“You have to use all of your senses to find animals,” said Daryl Loth, perched atop the back of his motorized boat, his eyes scanning the rain forest canopy for anything that looked out of place in the treetops he knows so well.
It was 6 a.m., and Tortuguero’s canals were fairly calm and quiet, but spotting the wildlife that makes the region so famous isn’t always easy.
“It’s not a zoo, where you can look at a sign and say, ‘Oh, a howler monkey.’ Use your six senses,” Loth urged. “My sixth sense tells me there’s something over there.”
Where, exactly, was he motioning? “Over there, by all those other boats,” he quipped.
Crouched on a branch in the distance was an elegant, almost adult-sized yellowcrowned night heron. As he quietly maneuvered his boat closer, Loth explained that the heron’s broad beak and red, telescopic eyes allow it to catch fish at night.
This was one of the few instances in which you might find Loth following the crowd. Co-owner of Casa Marbella Bed and Breakfast, Loth is an innkeeper, a naturalist and one of the community’s biggest cheerleaders, and he’s committed to keeping the region accessible and affordable to independent travelers on a budget.
The inn, set in the heart of Tortuguero village, a remote strip of land on the northern Caribbean coast, offers visitors an alternative to the bigger lodges in the area that often ask guests to purchase accommodations, round-trip transportation, meals and tours in one set-price package.
“I would think the original travelers who came to Tortuguero were not people at luxury resorts,” Loth said. “It was the independent, nature-minded traveler – and it’s a lot more rewarding to get those.”
Born in England, raised in Canada and having spent time in Europe and Africa, Loth settled in Tortuguero 15 years ago. He came to the area initially to work at the biological station run by the Canadian Organization for Tropical Education and Rainforest Conservation. He was eventually asked to manage a lodge in the area, met and married a local woman named Luz Denia and, armed with a wealth of wildlife knowledge, started working as a freelance guide.
In 2000, he and his wife turned their thatched-roof home into an inn, eventually building themselves their own apartment upstairs. In February of last year, the B-and-B expanded to 10 rooms, allowing more guests to experience the Loths’ hospitality.
“We run the kind of place we’d want to stay in – clean and laid back,” Loth said. Loth is being modest. Casa Marbella is an immaculate, relaxing and affordable jewel, run by an owner renowned for his local knowledge. Guests at more expensive lodges might consider whether their pricier accommodations buy them the personal attention or wildlife expertise that a stay at Casa Marbella provides – and that make a visit to Tortuguero such a special experience.
The inn sits right on Tortuguero’s signature canals, at the edge of TortugueroNational Park. Short, flattened tree stumps create a pathway leading up to the pale green inn and its kitchen area, where guests can store food and drinks in the refrigerator, use the microwave and borrow from the hotel’s stash of guidebooks.
Overlooking the canal is a covered breakfast area, where guests dig into a hearty breakfast following morning rain forest tours. This is no continental, graba-muffin-and-go meal. Rather, the kitchen turns out fluffy scrambled eggs, pancakes or French toast, juicy mango, guava, watermelon and pineapple slices, toast, orange juice, coffee and tea. Loth said he might add hammocks to this area in the future so guests can laze around, read a book or take in the Tortuguero sunset.
The inn is located on Tortuguero’s main road, across the street from the town’s church and within easy walking distance of a number of excellent Caribbean restaurants. Just a few hundred meters away is the beach, where, at night, giant sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.
The rooms on the inn’s second level are bright and airy, with wispy yellow-and-white curtains framing windows that let in ample sunshine and the sound of the nearby Atlantic Ocean. The downstairs rooms aren’t quite as open but boast high ceilings and can sleep two to three people. Exceedingly clean, the rooms have hardwood floors, fans and, in many cases, private bathrooms.
Guests can access the Internet in the air-conditioned computer room on the first floor or take advantage of the recently installed wireless Internet access.
Loth is an excellent concierge as well, providing extensive advice and tips for the independent traveler – including detailed instructions on traveling to Tortuguero on local buses and boats – and recommending mouthwateringly good restaurants. Visitors don’t have to stay at Casa Marbella to take Loth’s tours, and he makes every effort to accommodate everybody who approaches him. If he is not available to give a tour, he knows a number of local guides who can.
Loth is up at 4:30 a.m. most mornings to start coffee and prepare his boat for rain forest tours – his favorite kind.
“I like the variety and the fresh mornings,” he said.
On any given morning, he brings guests in close contact with howler, spider and white-faced capuchin monkeys, toucans, caimans, several varieties of heron and more.
His enthusiasm is infectious, as he shares stories about the animals’ migration patterns, hunting habits and history in the region – all with a sense of humor and appreciation for the nature and community he’s embraced as his own.
“I work longer hours and am happier than ever,” Loth said with a smile. “If I won the lottery, I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing.”
Getting There, Rates, Contact Info
Casa Marbella Bed and Breakfast is in the heart of Tortuguero village. Owner Daryl Loth can provide extensive directions on how to get to the inn via a combination of public buses and water taxis. Visitors can ask boats to drop them off on Casa Marbella’s back dock, right on the canal. Local airlines Nature Air and Sansa also serve Tortuguero.
From July 1 to Oct. 30 and Dec. 1 to April 30, singles are $35, doubles are $40 and triples are $50; the rest of the year, subtract $5. There are also two superior rooms with a canal view on the first and second floor for $50 and $60, respectively, year-round. Contact the inn to inquire about rates for a family room with a double bed and three single beds. Rates include taxes and full breakfast served between 7 and 10 a.m. There are no ATMs in Tortuguero and the inn does not accept credit cards, so plan accordingly.
Loth leads morning boat tours of the canals for $20 (plus $10 admission to TortugueroNational Park) and can arrange evening turtle-spotting tours for $20. For info, call 8833-0827 or 2709-8011, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit casamarbella.tripod.com.