Costa Rica bloom
"If this is ecotourism, count me in!" - Pacuare, Costa Rica
For many years, I mistakenly equated ecotourism with the notion of staying at a rustic campsite with no running water or tasty food, and uncomfortable sleeping conditions. Ecotourism was largely an ignored concept given my belief that vacations are a chance for me to reflect, relax, and reconnect in relative comfort with both myself and my family.
I overlooked the possibilities until I discovered how true ecotourism could be utilised as a tool for poverty alleviation, an opportunity for wildlife conservation education, and a chance for a more meaningful connection to local people. One such telling experience was a recent trip to Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is an extraordinarily popular eco-vacation destination for both Americans and Brits. My goal was to assess whether the country’s ecotourism industry reality was actually living up to the ideal of pristine natural surroundings, ecosystem preservation, community empowerment and fun! I chose to stay at the Pacuare Lodge, set deep within the rainforest jungle along the Pacuare River, because I was intrigued by the necessity of having to raft in to reach the eco-lodge.
As we waited onshore, my husband and I introduced ourselves to the small group of 8 adventures. The youngest in the group was 11 years old and the oldest was a senior citizen. It was evident that we all shared a passion for unique travel experiences and a sense of humor about the unknown, since none of us really understood the specifics of Class III-IV whitewater rafting or the natural experience offered by Pacuare Lodge.
As we put our life jackets and helmets on and received our safety instructions, our certified-safety guide, Alex, showed us how to get into our 4-person rafts. Alex spoke perfect English, was a champion rafter, and native of the local Cabecar Indian tribe. As he pointed out all the toucan birds and other wildlife visible from the river raft, we asked about his life and culture.
I listened intently as Alex explained that for many generations, the tribe lived in this remote area without many concerns. However, as it was becoming more difficult to maintain a standard of living, younger generations started to leave their homeland and families for San Jose, the capital. In order to maintain Cabecar heritage, traditions and language while providing decent employment, the community collectively decided to create a series of sustainable tourism projects. The projects included the building of a Lodge that would be one with the environment, the offering of low-impact, nature-based activities such as hiking and birding, and the formation of a jaguar conservation effort.
Immediately, I felt grateful knowing that I was helping keep a community active and successful. This turned to exuberance as we approached the beautiful Pacuare Lodge. “If this is ecotourism, count me in!” my husband said as we got off the raft and made our way to the main lodge for check-in.
It was hard to believe that not one tree had been cut down to build any of the bungalows or suites. Instead, each accommodation blended in perfectly with its rainforest surroundings.
Our very comfortable bungalow faced the garden, but we could still hear the rushing Pacuare River only interrupted by the occasional call of a toucan or monkey.
We didn’t have electricity, but we didn’t miss it either because we felt so connected with our environment. During the next three days, we zip-lined through the rainforest, hiked to the neighboring village to visit some Cabecar Indians, and learned about the community’s efforts to track and study the jaguars. Then, in the evenings, after hot showers, (each bungalow has its own solar panel for hot water) we enjoyed delicious, candle-lit meals filled with local ingredients, recipe twists, and the delightful company of other families.
We have many wonderful memories of Pacuare Lodge, but one of my most memorable moments occurred after breakfast on the last day of our stay. One of the staff persons came over and asked us “would you like to see a flower that only blooms one day each year? It bloomed just this morning.” How honoured I was to be present at such a spectacular occurrence in nature.
Irene Lane is the founder & president of Greenloons, a company dedicated to providing nature enthusiasts and wildlife conservationists worldwide with trusted information about responsible, sustainable, and third-party certified family ecotourism travel vacations.
(Images courtesy and copyright of Greenloons)