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PACUARE RIVER, COSTA RICA
Perched on the banks of the Pacuare River, surrounded by 840 acres of primary rainforest, this luxury ecolodge in Costa Rica offers guests a truly nature-led experience. In line with its founder’s vision, Pacuare Lodge is actively involved in the study of the endangered jaguar, which has been confirmed by scientists to inhabit the reserve. The lodge has also successfully reintroduced howler monkeys, which were wiped out many years ago due to hunting.
Recognising the importance of local communities, Pacuare Lodge has sensitised people from Bajo del Tigre and the indigenous Cabecar groups, about the economic value of protecting the rainforest. These populations previously relied on deforestation and hunting for their main income. 100% of the lodge’s employees are from neighbouring communities, who receive rewards for reducing the energy consumption of their own households. By setting up the Cultural Rescue Committee on the local Nairi Awari indigenous reserve, the lodge actively helps to keep native cultural values alive.
Carefully designed to blend in with the exuberant tropical foliage, each of the 19 bungalows have unique views and unique features like footbridges, outdoor bathrooms, and riverside terraces. Every opportunity to impart sustainable knowledge is passed onto guests, through tours, hikes, and cultural excursions. Whether guests are interested in green meetings, white-water rafting or canopy adventures, conservation is at the heart of each experience.
Pacuare Lodge joined The Long Run in 2011 and committed to a holistic balance of the 4Cs – Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce – as a means to contribute meaningfully to the biodiversity and the people of their local region.
Pacuare Lodge is committed to conserving the rich biodiversity in Pacuare and this was one of the main reasons Roberto Fernandez, founder of Pacuare Lodge, acquired the property where the lodge stands today. In line with its founder’s vision, the Lodge is actively involved in the study of the endangered jaguar, a shy and solitary creature of great conservation value. Over the past years, it has supported a team led by Dr. Eduardo Carrillo, Director of the Wildlife Management Program at Costa Rica’s Universidad Nacional and one of Latin America’s top jaguar experts, which has confirmed the existence of jaguars on the reserve. This study is the only of its kind in Costa Rica that is entirely funded by a private company.
Pacuare Lodge continuously engages its neighbours to ensure the success of this and other conservation efforts. It has over time succeeded in sensitising neighbouring communities at Bajo del Tigre and the indigenous Cabécar groups on the importance of protecting wildlife and the rainforest. Previously, these communities relied solely on hunting and deforestation to eke out a living. By providing them with jobs, Pacuare lodge has succeeded in creating sustainable sources of income that do not harm the environment, whilst increasing the understanding of the importance of maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
It is reintroducing howler monkeys, which were wiped out in the area by hunter’s years ago, to the forest reserve. Working with a group of scientists from the University of Costa Rica, led by Gustavo Gutierréz Espeleta Ph.D. and Ronald Sánchez M.S., together with a group of biologists and students, the first troop of 8 monkeys was rescued in 2008. The study showed that after two weeks in the Pacuare Lodge’s reserve, the monkey’s adaptation process was developing excellently. In fact, a female that arrived pregnant gave birth during the second week there, and all the signs since then have been positive and encouraging.
Its commitment to sustainability is further demonstrated through its interaction with its staff and guests. In the case of its staff, it is highly involved in developing a culture of sustainability in their daily lives. Through contests such as the “Saving Energy, Saving the Earth” – which was set up to motivate its staff and their families to reduce their energy consumption over four months – the Pacuare Lodge makes sustainable living fun and exciting for its staff. The winner of this contest, Mr. Humberto Sequeira proudly received a reimbursement for the money he had spent on electricity over the four months as his prize. When it comes to its guests, Pacuare Lodge seizes every opportunity to impart its knowledge on best practice where sustainability is concerned, something it achieves through its sustainability tours. This knowledge sharing has often had unexpected but welcome results. The contest in particular, piqued the interest of a Swedish guest who decided to replicate the same at his business. This is at the heart of Pacuare Lodge’s philosophy where it seeks to inspire all who come in contact with it to lead sustainable lives.
Pacuare Lodge believes responsible tourism should benefit and respect local communities and it consistently works toward this goal. The Lodge is located in a remote area which as a result has been poorly maintained over time by local governments mainly due to its inaccessibility by conventional means. Its Community Support Program works to enhance the living standards of people along the Pacuare River and near the lodge by improving the infrastructure in this area.
It also supports local schools and provides funds to purchase stationery and other requirements as well as support sports and other social programs in the area. It has restored the cable car service which local residents use to cross the river.
A 100% of the Pacuare Lodge’s staff belong to neighbouring communities (Nairi Awari, Bajos del Tigre and Linda Vista. The Lodge provides direct or indirect employment to these communities that before lacked any source of formal employment. Their main income used to come from subsistence coriander cultivation and cattle raising.
In order to strengthen its relationship with neighbouring communities and provide them with better opportunities for sustainable development, Pacuare Lodge carried out an Community evaluation in the second half of 2010. This evaluation revealed that within the tourism sector, which provides 18% of the job opportunities in the area, Pacuare Lodge is the largest employer.
Pacuare Lodge respects local and indigenous populations and their cultures. It lies next to the Nairi Awari indigenous reserve, a 10,000-hectare (24,700-acre) rainforest reserve and home to one of Costa Rica’s principal native peoples. Working with two heads of the family, it has set up a Cultural Rescue Committee that is focused on keeping the Cabécar cultural values alive. Through this committee, an annual cultural calendar has been drawn up to include traditional dances and songs, talks on medicinal plants by the shaman, and exchanges of experiences with invited guests. It offers guided visits to this community where guests can spend time with Cabécar families in the Nairi Awari Reserve.
Because of its isolation and unspoiled terrain, Pacuare Lodge chose an architectural style that blends in with the environment and is based on indigenous Cabécar construction methods characterised by structures on wooden stilts that take full advantage of natural light and ventilation. Each bungalow has a wooden porch with large screened windows to allow maximum light and air to pass through. Roofs are made from palm leaves and were constructed by Cabécar Indians living in the area, using their traditional building style.
To immortalise this Cabécan culture, it sponsored the ethno-musicologist Rodrigo Salvatierra, who recorded Cabécar ritual songs, which are to date, the only recordings of their kind that exist. It has gone further and organised an exhibition of the work of artist Professor Salvatierra which documents the daily life of its neighbours.
Its kitchen staff is made up entirely of local people who have a natural passion for food and cooking. Building on traditional recipes and cooking techniques, Pacuare Lodge has received hundreds of comments in its guest book amazed at the outstanding food it serves. Its food menu is centred on Costa Rican traditional dishes and presents guest with a unique culinary experience – a blend of the old and new.
In addition to its main ecotourism business, Pacuare Lodge is actively involved in supporting the sustainable livelihoods of its neighbours. It organises orientation sessions to identify the strengths, interests, experiences of its neighbours in a bid to generate new micro-enterprise initiatives. The main purpose is to facilitate short-term activities that have immediate results.
The Lodge has explored the possibility of establishing formal partnerships with local egg, beef, chicken, vegetables and candle suppliers. It makes concerted efforts to improve the business acumen of its neighbours by providing simplified guides on how to start a business. It also and provides capital to those who need it to ensure the success of their business ventures.