The sound they make is like a stomach growling with the intensity of a freight train. It carries for miles in the steamy jungle air, and it was our 4 a.m. wake-up call each day during our visit to the Lapa Rios EcoLodge on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.
The noise came from howler monkeys, one of dozens of intriguing species we encountered while hiking through the jungle or simply sitting at the breakfast table in the midst of this 1,000 acre nature preserve.
The Osa Peninsula is nicknamed “the lungs of the world” because of the massive output of oxygen from the rain forest, a forest that is home to a greater biodiversity of species than any where else in the world.
“This is why it matters when you cut down one tree,” said Olman Hernandez Lodo with the Costa Rican Tourism Board as we dodged the half-eaten mangos being tossed aside by the monkeys jumping from limb to limb above us. “The monkeys, they use this as a highway to their food source. They need each tree to get to the next one safely.”
This is also why more than 25 percent of lands in Costa Rica are in a nature preserve or natural park and why conservation here is more than political oratory. It is a beatitude and a way of life.
Lapa Rios is the first of only five hotels in Costa Rica to achieve the highest levels of sustainability, meaning the properties score above 95 percent in four categories as determined by the Costa Rican Tourism Institute. These categories measure the hotel’s impact on the natural habitat, management policies, opportunities for guests to become involved, and socio-economic environment.
Opened in 1992, Lapa Rios is recognized worldwide as an example of profitable and successful eco tourism. With only 16 guest rooms, Lapa Rios employs 50 individuals, most of them locals, contributing to greater and more diverse economic opportunities for the region.
Some of the ways these categories are visible to the guest include ordering the evening meal at breakfast, therefore minimizing waste. Trails are minimally lit and each guest room is provided a rechargeable battery operated flashlight for nighttime walks on the property.
Electricity is generated via solar panels, which are also used to provide line-drying of bed linens and guest towels in the 100 percent humidity of the rain forest.
And Coca-Cola is served from glass bottles, something that was impossible to find in Costa Rica until Lapa Rios organized support from other hotels to demand that the Coca-Cola Company abandon aluminum cans in favor of the more environmentally friendly glass bottles.
The name Lapa Rios literally translates to “the river of the Scarlet Macaw,” one of the endangered species found in greater abundance here on the Osa Peninsula than anywhere else in the country. Overall, the peninsula is home to 140 species of mammals, 370 birds, 120 amphibians and reptiles and 6000 insects.
It is entirely possible to see many of these creatures while simply walking the trails from guest rooms to dining room to beach to yoga. However, guests may immerse themselves in the rainforest with guided nighttime tours, local medicine tours, wild waterfall hikes, and kayak tours through mangroves.
Information on more sustainable hotels in Costa Rica can be found at http://www.cayugaonline.com/hotels_and_resorts.html.
–Diana Lambdin Meyer, Red travel writer
–Photo of white-faced monkey by Bruce N. Meyer