CAHUITA, Limón – As I walk down a dirt road through the jungle, an old man on a bike warns, “Nothing much down there,” before quickly riding away. Yet my destination, Ciudad Perdida (LostCity) Ecolodge, lies about 100 meters farther down the road, where howler monkeys swing from densely packed trees, and the stars, undiminished by artificial light, shine brightly at night.
The small hotel is owned by a family of conservationists native to this southern Caribbean coast community, who couldn’t bring themselves to sell the hectare upon which their hotel now stands for fear it would be sold in lots and overdeveloped. The grounds border beautiful CahuitaNational Park, and the wildlife – unaware of property boundaries – traipses back and forth, using the tall trees as jungle gyms.
Sandra Streber and her husband, Antonio Mora, built the hotel almost two years ago, using their daughter’s college thesis as a blueprint for the design.
Paola Mora wrote her thesis at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) on how to build an eco-lodge on the Caribbean coast. She interviewed tourists at Cahuita to see what their priorities were – air-conditioning and authentic Caribbean architecture, she says – and carefully researched and integrated into her plan international standards for environmentally friendly lodges.
Their main priority at Ciudad Perdida, Mora says, is to avoid altering the landscape, which is why they tried to cut down as few trees as possible when installing their cozy, brightly colored wood cabins.
“In Puerto Viejo, a lot of hotels have bought land and cut down all of its trees to build what are basically large boxes,” Mora says. “They’re all the same, and you don’t feel like you’re part of a real system.”
At Ciudad Perdida, you certainly feel like you are one with your surroundings. The cabins are small, the trees tower overhead, and a lack of streetlights immerses guests in darkness if they venture outside after sunset (though streetlights are in the works).
Because of this remote location, Mora, who also owns a tour business in the area, drives guests into Cahuita every night at 7 p.m., and will come and pick them up late into the night. Mora recommends great local restaurants, such as Cha Cha Cha, where the creative chef whips up Caribbean creations in a beautiful setting.
The rustic nature of the hotel only adds to its charm. And though it feels as if you were deep in the jungle, it takes fewer than 10 minutes to walk to the park entrance, where a white-sand beach and small restaurants serving fresh lobster can be found.
The hotel has 10 rooms, four of which are larger and equipped with kitchens. Each room has at least two beds and a wellstocked, very reasonably priced minibar. The rooms smell strongly of wood, giving the hotel a camping-in-luxury feel.
Breakfast, included in the room rate, is served in an open-air reception area adorned with orchids and with a view of the jungle.
The hearty gallo pinto and eggs could set you up for most of the day.
The Mora Streber family hopes the natural beauty of Cahuita and the conservationminded nature of their hotel will inspire their guests to also care for the local environment.
In addition to not cutting down trees, the lodge treats its own wastewater in a natural, plant-based system that purifies 95 percent of its gray water. The cabins are built from trees from a plantation instead of virgin forest, and the hotel sponsors a team of UCR marine biologists who stay with them for free while researching Cahuita’s coral reef.
“We’re trying to set an example for all hotels,” Streber says.
In the future, the hotel also hopes to install solar panels to power its cabins, as well as sponsor more environmental projects.
Getting There, Rates, Info
Ciudad Perdida is on the west side of CahuitaNational Park. From the town’s bus stop, walk about 200 meters to the entrance of the park, take a right and keep walking about 100 meters. You’ll see a “Ciudad Perdida” sign that will point you down a dirt road for another 200 meters; the hotel will be on your left.
Buses to Cahuita and Puerto Viejo leave from the Caribbean bus terminal in San José several times a day; tickets cost ¢3,900 ($7) one-way on Transportes Mepe (2257-8129). The trip takes about four hours.
Rates at Ciudad Perdida range from $70 to $170, depending on size of room and number of guests. Prices do not vary with the season. Standard rooms come with air-conditioning, one double and one single bed, minibar, coffeemaker, safe, hot-water shower, hammock and cable TV. Equipped rooms, designed for four people, are larger and have a kitchen stocked with plates and cooking utensils. These rooms also have a sofa, outdoor Jacuzzi, a queen-size bed and a smaller bed that can fold out to be a double. Breakfast is included for both room types. Private parking is available, as is free transportation to and from town at night.
For information and reservations, call 2755-0303 or visit www.ciudadperdidaecolodge.com.