apparently had just eaten. I was just hoping that big Mama snake was not nearby and up hunting.
The next encounter was a white tail deer, which really brought excitement to our guides. Apparently they are not as common to see in Costa Rica as they are in the U.S. This seemed to make our guides’ day and really made their year when we saw another one on our way back.
My favorite encounter is when we came across a mama sloth with a little baby sloth hanging around the mother’s neck. Ricardo, our guide in a stunt-like fashion only seen on movies, jumped straight up from his saddle so he was now standing up on his horse. Using his horse as a stepladder, he then managed to jump into the tree with the sloths. He shimmed his way up the tree and pulled the mama and baby sloth from the tree so we could get a better look. I think the sloth was try to fight back, but true to it’s nature it moved too slow and then lazily just gave up. The baby remained hanging onto it’s mothers neck as part of it’s initiation. If a baby sloth was ever too weak to hang on and fell off of the mother’s neck, the mother would not go down to save it. It would leave the baby to fend for itself and leave it up to Darwin.
Adding to this scene, as Enrique was playing with the sloths, his horse thought it would be funny to walk away. Enrique called for his horse; it looked up for a second and then continued to munch on a patch of grass it found that was just far enough away from Enrique. Hanging helpless from the tree, the other guide was finally able to wrangle the stubborn horse so Enrique could jump down.
Along the way our guides pointed out species of trees, birds and other wildlife, shared stories about their childhood growing up here. They said a lot has changed since they were young, including the introduction of running water and electricity not too long ago. We finally made it to a point where we had to leave our horses behind and hike the rest of the way to the waterfall. After a moderate hike up and down a hill we came across a secret waterfall exclusive to our group. After our hike and being in the sun all day, the refreshing waterfall was invigorating. We jumped in and life felt good.
After a little picnic by the waterfall and a couple of turns pretending to be Tarzan and swinging on vines, we headed back. This time the guides decided to take a different way back that was off the trail. We cut through pastures of tall grass, rode along side cattle and raced wild horses.
It was a peaceful and zen-like quiet during our ride back as we soaked in the serenity and beauty of the landscape. We came back from our journey tired, sweaty and with sore bums, but we also brought back a sense of calmness mixed with a sense of giddiness for new discoveries like when we were kids.
We hope to come back to Leaves and Lizards again. At the very least we wanted to share this unbelievable experience and our slice of heaven with our friends.