Central Valley Feature

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Eco-Lodges in the Central Valley

Suburbia oozes out with each passing year, eating up once-idyllic Central Valley land, but it's still surprisingly easy to find vast undeveloped stretches, even in the metro area.

You'd never know it driving the highway west from San José through the valley of shopping malls and car dealerships, but Costa Rica's Central Valley is home to an ample amount of greenery. Two of the country's five active volcanoes (Irazú and Turrialba) loom here. Suburbia gives way to farmland above Escazú and Santa Ana, and the rolling hills are perfect for tranquil day hikes. A terrific selection of country lodges populates the hills north of Alajuela and Heredia, and a stay in one of them is certain to give you that "so close (to the international airport) and yet so far" convenience. Tapantí National Park, in the far eastern sector of the valley, contains a real live cloud forest—it's not quite Monteverde, but it is far easier to get to—and Guayabo National Monument nearby is home to Costa Rica's only true archaeological ruins. The medium-size city of Turrialba has fast become the country's white-water center. And the Orosi Valley defines pastoral tranquillity.

Good Practices

Make a point of getting out and meeting the local people here in the Central Valley. We'd argue that the tidy towns in this region are Costa Rica at its most "authentic," its most "Tico." Folks here still greet you with a hearty "Buenos días" each day. Respond in kind.

Consider taking public transportation in the Central Valley. Communities here are bunched close enough together to be well served by public buses, and taxis can fill in the gaps. Plus, as development increases in the valley, managing your own vehicle here begins to resemble city driving.

Top Eco-Lodges in the Central Valley

Finca Rosa Blanca Country Inn, Heredia

The hotel on this 8-acre working coffee plantation just outside Heredia is one of just a handful of properties in the country to have achieved the coveted "Five Leaves" status in the Certification for Sustainable Tourism In addition to all the amenities you'd expect from one of the Central Valley's most sumptuous accommodations, you can also take Finca Rosa Blanca's unique Sustainability Tour for a behind-the-scenes look at what a hotel can do to be more eco- and community-friendly. What other tour in Costa Rica lets you take in the workings of the laundry room, the solar panels, and the compost pile?

Rancho Naturalista, Turrialba

Some 430 species of birds live on the property—few lodgings can make such a claim, let alone one so close to the metropolitan area. But the fittingly named Rancho Naturalista near Turrialba has fast become the birding center of the Central Valley. From the bird checklist in the welcome packet in your room, to the resident professional birding guide, to the delightful deck where you can continue to bird-watch even after trekking around the grounds for the day, this is one of Costa Rica's premier locales for bird-watchers of all experience levels.

Xandari Resort Hotel & Spa, Alajuela

Xandari is a favorite of honeymooners who might not be aware of its environmental stewardship. The 40-acre property in the hills above Alajuela maintains an active program of recycling and uses on-site, organically grown fruits and vegetables. The hotel is also turning back a portion of its coffee plantation to tree cover, which has been set aside as a nature reserve. Coffee is still cultivated on the remainder of the plantation and ends up in your morning cup or as part of the coffee-scrub spa treatment.

Community Outreach

A glance at high schools around the Central Valley reveals a growing number of outdoor eco-theme wall paintings, all part of an ever-growing annual Environmental Mural Contest. The name says it all: students from area schools compete each year to design and create original murals conveying environmental messages.

The works represent combined efforts of schools' art and biology departments, with students devoting an average of four months from the project's start to finish. Many of the murals measure 50 square meters, or around 540 square feet. The competition is designed to foster artistic skills, teamwork, and, of course, environmental awareness among students and faculty who take part.

The contest is directed by the nonprofit FUNDECOR foundation, a local nongovernmental organization whose objective is to put the brakes on deforestation and promote environmental consciousness. Local businesses support the effort.

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