Cheska from our Americas team recently travelled around Costa Rica discovering eco-friendly hotels, exotic wildlife and stunning fauna. Read on to find out more…
Any traveller to Costa Rica is likely to encounter the phrase ‘Pura vida’ at some point along the way, so it was no surprise to me that these were the first words uttered by our guide as we were met off the plane in the city’s capital, San Jose.
You’ll hear it in many contexts, twisted to fit its purpose, but ‘Pura Vida’ literally means ‘pure life’ and is more than just a greeting or an exclamation of thanks; in Costa Rica it’s a way of life. It runs through the veins of its people and is evident in the way this country is so well cared for. When you compare Costa Rica with other Central American countries, the contrasts are stark. Much less poverty, much higher standard of living, much ‘greener’ outlook on the environment, and most of all, much more peace – Costa Rica has been without an army now for over half a century (and hasn’t missed it at all).
From a tourism perspective, Costa Rica is much more sustainable and forward-thinking than some of its neighbours. You’ll see much stricter rules in place to protect the environment, inhibiting mass-development of big hotel chains on the ocean front, instead choosing to preserve the environment and the weird and wonderful wildlife that can be found here. From the famous sloths and the tapir to the elusive and beautiful Jabiru bird, and the colourful Scarlet Macaw, Costa Rica’s wildlife will leave you in awe. Awaken in the morning to the yelps of howler monkeys and check under your sun lounger for wandering iguanas sheltering with their Jurassic-esque appearance.
What really strikes visitors to Costa Rica is its beauty and its stunning contrasting landscapes; from the lush green rainforests of the Osa Peninsula and Manuel Antonio, to the mysterious cloud forests of the Central Valley to the dry, almost Africa-like cowboy country in Guanacaste.
I was fortunate enough to see these different areas and experience these contrasts for myself. I took a trip up to the cloud forest, only 90 mins from San Jose and a perfect place to spend a night or two outside the hustle and bustle of the city. Villa Blanca near San Ramon was a lovely rural retreat, and fantastic for bird watchers with its own hummingbird gallery and bird watching trails to explore. In an effort to be greener they also have a self-sustaining farm, including a dairy where we had a go at milking a cow, without much success…
Given the strict government guidelines on what can and cannot be built in Costa Rica, many of the hotels we visited on our trip were designed in such a way so as not to impose on the surrounding landscape. The Andaz at Papagayo, which is in the northern, drier Guanacaste region is a gorgeous example of this. Designed by renowned Costa Rican Architect, the buildings have been created to emulate the shapes and formation of the local flora and fauna. And the great thing is, there is absolutely no compromise on luxury either. As a guest here you really get the best of both worlds.
The Costa Rican Tourism board has introduced its own ‘pura vida’ ethos by way of a sustainability ranking system for hotels, known as the CST or ‘Certification for Sustainable Tourism’. As opposed to a star rating, hotels are given a ‘leaf rating’ based on how environmentally-friendly their accommodations are, taking into account various factors. It encourages hotels to be sustainability conscious in a competitive way for the better of the environment, plus it’s also reassuring to know that the hotel you’re staying in takes responsibility for the environment.
Finca Rosa Blanca in Heredia outside San Jose is the proud owner of a 5-leaf ranking and is the highest ranking member of the prestigious CST with a near perfect score! Not only this, it is an absolute joy to stay at, with its Gaudi-style architecture and beautiful muralled walls, and is considered a luxury boutique hotel. No two rooms are the same, each with its own unique Costa Rican flavour and quirky design. It even has its own coffee plantation on site which is worth exploring with a guide, and looks simply beautiful when flowering.
I was also lucky enough on this trip to experience a “pura vida” dream brought to life at Playa Cativo in Gulfo Dulce in Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific region, also ranking highly on the CST scale. They aim to operate on a 100% sustainability model and serve as an example to other hotels, using a hydroelectric generator and solar panels to power the lodge. It simply is the most peaceful, natural and tranquil oasis you’re ever likely to encounter. Accessible only by boat, and bordering the beautiful lush Piedras Blancas National Park on all sides, it really feels as though you are in your own slice of paradise. There are so many animals to discover here, you’ll even have to compete with the frogs for a space in the pool! Lunch was interrupted on our first day by a very excited guide, Gerrardo, with news that he had found a snake that needed relocating away from the lodge. It was no less than a huge Boa Constrictor, and he brought it in to show us. What a welcome!
The rooms here were huge and most looked out over the Golfo Dulce bay, with its spectacular and calm waters, perfect for swimming and watching the sunset with a cocktail in hand.
I left Costa Rica feeling relaxed and totally rejuvenated by this amazing, diverse and beautiful country, and it is utterly refreshing to visit somewhere where you know you will leave behind only your footprints in the sand and not a large environmental burden. Indulge in all its natural delights, taste all its delicious delicacies, and discover its incredibly varied wildlife and plant species for yourself.
For more information on Costa Rica, give one of our Americas Consultants a call on 0203 603 3555 or visit scottdunn.com