Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Saving the Earth Without Losing a Buck

By KEVIN BRASS DEC. 25, 2014 for the New York Times

Views of a tree house in the Finca Bellavista development in Costa Rica. Credit Matt Berglund 

PIEDRAS BLANCAS, Costa Rica — When he was growing up in Pennsylvania, Dave Angstadt’s favorite movie was “Swiss Family Robinson,” the story of a family living in a tree house on a deserted island.

Mr. Angstadt, 60, a business consultant and former professional basketball player, was thinking of the plucky Robinson clan recently, when he decided to invest $250,000 to build a 1,500-square-foot tree house in Finca Bellavista, a development in the jungle in southwest Costa Rica.

“Being self-sustainable, living in a tree, fending for yourself, figuring stuff out, always intrigued me,” said Mr. Angstadt, who plans to use the house as a personal retreat for friends and family.

Finca Bellavista, which is more than a mile from the nearest town and accessible only by unpaved roads, is one of several projects in Costa Rica targeting a new generation of buyers looking for an eco-friendly alternative to the second-home developments that line the coast.

While sales of second homes remain sluggish in the wake of the 2008 crash, eco-conscious buyers, primarily from North America, are playing an increasing role in the Costa Rica market, developers and sales agents say. And instead of $1 million beachfront homes, many of these buyers are interested in simpler, inland projects touting sustainable elements and with prices of $250,000 to $400,000. (Prices in Costa Rica are typically quoted in United States dollars.) 

Views of a tree house in the Finca Bellavista development in Costa Rica. Credit Matt Berglund 

“People are more humble,” said Richard Lemire, a developer in Manuel Antonio, a centrally located community on the country’s western shore. “Big homes are not so sexy anymore.”

Buyers in eco-centric projects typically base their purchase decision on a variety of factors, including the location and the investment potential, agents say. And not all of them are solely focused on saving the Earth.

“I wouldn’t say I am an environmentalist,” said Al Molnar, 47, who bought eight acres in a project in 2012.

Mr. Molnar, who owns a sports agency in Canada, spent $260,000 for the land in NatureWalk, a combination agriculture and residential development covering 1,200 acres east of the coastal town of Jacó, Costa Rica. A buyer must agree to allow 85 percent of the land to be used for crops such as vanilla, coffee, teak and pineapple; in return, the buyer receives the bulk of the revenue from the crops and the right to build a home on the remaining land.

Mr. Molnar primarily viewed the purchase as an investment, a way to diversify his portfolio. But he plans to build a home on the property, and he considers the sustainability aspects to be a bonus. “The fact that they weren’t destroying the land to develop it into something else,” he said. “It alleviated a little guilt about how things are being done in the world right now.”

Aware of buyers like Mr. Molnar, the developer of NatureWalk, the Canadian-based PRG Group, changed its marketing strategy. Instead of focusing on the environmental aspects, the developer now emphasizes the potential revenue, catering to what the company president, Tim Alexander, calls “economic environmentalism.”
Since beginning sales in 2011, PRG has sold more than 100 lots, with prices ranging from $55,000 to $100,000 for parcels of a quarter-acre to one and a quarter acres.

“It’s not a decision based on the eco-value,” Mr. Alexander said. “They look for both, but the investment comes first.”

Eco-developments also are benefiting from the growing group of buyers in North America concerned about the state of the world economy, local industry executives say.

Osa Mountain Village Resort, located in the mountains along the southern Pacific coast, is billed as “a sustainable, fully functional, food-producing resort community.” In addition to a secluded setting and enticing swimming pools, the resort offers residents a steady supply of fresh fruits, vegetables and other food items.

The availability of an independent food supply is a key component for many buyers, said the developer, Jim Gale. “Without the food production, we’d have 80 percent less sales,” he said. “The main thing is food security.”

Osa has sold more than 100 properties in the last four years, Mr. Gale said. Sixty of the 150 planned homes have been built, with prices ranging from $69,000 for a rustic 250-square-foot house to $259,000 for a 1,200-square-foot condo with full amenities.

In 2011, Dan Lutz, a chiropractor in Minnesota, paid about $125,000 in a pre-construction deal for a 1,300-square-foot apartment. He said he made the purchase because he was concerned that the United States was on an “unsustainable trajectory.”

“As far as I’m concerned, it just made sense to have a piece of real estate where you do have a guaranteed abundance of food, you have guaranteed abundance of water,” said Mr. Lutz, 44. “We had just went through a big recession, it was kind of scary. I thought I better have a Plan B.” For now, he uses the house on vacations, and loans it to family and friends.

In Finca Bellavista, the tree house development, the developers have sold 54 of the 96 available plots, totaling 100 acres, since 2006. Lots average about two acres and are typically priced from $40,000 to $80,000, depending on the location and accessibility.

Buyers purchase the land and the right to build a house in selected trees. At this point, 12 tree houses have been built, connected to the rest of the project by narrow trails, rope ladders and zip lines. Although amenities are few, there is a fiber optic connection to the base camp, as the developers call the headquarters, for owners who are not quite ready to completely discard civilization.

Mr. Angstadt’s custom-designed tree house will have a flushing toilet and a solar-heated hot water shower, in addition to a wide deck and extra high ceilings to accommodate his 6-foot-8 frame.

“I appreciate a good hot shower and I appreciate a flushed toilet,” said Mr. Angstadt, who hopes to start construction on his tree house in early 2015. “But I’m also quite happy out there getting muddy and washing off in the river.”

Read the full story in the New York Times HERE

Growing Vegetables for Asian Markets in Costa Rica

By – December 28, 2014 for The Costa Rica Star

Farmers and grocers in Costa Rica sometimes lament certain facts of free trade and globalization; to with: A significant portion of garlic, rice and even black beans, all staples of traditional cuisine in this country, are actually imported from China. Due to the agricultural economic background of Costa Rica, some may consider this to be a trade imbalance; however, some entrepreneurs are taking this situation in stride by growing vegetables traditionally used in Asian cuisine and exporting them to that region.

The following press release is from Naturewalk Farms, a rural business community in Turrubares, located near between the Central Valley and the Central Pacific Coast.

Sustainable Organic Asian Vegetable Production Expands in Naturewalk, Costa Rica

PRLog – Nov. 18, 2014 – JACO, Costa Rica — Over the last 8 months, Naturewalk completed a test growing program, involving 6 varieties of asian specialty vegetables. The results proved very successful with crop growth and yields meeting or exceeding expectation.

These vegetables have been traditionally grown in other parts of Central America and the Caribbean for the North American market. “This is the first large commercialization program of these specialty vegetables to take place in Costa Rica” says Tim Alexander, President of Naturewalk “we are pleased to be adding this strong agricultural component to our activities at Naturewalk. This is a real win for the area in terms of jobs, employment and economic stimulus and of course we are excited to be developing this program at Naturewalk”.

The first of 4,000 Chinese, Indian and Thai eggplants are due to be shipped the third week of November from the nurseries in Grecia. Over a 4 month cycle a total of 90,000 plants will be planted to meet demand for two containers per week shipped to U.S. east coast seaports due to beginning in February 2015. Other vegetable varieties include Thai Hot Pepper, Preeti, Bangana Lina, and Greengo Cucumber.

Participating in the program with technical support and seed stock are East-West Seed Company Limited with head offices in Nonthaburi , Thailand. East West Seed is one of Asia’s leading vegetable seed suppliers distributing high quality seeds to over 60 countries worldwide. East West is supporting Nature Walks program locally with on-the-ground technical expertise through its locally trained agricultural engineers.

Naturewalk Farms, a division of Naturewalk Brands grows a wide variety of tropical produce including Tiquisque, Nampi (Taro), Nami, Vanilla, Ginger Papaya and Organic Pineapple. The Farms, located in the Central Pacific, supply local markets as well as export to North America. Naturewalk is a fully master-planned community of 1200 acres in Turrubares Costa Rica. Owners in Naturewalk own fully serviced lots on which they can have their dream home. Owners further benefit from fully managed crops growing on their land, giving them an income. The master plan for Naturewalk includes a condo hotel, eco hotel, adventure center, equine center and town center with shopping facilities in addition to homes.

For further information visit or call USA +1-202-697-9284 or Europe +353-1-272-4184

See the full story in The Costa Rica Star HERE

Monday, December 22, 2014

Community Rural Tourism Initiative


Naturewalk is on the leading edge of community rural tourism projects in Costa Rica. Naturewalk through its locally based businesses, supports different local community and enterprise efforts, local business, employment, culture and education. Naturewalk is now the leading employer in the area.

Community Rural Tourism

“Tourist experiences
planned and sustainably integrated
to the rural environment and developed
by local organization for the benefit of the community.”

Costa Rica has invested more than 50 years in rural development, as well as the rural communities have struggled more than 500 years in order to defend their identity and claim the right to development and equity. All these years of efforts are capitalized today into new initiatives for the endogenous enhancement of the local economies.  
Community Rural Tourism is one of the initiatives that, little by little, has represented an important means of development for those rural communities potentially capable of competing with other high quality attraction sites. The rural world is therefore kaleidoscopically unique as for assets, history, nature, talents, and hopes. This is the meaning of community rural tourism, an authentic tourist

product impossible to imitate, an important tool for the development of the communities and the enhancement of the Costa Rican identity.
Tourism is a dynamic sector that generates development. Specifically, Community Rural Tourism (TRC) oriented to promote tourist activities with local participation is a new segment that is constantly growing and presents very positive features, totally opposite to the well known problems caused by the development of traditional tourism.
In 2003, the creation of the Alliance of Organizations for the Enhancement of Community Rural Tourism integrated an informal place concerning the coordination efforts with organizations showing a recognized experience in the field: COOPRENA, ACTUAR, and Mesa Nacional Campesina supported by the Program of Small Donations of GEF, PNUD, and ACEPESA.  
The goal of this Alliance has been to enhance Community Rural Tourism (TRC) as one of the main tourist activities at a national level and to consolidate it as a tool to generate sustainable development with equity and a high participation of local investment.
The Alliance has planned to create conditions in the public-private environment that will promote the local investment and the development of a new and competitive tourist product, in order to transform TRC in a tool aimed at local sustainable development.
Therefore, there must be a strategy facilitating the consolidation of TRC as a tool of sustainable development for the communities with a tourist potential. This calls for the definition and promotion of a state policy promoting local investment and TRC sustainable development, as well as the enhancement of the local entrepreneurial capacity at a national and international level.
Some of the companies representing the offer of community rural tourism have more than 10 years of experience. Most of the initiatives are operated in an informal way, for it has been difficult to record them in the statistics of the sector. This is due to the way this product is created, starting from the effort and creativity of the Costa Rican people that live in the countryside.
However, thanks to the creation of groups as the Mesa Nacional Campesina and marketing groups as COOPRENA and ACTUAR, the creation of the Alliance for the Enhancement of the Community Rural Tourism and the support of the Costa Rica Tourism Board and ACEPESA, there has been great progress in the process of formalizing the operations of this entrepreneurial group, as well as an improvement in the records.
Given that the community rural tourism is mostly a complement to the agropecuary activity, it is difficult to estimate the employments generated directly or indirectly with traditional statistics. However, according to the information obtained by inspectors of the Costa Rica Tourism Board in  two visits made to companies part of the Alliance, it can be stated that about two individuals per house benefit from rural tourism income because of their jobs.
Records of the Alliance indicate that the income received per single working hour in community rural tourism is 50% higher than the average rural salary.
This information is quite interesting, considering that basically women take advantage of these jobs, although there is no information in relation to the exact gender composition.

Nevertheless, the potential value of community rural tourism as a development tool is not shown in these numbers. This kind of tourism allows the integration of natural resources, daily life in the rural communities and agropecuary activities in an attractive product for the national and international tourist market. Rural tourism is the perfect choice for the tourist that is interested in knowing and enjoying the life in the country side, such as: horse back riding, walks, agricultural activities, discovering alternative methods of production, fresh water fishing, village festivities, and fairs. All of this without leaving out other accessible possibilities in the area like adventurous tourism, nature, sun, beaches and sport activities.
Moreover, rural tourism provides visitors with a personalized contact. All services are run by the producers through organizations or directly, as a family business.
Unlike rural tourism offered by other countries, community rural tourism companies in Costa Rica need the participation of several families or even the entire community in order to offer a tourist product, due to their community dynamics and the relevance of activity.
The main difference between the rural tourism and community rural tourism is that the economic activity is planned by the community organizations and people that live in the communities are those who participate directly in the managing of efforts and its benefits.


  • It integrates natural resources (attractions) and the daily life of the rural community.
  • As part of the tourist offer, it promotes and integrates sustainable practices.
  • The tourist experience is adapted to the rural lifestyle and dynamics, preserving “rurality” (showing originality, peculiarity, warm and comfortable environment and the authenticity of the rural part of the country).
  • It is based on management, participation and integration on a local level. (It enhances the local organization in which several families or even the entire community are involved).
  • It integrates the local population in this entrepreneurial activity and distributes equally benefits, by increasing and diversifying the income of the rural families.
  • It promotes the conservation of the land in hands of its inhabitants.

The Costa Rica Tourism Board in coordination with the Alliance of Organizations for the enhancement of the Community Rural Tourism has established some fundamental principles that must be guaranteed in community rural tourism development :
  • Environmental tourist products that promote a sustainable use of the ecosystems. This involves an evaluation of the impacts of the tourist activity over the natural environment and the establishment of corrective actions and good practices in order to avoid the endangerment of the ecosystems integrity.
  • Incorporation of environmental education aimed at the consolidation of environmental culture.
  • Considering community rural tourism as a whole interacting with other economic and social activities.
  • Priority to core businesses.
  • Pursuit of entrepreneurial integration aimed at facilitating the creation of marketing channels.
  • Promotion of the diversification and innovation of the offer in relation to the sustainable use of  natural and cultural attractions.
  • Priority to mechanisms that guarantee the equal distribution of the benefits generated by tourist activity at a local and regional level and the development of cultural values in the communities.
  • Protection and development of cultural values.
  • Promotion of women active participation.
  • Social integration of minorities, among them ethnic communities.
  • Integration and local concentration of tourist services.
  • Use of  local labour force, providing social security established by law.
  • Tourist product quality promotion through community training.
Rural tourism was born from the need to generate economic alternatives able to diversify the income of the country side families, that were used to a rural development model aimed at jeopardizing natural resources. For more than 20 years, this model has been fomenting the inequity and the deterioration of the link with the rural community. As a consequence, the development of civil society monopolized the ownership of the land, generating unemployment and emigration.
The Alliance of Organizations for the Enhancement of the Community Rural Tourism appears as a way to coordinate and integrate all the community actions in order to facilitate the development of community rural tourism as a tool of local growth.
The Alliance management has started working processes between the organizations of the Alliance and the public institutions oriented to enhance community rural tourism initiatives as well as local development initiatives.


  • The opening of a negotiation process with the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT) to:
    • Define and characterize community rural tourism as national tourist product.
    • Design a project that seeks international resources for community rural tourism enhancement.
    • Create a quality brand for community rural tourism.
    • Carry out a strategy for the enhancement of the upper segment of community rural tourism companies.
    • Create a promotion strategy for the integration of community rural tourism in the national and international market.
    • Incorporate rural tourism products in the promotion of the country’s image abroad.

  • The PNUD (United Nation’s Program for Development), besides being a part of the negotiation process with the State institutions, has financed a start up project to facilitate the incorporation of community rural tourism in the Costa Rica Tourism Board and create an international resources management project.
  • The Development Fund of Family Assignments (FODESAF) started a process to design and finance a Program of Rural Tourism with FODESAF funds, to enable poor families to use the tourist activity as a tool for their social improvement.

  • A community training and formation program in the field of tourism has been established in conjunction with the National Institute of Learning, adjusting the contents and methodology for the markets, characteristics and conditions of the community rural tourism.
  • Moreover, in conjunction with the INS (Insurance National Institute), a collective liability insurance policy has been created for the communities developing tourist products. Taking into account the conditions in which each family lives, they should  purchase their own policy, which happens to be very expensive and complicated. This is an essential requirement to be able to offer the product through travel agencies that operate in the country.
  • As for the process of formalization, negotiation channels must be established with the Ministry of Public Health, in order to facilitate the access of these families operation permits.


  • Costa Rican Association of Community Rural Tourism (ACTUAR), phone numbers (506) 2248-9470, 2223-8509, Fax (506) 2223-8087, e-mail or visit the website:
  • Central American Association for the economy, health and environment ACEPESA, phone/fax (506) 2280-6327, e-mail or visit the website:
  • COOPRENA network, phone numbers (506) 2232-7437, 2290-8646, 2290-8524, 2290-8651, Fax (506) 2290-8667, e-mail or visit the
  • Program of the United Nations for Development, phone numbers (506) 2296-1544, 2296-1736, Fax (506) 2296-1545, e-mail or visit the

Friday, December 19, 2014

Save The Americans!

Save the Americans was created by the animals of Costa Rica to help save overworked Americans. Forced to work long hours in stressful environments, increasingly estranged from their natural habitat, the American worker grows more endangered every day. As resident animals of Costa Rica, we happily offer our country as sanctuary. If you or someone you know is endangered, we can help.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hola Vanilla

Hola Vanilla packaged by Hola Granola is now available at good stores and in many hotels across Costa Rica.

This vanilla is organically grown in Naturewalk and is delicious:

Ginger in Permalife Farms Naturewalk 3

Things certainly grow quickly in Costa Rica. This ginger was planted just 10 weeks ago: