A couple of years ago I spent some time touring around Costa Rica on the dime of that small nation's tourism board. I traveled with a pack of journalists, both from the U.S. and various Central American countries, and spent time visiting different resorts and learning more about Costa Rica's eco-tourism program, which is recognized around the world as the leading model for how to successfully combine tourism, economics and true-sustainability.
One of my favorite spots that we visited was Rancho Margot, an eco-resort/organic farm/working sustainability laboratory nestled in the mountains overlooking Lake Arenal in northwest Costa Rica.
Rancho Margot was started in 2004 after former fast-food executive Juan Sostheim and his family purchased 400 acres of former cattle range. They set about turning the largely treeless land into what it is today — a rich and verdant spread of land bursting with life. They take a holistic view of sustainability at Rancho Margot and design their systems to be closed looped and productive — the pigs eats food scraps from the kitchen which is turned into poop that is used to produce energy (the solids are composted to create hot water while liquids are put in a biodigester to create methane gas) before being applied to fields to fertilize organic crops, which are then eaten by Rancho Margot's staff and guests. Rinse and repeat.
There's something special about Rancho Margot that needs to be experienced first hand to fully comprehend. I'm not one to believe in the spiritual version of heaven, but I am a true believer in Rancho Margot's place as the earthly, sustainable analogue of that heavenly domain.
Photo: John Trainor/Flickr
Rancho Margot produces their own electricity through a small hydropower plant. The workers of Rancho Margot grow and raise most of the food eaten on site and make their own soap. Their furniture is built using wood harvested from trees growing on-site. Their engines are powered by biodiesel made, you guessed it, at Rancho Margot using leftover cooking oil from their kitchen and surrounding hotels and restaurants.
Photo: John Trainor/Flickr
This dedication to building integrated closed loop systems (similar to how they do things at Polyface Farms) has attracted attention around the world. Besides the tourists who come to vacation in one of Rancho Margot's numerous luxury bungalows, there are the volunteers who sign on for month-long minimum stints, the students and teachers from universities around the world studying Juan's sustainable system, and the occasional journalist and blogger.
Photo: Jeremy Vandel/Flickr
CNN recently sent Sanjay Gupta to Rancho Margot to film an episode of the show "The Next List." CNN produced this in-depth look at the magic of Rancho Margot. Take the time and give it a watch. Then book your tickets to Costa Rica and reserve your room at Rancho Margot.