The Costa Rican rainforest – truly, one of the most spectacular natural wonders that exists in our world. With its abundance of wildlife, from birds and monkeys to colorful plants and flowers, all nestled in a majestic canopy of greens and aqua blues, could there be a better place to locate a sustainable hotel? Well, how about making your hotel part of the rainforest?
Really. It might sound a little unconventional, but this is exactly what the Lapa Rios Rainforest Ecolodge, part of the Cayuga Collection, has done for the past 20 years. Located in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica (about 250 miles southeast of San Jose), the lodge was created with the intention of preserving the Costa Rican rainforest. With its unique layout and environmentally conscious practices, the resort provides hospitality to both its guests and the surrounding environment.
Not Your Grandfather’s Bungalow
Lapa Rios’s lodging accommodations consist of 16 bungalows situated within the rainforest. Constructed from locally sourced materials including; concrete, certified sustainable wood, and abundant, quick growing bamboo, these structures have proven to be unobtrusive and complementary to the surrounding area. The bungalow roofs are constructed from suita palms, which are grown and harvested nearby. Not to worry, though, the hotel ensures that new plants are continually planted to replenish any that are taken. These structures are quite simple, as they should be, and provide guests with plenty of open space, including a deck and an outside shower. And if you’re a little shy, each bungalow has an indoor shower as well. The Lodge’s solar thermal heating system ensures that each bungalow has access to hot water at little cost to the environment.
Now of course there is one thing about being located in the rainforest: it’s not easy to get electricity. The lodge is able to produce some electricity for small scale use in the bungalows, from a biodiesel generator, but not enough to power major appliances. Think about that for a second. No internet, television, radio, appliances, or air conditioning. Talk about being able to offer guests a real vacation! Since this is a tropical climate, though, the “no air conditioning” may seem a little intimidating. However, the design and location of the bungalows have negated this issue. The forest shades the bungalows from receiving any sunlight, which would heat them up, while their windowless, mesh exterior allows the cool breezes from the nearby Gulf of Dulce to circulate the air naturally; nature providing her own air conditioning. Obviously, not having to produce much electricity is of great environmental benefit, and the lack of man-made distractions forces guests to explore and interact more with the surroundings; hopefully enhancing their appreciation of Mother Nature and all she provides.
A Sustainable Process
The Lapa Rios thrives on using sustainable processes in their operation. Perhaps the greatest of these processes comes in their support of the local community. Staff is hired exclusively from the native area, providing an infusion of capital to the local economy, while allowing the people of the area an opportunity to instill a guest’s visit with their knowledge of the local environment. The lodge has also crafted relationships with local farmers, and purchases food only from those that utilize the most sustainable practices. And, Lapa Rios has helped to initiate neighborhood glass and plastic recycling programs; the first of their kind in the area. Partnerships have also been established with local service providers to provide everything from eco-tours to surf lessons to zip lines, helping to enhance the guest experience with further sustainability minded activities.
Beyond their support for the local community, the Lapa Rios has developed a few other processes that heighten their sustainable goals:
- All laundry is carefully weighed so that only the bare minimum amounts of organic soap and cold water are used during washing.
- All laundry is hung dry, no energy required.
- An organic garden is kept providing an assortment of vegetables, herbs and salad greens for use in the hotel’s restaurant.
- All food waste is fed to the hotel’s pigs (yes, they have pigs), and any food waste not consumed is used as fertilizer for the garden.
- Pig feces are collected and kept under a tarp so that the methane from that waste can be gathered and utilized as renewable cooking fuel.
- The solid waste is further used as fertilizer for the garden; leaving nothing to waste, no pun intended.
While the Lapa Rios remains focused on the big picture; preserving the rainforest and all that inhabits and depend on it, there are many “little” things that they are doing towards achieving this mission:
- The use of plastic containers is discouraged, including water bottles. The lodge even provides reusable water bottles to guests at no cost.
- When the occasional use of plastic is necessary, an emphasis is made on using biodegradable products and recycling the plastic whenever possible.
- Plastic straws have been replaced with ones made of bamboo, which is quite the versatile material.
- Recycled plastic bags from a nearby banana plantation were used to create the roof of the hotel’s restaurant; encouraging productive reuse of plastic and avoiding the harvesting of any more suita palms than necessary.
- Guests are allowed and encouraged to replant native vegetation to promote the continued vibrancy of the forest.
- Biodegradable soaps, lotions, and shampoos are made available in each bungalow and guests are strongly encouraged to use them.
- Lighting on site is designed so as not to bother the nocturnal animals that inhabit the forest.
Shining the Limelight
There are few sustainable undertakings quite as daunting, or as important, as preserving the rainforest. We applaud the Lapa Rios Rainforest Ecolodge for its perseverance and resounding success in addressing this issue through community support, guest education, sustainable practices and environmental inclusion. And for these continued efforts, the Lapa Rios has more than earned a spot In the Limelight.
Contributor: David Thurnau has a background in political science, municipal government, and agriculture with an emphasis in environmental issues.
This article first appeared on GreeningtheInn.com.
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