This small town, 45 kilometers south of Jacó , is a center for the 1,700-hectare African oil palm ranch. A dirt road immediately south of Parrita leads eight kilometers to Playa Palo Seco, a black-sand beach backed by the mangrove swamps and braided channels of the Palo Seco and Damas Rivers.
The Damas estuary mangrove forest is home to crocodiles, monkeys, pumas, coatimundis, and wading and water birds by the thousands. Isla Damas lies across the estuary and is reached by boat from the dock two kilometers southwest of Damas, 12 kilometers south of Parrita on Highway 34.
Monkey Tours (tel. 506/2777-0015) offers 2- to 4-hour boat tours (from $25) from the dock; Chino, the owner, also offers fishing trips, kayaking, and night tours. Iguana Tours (tel. 506/2777-2052, www.iguanatours.com ) and Kayak Lodge (tel. 506/2777-6620) offer similar trips from their own dock; the turnoff from the highway is by the soccer field in Damas.
The Rainmaker Conservation Project (tel. 506/2777-3565, www.rainmakercostarica.com , 7 A.M.–5 P.M. daily, $15) is a 540-hectare private rainforest reserve on the forested slopes of the Fila Chonta mountains, above the hamlet of Pocares (southeast of Parrita and seven kilometers inland of Highway 21). It pioneered the concept of suspension-bridge rainforest trails in Costa Rica with six hanging bridges (some span the rainforest canopy) reached along a loop trail through a river canyon; 15 natural pools are good for bathing. Alas, two decades later the trail and bridges are much deteriorated. A guide (optional) costs $10. A night tour is offered at 6 P.M. ($30). A restaurant serves lunches ($5).
Sky Mountain (tel. 506/2778-3677, www.canopycostarica.com ), at La Chirraca, in the mountains about 20 kilometers north of Parrita, lets you whiz by zip line across a mountain gorge; it has 2,195 meters of zip line ($65). The views over the coast are stunning. It’s within Reserva Ecológico Creando Naturaleza, with a stable for horseback rides ($50).
At Playa Palo Seco, the beachfront Beso del Viento (tel. 506/2779-9674, www.besodelviento.com , $87–144 s/d) offers six rooms in the main house and three apartments of varying sizes with kitchens. The French owners arrange horse rides, and a sportfishing boat is available for charters and tours. Rates include breakfast.
The rather soulless but perfectly adequate Pueblo Real (tel. 506/2777-1403, call for rates), near the dock one kilometer southwest of Damas, spreads across 120 hectares on the banks of the river. It features 28 fully furnished Spanish-style condos, and facilities include two tennis courts, a pool, and marina. Two of the condos can be rented (tel. 908/708-4676, www.costaricamycondo.com ).
Nestled between beach and lagoon at the very end of Playa Palo Seco, the Cabinas La Tranquilidad (tel. 506/8836-7775, www.cabinaslatranquilidad.com , $60–100 s/d low season, $80–120 s/d high season) is well named. Behind its white picket fence are three cabins (two cabins sleep up to six people) and a six-person house. Although modestly furnished, they’re handsome enough, and the grounds include a shaded bar and restaurant, plus hammocks, a pool, and various games for relaxation.
Next door, the Timarai Bamboo Beach Resort & Spa (tel./fax 506/2770-8360, www.timaraibambooresort.net , call for rates) is constructed of natural materials throughout. The 22 circular tree house–style loft rooms and suites are made of bamboo and have a lovely, somewhat rustic aesthetic graced by floral displays. The dramatic Kanbambú Restaurant (7 A.M.–10 P.M. daily), made of cantilevered bamboo poles, serves Mediterranean dishes, salads, and creole chicken.
At Damas, Hotel Kayak Lodge (tel. 506/2777-6620, www.kayak-inn.com , $60 s, $70 d) has nice cabins and a handsome garden in an otherwise insalubrious location abutting the mangroves (and an abundance of mosquitoes). It’s great for folks wishing to explore the mangroves.