Northern Plains Feature

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Eco-Lodges in the Northern Plains

This territory as a whole doesn't garner the attention in eco-circles that other parts of Costa Rica do, but the country has a no more diverse region than the Northern Plains.

Cloud forests, rain forests, volcanoes, thermal springs, white-water rivers, waterfalls, coffee and banana plantations, and rolling farmland combine to create the vast landscape that stretches across the northern third of Costa Rica. That translates into a variety of environmentally themed pursuits unmatched anywhere else in the country. The mists of Monteverde define cloud forest, and the original Quaker settlers stamped their environmental consciousness on the area. La Fortuna and environs have parlayed the presence of the nearby Arenal Volcano into myriad activities. The Sarapiquí region is one of the lesser-known (but no less impressive) rain-forest regions with a growing selection of small lodges. (And don't forget that this region gave Costa Rica the zip-line canopy tour, one of its best-known and most popular tourist activities.) The tourist industry up here knows what the region has to offer and is keen to preserve what is green. Hotel owners and tour operators are just as eager to show it off to you.

Good Practices

Consider public or semipublic transportation for negotiating the Northern Plains. No question: distances are vast, and your own wheels do offer you the greatest convenience. It's surprisingly easy, though, to take shuttle transport, base yourself in Arenal or Monteverde, and use occasional taxis to get around once you arrive. Many tour operators in both places are happy to pick you up at your hotel, too.

Also, ask if your hotel recycles. In Monteverde, the answer will usually be yes, but it'll be less likely in other places. If enough guests keep requesting it, more lodgings just might hop on the eco-bandwagon.

Top Eco-Lodges in the Northern Plains

Arco Iris Lodge, Monteverde

The German management here eschews the overused word "ecotourism," insisting that many in Costa Rica view the concept as simply e¢otouri$m. But if any lodging were entitled to use the term in its marketing, it would be this one. Comfortable cabins are scattered around the grounds here, and though you're right in the center of town, Arco Iris has managed to create a country feel. That, along with the organic foods, active recycling program, biodegradable materials, and involvement in the community, makes this one of our favorite Costa Rican eco-lodges—even if it doesn't call itself that.

Laguna del Lagarto Lodge, Ciudad Quesada

It doesn't get mentioned in the pantheon of better-known Costa Rican eco-lodges, but this smallish property near the Nicaraguan border offers a variety of nature-theme activities to rival any of the big guys. Accommodation is rustic in this remote locale, but impact on the environment has been minimal. The 1,250-acre rain forest here makes for terrific bird-watching, hiking, and canoeing. Laguna del Lagarto gives back to its community, and has succeeded in bringing employment to a poorer, often forgotten corner of Costa Rica.

La Selva, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí

You would expect any lodging that functions as a working biological station and where research biologists make up the primary clientele to be eco-friendly. La Selva does not disappoint. The Durham, North Carolina-based Organization for Tropical Studies operates the facility along with two other similar stations in Costa Rica, and offers a fascinating program of nature-theme activities for you, the nonprofessional guest. Keep one caveat in mind, though: scientists take priority in procuring space in the rustic but comfortable cabins.

Planting Trees

"Costa Rica" equals "forest" in the minds of most visitors. Truth be told, about half the country has been deforested, much of it occurring in this region. The reasons are mostly understandable: coffee, bananas, and dairy cattle make the Northern Plains the country's breadbasket; for decades, trees have been cleared for farmland.

Enter the A Que Sembrás un Árbol program. Loosely translated, that means "May you plant a tree." It forms part of the United Nations' international Planting for the Planet program, whose goal is to plant 3.5 billion trees worldwide each year. Costa Rica's contribution to the agenda aims for an annual figure of 7 million trees, around one-third of which are targeted for this region.

Like most environmental initiatives here, the program began at the grassroots level, with area students kicking off the tree planting, soliciting support from area businesses, and petitioning the government to become officially involved.

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