It isn’t uncommon to see the “eco” prefix tacked on before the name of a hotel or lodge, but perhaps no establishment deserves it more than Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat. Bordered on one side by lush rain forest and on the other by the Sarapiquí River, the Chilamate experience is a retreat indeed, a complete withdrawal into a Costa Rican Eden of sorts.
Chilamate Rainforest, which is fully dedicated to forest conservation, sits on prime ecological real estate in the northern Caribbean lowlands, and forms part of both the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and the Costa Rican Bird Route. And for good reason, too. In addition to parrots and toucans, bird-watchers may spot increasingly rare green macaws, which come to nest in the old-growth almond trees on the property.
The owners of the retreat, Tico-Canadian husband-and-wife team Davis Azofeifa and Meghan Casey, live on-site with their two young children, Lluvia and Ayden. The family was involved in every step of the hotel’s construction. Azofeifa harvested the wood for the project and built the lodge, cabins and dormitories by hand, doing much of the work without the aid of power tools. Despite being in operation since 2006, Chilamate Rainforest got electricity only earlier this year in the form of on-site solar panels.
It may sound like a primitivist’s paradise, but that doesn’t mean guests have to go without luxuries. Hammocks swing outside of every room, and beds are soft. The retreat serves extraordinary meals made from locally farmed ingredients and has a full, outdoor bar illuminated by a string of soft lights that not only cultivate a romantic atmosphere, but also leave the retreat’s animal neighbors undisturbed.
In fact, everything about Chilamate Rainforest is geared toward being environmentally friendly. The retreat recycles and composts everything it can, and all the rooms are designed to maximize natural light and airflow to reduce the use of electric fans and lights. Chilamate received an exceptionally high rating from the Rainforest Alliance’s sustainable tourism verification program, and is on the waiting list for sustainability certification from the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT).
The retreat keeps a guide on staff to help guests navigate its miles of trails winding through the jungle, which is home to anteaters, monkeys and many other creatures. The walking tours are free for guests, a service unique to Chilamate Rainforest, Casey says, as other hotels in the region charge extra for guided walks.
Apart from trail-exploring, bird-watching, eating and napping in hammocks, a long list of activities entices guests, making Chilamate Rainforest a perfect stopover for those traveling between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Between swimming in the Sarapiquí River, hiking to nearby waterfalls, horseback riding and rafting on world-class rapids, it’s nearly impossible to grow bored.
Maybe the most interesting feature about the hotel is Casey and Azofeifa’s relationship with the neighboring farming community of Linda Vista de Chilamate. They work hand in hand with the village’s small elementary school and take an active part in local women’s organizations and community groups. Because of this, guests have the rare opportunity to experience the raw beauty of rural Costa Rica that most tourists unfortunately don’t get to see. The nearby Finca Surá, a tilapia farm that serves some of the best fish and patacones (fried green plantains) in the Sarapiquí region, is a perfect example of this, and is not to be missed.
The retreat also helps to organize volunteer programs, homestays and Spanish lessons for those who want to stay in the area for a longer amount of time.
Guests on tight schedules can plan a day trip to Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat, which includes a day of rafting, a guided walk in the jungle and a full lunch for $55 per person. But The Tico Times recommends spending at least a couple of days at the retreat to get the full experience: a day of activity followed by food, drink and the sweet sound of the Sarapiquí River singing you to sleep.
From San José, take Highway 32 toward Guápiles through scenic Braulio Carrillo National Park, and turn left at the intersection for Sarapiquí. Continue straight, passing through Horquetas and the entrance to La Selva Biological Station until you reach the Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí crossing; turn left toward Chilamate and La Virgen. Just before the sign for Aventuras del Sarapiquí, turn left and cross the Sarapiquí River bridge, then take an immediate right following the river’s edge.
A cabin for two people is $85 per night. Dorm bunks are $28 per person or $23 per person in groups of two or more. A bigger, family-sized cabin with multiple beds and a full porch is $96 per night for four people or $115 for five people. All prices include breakfast and full use of trails with a bilingual guide.
For information and reservations, visit the retreat’s website at www.chilamaterainforest.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 2766-6949 or 8842-1171.