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First Sustainable Luxury Hotel in Costa Rica Still Gets It Right: Lapa Rios Ecolodge

In 2016, Costa Rica is pretty much synonymous with eco-luxury. But when Lapa Rios opened its doors more than two decades ago, in a part of Costa Rica that remains rugged and remote to this day, it was a pioneer. That’s putting it mildly.

Lapa Rios Ecolodge costa ricaThe American owners (who had lived in real wilderness during their time in the Peace Corps, and lived in a tent while building here) were ahead of their time when they set out to demonstrate that “a rain forest left standing is worth far more than one cut down.” To that end, they bought 900 acres in the wild Osa Peninsula in the far southwest of Costa Rica, a mecca for travelers (especially bird-watchers) who want to experience the “real” Central American wilderness. It’s now the flagship of the Cayuga Collection, a handful of Central American hotels that are held in very high regard for the depth and authenticity of their sustainability commitment.

Most of the land is now a private nature reserve, and the hotel itself has a tiny (if vertical—I met guests who had to climb about 250 stairs from their villa to the restaurant) footprint within it. It has just 17 freestanding bungalows, all with stylish decor, comfy beds, private patios, hammocks, outdoor showers and good plumbing inside, but no AC and minimal lights. The restaurant occupies a pretty open-air dining room, and the chemical-free pool is a fine place to while away a hot afternoon. (Walking to the beach is also an option, but it’s a good ten-minute walk, and a steep uphill to get home—and get over any ideas of having beach butlers to deliver cool towels and frozen beverages.) There are lookout decks and observation platforms throughout, and it’s worth settling into a lounge chair and waiting to see what comes.

Nothing feels like a trade-off. Lapa Rios is the flagship of the Cayuga Collection of Central American eco-luxe resorts. Sustainability was a hallmark from day one, but so was pleasure.“Respect for the environment is a critical part of our work, and each of our properties maintain the highest level of environmental sustainability ratings,” says Cayuga co-founder and president Hans Pfister, a vocal advocate for conscious hospitality across the industry. “Our approach to sustainability aims to assist the communities around us by creating educational and economic opportunities”—the staff is largely local, for starters. “Our guest experience is not compromised, but instead enhanced, by sustainability.”

by Ann Abel,

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