South Pacific Coast Feature

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Eco-Lodges in the South Pacific

The South Pacific Zone is Costa Rica's last frontier, with a wealth of protected biodiversity. It's also the cradle of the country's ecotourism, including some of the world's best eco-lodges.

Costa Rica's wildest corner has vast expanses of wilderness ranging from the majestic cloud forests and high-altitude páramo of the Talamanca highlands to the steamy, lowland rain forest of Corcovado National Park. Quetzals and other high-elevation birds abound in the oak forests of the San Gerardo de Dota Valley, and scarlet macaws congregate in beach almond trees lining the shores of the Osa Peninsula. The Southern Zone has some of the country's most impressive, though least accessible, national parks—towering Chirripó and mountain-studded La Amistad; and Corcovado, where peccaries, tapirs, and, more rarely, jaguars still roam. Stunning marine wonders can be found in the Golfo Dulce, the dive and snorkeling spots around Caño Island Biological Reserve, and Ballena Marine National Park, famous for seasonal whale migrations. The lodges around Drake Bay, together with the off-the-grid lodges of Carate and Cabo Matapalo, provide unequaled immersion in tropical nature.

Good Practices

The signage you'll often see in natural areas sums up ecotourism's principal tenets: Leave nothing but footprints; take away nothing but memories.

A few more tips:

Walk softly on forest trails and keep as quiet as you can. You'll spot more wildlife and maintain the natural atmosphere of the forest for other visitors, too.

Stay on marked trails and never approach animals; use your zoom lens to capture close-ups.

Ecotourism is also about getting to know the locals and their culture. Visit a local farm, an artisan's co-op, or a village school.

Top Eco-Lodges in the South Pacific

Casa Corcovado

This jungle lodge, bordering Corcovado National Park, gets top eco-marks for its energy-saving solar and microhydroelectric systems, and its recycling and waste-management leadership in the area. The lodge financed the building of a recycling center in Sierpe, and all the area's glass and aluminum is now recycled. Guests receive a refillable bottle to use throughout their stay. Owner Steve Lill is cofounder and president of the Corcovado Foundation, a major supporter of local initiatives to preserve wildlife on the Osa Peninsula.

Lapa Ríos

Lapa Ríos is the premier eco-lodge in Costa Rica. Along with providing top-notch, sustainable hospitality, the lodge's mission is to protect the 1,000 acres of forest in its private preserve edging Corcovado National Park. Its main weapon is education, through local school programs and community involvement. The lodge owners spearheaded the building of the local school and provide direct employment to more than 45 area families. Lapa Ríos was the first area lodge to offer a free sustainability tour, highlighting innovative eco-friendly practices, including feeding organic waste to pigs to produce methane fuel.

Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge

From its initial construction to its daily operations, this Golfo Dulce lodge, accessible only by boat, has been committed to sustainability. The main lodge and guest cabins were built with fallen wood and recycled materials. Solar power, an organic septic system, composting, and a chemical-free garden also attest to the owners' eco-credentials. The kitchen uses local produce and cooks up fish caught in the gulf. Lodge owners Donna and Michael Butler match guests' donations to the Osa Campaign, a cooperative conservation program.

After Dark

The first night in a remote Southern Zone eco-lodge can be unnerving. You may have looked forward to falling asleep to the sounds of nature, but you may not be prepared for the onslaught of night noises: the chirping of geckos as they hunt for insects in the thatch roof, the thwack of flying insects colliding against window screens, and the spine-tingling calls of owls and nightjars. Add in the chorus of croaking frogs and you may have trouble falling asleep. Once you realize that you're safe under your mosquito net, you can start to enjoy the nocturnal symphony. And after the first day of waking up at dawn to the roars of howler monkeys and the chatter of songbirds, you'll be more than ready to crash early the next night. Most guests are asleep by 8 pm and rise at 5 am, the best time to spot birds and wildlife as they start their day, too. For nighttime visits to the bathroom, be sure to keep a flashlight handy and something to put on your feet if you want to avoid creepy-crawlies.

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