San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Lookout Inn: A 305-Step Program to Tropical Bliss

CARATE— Macaws, macaws, macaws! The raucous birds are such a constant fixture at Lookout Inn in the OsaPeninsula in the Southern Zone, that gregarious owner Terry Conroy confidently tells guests “If you don’t see a scarlet macaw while you’re here, your lodging is free.”

The inn is perched on a hill that climbs up from the beach at Carate, with three stories of viewing decks. There’s plenty of room for nature photographers to set up a tripod and capture the scarlet, yellow and blue lapas streaking past in pairs, performing aerial ballets and congregating in the almond trees bordering the beach, where Terry says he once counted more than 120 scarlet macaws.

Boisterous birds aside, there are plenty of other reasons to visit this comfortable beachfront hotel at the end of the road that leads from Puerto Jiménez to the Carate airstrip. An hour or so on foot along the beach brings you to the La Leona entrance to CorcovadoNational Park. If trudging doesn’t appeal to you, you can also charter an air taxi to fly into Sirena Station from Carate.

Closer to the inn, there’s endless beach to comb, wild waves to bodysurf and a calm lagoon to canoe. The National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation also has a thriving hatchery project on the beach.

IF you are an habitué of the stair climber at the gym, you have come to the right place. Terry is an indefatigable builder of stairs. Sixty-four wooden stairs lead up to the inn from the beach, through a kaleidoscopic garden bursting with bougainvillea, gingers, crotons, hibiscus and volcano flowers.

At the bottom of the stairs is a cool, blue, very deep plunge pool filled with refreshing water channeled down from the mountain. Comfortable lounging chairs await on the deck, and there’s a thatched-roof hammock house nearby. On the climb up the tree-shaded stairs, you pass a frog pond, home in season to the red-eyed tree frog that is the inn’s logo and mascot. Just 14 steps short of the inn, you pass a side path to a secluded fresh-water soaking tub, where you can cool off in privacy amid flowers, chirping honeycreepers and the soothing sound of water trickling on down to the frog pond.

Onward and upward, you reach the first level of the inn, where there is a huge sunny terrace with a view that makes the climb worthwhile: the green Osa coastline undulating its way north to Punta Salsipuedes, and blue Pacific as far as the eye can see.

Large green umbrellas shade wooden tables where the breakfast buffet is served.

The inn’s three luxurious rooms are tucked at the back of the terrace behind a green screen of tropical plants.

A sign at the bottom of the next set of stairs advises “This is a barefoot inn,” so shoes are doffed before you climb the 12 steps to the covered deck of polished wood where you’ll find the bar, open kitchen, hammocks and comfortable chairs. Very popular with local expatriates and Corcovado guides, the bar really hops some nights, with ad hoc guitar sessions and storytelling. Katya Bellanero, Terry’s gracious wife, mixes a mean Margarita.

Continuing the climb, you ascend a 12-step spiral staircase to the top deck, where lunch is usually served. The breeze never fails to cool, nor the panoramic view to impress here, especially at sunset.

IF you are a really avid stair climber, the fun is only beginning. Terry has just finished building his “Stairway to Heaven,” 217 steps that lead up, up to a ridge trail that passes through primary forest to a waterfall.

The 2-km loop trail hooks up with

Shady Lane

, a scenic dirt road that is an earlymorning birder’s paradise.

If climbing stairs is not your idea of a good time, you can drive your car up the steep, concrete driveway straight to the inn and never climb more than the stairs between the three decks. Along with the view, there’s plenty to enjoy at the inn without getting your heart rate up.

Terry, originally from Santa Fe, has a quirky sense of style – and humor. There’s a decorative surprise in every corner of the inn. The winding, wood rail of the spiral staircase ends in a carved serpent’s head. A driftwood log in the lounge is populated with sculpted frogs; ceramic iguanas burst out of vases; a shaggy Indonesian mask greets you in the rest room; the inn’s deck railing is an artistic latticework of twigs.

THE three rooms in the inn are bright, white and spacious, with large arching windows and handsome, carved-wood doors.

Colorful murals feature fish, monkeys and birds. Beds have tree-trunk frames, and the large, tiled bathrooms have hanging plants and plenty of solar-heated hot water (Carate is off the electrical grid).

Hidden in the garden are two very private cabins, with screened windows, good crossventilation and solar-powered fans. Reading lamps over the beds are welcome, and hanging lanterns with candles create a romantic mood for non-readers. Bathrooms have pebbled floors and smooth stones to sit on under hotwater showers. Arare and wonderful amenity is a two-sided hanging closet that allows you to completely unpack and keep your clothes wrinkle-free. Large verandahs come with hammocks and comfortable cane chairs.

Food at the inn is plentiful and imaginative, with fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, sometimes spiced with Asian flavorings. When the excellent cook is off for the day –his cheesy drop scones are not to be missed –Terry takes over, cooking up, say, mahimahi fillets sautéed in a spicy coating, accompanied by broccoli in sesame oil with almonds and a salad of interesting mixed greens harvested from a neighbor’s garden. Katya contributes the sweet endings: homemade cheesecakes, cookies and cakes.

From top to bottom, all 305 steps of the way, Lookout Inn is a stairway to both earthly and heavenly delights.

Lookout Inn (tel/fax 735-5431, is in the OsaPeninsula, on the beach at Carate, 300 meters east of the landing strip. High-season double-occupancy rates, including all meals and taxes, are: $99 per person in the inn, $109 per person in the garden cabins. For information on the turtle project, visit www.savetheseaturtle. org


By Plane: SANSA (221-9414) and NatureAir (220-3054) fly regularly to Puerto Jiménez. Air taxis from there will take you to the Carate airstrip.

By Car: Turn south off Inter-American Highway at Chacarita, drive about 40 km to Rincón on paved but bumpy road, then south along gravel road roughly 35 km to Puerto Jiménez. From there, drive 1/12 hours towards Carate. About nine hours.


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