Thirdeyemom

An Artisanal Gold Mining Tour in Rancho Quemado

“You’ve got to be patient and have faith”.  – Juan Cubillo on mining for gold 

I woke to the sounds of the jungle in my open-air cabin at Amazonita Lodge in Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre. I felt amazingly refreshed and quite invigorated for another adventurous day ahead in the Osa Peninsula. Our gracious host Zulay made us a wonderful Costa Rican breakfast in her house before we headed out for our next tour. The beauty of rural tourism is that besides the tours and sightseeing, you also receive an intimate experience with the local community. You are welcomed into their homes for conversation, friendship and delightful home-cooked meals. It truly is an incredible experience that you miss when simply staying at a regular hotel or doing mainstream tourism.

It was time for us to say our goodbye to our friends in Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre and head to a new rural community called Rancho Quemado which is the least-visited community in the Osa Peninsula. There we would meet Juan Cubillo and his family to learn about artisanal gold mining, a traditional way of life that is on its way out.

The drive to Rancho Quemado was about an hour and half northeast into the interior of the Osa Peninsula on bumpy roads. It was a beautiful drive through glorious lush countryside and rolling hills. We were surprised to see many dump trucks hauling debris and road work being done to repair the damage from the Hurricane Otto. Normally there are very few cars and rarely a truck on these remote dirt roads. However, two months after the storm hit there is still much clean-up to be done.

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We arrived at Rancho Quemado around ten o’clock and of course it was already steaming hot. Juan and his lovely wife Rosa welcomed us into their home and farm at Finca Las Minas de Oro where they have lived for many years with their family of three children. We were one of Juan’s first customers for his newly launched gold mining tour, a way for him to provide income for his family without having to illegally mine for gold.

Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Juan’s wife Rosa painted this sign advertising their new business, gold mining tours, open to tourists.

 Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Rancho Quemado is a small, rural town of about 300 people and has its origin in gold mining. Two gold miners settled on the site of Finca las Minas de Oro in the early 1940s when they discovered gold within the neighboring creek. One day when they were out hunting, their house burned down hence the village was named Rancho Quemado which means “Burning Ranch”.  As soon as word got out there was a sizable amount of gold in the area, people came from all over Costa Rica to find their fortune and pan for gold. Juan and Rosa also moved to the community searching for gold and a better life for their growing family. Juan has panned for gold for years however it is difficult, backbreaking work in high heat and humidity for upwards of 8-10 hours a day and it is also technically illegal. But like most people in rural communities throughout the Osa Peninsula, gold mining is their only source of income and until more sustainable jobs are available, mining will continue.

The government and other organizations are trying to change this reality by promoting rural, sustainable tourism. Two years ago, Juan and Rosa both received free training on hospitality, rural tourism and environmental conservation. They say the training has completely changed their perspective and ideology on life and the environment. Before, Rosa used to cut down all the beautiful bushes and flowers along the property because they were a hassle. However, now she lets them grow and flourish realizing how nature beautifies the property. Juan understands how mining damages the environment and his dream is to make gold mining a thing of the past. Instead, he wants to show tourists the tradition and history of panning for gold. All he needs is more customers.

A slideshow showing the property at Finca las Minas de Oro

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Juan and Rosa’s hospitality training has truly paid off as they were incredibly warm and gracious hosts. While we were talking about the history of the farm, we received a welcome drink of sugarcane with lemongrass juice, the traditional drink for gold miners and their families as well as “Arepa Orera” (homemade sweet bread). Rosa told me that this is what gold mining families pack when they head out to mine for gold up in the mountains. It was sugary but hit the spot given the humidity.

Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Arepa Orera (Sweet bread) and the gold miners drink (sugarcane lemongrass drink).

Juan told us that the open-air dining area, kitchen and reception room was built a few years ago to help with their tourism project. It was a lovely space! Inside, he had some gold mining artifacts set up as well as an area where he would show me later how he weighs the gold.

Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Inside the reception area at Finca las Minas de Oro

Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Juan giving us a presentation on the history of gold mining in the community.

Juan and Rosa's youngest child poses innocently for us. She is adorable!

Juan and Rosa’s youngest child poses innocently for us. She is adorable and still has toothpaste on her lips.

After our introduction, it was time to fill up our water and head out into the hot, humid air to see a live demonstration of artisanal gold mining. Juan lead the way behind his property to the river where he mines for gold.

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We walked about ten minutes through the creek until we reached the area where Juan does his mining demonstrations. On days when he has no tourists, here is where he mines for gold. He told me that some days he is out there for 8 hours and comes home with nothing. Yet other days he may discover $100 worth of gold which will help feed his family for a while. Although he has two sons, he does not want them to do this back-breaking hard labor and hopes they will find a better future.

Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Juan smiles for the camera.

Gold mining is hard work especially given the high heat, humidity and sun. I am sweltering hot just standing there watching Juan do the demonstration. Juan told me that the going rate for gold is $32 per gram.  On good days he can find 20 grams and on bad days he finds nothing. When I asked him how he does it he confessed, “You’ve got to be patient and have faith”.  

A slideshow demonstration of how to pan for gold. 

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It is a laborious process that doesn’t always pay off. While Juan mines for gold he tells me why it is harmful to the environment. In the rivers and creeks, mining removes rock which changes the direction of the water and also releases sediment.  Miners also use chlorine that can kill the fish. Since many miners don’t have access to their own property to mine they have to go up into the jungle for a week at a time causing further damage to pristine, protected areas of wildlife and nature. While they are away mining for gold, they have to hunt for animals, killing protected and sometimes endangered species (hunting is also illegal in Costa Rica), they pollute the environment with garbage and human waste, and damage the environment. Unfortunately most of the community at Rancho Quemado still rely on mining and hunting for their livelihoods. However, the community is coming together to change this reality by promoting rural tourism. They realize they are sitting on a gold mine of beauty and they have a lot to offer potential tourists who want to explore something unique and beautiful besides Osa’s crown jewel Corcovado National Park.

After the demonstration, we headed back and Rosa had prepared an absolutely magnificent feast for lunch.

Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Rosa presents our gorgeous lunch. What a feast!

Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

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We finished lunch completely stuffed. It was the best meal I’d had the entire week in the Osa Peninsula. When I told Rosa, she beamed.

After lunch Juan showed me how he weighs the gold by hand. He still does it using his judgment. After so many years mining for gold, he is never wrong.

Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

He knows that the coin weighs exactly one gram.

As we leave we snap a few more photos with Juan and I marvel at what an amazing experience it was to be welcomed right into Juan and Rosa’s life. I hope that more people find their way to Finca las Minas de Oro and that through tourism, people like Juan and Rosa can not only share their lives but have a better one for themselves.

Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Juan and me

Rancho Quemado Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Juan smiling by the sign welcoming tourists to their farm and tour.

This post is a continuation of my series on the Osa Peninsula. I traveled for a week visiting rural communities with Lokal Travel. 

27 comments

  1. What a back breaking lifestyle they lead, sounds like hard work yet they look so happy. How wonderful that you were able to immerse yourself into their way of life and see what they do firsthand . Hopefully tourism will help them provide better for their family on the future. An amazing post yet again Nicole.

    • Thanks Miriam. This is what made my trip and travel in general so amazing. Truly learning about how people around the world live. Lives so different than our own. They opened their homes and their hearts with gratitude. There is truly something magical about the Ticas. (nickname for Costa Ricans). 🙂 Aussies are pretty wonderful too! 🙂

    • Thanks Janet! Yes, out of many places I’ve been I can say that the Costa Rican people are some of the friendliest, warmest people I’ve ever met. I loved my stay.

  2. ‘You’ve got to be patient and have faith.’ Such wonderful advice.
    Hello Nicole! Another wonderful insight into jungle life. I didn’t know about the gold mining at all nor the effect on the environment.
    The meal looks fresh and healthy.
    I’m in awe that you had this experience. It looks like conscious travel is certainly the way forward. Thank you for showing us that it’s possible.
    Bye for now, from Di 🌺🌺

    • Thanks Di! I still love how you connected with Miriam!!! I was thinking when I read your IG posts how you and Miriam would hit it off. You both are so inspiring. I wish I lived closer. Would love to meet the two of you. Can’t wait to read your blog and welcome you into our wonderful WordPress community (if you use WP as your blog platform which I highly recommend).
      As for the trip, yes this was a marvelous experience. I am so glad I got to do it. Really magical. 🙂

  3. Who knew there was a gold mining community in Costa Rica? I had no idea. In Nicaragua gold mining is on the eastern side of the lake in an area called Chantales. We’ve never been there, but someday I would like to see the gold mining process. I heard it isn’t environmental friendly because they use chemicals to process the gold flakes.

    • Yes most of the Osa got its start in gold mining. It is still the main income for many but they are trying to change it since it is so hard on the environment.

  4. I hope so too, Nicole! You are doing great work promoting it, and indirectly (as you’ve explained), potentially helping the environment. I love how you described rural tourism. I totally agree…I am not so experienced at it, but so far I really have cherished that intimate experience in the local community.

    • Yes me too Peggy! This was the first time I’ve ever spent an entire week doing rural tourism and I loved it. I want to do more trips like this down the road. It is so amazing getting to know the local people and their lives.

      • A week! That’s wonderful! Yes, I agree…it is so rewarding to visit where you are really wanted and welcomed. I’ll never forget getting called out in a line for the bathroom with a huge tour group bus ahead and behind me in Cinque Terre. I hadn’t bought a coffee yet, and I wasn’t “allowed” to use the bathroom till I bought a coffee. Getting out of line, I would need to wait another half hour to get my coffee and then go back in line. And the woman that worked at the coffee shop knew that, but didn’t care. Tourists had become a pest, almost, for them. It isn’t nice to be somewhere where you are a pest. And so nice to be somewhere that your curiosity is helpful… 🙂

      • I had such an amazing time in the Osa, Peggy. I want to do another tour with Lokal. They are going to Guatemala this summer doing similar rural tourism. I just can’t swing it but I hope to someday soon. When are you going back to Italy? Enjoying your time in the US?

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  7. What a difficult way to eek out a living. Hopefully rural tourism will take a foothold to support the environment and provide a better life for many. Thanks for sharing a side of the Osa Peninsula that many do not ever see.

    • Yes I hope so. The word just needs to get out there that these opportunities exist. The tours I did in the Osa were so amazing because they were so unique and so intimate. I loved my experience and I am grateful that my business was able to help support them as well.

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