By Mike Long
A Journey to Costa Rica, with Gondwana EcoTours
Waking up to the trilling call of the Resplendent Quetzal beats pretty much any alarm clock I’ve ever had, including that “Resplendent Quetzal” ringtone I downloaded. The bird song, rolling in through a window facing the Cloud Forest of Costa Rica, conjured sensations of peace, comfort, and connection to nature.
On a recent trip with the ecotour company Gondwana Ecotours, I encountered not only melodious birdsong, but butterflies of fantastic hues; I relaxed with serene sloths from hanging bridges through thick jungle canopies and leapt across the wild and cavernous face of a volcano. The coconut icing on the Costa Rican cake? Each of our full days of exploration began and ended in beautiful, elegant lodgings, with environmental preservation at heart.
In fact, Costa Rica doesn’t mess around when it comes to environmental protection. They have vowed to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2021. Since that declaration in 2007, they have walked the walk, exploring renewable resources and growing their ecotourism sector. After years of practice, their ecolodges deliver some of the most magical combinations of unfettered natural beauty with exceptional comfort and design.
On our trip, after a stroll through the mysterious Monteverde Cloud Forest, touted as one of the most biodiverse regions in the Americas, we stayed at the Monteverde Lodge, a secret jungle-dwelling ecolodge. Make no mistake: the Monteverde Cloud Forest is as beautiful as it sounds: the dense thicket is shrouded in clouds at its high altitude, and large altitudinal changes and sweeping valleys make for a huge amount of diversity.
At the ecolodge, the monkeys swing overhead in the lush estate gardens, full of Guarinthe Orchids, ferns of all sizes and shapes, all hedged by a luscious Blue Porter Weed. Here, the gardens coexist with the jungle in a balanced, organic blend.
On other days, we would find ourselves paddling into the oceans, visiting local cheese-makers, and setting foot into rivers that must have been the blueprint upon which the colour “blue” was based. Each day was unique, special and carefully planned out, and our local guide, Mariano, deftly handled our curiosities about the local wildlife and culture.
On other evenings during our Ecotour, we stayed at a private lodging nestled in the hills over Panama beach. Having our own private home for several days allowed us to move at our own pace, and I spent many an evening lounging in the warm twilight. From the local chef preparing organic, native dishes, to the sundeck where hummingbirds and Golden Orioles flew about, I felt as relaxed as the placid sea that stretched out before me.
Toward the end of the ecotour (several beautiful waterfalls and rivers later) we stayed in Finca Rosa Blanca, a well-established ecolodge near San Jose. At this elegant, airy Ecolodge nestled in the hills, we met with local coffee farmers to learn about their coffee trade and enjoyed a meal with vegetables that came from their own gardens.
Since 1985, this small eco hotel has had the ambitious goal of minimising its impact with recycling, regeneration, social consciousness and education.
The most exceptional aspect of Gondwana’s package, however is the level of intentionality to making the trips fun, engaging, and luxurious while still being very true to their ecological and sustainable goals. My flight was carbon offset, which is a rarity these days, it seems. Our guides were local, our food was beyond fresh, and they were intent on providing a high-end experience that didn’t hurt the local environment.
The knowledge that my travel was positively impacting the country is something really important to me. As an avid traveler, but someone who grapples with the knowledge that travel may be detrimental to the planet and local economies, it was wonderful to find a way to have my cake and compost it, too. Gondwana also specifically made a donation to a Costa Rican non-profit La Tortuga Feliz that works to protect endangered Sea Turtle populations.
From the exploring the Cloud Forest to dreamily floating down the Rio Celeste River, each day began with wonder and ended just the same. The natural beauty of this country can’t be beat–no wonder the birds are singing all day.