When my wife Lindsay and I were making plans for our wedding (which took place in July), there was never really any question about where we would go on honeymoon — it was Costa Rica all the way. I had visited the small Central American nation a few years ago and came away from my trip deeply impressed with everyone's dedication to environmental sustainability. They have built a well-deserved reputation around the world as leaders in the burgeoning industry of eco-tourism and continue to be innovators in the field.
While a case can be made that the greenest trip is the one you don't make, I believe that the benefits of travel can outweigh the negative ecological impacts that are inherent to flying around the globe. We would all be better off if more of us could spend time seeing how people in different parts of the world live. And tourism dollars, when spent right, can bring a lot of benefit to local economies, lifting entire regions out of poverty while helping to preserve and conserve natural resources.
The key phrase in that last sentence was "when spent right." Good tourism respects local cultures and communities while keeping the health and sustainability of the environment in mind. Eco-tourism is easy to get wrong and difficult to get right, and it's not always apparent which way it went. I wanted to use the opportunity of our honeymoon to further explore some of Costa Rica's top eco-tourism resorts and share with you which ones are doing it right.
The following is a travelogue of the two weeks Lindsay and I spent in Costa Rica this summer and highlights some of the resorts we stayed at, the restaurants we dined in, the attractions we visited, and the activities that kept us busy when we weren't doing Absolutely Nothing (which can be the best part of a vacation). I will be following up over the coming weeks and months with individual reviews of some of the places I mention below.
We took our first steps of the trip from our hometown of Portland, Maine. A two-hour bus ride on Concord Coach Lines got us to Boston's Logan airport for our flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. We grabbed a burger and a beer in the airport and queued up for our flight.
I almost didn't fit.
After a long three-legged flight, we landed in Costa Rica near midnight and jumped in a cab for a short ride to Hotel Pacande, a wonderful little hotel that was clean and quiet and only $40 night. We woke up early to a nice breakfast of fruit, cereal, rolls, coffee and Tang eaten in a lovely courtyard packed with tropical plants and open to the sky.
Time for breakfast!
After breakfast we cabbed over to pick up our rental car, a compact little Suzuki Jimny, from Alamo. We wisely opted to pay extra for the GPS. If you visit Costa Rica yourself, get the GPS. Costa Rican roads are generally in good shape with adequate road signs, but signage can be hit or miss when you're either in San Jose (the only real city in Costa Rica) or out on dirt roads. Also, don't be afraid to haggle with Alamo.
Our best friend.
Using the aforementioned GPS, we swung into a local supermarket to stock up on traveling supplies (rum, pineapple juice, beer, wine, cheese, bread, and all kinds of Costa Rican junk food). We packed the drinks in a small cooler that we also bought at the store and successfully found our way out of the city (did I mention that you should get a GPS with your rental car?). Our destination, the seaside resort of Arenas Del Mar, was a three-hour drive away on route 34. Our drive took us through beautiful mountains, monotonous palm oil plantations, and then along the Pacific Coast itself. The weather was hot and sunny and we were happy to be there.
We knew our grumbling bellies wouldn't let us make the entire drive without a food stop, so we kept our eyes open for a good roadside restaurant. I don't remember what it was about Restaurante Rancho La Carreta that called to us, but whatever it was, I'm glad that it did — the food was amazing.
After our lunch, we hopped back in the car and made it to Arenas Del Mar in the early afternoon. Driving to Arenas Del Mar is an experience itself — it's driveway might be the steepest road I've ever driven on. The resort is 100 percent car-free, so guests are directed to park their vehicles in a small lot next to the reception area.
Welcome to Arenas Del Mar.
We handed over our luggage, sat down in some comfortable seats, and were given an quick orientation of the resort, snacking on the fresh fruit piled up nearby. After the orientation, we jumped on an electric golf cart and were driven through the forest to our room. The next four days and three nights were spent eating, drinking, lounging by the pool, splashing around on the beach (the resort has its own private beach in addition to a large public beach) and walking through the rain forest. And the best part of it all is that Arenas Del Mar is one of the most sustainable resorts that I've been to. The owners and employees take their responsibility to sustainability very seriously and it shows up in every aspect of the operations. I will be publishing a more in-depth review of Arenas Del Mar sometime soon.
Our top level room = amazing views.
The next stop on our eco-honeymoon was in the cloud forests of Monteverde. The small town is about four hours away from San Jose and is best known for the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a 26,000-acre park bursting with biodiversity and visited by more than 70,000 people a year. Monteverde was actually first settled, at least in contemporary times, by Quakers from Alabama in the 1950s. Today Monteverde is a favorite of both ecologists and tourists, and we wanted to see it ourselves. Though the town itself may be small, it's no rural hamlet. There are taco stands and souvenir shops next to bright flatscreen monitors showing the thrills of ziplining and bungee jumping. The streets are narrow, packed with people, mostly tourists, and it all feels a little out of place. Still though, it was nice to be able to get a good taco.
Arco Iris Lodge.
We spent our first night at the Arco Iris Lodge ($88/night), an artfully landscaped hotel right in town. Good breakfast ($7.50).
After breakfast, we made the short drive to the Monteverde Lodge (~$228/night), our home for the next two nights. The Lodge was great — comfortable bed and good food with a modern design offset by the rain forest canopy surrounding every room. I will also be publishing a more in-depth review of the Monteverde Lodge soon.
Heading out into the mist for our big swing.
Though we enjoyed the walks we took through the cloud forest, I have to be honest and admit that my favorite part of our time in Monteverde was our day at Canopy Extremo. We signed up for the zipline tour ($45/each) and the Extreme Tarzan Swing ($35/each + $15 for the headcam video). The zipline tour was a lot of fun while the Tarzan Swing was one of the craziest things I've ever done. I made a video:
(Note: There are a few swears dropped in the following video.)
After our heartbeats returned to normal and one last night at the Monteverde Lodge, we drove to our next stop at The Springs, a resort sitting at the base of the Arenal Volcano, an active volcano that was still spitting out glowing red rocks when I first visited in 2010 (it's quieted down a bit since then). The Springs is just a few miles outside the town of La Fortuna.
Poolside bar at The Springs.
Unlike the other resorts we stayed at during our trip to Costa Rica, The Springs isn't really an eco-resort, though it and its sister resort, Peace Lodge Waterfall Gardens, do operate a small wildlife refuge that takes in animals from neglectful owners or insolvent animal centers. The Springs is dedicated to providing a luxury experience for its guests, which is reflected in its price ($425/night).
Our room at The Springs.
The rooms are richly appointed and the grounds are finely manicured and sculpted. The main area of the hotel is huge six-story building housing the reception area, various bars and restaurants, a spa, game room, and gift shop. The grounds slope down from there with cascading hot springs flowing down into successively lower (and cooler) pools. The Springs is another resort that I will be reviewing in more detail in the coming weeks and months.
So. Good. Almuercito Campesino de Mi Choza at La Choza de Laurel.
If you find yourself in La Fortuna, make sure to stop in at La Choza de Laurel, a large open-air restaurant sitting right along the road up to The Springs. Lindsay and I would generally eat at different restaurants whenever we were in one area for more than a day, but we ended up back at Choza de Laurel three times over just a few days, both having the same meal (Almuercito Campesino de Mi Choza at ~$11) each time.
There's an eco-resort hidden somewhere under all those green roofs at Rancho Margot.
With just a few days left in our trip, we woke up and drove the short distance to our second-to-last stop — Rancho Margot (~$150/night). I visited Rancho Margot on my first trip to Costa Rica in 2010 and was really looking forward to seeing how it had evolved in the intervening years. Rancho Margot bills itself as a destination for rural tourism because the entire resort is built around the idea of self-sustainability. They grow their own food, craft their own furniture, raise their own animals, generate their own power, and even make their own soap.
Our room at Rancho Margot.
Our two nights and three days at Rancho Margot were spent napping in hammocks, riding horses, hiking through the forest, playing frisbee, and eating delicious, organic food raised just a few hundred feet from where we slept. Rancho Margot is a magical place and another resort that I will be reviewing in more depth soon.
The final night of our eco-honeymoon was at Finca Rosa Blanca (~$260/night), a resort and organic coffee plantation near San Jose. Finca Rosa Blanca is owned and operated by artists Glenn and Teri Jampol and match Arenas Del Mar for their sustainable operations. This shouldn't come as a surprise because Glenn and Teri are partial owners of Arenas Del Mar, while Glenn is widely considered one of the top authorities in eco-tourism around the world.
The restaurant at Finca Rosa Blanca overlooks the city of San Jose.
Finca Rosa Blanca is a creation of its artist owners and beautifully flows together with the landscaped grounds. Each of the guest rooms is unique designed, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a right angle or harsh line anywhere, short of the library. We ate our last Costa Rican dinner in the open-air dining room that overlooks the twinkling lights of San Jose, sitting in the valley below.
After two weeks of travel, we were both ready to be done. We survived the return trip to Logan and the two-hour bus ride back to Portland before gratefully stumbling through our doorway.
It was good to be home.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks and months for more in-depth reviews of some of the places we stayed and visited.>
Disclosure: We were provided with complementary lodging at Arenas Del Mar, Monteverde Lodge, The Springs, Rancho Margot, and Finca Rosa Blanca in consideration for editorial review.
Want to read more about Costa Rica? Check these out:
- Mel Gibson's Costa Rica hideaway hits the market
- Sunset in Costa Rica can make for a candy-coated sky
- Costa Rica's eco-paradise Rancho Margot featured on CNN's 'The Next List'