Category Archives: Costa Rica

My GreenSpot office for the week

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Here I am in the warm Costa Rican weather! Working — yes, it is all about work, but still a very nice opportunity I have to do it from here, reachable at any time for my clients who are getting their bags ready to come down here as well. And for those who are still trying to plan their vacation to this tropical country… my country.
Staying here in the Central Valley for the next 4 nights, while I make it down to my mom’s in the Arenal area.  It is funny the way the U.S restaurants and hotel chains like this one are better in foreign countries. I have to say it is actually quite pleasant to stay here (at the Holiday Inn by the International Airport), breakfast was good, service is very nice and the rooms are actually very clean and smell good!  Perhaps, a hotel option I could consider for the in and out of the country nights for people travelling on a budget with late flights into San Jose or early flights out. Oh … and I forgot to mention that local phone calls, international phone calls, internet and shuttle to the airport are services included in the rate.
More from me later…

Have you been to the Top Hotel in Central America?

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Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Have Voted!  

Each year at this time, Condé Nast Traveler magazine releases the results from its annual Reader’s Choice Awards, ranking the best cities, islands, cruise lines, airlines, hotels, resorts, and car rental agencies worldwide. While all the winners will be announced in the November issue, awards were given out on October 15 and we are pleased to say Lapa Rios Ecolodge was named the Top Hotel in Central America!  “The Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Awards are highly prized by our team as an indication that we are meeting and exceeding our guests’ expectations,” says Hans Pfister, president of Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality which operates Lapa Rios Rainforest Ecolodge.”To be named top hotel in Central America is an honor and provides us with the goal to work hard to keep that top ranking for 2010!”. 

This award follows a string of recognition for Lapa Rios including being named as a 2009 World Savers for its commitment to sustainability in the September issue of CondéNast Traveler, and the best nature and wilderness lodge by Away.com, the leading online destination for travelers planning their next vacation.

Meeting Doña Mara

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Meeting Doña Mara, the famous lady in our Costa Rica trips, was really special.

I learned how to make tortillas, not only from scratch, but on a wood stove, outside in a “Rancho” which is basically like a gazebo; a covered kitchen with a rustic, old-fashioned oven.

First we walked along the dirt road over to her neigbor’s farm where they grown sugar cane, corn, and lots of other fruits and vegetables. Here they take the fresh corn and grind it, making it into the corn flour called “masa.”   They also have an old-fashioned “Trapiche” which is a manually-operated sugar cane grinder.

Corn grinding  Corn grinding machine

In case you are wondering, Doña (which is pronounced Don-ya and means Señora or Mrs.) is the way all married or older ladies are addressed in Costa Rica. Men are addressed as Don – Don Luis, or Don Jose, etc.  It’s a sign of respect, even used among friends. Part of the travel experience is learning the culture right? For me it’s the part I love the most!

Doña Mara and I watched and waited for the corn masa, paid for it as well as for some “Limones” basically a cross between a lime, lemon and orange, to make fresh juice to go along with our tortillas, and “Tamal”.  Tamal is like a coconut & corn bread… so yummy.

Making tortillas is actually fairly easy, it’s amazing that we most often buy them in packages. But nothing compares to a fresh one off the stove. A little crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside.

Doña Mara getting coals ready  Doña Mara

Often families visit Doña Mara and her family for the afternoon, to get a slice of rural Costa Rican culture, fill their bellies on tasty fresh food, and of course try their hand at making authentic tortillas. While it’s just one afternoon, and a fun and memorable experience for the travelers, it really helps the people there. It’s a direct contribution to not only Doña Mara’s family, but the neighbors where she buys her corn, and lots of GreenSpot travelers also visit the local school, and make donations to our community development project.

Doña Mara's grandson Evans  Lunch table in Rancho

Another bonus is getting to meet her adorable grandkids!

It’s amazing to me how rising early (as is the norm in rural Costa Rica), spending the day in a breezy rancho, cooking (which I barely ever do at home), and just taking in the sights, sounds and views of the farm, can be the most relaxing, peaceful and heartwarming experience. There’s something to be said for taking pleasure in the simple things in life.

– Kelly Galaski

Have you met Doña Mara? Tell us about your experience!

La Cusinga Rainforest Lodge

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We arrived at La Cusinga Rainforest Lodge after dark, and all that could be heard were the waves crashing below and the sounds of night. Here there is not only the wildlife you hope to see, but a variety of insects unimaginable. There are huge praying mantises, bright green grasshoppers, and lots of other unidentifiable creatures.

La Cusinga rooms Solar water heater at La Cusinga

La Cusinga’s range of initiatives in sustainability include construction that fits well into the natural landscape, built with natural materials including the wooden lampshades, solar panels for electricity and water heating, extensive contribution to conservation and support to local schools, organic food grown onsite, and efficient water and energy conservation.

Howler monkey at La Cusinga Howler monkey at La Cusinga
Our first walk in the morning greeted us with an abundance of wildlife. Only a few minutes onto the trail that leaves right from the outdoor dining area and main viewing deck, a family of howler monkeys were hanging lazily in the trees. They didn’t move an inch and let us watch them for quite a while and take pictures. The call of these small black monkeys can be heard, especially in the morning, in the distance and it sounds like a bunch of angry gorillas. When you see how small they are it is surprising that they can make such a loud, growling noise.

Next on the way we saw the rare and endangered green and black poison dart frogs. They are tiny but beautiful creatures. They even stuck around for us to take more pictures on the way back.
Poison Dart frog at  La Cusinga Poison Dart frog at  La Cusinga facing front
Down the trail towards the waves crashing on the rocks, our young guide told us he sees turtles every time he comes to this spot. We waited a few minutes, and sure enough, we saw the round brown shells just under the surface, and then a couple of heads pop out just enough to make it easier for us to see them. You can’t get close up to them here as they are down below swimming around the great big rocks but knowing that they are there and getting a small glimpse is exciting enough.

The beach at La Cusinga Usha at the beach at La Cusinga

We ventured down another trail that led us to the beach which is part of the 800 acre nature preserve that makes up La Cusinga’s property.  The beach is wild, no amenities or development of any kind. Just you, the dense forest as a backdrop and the big, warm, waves.  We crossed through a cavernous tunnel under the rocks to a smaller cove to take a dip in the almost hot ocean waters.

On our way back the monkeys were still hanging about, not wanting to move in the heat we figured.

Then we were off for lunch, and we ate at a nearby cooperatively-owned ecolodge called Canto de Ballenas (Call of the Whales).  I have a friend who works there so he got the kitchen to whip us up a filling and tasty lunch of flavorful vegetables, rice & beans, and my favorite, garlic fish fillets.  Of course we had frescos of banana, pineapple and orange juice and fresh, strong coffee.

View of Punta Uvita from La Cusinga  Uvita national marine park Iguana
After lunch we continued down the road to the entrance to the National Marine Park, and “whale’s tail” where the long stretch of beach goes into a point shaped exactly as a whale’s tail. Pretty coincidental considering this is the part of the country the hump-backed whales visit each January and February as they migrate up the Pacific Ocean.  We walked along the beach to the end point where we sat down to take in the beautiful sunset.

Sunset at Punta Uvita 1st stage Sunset at Punta Uvita 2nd stage

We capped off our last night at the best restaurant in the region, called Citrus. It is absolutely beautiful, with luxurious details, outdoor candle-lit tables, mozaic tiles, pre-Colombian inspired art, not to mention delicious food and surprisingly good prices. Oscar, our great driver and I both had fish ceviche in coconut milk and cilantro, Jim and Usha shared a hot goat cheese salad and an eggplant lasagne and we toasted with a glass of wine to a wonderful week in Costa Rica.

– Kelly Galaski

Hacienda Baru

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After a yummy breakfast of homemade tortillas con queso(with cheese) and scrambled eggs, we were lucky enough to get visited by my favorite birds. Two chestnut-billed toucans arrived in the tree right above Jim and Usha’s cabin, giving us a great view of their spectacular colours and big bills. They sat above us in the branches long enough for us to watch them for a while and take in their beauty.

En route to La Cusinga Rainforest Lodge on the southern central Pacific Coast near Uvita, about an hour and a half away, we stopped at another private nature reserve called Hacienda Barú. Hacienda Baru has over 800 acres of forest, some converted from pasture 50 years ago to grow into dense rainforest. Jim and Usha wanted to do a canopy tour ziplining so we were off for an adventure! Hacienda Baru’s canopy tour is an ecological adventure, not just a fast ride through the trees. The guides are naturalists that bring their spotting scopes with them to point out and explain the varied wildlife on the way. There were three-toed sloths, leaf-cutter ants, and lots of different iguanas.

Hacienda Baru ziplining Hacienda Baru orchid garden

The reserve also has a butterfly farm and garden where six different species can be found, including their crysalids and the whole process can be seen. There is an orchid garden, a bird watching tower, and a soda for getting some filling Costa Rican food after getting a 3 hour adrenaline rush, or visiting the private beach.

– Kelly Galaski

Bird Watching in Costa Rica, Ecotourism are our specialty in Hacienda Baru. Our excellent naturalist guides will help you discover the wonders of the tropical rainforest, such as leaf cutter ants and sleepy sloths. On our tours you can experience everything from the Rainforest Canopy to Mangrove Swamps or the Jungle at Night, or enjoy the Beach.

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