The Lapa Rios Story

In 1990 two former peace corps volunteers, John and Karen Lewis, decided to abandon their suburban professional lives in the United States, liquidate all personal assets, and use the proceeds to finance the creation of a reserve with over 1,000 acres of mostly primary rainforest, with enormous biodiversity value, in a remote area of Costa Rica.

To support the maintenance of this private reserve and provide sustainable economic activity to the local community, they went on to build a small upscale wilderness lodging operation called Lapa Rios in 1993 that is today one of the most renowned and successful ecotourism operations in the world. Their story demonstrates that ordinary people (John was a lawyer and Karen taught music) can make an extraordinary difference in the conservation of wilderness and in the lives of people who live in and around such wilderness.

Lapa Rios is a functioning model of ecotourism and sustainable development. A private reserve close to the Corcovado National Park offers miles of trails and spectacular waterfalls. The project demonstrates that “a forest left standing is more valuable than a forest cut down,” serving and teaching a remote community new life-skills and professional opportunities.

In 2013 John and Karen signed a conservation easement elaborated by The Nature Conservancy and CEDARENA that ensures that this primary forest will be preserved in perpetuity. The 930-acre Lapa Rios Reserve helps buffer the Osa Peninsula’s Corcovado National Park—home to 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity—and serves as a wildlife corridor as well as home to thousands of trees, plants, birds (over 320 identified species), insects and mammals in Central America’s largest remaining tropical lowland forest.

Cayuga Collection and its founders Hans Pfister and Andrea Bonilla has been involved in the management of Lapa Rios since 1999. This Costa Rica based company manages sustainable luxury hotels and eco lodges in Central America.