Set deep in the Costa Rican forest, on the banks of the Pacuare River just north of the Talamanca Mountains in Costa Rica, is the stunning Pacuare Lodge. Recognized worldwide for its intimate setting, experiences and sustainability, Pacuare Lodge was recently added to the elite list of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World. Speaking to Roberto Fernandez, owner of Pacuare Lodge, we gained a unique insight into one of the leading and most spectacular eco-lodges in the world.
♦ Please include a brief introduction about yourself, your position and Pacuare Lodge.
My name is Roberto Fernandez and I was born and raised in Turrialba, a small town located to the east of San José near the Turrialba Volcano and some of Costa Rica’s most scenic rivers. From a very young age I found myself attracted to the area’s abundant natural resources and particularly enjoyed engaging in adventure sports and activities. It was this same spirit that drove me to promote an innovative and responsible tourism that is distinguished by the excellence and quality of the experience.
Pacuare Lodge is truly unique – a jungle lodge where gourmet dinners are accompanied by candlelight and a wine list, and where adventure travel activities are complemented by a spa, honeymoon packages and suites with private pools.
Pacuare Lodge is an exemplary eco-lodge that conserves 300 hectares (740 acres) of rainforest, and is committed to mitigating tourism’s impact through eco-friendly accommodations and projects that benefit local communities.
♦ What is unique about Pacuare Lodge’s location & what makes Pacuare Lodge different from other accommodations in the Limón Province?
Pacuare Lodge is nestled in a rainforest overlooking the Pacuare River, which National Geographic has listed as one of the world’s top ten scenic rivers. Getting to this exquisite eco-lodge is half the adventure, since you arrive and depart as part of a multi-day rafting tour on the Pacuare River. The luxuriant rainforest that surrounds Pacuare Lodge is a private reserve that forms part of the largest network of protected areas in Central America, covering more than 1.2 million acres of tropical wilderness. Guests have the opportunity to experience an unforgettable meal in the Nest: a platform 60 feet above the jungle floor in the branches of century-old Kapok tree – considered a sacred tree by the ancient Mayans. All of the staff at Pacuare Lodge are from local communities, and the friendly, casual atmosphere has been cited by guests as one of the most pleasant aspects of their stay.
♦ What is Pacuare Lodge’s philosophy?
Pacuare Lodge is a simple and sophisticated eco-lodge that offers adventure and comfort in harmony with its surroundings. Our creative hardworking team is committed to creating unforgettable experiences which transcend the life of travelers and collaborators.
♦ Why do you think that Pacuare & the Limón Province is the perfect destination in Costa Rica?
Pacuare Lodge was built with minimal environmental impact and maximum local support. In lieu of using Pacuare’s protected trees to build the main lodge and bungalows, farmers who run a reforestation project sourced the lumber. Local Cabécar Indians built the thatched roofs from palm leaves according to their traditional style. I hired the company’s first staff member by going to the local village and asking for the best poacher. Twenty years later that former poacher has risen through the ranks to become the lodge’s Canopy Tour Supervisor who builds, maintains, and guides visitors through the treetop canopy. And nearly all of the lodge staff hails from nearby communities. With no electricity in the bungalows, the environmental impact of Pacuare Lodge is small, and the idea of being ‘connected’ gets redefined. Without the distractions of technology, guests connect more fully to the rhythms and romance of the rain forest and with their own traveling companions — the candlelit rooms make for a cozy, intimate guest experience.
♦ When is the best time to see wildlife along the Pacuare River? What wildlife can travelers expect to see near Pacuare Lodge?
We operate all year long; depending on the different seasons you will live a whole new adventure. It is very likely guests will have the opportunity to admire many types of birds and small insects along the Pacuare River and the Lodge’s property.
The animals that are most easily seen are:
□ Howler monkeys
□ Honey bears or Kinkajou
□ Common opossums
□ Many types of birds
– e.g. Oropendolas and toucans.
♦ In what ways is Pacuare Lodge environmentally responsible?
At Pacuare Lodge, we are dedicated to sustainable tourism, which means limiting the negative impacts of our operations while supporting conservation and providing benefits for nearby communities. This policy is by no means limited to the Lodge – it extends through our entire company, from the main office to the warehouses where we store our rafts.
The following are some of the steps we’ve taken, or are taking to improve our relationship with the environment:
- Pacuare Lodge was built with a minimum impact on the surrounding forest and river. No trees were cut to accommodate the bungalows and main lodge, which are built of lumber from a small reforestation project run by farmers. The thatch roofs were made by local Cabécar Indians in their traditional style using palm leaves collected in our forest reserve.
- We the first ones to acquire areas of primary forest solely for the purpose of conservation. Over the years, we’ve purchased 340 hectares (840 acres) of primary rain forest along the Pacuare River for conservation and in order to offset the carbon emissions created by our vehicles, which makes our tours carbon-neutral.
- The lodge’s bathrooms are equipped with biodegradable soap and shampoo and the water for their showers is heated by solar energy. All the lodge’s wastewater flows into state-of-the-art septic systems to avoid pollution of the nearby river.
- Bungalows are illuminated with lanterns and candles and what little electricity is used at the lodge is clean energy generated by a turbine in a nearby stream.
- We use organic products as much as possible in meals served at the lodge and on rafting tours.
- With the help of our guests, we are reforesting former pastures in the Pacuare River watershed with native tree species to offset carbon emissions by our vehicles and to improve the area’s environmental health. As those trees grow, they will absorb tons of atmospheric carbon while providing habitats for an array of wildlife.
- We are helping biologists to study jaguars in the forests along the Pacuare River by providing them with food, lodging, and logistical support, and by the purchasing digital cameras that researchers place on game trails to photograph those shy animals.
- We are reintroducing howler monkeys to our forest reserve, which were wiped out in the area by indigenous hunters years ago.
- Our rigorous recycling program extends from the main office to the lodge.
♦ How do you meet the challenges of socially responsible tourism?
Sustainable tourism should improve the lives of local people, and we’ve made donations and initiated projects in the communities nearest to Pacuare Lodge. Infrastructure in our remote area is sparse and poorly maintained, and there are few employment opportunities, which is why we make a point of hiring local people.
Here’s what we’ve done so far:
- All Pacuare Lodge staff is from nearby communities and 95% of our rafting guides are from Turrialba, the closest city to the lodge.
- We donate school supplies and other materials to three primary schools in the communities nearest to the lodge and we accept donations from our guests, transferring them to the schools in their entirety (no administrative fees deducted).
- We are helping an isolated Cabécar Indian community near the lodge to install a potable water system.
- We provide environmental education and explain our sustainable practices to local people, our staff and our guests.
- We purchase food and other goods from local providers and support organic agriculture.
♦ What are the top experiences that you recommend to travelers at Pacuare Lodge?
Arrive in adventuring style via white-water raft, spotting wildlife as you glide through gorgeous jungle scenery as well as enjoying a romantic dinner in the canopy of the trees.
♦ Arriving to Pacuare Lodge, rafting along the river is one of the most unique experiences. What advice can you give to travelers who have never gone rafting or might be nervous to do so?
Our tours are designed to be fun and safe for individuals in reasonably good shape and require no special skills or abilities. Many of our guests are first time rafters who have thoroughly enjoyed their experience with us. Safety is our primary concern, and we spare no effort to provide the highest quality, most enjoyable experience possible. A fully stocked first aid kit is available at all times during your trip. Our bilingual guides are some of the best in the field, highly experienced and certified in first aid, CPR and swift-water rescue training. Many of our guides have additional certifications such as wilderness first aid and wilderness first responder. We are happy to boast that in almost 22 years of offering river trips we have experienced no serious accidents.
♦ What do you see for the future of Pacuare Lodge and for tourism in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is recognized globally as a mecca of sustainable tourism. We should continue to develop in this area and take advantage of all the natural wonders our country has to offer such as pristine rivers, untouched rainforest, secluded beaches, and imposing volcanoes, among others.
♦ Finally, what advice would you give to travelers coming to Pacuare Lodge?
Visit Pacuare Lodge with a sense of adventure and desire of living a unique and amazing experience in the secluded rainforest of Costa Rica.
We would like to thank Roberto and Pacuare Lodge team for taking the time to speak with us. Don’t forget to ask your Class Adventure Travel specialist to add Pacuare Lodge to your Costa Rica or Latin America travel itinerary!
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