Going Wild In The Jungle

4th November 2011

Eco this, eco that… A jungle holiday in an eco lodge sounds good, but do you have to give up your creature comforts? Is it all a big scam? Are there really wild things to see?

No, no, and yes, says Rowena Carr-Allinson after visiting three glorious lodges in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Mexico.

Rainforest Retreat: Lapa Rios, Costa Rica

Costa Rica has become a hugely popular tourist destination and for good reason. Whether you’re hiking through the cloud forest of Monteverde or enjoying the beaches, there are natural wonders a-plenty. Although the country’s shoreline is reputed as one of the world’s most beautiful, it’s the country’s gigantic expanse of rainforest that is its star eco-attraction. In Costa Rica the belief that ‘a forest left standing is worth more than one cut down’ has been around for a while.

For the real thing, head south to the Osa Peninsula and the Corcovado National Park, home to everything from iguanas to ocelots, pumas to poison dart frogs, spider monkeys, and even the reclusive tapir. This expanse of unspoiled tropical forest is one of the world’s most biologically diverse regions and has been labelled the ‘Who’s Who of endangered species.’ With 375 species of birds, 124 species of mammals together with a quarter of all Costa Rica’s tree species and over 4,000 plant types, it’s alive with life.

Luckily. though, there’s no need to rough it here. Adventurous souls with a taste for luxury can stay amongst the critters at Lapa Rios, a rainforest retreat with just 14 bungalows sitting in the midst of a one thousand acre private reserve.

Lapa Rios is all about conservation, education and sustaining the local community. Impressively, no live trees were cut for its construction, and 70% of the materials used to build the bungalows are renewable. The natural spring water is heated with solar panels; plastics and chemicals are limited, and both fossil fuels and pesticides are banned.

Modern luxuries are kept to a bare minimum. No internet connection, no TV. Interiors are simple yet elegant, with glowing wooden floors, racing green linens and the obligatory romantic, and useful, mosquito nets. The bathroom is sleek and sophisticated with an al fresco shower in the small exotic garden and, from the hammocks on the deck, the view is simply beautiful: acres of lush tropical rainforest spilling over the rugged coastline to the deserted Pacific beach.

It’s the perfect place to commune with nature while preserving it. Days swim past in a daze of hikes, wildlife spotting, the odd siesta and delicious dinners of grilled jumbo shrimps followed by homemade brownies with macadamia nuts.

After adjusting to the rainforest’s rhythms, you’ll find that little matters but the surrounding nature – and the delivery of fresh coffee at 6am.

Find out more at www.laparios.com

Mexican Waves: Hotelito Desconocido, Cruz de Loreto, Mexico

Far from the busy resorts on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, tranquil getaways on the Pacific side put the accent on nature and wilderness. Isolated beachside havens with jaw-dropping views have taken root where jungle meets ocean.

Better known for its hub, Puerto Vallerta, Jalisco’s stunning coastline has plenty more to offer those in search of nature friendly activities – from horseback riding, fishing and hiking to bird spotting and even whale watching.

Tucked away from civilisation, beyond the village of Cruz de Loreto, you’ll find the lost eco-paradise of Hotelito: a worthy reward after an approach along a never-ending dust track.

Set in a huge bird and turtle reserve in the wetlands, between the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the Hotelito Descondisco is a disconnected haven, where you’d be hard pushed not to forget the rest of the world.

There’s a touch of magic in the air as guests are rowed from the main hotel’s lodge across the estuary to their mellow yellow beachside huts, where cacti poke out of the warm sand. It’s barefoot luxury at its finest.

The colourful rooms are basic yet absolutely charming. Without electricity, the only luxuries are a shower, sink and toilet, as well as a mosquito-netted bed and, of course, the sand on your doorstep. Instead of calling for room service, hoist a flag up outside your window to request your very own delivery of fresh Mexican coffee and cookies. A welcome special treat in the early hours before breakfast…

Evening turn down service has a whole new meaning here, involving dozens of tea lights twinkling in the dark: it is utterly romantic.

It’s quite impossible here to remain in touch with life as we know it. But that’s the entire point: time spent at the Hotelito Desconocido (strapline: Sanctuary Reserve and Spa) means that you go unplugged, literally.

Daytimes are spent lounging in shaded hammocks or on the pristine 40-mile beach doing really very little. At dusk, armed with a cocktail, guests gather to watch the turtle hatchlings making their way across the beach into the surf. As for food, it’s all very simple, healthy and tasty: calamari salad, ceviche and coconut cake are on the single menu for all. It’s amazing how relaxing it is not to have to make a choice.

After dark, signalling with a flashlight at the dock summons a boat to take you to the brightly decorated ‘El Cantarito’ restaurant for a candlelit evening meal where you can sip cool Corona, share a game of billiards or socialise with others who have pulled the plug on real life for a few days.

See www.hotelito.com for more info

Nicaragua: nature and nurture at Morgan’s Rock

It may not have been on everyone’s list for long, but, as it emerges as a safe tourist destination, the unspoiled Central American country of Nicaragua is fast becoming a must. Beautiful landscapes and colourful colonial cities like Granada (the oldest city in the Americas) have put the ‘Land of Lakes and Volcanoes’ on the map.

The only problem is getting there! First there’s a long international flight, a cramped transfer in a tiny propeller plane landing on Granada’s mottled stripb and then there’s another two hour drive on bumpy roads – past vast Lake Nicaragua and the impressive twin peaks of the Ometepe volcanoes, past rake-thin dogs, barefoot children, overcrowded buses and horse drawn carts… It’s a long, long way to this eco-resort hidden deep in the rainforest. But it’s worth it.

Arriving at Morgan’s Rock is like stepping into the Garden of Eden: giant butterflies flutter across the picture perfect view that stretches from the main lodge, past the pristine pool down to the spotless half moon beach below.

Wedged between the Pacific and Lake Nicaragua, the resort is set in 1,800 hectares of private tropical forest and is leading the way in the eco-tourism game. With just 14 cottages, the lodge is a high-end offering, with a taste of nature and nurture. The cabins blend in perfectly with their environment: emerald tones, eucalyptus pillars and decadent hanging day-beds for that tree-house feel.

With netting in lieu of windows, nature’s symphony plays 24/7… the howler monkeys growling in the distance; a whole orchestra of birds a-twitter and the waves crashing below. And of course, not a phone or a TV in sight.

Accessing the sleek eco-designer cabins is a great chance to indulge in your Indiana Jones fantasy too: walking a wooden hanging bridge in the canopy, 22 metres above ground.

Big on sustainable development and education as well as on guest pampering, Morgan’s Rock aims to become entirely self-sufficient. And it’s an organic heaven, too: almost everything is home-made from the dairy products to the vegetables and even the home-‘grown’ prawns!

Solar panels heat the water, and over a million trees have been planted already as part of a reforestation programme.

Bizarrely, as remote as it feels (and is) there’s actually plenty to do… surfing, kayaking, fishing, educational trips around the estate or even riding out with Jesus, the weathered animal whisperer.

Rest assured, though, that you don’t have to be an eco-fiend to enjoy Morgan’s Rock. There’s the beach, the pool and at 5.30 when the sun sinks into the ocean, it’s time to order a rum cocktail. It’s all part of the experience.

Find out more at www.morgansrock.com
and www.visit-nicaragua.com

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