Lapa Rios, a Costa Rican ecolodge
Karen Lewis was nurtured in Minneapolis with mid-American values. She participated in Girl Scouting and the American Field Service (AFS) student exchange program and from 1968-70 was a Peace Corp Volunteer teacher in Kenya. For over 20 years, Karen was a professional keyboard musician and music educator in Minnesota and holds degrees in music and geography from the University of Minnesota. She raised two children—Wendy Sue, a pediatrician and Andrew, a university professor. These diverse life experiences proved instrumental to pioneer ecotourism, an innovative travel concept responsible to land conservation and to improve the well being of local people.
In 1990, Lapa Rios co-founders John and Karen Lewis took their bird watching avocation to a contributory level and purchased over 1,000 acres of tropical rain forest in the Osa Peninsula, SW Costa Rica. They created Lapa Rios to maintain this bio-diverse reserve and to use only the land as an economic-educational vehicle to sustain the Osa community. Separation from familiar comforts and self-sacrifice was requisite for early wilderness survival yet by commitment to education and operational improvements the adventure of sharing ecotourism values with locals and like-minded travelers defines today’s present success.
Karen believes that education is the best tool to uphold any cultural and natural environment: a medium to empower self determination; a means to improve communities and conserve its natural resources; and a method to attract respectful travelers curious to learn and appreciate the world’s unspoiled areas and its people. In 1991, Karen formed La Asociación de Educacíon, a Lapa Rios guest-supported foundation, to build a community-based school. This travelers’ philanthropy project continues to build and maintain several Osa primary schools. In 2005, she was elected to The International Ecotourism Society’s board of directors. The Lewises, with the assistance of The Nature Conservancy and the Costa Rican-based CEDARENA Land Trust, aided Costa Rica’s Osa Campaign by creating the Peninsula’s first conservation easement to legally protect their 920-acre Lapa Rios Reserve donation in perpetuity.
Karen now lives part-time in the US and Costa Rica, and shares her experiences developing Lapa Rios at educational conferences.