As an entrepreneur who strives to communicate about the importance of economically, socially and environmentally supporting the communities one visits, I am often asked where is the best (green) vacation destination? My response is usually it depends, what does vacation mean to you?
In my opinion, there is no best place to visit as each area has its own cultural traditions, activities, social values, historical sites and gastronomic delights among other unique facets.
However, I do have one caveat. If someone has not experienced green travel before, truly enjoys the outdoors, and is eager to try a new adventure, I would recommend Costa Rica without hesitation because the country offers an easy balance of pristine natural surroundings, close proximity to several microclimates, spectacular variety of bird and mammal species, fun activities, uniquely comfortable accommodations, and vacation budget value.
When my husband, Brian, and I first traveled to Costa Rica for a traditional Spring Break, we were looking for an adventure. It was our first extended couple vacation since our son was born and we were eager to relax as well as explore and understand for ourselves how Costa Rica was developing a strong reputation for sustainability.
The first stop on our journey was at a coffee plantation inn located just outside the capital San Jose. Finca Rosa Blanca was an oasis away from the capital city with beautiful vistas over the valley, distinctive villas with spa-like bathrooms, hand-painted murals and bamboo sheets (once you try them, even the finest Egyptian cotton won’t do anymore), locally sourced food and a very attentive and friendly staff who were all proud residents of the community.
An absolutely lovely touch was their morning sustainability tour, offered to any guest who was interested in learning more about the inn’s history, management, and environmental efforts.
Leo, a former chemist and literary scholar turned coffee plantation manager, led the tour and proudly explained how every process from construction, landscaping, hot water generation, linen use, detergent use, food preparation and others was studied to determine the most eco-friendly method for the inn. Some methods were new and technologically advanced, while others were tried and true, such as using solar panels for hot water and building on slants to eliminate the need for irrigation systems.
Throughout the tour, I felt empowered as I heard how each of us could go to our local hardware store and implement these same environmental measures in our own homes. It was fascinating to hear about the decision-making process, and when I factored in the additional community and youth education programs, extensive recycling, composting systems, an organic greenhouse and an employee annual energy usage competition, I realized how the inn has helped create a community that does for itself where government programs and charity handouts do not.
Yet, what was very surprising was that most guests did not realize how significant their support of an eco-certified lodge was for the surrounding community. Most guests were there because they had “heard the inn was nice” and actually felt better about their stay once they learned more about sustainability.
Costa Rica was definitely living up to its reputation so far and after a few days, it was time to move on to the rainforest.
We arranged to stay at Pacuare Lodge, an eco-certified lodge built deep in the rainforest and run to benefit the local Cabecar Indian tribe. The tribe’s aim was to build a luxurious eco-lodge that would value the environment (not one tree was taken down to build any part of the resort), provide local employment opportunities for the younger generation (who otherwise would have to leave their villages) and preserve the culture of the tribe. What was unusual was that the only way to get to the eco-lodge was to raft through Class III-IV rapids! That was quite appealing to Brian who sometimes silently wondered if real men go green.
We were picked up by the rafting company and were transported in a minivan with ten other people 70 miles east of San Jose and across the surrounding mountains. I was so glad that we didn’t drive ourselves because the road infrastructure in Costa Rica is not marked, not very reliable and a bit dicey. Thank goodness for motion sickness patches! After 2 ½ hours, we arrived at the embarkation point.
As we waited for our duffle bags and other necessary supplies for the lodge to be loaded onto another raft, our guide Alex (who was on the internationally ranked Costa Rican whitewater rafting team) taught many of us first-time rafters how to safely navigate the Pacuare River. Admittedly, I did not know what to expect once we started, but felt exhilarated once we were underway.
Alex, who constantly reminded us of the Costa Rican motto “Pura Vida” (symbolizing the idea of simply enjoying life and being happy) as we maneuvered our way around the river, talked about the animals, birds, and plants of the rainforest as well as his life growing up there. I felt honored to hear his story and was surprised at how quickly we had arrived at Pacuare Lodge.
Our home for the next few days was a villa, surrounded by screened “walls” and colorful tall flowers and trees, which sat right in the middle of a lovely garden. To our surprise, we never missed the fact that there wasn’t any electricity especially since hot water was plentiful given each villa was equipped with its own solar panel.
Each day, we saw and heard the rushing river as well as the many toucans and other birds calling out to each other and spent time zip-lining, rappelling, swimming and hiking before sitting down for an organic, gourmet meal by candlelight and starlight.
For us, Costa Rica is a wonderful example of authentic green travel as well as a great destination for relaxing, reflecting and rejuvenating.
About Irene Lane
Irene is the founder of Greenloons - a premier online resource dedicated to inspiring people to think different, be different and travel different – in ways that help to ensure a more sustainable planet. An advocate of social empowerment, financial viability and environmental preservation, Greenloons is the only company that connects mindful travelers with unique, meaningful and eco-certified travel experiences all over the world.
Drawing upon her professional and personal experiences to address authentic ecotourism from community, ecological and financial points of view, Irene is a frequent conference speaker, blogger and radio talk show guest.
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