I left the city behind to enjoy my own Costa Rica vacation at the pristine beaches of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean before heading inland to experience a Costa Rica eco tour in the lowland rain forest close to Cerro Mochila.
It usually takes about 3 hours to get to Puerto Viejo but on this day there was a strike and roadblock by local farm workers from Pocora. They were protesting the use of petro-chemicals by pineapple growing companies that are polluting the rivers and altering the health of children and adults in nearby towns. (Not anywhere near where we stay.)
En route we found hundreds of crabs responding to their internal crustacean time clocks, telling them to wake up from their underground dormancy to find the beach as it is mating time!
This was the first time I witnessed an army of crabs crossing the road; of course not all these crabs make it to their beach party. On the way predators of all types pick them off, and they also get trapped in man-made structures, but their biggest problem is cars which take out a large percentage of them. In the dark they look like little ghosts. We tried to drive around as many as we could but unfortunately we could not avoid them all no matter how slow and circuitously we drove!
Finally, we made it to Cocles Beach and decided to register unannounced (not as Wildland Adventures) to check out the Hotel Cariblue as regular guests. Located right in front of Cocles Beach, this small Costa Rica vacation hotel offers cozy bungalows surrounded by beautifully landscaped heliconia gardens. It also has a nice swimming pool with wet bar and Jacuzzi, very well maintained.
We dined at Soleluna, their palm-thatched Rancho style restaurant, built of local, natural materials. Their Italian chef, Pino, prepares mouth watering Italian food including fresh lobster, seafood and many other options.
We tried two other excellent restaurants in the area: Jungle Love in Chiquita beach and Chile Rojo, right in the town. Jungle Love has some of the best pizza in town and the place has a great vibe. The owners Yamu and Poppy are very nice people and prepare the meals fresh for each person; it has an intimate feeling since there are just a few tables. Chile Rojo is much larger and serves fusion cuisine: Thai and Middle Eastern with Caribbean flavors. We tried the ceviche, primavera rolls, salmon sushi and we loved all the different flavors. For more local food, which I recommend, try Loco Natural and the Beach Hut Restaurant.
So much has developed along this beautiful coast since my last visit. Local residents are predominantly English speaking Afro-Caribbeans, originally escaped slaves from throughout the Caribbean and settlers from other Central American countries. One afternoon we went to Bread and Chocolate, a local caf that offers the best breakfast according to the locals; and the cappuccino with banana nut muffins were yummy! (Breakfast is included as part of the room rate at Cariblue.)
The waiting time in any restaurant in this laid-back Caribbean region can be 30-45 minutes and is something you need to consider when travelingl with children. I must say that I wouldnt recommend the town of Puerto Viejo itself for families or if youre partying days are behind you. However, I do recommend the lovely little towns to the south such as Cocles, Uvita, Chiquita, Manzanillo, etc. where there are lots of restaurants, cafes, and fun activities to do. This is the same area where our company President, Kurt Kutay, spent a year, in 1992, working (before there was a coastal road), on a management plan for the Costa Rican National Park Service.
We rented a couple of banana bikes and headed south not knowing what our next best Costa Rica travel destination would be. These beach cruisers are great for long rides on the coast. I love how soothing and relaxing the ride is; the bikes are super comfortable and the best way to explore the beach area, and most restaurants offer bike parking.
My time was limited here so just hanging out at the beautiful tropical beaches was all I wanted to do as I knew a couple of action packed days awaited me next. We relaxed and enjoyed the beach and ocean at Punta Uva and found a rustic hammock made with a rope and a piece of wood we had a lot of fun swinging. That night we went to the local town of Puerto Viejo for dinner.
Coming to Selva Bananito from San Jose the trip takes approx. 3-4 hours depending on the traffic, river and road conditions. From Puerto Viejo or nearby areas its about 1-2 hours into the jungle interior. Just getting to the lodge was quite an experience. You drive through banana plantations, the last 40 minutes are on a gravel road and not as bumpy as many others I have experienced. On the way to Monteverde there is a gate with a security code where you enter then continue past small creeks and rivers to reach Selva Bananito. I was driving my 4WD but our guests would not have to drive as a representative from the hotel picks you up to take you in their truck to the lodge.
Selva Bananito Lodge is a Costa Rica family owned rain forest lodge. It is located on over 840 hectares which generates income from tourism for the protection of its private reserve and for the funding of important conservation programs in the region. The protected area covers two thirds of the land and the remaining third is devoted to low-impact agriculture and cattle management. The lodge is located 10 miles inland from Puerto Limon and it is adjacent to La Amistad National Park, Central Americas largest protected expanse of virgin forest.
The 11 rooms have ample decks with views to Cerro Mochila and comfortable hammocks for a well deserved siesta after an active adventure. The cabins are very simple and constructed with salvaged wood set on stilts following the architectural tradition of the Caribbean.
Over 50% of the roofs are made with recycled plastic from the plastic bags the commercial banana plantations discard. The lodge DOES NOT HAVE ELECTRICITY. There is hot water in the spacious, elegantly tiled bathrooms which use solar water heaters and I discovered the water pressure is very good. Most rooms have two double beds with mosquito nets and wood shelves to place your belongings. No windows, no fans, just shutters to close the windows and doors; I was impressed as we did not get one single bug in the room during the two nights we were there! The temperature drops a bit at night and it becomes fresh and cool enough that you might want to use one of the blankets. Kerosene lamps are provided (2 for each room) and a little flashlight is provided to carry with you at night. Torches light the pathways between the rooms and the main rancho.
Candlelight meals are served in a spacious open-air rancho (main lodge) surrounded by the sounds of the jungle and a spectacle of dozens of fire-flies dancing among the trees. Its a very surreal and magical experience. My favorite moment: standing under a clear sky with millions of stars that you can see only when far from ambient light. No wonder Selva Bananito was chosen as one of the top ten eco lodges in the world by Outside Magazine in 2003! They keep doing things the right way to create an exciting, fun, memorable Costa Rica travel vacation.
We had a great time sharing and learning from our host, Jurgen Stein, a member of the original family founders. We did a very informative horseback riding tour and visited a little garden with exotic heliconia flowers, some of which I have never seen during my many adventures traveling throughout Costa Rica. They use these flowers to decorate the rooms and the main rancho.
We also took a slow paced but strenuous full day river hike to a nearby waterfall where we rappelled down to explore smaller waterfalls and natural swimming holes. Another fun Costa Rica adventure tour!
On my last Costa Rica vacation day we planted a tree to help with the reforestation program Jurgen has implemented to preserve native species. We also climbed a tree with some of the best views of the farm and primary rainforest, and we finished our Costa Rica adventure zip lining, to an observation platform and rappelling down from the platform to finish this Costa Rica eco tour. All day long Justo, one of our guides, would sing songs from our finest calypso artist, Walter Ferguson.
The entire Costa Rica adventure at Selva Baninto was a very active and thrilling experience: the forest, the river, the wildlife, the waterfalls, the serene atmosphere, the clean spacious and ventilated rooms, the yummy food, the hammocks, and the activities, everything added a bit of magic to our adventure. Living in a city makes it hard to find the peace and quite that life without electricity can offer. With no electricity and sunset at 6:00 p.m. its easy to get 10 hours of sleep at night, a welcome change from home! The feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, surrounded only by the forest and its incredible sounds was amazing.
Getting away from traffic and the background noise of our daily lives is what every soul needs to recharge and Selva Bananito is one of the best places to do that. Although the lodge is rustic, it is also very comfortable, and there is something about going back to basics without electricity that one doesnt soon forget. Tours to Costa Rica which include Selva Bananito are fun, exciting and can even be a spiritual experience.
I hope the Stein Family maintains the strength and support they need to keep this dream-come-true alive. This is certainly a Costa Rica rainforest tour and lodge I would highly recommend to those families who do not mind roughing it a little in exchange foe having the privilege of exploring a pristine environment in the intimacy of a small group of local people eager to share their knowledge about nature, Costa Rican culture, and issues about land use in the tropical rainforest.
Selva Bananito Lodge offers interesting activities for adventurous teens and it can be a wonderful place for younger children too but parents might find it difficult to enjoy if they do not have the right expectations. We have put together some suggestions to help you and your family decides if a Costa Rica rainforest tour to Selva Bananito Lodge is the right destination for you.
Selva Bananito Lodge certainly offers wonderful and unique ways to become acquainted with the rain forest ecosystem, and one of our guiding philosophies is to inspire children to understand, love, respect, and protect nature.
There are shallow streams on both sides of the lodge, with lots of stones, mud, and sand to play in. The water is safe, and it is shallow enough in most places for non-swimmers.
One extended horseback excursion is included in the price of your stay, and you can arrange with the lodge to rent a horse any time.
There are plants, flowers, frogs, and insects everywhere, endless fun for children to observe, touch, catch, and release. It's a wonderful learning experience. Children can also practice photography and art skills using rain forest "models" as subjects.
There is a small, roofed play area adjacent to the lodge, which is nice when it rains, or if the sun is too hot. The playground has a sandbox, a cement slab for chalk drawings, two tires for swinging, and ropes. Children can do messy art projects there with paper and coloring utensils. Children are allowed to be loud at the playground. Parents can set up chairs or hammocks there.
Selva Bananitos Costa Rica tour guides can adjust the length and scope of rain forest hikes to your familys interests and abilities.
Most of all involve your children in the planning and infuse them with enthusiasm and a positive outlook on their Costa Rica family adventure!
"This has been a perfect Costa Rica family vacation for our family of 4. The staff could not be more accommodating for our children watching our 4 year old son climb the tree and go on the zip line with Carlos was very special."
"Our 12 year old daughter also enjoyed the freedom of riding horses without the tiresome rules usually encountered on trail rides. The food was fantastic for us. For this California family Costa Rica trumps Hawaii any day of the week."
"We saw a lots and lots of great animals and amazing bugs!"