In Costa Rica, they have an expression, "pura vida," which literally translates to "pure life." It's often used as a greeting, but means more than a simple hello or goodbye. It's an understanding that in Costa Rica, life is good— relax and enjoy it.
Pura vida! I am, by nature, a hungry person — hungry for love, hungry for knowledge, hungry for delicious food, and hungry for a rich, authentic, fulfilling experiences to go wit it. Several years ago, a chance work assignment took me to a very special ecolodge and farm in Costa Rica. To my delight, the ecotour experience not only nourished me on every level, it forever altered my life as well.
What's an ecotour, you might ask?
The term gets tossed around a lot and is often misused by the tourist trade in their marketing hype. Here’s the generally-accepted definition: Ecotourism (also known as “ecological tourism”) is travel to fragile, pristine, and usually protected areas that strives to be low impact and often small scale. Ecotourism helps educate the traveler; provides funds for conservation; directly benefits the economic development and political empowerment of local communities; and fosters respect for different cultures and for human rights.
Don't let the dutiful-sounding definition deter you. An ecotour may be the best-kept traveler's secret. Ecolodges are often less expensive than resorts, and the accommodations tend to be very comfortable and stylish. Most of all, they provide adventure combined with an enriching, positive experience. That was certainly the case for our small crew.
Our mission was to shoot Healthy Living magazine's cover and to learn about the efforts being made by Whole Foods Market and a nutritional supplement company called New Chapter. Their goal was to extend preserved land to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, providing a corridor for larger predators to roam. We planned to stay at Finca Luna Nueva, the ecolodge and biodynamic farm owned and run by New Chapter.
The moment we arrived and passed through the gates leading up to Luna Nueva's lodge, we knew we had come to a very special place. On either side of the road, we were enchanted by vibrantly colored flowers, verdant foliage, a sprinkling of bungalows and the smiling, welcoming faces of various staff members who waved to us as we made our easy ascent.
The finca (Spanish for "farm") is situated on 230 acres bordering the largest private rainforest reserve in Central America. It’s located northwest of Costa Rica’s capitol, San Jose, near a small town called La Tigra, just south of the famous Arenal Volcano. Half of the property is lush, pristine rainforest while the other half is designated for farming organic turmeric and ginger as well as 80 percent of the food needed for meals at the lodge. The finca was a farm first; it later integrated an environmentally-sensitive lodge into an already functioning system.
Through reforestation and biological corridor projects, fundraisers, and community education, Luna Nueva has made it its mission to protect the preserve. It is a real force in the local community, making a positive impact both economically and environmentally.
The main lodge and cabins are sustainably built with lumber from fallen trees on the property. The farm has a comprehensive compost and water-treatment program. It employs roughly 30 local workers and teaches groups from the nearby EARTH University about biodynamic farming practices (biodynamic farming involves a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture based on the spiritual insights and practical suggestions of the Austrian writer, educator, and social activist Dr. Rudolf Steiner). It also boasts the Sacred Seeds Sanctuary on the premises that serves as a preserve to many plant species native to the rainforest. The farm donates regularly to the local community and works closely with the Monteverde Conservation League, the nonprofit group that manages the Children’s Eternal Rainforest reserve.
We stayed on the second floor of the main lodge in very simple but clean and lovely rooms. Outside the rooms is a spacious open area for lounging, getting a massage, or yoga. The second floor has a fantastic view of the property and the ozonated swimming pool and solar-heated Jacuzzi are just steps away. The main floor is a large, open lounge, dining area, and kitchen. We all gathered at a large, long table for lively conversation and delicious meals. One evening, I sat next to a gentleman who managed the banana-farm operation at EARTH University. Tom Newmark, the cofounder and former president of New Chapter and co-owner of Luna Nueva, lead a deep discussion about the future of our planet. We debated whether or not efforts to preserve our rainforests in the face of ominous destructive forces is even a worthwhile pursuit. It was thoughtful conversation that affected us all.
I had no idea how captivated I would become by the sights, sounds, and smells of the rainforest while at Luna Nueva. On our morning tour of the property, we even discovered a jaguar paw print! It was an auspicious sign since the fundraising effort we were covering in our story was designed to support a corridor for larger predators such as the jaguar. The very knowledgeable General Manager, Steven Farrell, took us through the Sacred Seed Sanctuary, where we learned about the varied herbs of the rainforest (even sampling a few). And we conducted our photo shoot in the Chachagua River of all places!
While I visited Luna Nueva for work and education, it also provides loads of fun. For you adventurers, Luna Nueva is located near fantastic river rafting, zip lining and hiking/cycling treks to the Arenal Volcano and hot springs. The warm and helpful staff can help you arrange whatever kind of adventure you desire at reasonable rates. There are rainforest hikes for all fitness levels available during the day and night and birding tours that can be arranged. The farm boasts more than 220 species of birds!
But my favorite “moment” occurred atop the 50-foot observation tower, which allows guests to view the forest canopy and surrounding area. One evening as I gazed out at the fireflies bouncing above the canopy of the forest, feeling a gentle breeze on my face and hearing the sounds of monkeys and birds, I felt a deep sense of peace. Something about the rainforest made me feel very connected to the world in a spiritual way — it felt like home. It was no less than magical. The feeling continued the next morning as I gazed out at a tall tree with several oropendulas making a ruckus. A blackish/brownish colored bird with a flash of yellow feathers on its underside, the oropendulas were perched on several branches and each one did a mock dive forward as they made a distinctive call.
Watching this entertaining scene, I felt compelled to do something to help save our rainforests so that this very special place would always exist. After I returned home, I began researching rainforest conservation issues and wrote 50 Simple Steps to Save the Rainforests, which was published last year. I soon began writing a blog and sharing my experience. My ecoutour to Finca Luna Nueva impacted me profoundly and steered my work life in a new direction which, in turn, has helped educate others about the rainforest.
One simple thing we can all do (and thoroughly enjoy) to help save our rainforests is to go on an ecotour in the tropics. Supporting ecolodges helps them achieve their mission and brings sustainable income to sensitive areas where locals need non-destructive options for income.
A night's stay is roughly $85, which includes a breakfast of fresh, local fruit, juices, a main dish, and the best-tasting organic coffee you'll ever have. For a nominal fee, you can have lunch and dinner, which features fresh, wonderfully prepared organic vegetables from the farm and local fish, meat or poultry.
The dryer season runs from November to April when rates are generally higher. March to October is the wet season and better deals can be had.
Yoga retreats and conferences are also held at Luna Nueva. The website has a listing.
Visit www.fincalunanuevalodge.com for more details.
You can learn more about ecolodges and ecotours through the following organizations:
Rainforest Alliance www.ra.org
The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) www.ecotourism.org
Conservation International www.conservation.org