Three eco-friendly small resorts built in harmony with nature
Most travelers think Pacific when they are planning a Costa Rica beach vacation. From upscale retreats along the Gulf of Papagayo to fishing lodges in Quepos and surf clubs in Golfito, the country’s west coast has hundreds of resorts to choose from.
Not as well known are the limited number of small hotels and eco lodges that are scattered along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. There are a few on the dark sand beaches to the north, but travelers in the know gravitate to the southern shores, where golden sands flank a jungle-clad shore, and coral reefs lie close to shore. There are no high rises, and as you approach the border with Panama, a single road leads through small fishing villages to boutique resorts nestled into the rain forest, or set on wild beaches. Here are three of the best.
Hotel Banana Azul, Puerto Viejo
Adventurous surfers were the first to discover the coastal village of Puerto Viejo, on Costa Rica’s far southern Caribbean coast. But the word is now out, and the town has become a lively destination for the backpacking crowd. Hotel Banana Azul is located on the beach a quarter mile from downtown—close enough for an easy walk to shops and bars, but far enough away to avoid the late night party scene. The property includes 14 guest rooms in the main hotel, which is built from local hardwoods. Also on the grounds is the two-story Villas Banana Verde, which are luxury accommodations with a full kitchen and a private plunge pool. All accommodations are equipped with wireless Internet and are in close proximity to the ocean-view pool, beach and restaurant. The grounds feature lush tropical gardens and each villa’s open-air design allows guests to cook and dine in their private outdoor space. It that’s not your thing, the Azul Beach Club serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The hotel provides a quiet, beachfront oasis, but it is also an ideal starting point for activities up and down the coast and into the surrounding rainforests. Guests can plan their own adventures or join daily-guided tours. A tasty favorite is the Chocolate Forest Experience tour, where guests learn the history of cacao cultivation, harvesting and chocolate making. Hikers and bird watchers can arrange day trips to Cahuita National Park, the Jaguar Rescue Center and the pristine Gandoca Manzanillo Refuge. The resort also offers a number of farther ranging tours that include whitewater rafting excursions, coastal sailing cruises, and trips into the mountains to hike, zip line and soak in volcanic hot springs.
La Kukula Lodge, Playa Chiquita
Eco-conscious travelers will fall in love with La Kukula Lodge, which is about three miles south of Puerto Viejo. Set on the site of a former cocoa plantation now returning to rainforest, La Kukula Lodge is all about natural living. Fabricated from sustainably sourced local teak wood, the resort combines traditional craftsmanship with innovative architectural design elements to create accommodations that are both comfortable and environmentally responsible. All buildings are set on raised platforms, leaving the forest floor beneath undisturbed. This design also creates a cooling airflow that combines with design elements such as high, vaulted ceilings and shading roof overhangs to provide passive cooling, making artificial air conditioning unnecessary. Footpaths are narrow in order to maintain an uninterrupted canopy, allowing troops of howler monkeys and other animals to travel overhead without leaving the safety of the treetops.
Guests at La Kukula have options that range from single rooms to stand-alone two-bedroom bungalows or a two-story, three bedroom house that is ideal for large family groups, Amenities include queen or king beds set beneath gauze netting, terraces with hammocks, and rainforest showers with large windows that provide private jungle views. The resort’s dining room creates gourmet meals that are prepared on site by local chefs using fresh, organic and locally sourced produce wherever possible. The menu blends Costa Rican and European influences, combining local recipes with a Mediterranean style. From the lodge, it is a five-minute walk to Playa Chiquita, which is one of the area’s lesser known and less visited beaches. This relatively small stretch of sand includes tide pools and coral reefs, making it ideal for snorkeling, walking or a quiet nap away from the crowds.
Tree House Lodge, Punta Uva
Moving south from Puerto Viejo, a single narrow road winds through the jungle towards the coastal outpost of Punta Uva, where a pair of gold sand beaches flank a green promontory. Branching off along the way is an even less obvious track that leads into a 10-acre oceanfront property nestled on the edge of the Gandoca Manzanillo wildlife refuge. This is the site of one of the most eclectic and intriguing lodges in Central America. The property has impeccable ecological credentials; many structures were created from fallen trees or sustainable bamboo, with roofs made from recycled materials. Features such as solar water heating, natural paints and wastewater reclamation programs have earned the lodge the highest possible 5 LEAVES certification from Certification for Sustainable Tourism in Costa Rica. In addition to a strong commitment to ecological responsibility, the lodge focuses on wellness, with daily yoga classes and a fitness center that offers daily fitness, Pilates, and Taebo classes.
The Tree House Lodge is made up of five unique homes that combine open-air living and modern luxuries with whimsical designs. The two-level beach house is constructed entirely from a single fallen loquat tree. The Beach Suite’s futuristic profile wraps around a spacious bathing room set within a dome embedded with colored glass ports. The Crystal House has a massive sangrillo tree grown through its center, a miniature golf course running through the interior, and a wood-fired hot tub. The Garden House is built almost entirely from bamboo, and the Tree House is raised on stilts, and reached by a suspension bridge. Though rustic and unusual in appearance, the homes of the Tree House Lodge include modern comforts such as air conditioning, full kitchens and Wi-Fi service. Various layouts include one or two bedrooms and lofts, and can accommodate up to six people.