It may not have the closest views of Arenal Volcano, but Princesa de la Luna Ecolodge, about five kilometers south of La Fortuna in north-central Costa Rica, is high on the list when it comes to dramatic vistas, laid-back hospitality and tropical exuberance.
The secluded main house and adjacent cabins perch above a steep gully that drops down to the Cacao River, with some 10 kilometers of trails meandering through the property’s untouched forest and gardens planted with nearly 100 species of fruit trees and tropical shrubs. And, yes, if it’s clear, you get views of the famously active volcano.
After a bumpy two-kilometer drive off the main La Tigra to La Fortuna road, you arrive at the gatehouse, where affable Welsh owner Jonathan Davies resides, ready to greet guests and escort them down a 100-meter grassy drive that finishes up in an enclave of three attractive cabins and a Spanish hacienda-style main building. The latter boasts a huge wraparound veranda perfect for balcony birding, and a wide, sweeping stairway to the lower levels that would enhance any self-respecting mansion. The two rooms in the main house, with ground-level access in back by the car park, become dramatic second-level viewpoints on the valley side, above the social, dining and kitchen areas.
The place is a wild-child designer’s dream come true: Walkways on different levels lead to intimate sitting nooks; a garden Jacuzzi beckons through the dense foliage; open-walled corridors abound with plants; and artifacts and hangings collected from Davies’ years of globe-trotting appear at every turn. Some unusual showpieces are a throne-like seat made entirely of ox yokes at the entrance, and hollow strangler-fig “tubes” that double up as planters. The lodge lends itself to rentals by groups that want privacy in a jungle setting, and can accommodate about 20 people comfortably.
It’s actually rather hard to put a label on the place. Yes, it’s an attractive lodge, but its informality makes it feel like you’re staying with a friend who’s gone a bit native, as Davies himself readily acknowledges. During our stay, room housekeeping was a tad hit-and-miss, meals were prepared and shared family-style with Davies and volunteer marketing and website consultant William Willner, and neighbors dropped in for a chat.
If guests want to do their own thing, that’s fine too, and they are welcome to self-cater. There’s even a large spit roaster that can broil a whole pig if you feel like being dramatic for dinner. Less flamboyant, typical Costa Rican meals are available with notice, and can either be brought in from the local soda at the turnoff to the lodge or from nearby restaurants, or cooked by the lodge staff. Also be advised: Your stay will be accompanied by the friendly but immense Harlequin Great Dane, Luna, and little Paco, a mutt with no pretensions to pedigree, so if you don’t like dogs, maybe reconsider.
Despite the steep hillside location, there is wheelchair access to a couple of the rooms, with a rather switchback wheelchair path down to the lower social areas. The rooms are huge, if somewhat dark, all with comfortable king-size beds and the option to add single beds to convert them into family rooms. The high wood-paneled ceilings and wood bed bases, lemon-colored walls and ocher-finished, polished concrete floors reflect a rustic simplicity, but rooms also have generous closet space, ceiling fans and mini-refrigerators. All have bathrooms with hot water, and our room even had an antique enamel bathtub, which Davies – clearly a collecta-holic – said he picked up in Nicaragua along with other building materials.
Davies bought the forested 10-hectare property a decade ago, and concentrated first on planting the fruit trees and tropical shrubs that cover about half the land to explore the principles of permaculture (the practice of marrying human settlement and agriculture into sustainable land-use design). The lodge has been operating for three years, and is very much a work in progress.
A tiled, stream-fed swimming pool lies on the valley floor alongside the river, deliciously chemical free thanks to the constant flow of fresh water. Heading upstream, another swimming pool, this time supplied by the main river, is set deep in the canyon and hidden from any buildings, offering a really private dip on the wild side. If you like, you can follow the river trails from here to the property’s secluded waterfall.
Recently, Princesa de la Luna was chosen as one of the locations for NBC’s new “Love in the Wild” reality dating show, so you can relive the moment following in the footsteps of the contestants (see box).
Besides walking the trails and enjoying the pools, the lodge will arrange visits to meet the locals along the road, giving visitors from other countries or resident “townies” an excellent opportunity to learn firsthand about life in rural Costa Rica.
From San José, take the road to San Ramón and La Tigra. At Chachagua village, continue 5 km toward La Fortuna, turn left at Soda Rancho de Mina and continue 2 km on a dirt road to Princesa de la Luna Ecolodge.
Room rates are $110 per night, but discount packages are available for rental of the whole lodge or for longer stays. Meals can be provided upon arrangement; breakfast costs $5 per person.
For information and reservations, call 8710-1081, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.princesadelalunaecolodge.com.
‘LOVE IN THE WILD’
NBC’s latest adventure-dating reality show, which premieres June 29 (delayed from June 1), chose venues around Arenal for 20 men and women contestants in search of love. The grounds of Princesa de la Luna Ecolodge were selected as an exotic background for one of the episodes. According to NBC’s website, each program involves a quest that “will push their bodies and emotions to the limit … and put their budding relationships to the test. The series will culminate with just one couple left standing, who will have completed the adventure of a lifetime and found the one thing they’ve been searching for: Love in the Wild.”