Thursday, February 2, 2012

Colorful Costa Rica


Overtly aware of the many Crayola-colored poisonous frogs crouched in the corners of the shed, I hopped on one foot trying on rubber boots until I finally found a pair that fit. The size of a thumbnail, these tiny creatures are actually only toxic if you ingest them, and I was not into kissing any frogs that day. But I could have: the dendrobatids were just adorable – and rare, as they’re critically endangered due to habitat loss and pollution.

EcoTourism Pioneer
The mere presence of these rainbow-splashed amphibians at Costa Rica’sSelva Verde Lodge testified to the measures this award-winning establishment has undertaken to protect and maintain this fragile ecosystem over the past three decades. Deep in the lowland rainforest two hours north of the capitol city of San Jose, Selva Verde Lodge is a true pioneer in the ecotourism business.
The Selva Biological Corridor preserves 500 acres of unique flora and fauna. Photo Betsy Crowfoot

At the time the lodge was founded, Costa Rica’s entire Atlantic coast to central valley was a sweeping expanse of rainforest. Now just a smattering of farms, reserves and plantations remain, supplying the needed swathes of natural habitat that allow wildlife to migrate and maintain optimal biodiversity. Selva Verde oversees a vital part of theSan Juan–La Selva Biological Corridor, and we had the opportunity to explore a portion of it on a naturalist-led hike when we arrived. Donning thick rubber boots (to protect us from stinging and biting creatures), we breathed in the fresh jungle air as we trekked over suspension bridges, along a rushing stream, and beneath the sigh of the canopy. Our guide pointed out the unique characteristics of nearly every living thing, and how it thrived amidst the roughly 500-acre Preservation Area. Sustainability

Sustainable tourism includes a chocolate tour where you make your own hot cocoa. Photo: Betsy Crowfoot

Primary to Selva Verde’s sustainability goal is maintaining a vibrant future, not only for the wildlife, but also for the people of the Sarapiqui region, so their programs incorporate adventures and education for visitors. Guests can enjoy the lowland jungle via horseback or zip line; raft the tumbling Sarapiqui River; or hike through a cacao plantation as we did – and make hot chocolate from scratch. In addition, resident naturalists are on site to lead talks on traditional curative uses of rainforest flora, conservation projects or wildlife. And wildlife abounds, from the miniscule poisonous frogs (and other non-toxic species) to monkeys, vipers and ants the size of walnuts. Relaxing at the pool, I stirred at the sound of a peculiar ‘Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!’ overhead and realized it was the awkward flight of the Toucan. Nearby, giant iguanas leapt from tree to tree. Selva Verde Lodge boasts refuge to ‘300-plus species of birds, 120 species of mammals, numerous amphibians and reptiles, and countless invertebrates’ all told.Swaying over the Sarapiqui River is one of the world’s longest suspension bridges. Photo Betsy Crowfoot

The resort proves a tranquil destination for all ages and abilities. Accommodations are clustered in understated wooden structures connected by a series of covered walkways (which are peppered with giant water dispensers – to eliminate the use of plastic bottles). Wrap-around balconies hung with colorful hammocks allow for relaxing days; oversized screened windows let the cool air in at night – along with the boisterous calls of marauding howler monkeys. Selva Verde was awarded Costa Rica’sCertification for Sustainable Tourism(CST) for the implementation of water conservation and wastewater management systems, energy conservation, the use of biodegradable laundry and cleaning products and maintaining the grounds without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. The lodge also controls excessive noise and light pollution to limit the effects on wildlife and the environment.

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