"The creatures that live in the forest are in their natural domain. We in fact, are their guests"
As I sink into the crisp white bamboo sheets in the honeymoon suite at Lapa Rios Eco Lodge and Nature Reserve, with nothing but netting between myself and the wild sounds of the Costa Rican rainforest, I’m struck by an overwhelming feeling of gratitude, humbleness and connection to life.
Going to sleep in the dark in the midst of the wild does something to you. Surrounded by 6,000 species of insects, 140 types of mammals, almost 400 varieties of birds, and numerous kinds of amphibians, reptiles and fish, you get the feeling it doesn’t matter what you are in this wonderful wild world. What matters is WHO you are, on the inside. In fact, even that doesn’t matter to the animals whose home we’re sharing for a few days. We’re on their turf. Their rules apply. Step out of their boundaries, and you not only risk upsetting the ecosystem, but your own life too. But if you listen to the jungle and let it tell you its story, it could also put an end to life as you know it. Waking up in the thick black air to the roar of the wild, the creaking of the wood, the warm breeze lazily sweeping across the netting that separates you from the rightful owners of this place, you take it all in. Humble, grateful and connected to life.
‘It’s a visionary project’, explains Operations Manager Arnay Garcia. The 930-acre Lapa Rios Reserve was purchased by a Minnesota couple in 1993 as a private nature reserve. And visionary it is. This eco-paradise deep in the Corcovado wilderness – home to 2.5 percent of the world’s biodiversity – is one of the last places on earth where people and nature live together in harmony. Rated as one of the best eco-resorts in all of Latin America by the likes of National Geographic and Condé Nast, Lapa Rios – named after the Red Scarlet Macaw – breathes the dream of its founders. Don’t take my word for it – even a scientific study confirms Lapa Rios’ substantial contribution to local livelihoods and environmental conservation. Published in the Journal of Ecotourism, a study by Stanford University found that Lapa Rios fulfills the promise of ecotourism by delivering social, economic and environmental benefits to the region. No wonder it was the first hotel in Costa Rica to receive the ‘five leaf’ status from the Costa Rica Tourism Board’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism! And the best news? The owners have signed a conservation agreement that preserves this primary forest forever.
"Take care to tread lightly and listen to the forest, it has an amazing story to tell" – Lapa Rios owner, Karen Lewis
The Lapa Rios Code
From the moment you set your feet on the nature reserve, it’s like you’re welcomed into a magic community where people and nature live together under a secret code… The Lapa Rios Code. Screw the Da Vinci Code – this is even more exciting and thrilling to be part of! Picture this: as you arrive in sleepy Puerto Jimenes on the West Cost of Costa Rica on a small 12 seater carbon neutral Nature Air plane, a friendly Tico local greets you with a refreshing coconut. Still sipping it through a bamboo straw, you jump in a Land Rover and watch as the pastures and farming areas are replaced by lush vegetation. Jurassic Park comes to mind. While you take in the dreamy surroundings with an organic welcome drink in your hand, your luggage is taken to one of the 16 private bungalows on the reserve. By the time you reach it, having been treated to a locally sourced ecologic feast upon arrival, you no longer think this is going to be a great holiday. In fact, you don’t think at all. Instead, you feel. You observe. You participate. You breathe in every little detail, your mind overwhelmed by a long-forgotten instinct of life as it once was.
National Geographic called this area “the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity”
Waterfalls, snakes and 5am coffee deliveries
As we trekked through the rainforest to a set of remote waterfalls, our animal instinct was put to the test. At first, the choice of footwear in the blistering damp heat – big heavy gumboots – didn’t feel quite right. That was, until we stumbled upon Costa Rica’s most dangerous snake, a juvenile Fer-de-Lance! Our wildlife guide Fernando Barrantes Castro’s voice still rings in my ears: “We are only guests in this forest, just the same way we are guests in the world. But if we behave respectfully, mother earth will look after us. Now step slowly away from the viper.” Gulp.
This fragile balance between human and nature does something to you. It humbles you. Makes you aware of your own raw instincts – or how much you’ve buried those instincts under layers of polite manners and controlled emotions. Lapa Rios brings you back to basics – not that there’s anything basic about this place! This is eco-travelling in style; luxurious tree-house bungalows with crisp bamboo sheets, organic skin care, and rainforest showers that let you study the red scarlet macaw frolicking in the treetops next to you. The service is personalised and warm, from the cute night cards to the 5am coffee delivery on our doorstep. On our last day after a Chi Kung session on the open deck overlooking the Pacific, the heavens opened above us. The tropical rain poured down, washing away any last traces of urban life as we had known it. It was as if the heaven itself cleansed us before embracing us, never to let go. Because this is the type of experience you can’t forget. And with memories like this, you wouldn’t want it any other way
The tropical rain poured down, washing away any last traces of urban life as we had known it. It was as if the heaven itself cleansed us before embracing us, never to let go. Because this is the type of experience that stays in your soul, reminding you forever of your place in this wonderful wild world.
Nature galore! Look out for…
✔✔ Tree dwellers: Howler, squirrel, spider and white faced monkeys playing in the trees alongside sleepy sloths
✔✔ Bird lovers alert! 320 species of birds have been sighted on the property – look for scarlet macaws, chestnutmandible toucan, fiery-billed aracaris, black-cheeked antitanager, manakins, tanagers, honeycreepers and hummingbirds
✔✔ Little creatures: Lizards, green iguanas, anoli and geckos plus poison dart frogs, tink, tree and smoky frogs
✔✔ Watch your step! The rainforest is home to spiders such as the dreaded tarantula and snakes like boas, carol, vine snakes and vipers, not to mention Costa Rica’s most dangerous snake: the Fer-de-Lance
✔✔ 220 species of butterflies
✔✔ Big cats! If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a puma or even a jaguar in the deep wild!
✔✔ Opossum, armadillo, skunk, agoutis… too many to mention!
✔✔ Green sea turtles, humpback whales… and crocodiles!