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Eco-Lodges in the North Pacific
On the mainland, sweeping plains bordered by volcanoes hold remnants of Central America's tropical dry forest. On the Pacific-edged Nicoya Peninsula, conservationists try to protect turtle-nesting beaches from the encroachments of ever-grander resort hotels and vacation houses.
These tropical dry forests change from relatively lush landscapes during the rainy season to desertlike panoramas in the dry months. The national parks of Santa Rosa, Rincón de la Vieja, Palo Verde, and Barra Honda all protect vestiges of dry forest, as do the private reserves of Hacienda Guachipelín and Rincón de la Vieja Mountain Lodge, where guests can explore on horseback. Visitors can experience the region's wetlands and waterways by riverboat tours and raft. The Nicoya Peninsula is also the site of Las Baulas National Marine Park, where massive leatherback sea turtles lay their eggs on Playa Grande from October to March; and Ostional National Wildlife Refuge, where thousands of olive ridley turtles clamber ashore to nest on moonlit nights, mostly from July to January.
After a decade of uncontrolled development in the North Pacific province of Guanacaste, Guanacastecation became a pejorative watchword in Costa Rica for unsustainable development.
Playas Junquillal, Negra, Nosara, and Punta Islita are some of the notable exceptions to overdevelopment, managing to maintain a balance between nature and commercial development. Eco-minded tourists who are planning a beach vacation may want to visit these less-developed areas and reward lodge owners who have worked hard to keep their pieces of paradise as sustainable as possible.
Top Eco-Lodges in the North Pacific
Borinquen Mountain Resort & Spa
This luxury resort of stylish villas on the western slope of Rincón de la Vieja doesn't fit the typical eco-lodge profile. But the hotel's eco-conscious policies have won it three leaves in the Green Leaf sustainability program. As well as putting sustainable practices to work, staff members teach the local community about the importance of recycling, waste separation, and organic gardening. The hotel uses earth-friendly, biodegradable products; conserves energy consumption and water use; and helps support community schools with proceeds from recycling refunds.
Steps from Playa Guiones in Nosara, this former surfer hotel has been transformed into a luxury resort with a sustainable mind-set. From permaculture-inspired landscaping with native plants and the use of biodegradable cleaning products and toiletries, to solar-heated hot water and conscientious recycling and waste-management policies, the hotel owners cover all the eco-stops, garnering the country's top five-leaf Sustainability Certificate. Hotel employees, most of them local hires, also volunteer in the town schools, mentoring and teaching English classes and computer literacy.
Hotel Lagarta Lodge
Perched high on a hill, Hotel Lagarta Lodge has a wonderful view of distant Ostional National Wildlife Refuge. With only 12 guest rooms, the hotel minimizes its environmental impact by keeping a sharp eye on its consumption of water and energy, as well as on waste management and recycling. Its eco-friendly hospitality and gardening practices have earned it three leaves in the national Green Leaf sustainability program. By far the most salient eco-aspect of the lodge, though, is its 90-acre private Nosara Biological Reserve.
Nesting Leatherback Turtles
You simply cannot believe how big a leatherback turtle is. Weighing in at 550 kilos (more than 1,200 pounds), females come ashore under cover of night to lay clutches of up to 100 golf ball-size eggs in nests they dig out of the sand with their flippers. People will go to great lengths in the hopes of catching this incredible sight. Your best chance is at Playa Grande in Las Baulas National Marine Park. As night falls, groups of visitors, each shepherded by a local guide, hunker down at the park entrance, waiting for the summons to sprint down the beach to take their turn, standing silently and witnessing the monumental egg laying. A decade ago, it was almost a sure thing to find at least one laying turtle on the beach during the nesting season. But today, some groups will come away disappointed, a sad reminder of how in the past 25 years, shore development and commercial fishing have reduced sea turtle populations by 99%.
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