The rain forest and beaches are wild, but at these do-good hotels, roughing it never felt so great
Costa rica is known for ecotourism, but the whole rain forest thing can sometimes sound a bit, well, unpolished. The good news is that at a handful of unique hotels, you can have spa treatments, lounge by the infinity pool, zip-line through the trees—and actually help the locals and the environment while you're at it. For example, at Lapa Rios Ecolodge ( laparios.com)—which uses solar power to heat its water, implements extensive recycling, and also built a school on the Osa Peninsula—the decks are perfect for watching a family of howler monkeys swing across the valley below. (The peninsula's rain forest is home to more than 375 bird and 700 tree species.) After Lapa Rios, fly to the Guanacaste Peninsula for a few days on the beautiful, rugged beaches. At the Punta Islita Hotel (hotelpuntaislita.com), which has 30 thatched rooms with balconies, hammocks, and an infinity pool, you can surf or horseback ride on a black sand beach. What really sets this hotel apart is its community projects: scholarships, training for craftsmen, recycling programs, and jobs in an impoverished region known for unsustainable slash-and-burn agriculture. Visit the little museum, which was built by the hotel, and purchase works by local artists. And have a spa treatment that incorporates herbs used by the local Chorotega tribe—all while knowing you are doing good.
The Give: Sign a voluntary pledge to use energy judiciously; plant a tree during your stay; and visit one local restaurant.
The Get: In return, you receive a reward such as a free spa treatment. The museum reaps $25,000 a year in art sales to travelers—revenue that supports 62 local artists, providing the women with income for the first time. You will probably need to spend the night in the capital, San José. Stay at its most eco-friendly hotel, the quirky 13-room Finca Rosa Blanca Country Inn (fincarosablanca.com), which has its own worm composter.
Going Local: Seviche with mollusks at Cambute Restaurant, owned by an Islita villager (about $6).