Community-based rural tourism is not for everybody. However, for those who want to explore off the beaten track and discover the real Costa Rica, this alternative travel experience is a wonderful choice. Visitors can see the beauty of the country through the eyes of its people and have the chance to share in their daily lives, culture and knowledge of nature, while helping to create more economic opportunities for rural farming, fishing and indigenous communities.
This type of tourism has a positive environmental and social impact, and offers people of all ages – women in particular – new ways of contributing to the economic wellbeing of their families and communities.
Two of us rural tourism devotees recently visited Reserva Los Campesinos in the small mountain community of Quebrada Arroyo, 25 kilometers from the central Pacific port town of Quepos. After passing through the small farming town of Londres, we followed the signs to Reserva Los Campesinos up a muddy dirt road (four-wheel drive is a must). Along the way we passed a group of campesinos, workers from the village, who smiled and waved. They were cheerfully clearing the rubble from a recent landslide; keeping the road passable in the rainy season is a never-ending story.
We arrived at a pulpería, a small village store that sells all the basics and more. Miguel Mora, our friendly, enthusiastic host and guide, was there to meet us and led us down a steep path to the lodge. He showed us to our room, one of two with a private bathroom but no hot water, though it’s on the agenda. The basic, comfortable, very clean rooms have a double bed, two bunk beds, shelves and a fan. The lace curtains are an incongruous but delightful touch. Furnished porches offer a wonderful view of the rain forest, while the rushing river below and the thundering sound of a stunning waterfall will lull you to sleep at night.
The lodge can accommodate up to 38 people in rustic cabins with bunk beds sleeping four to eight people each. Outside shared bathrooms and showers are clean and easily accessible. Los Campesinos is a popular destination for groups, retreats and national and international students studying ecology and the environment.
Three meals a day are served in the large open-air dining area. The traditional food cooked on a wood stove is superb and would satisfy any appetite. Cook Yamileth Mora could be rated a five-star chef when it comes to traditional cooking. The fish or chicken casados with tasty beans and rice, picadillo (a diced vegetable side dish) and cabbage salad lightly dressed with lime juice is some of the best Tico fare you’ll ever taste.
The breakfast menu consists of traditional gallo pinto, eggs and delicious homemade tortillas, accompanied by café chorreado, made by putting coffee in a sock-like bag, pouring hot water over it and allowing it to drip. Alcoholic drinks are not served here, but the refrescos, tropical fruit blended with spring water, are refreshing and thirst-quenching.
We were amused by our guide Mora’s fanatical clock-watching. He had obviously been instructed that punctuality is of the utmost importance for foreigners. It was amazing how, despite cultural differences, our hosts did everything possible to please us and make us feel comfortable.
After lunch we were given an hour’s siesta time before setting off for an afternoon tour. We crossed a swaying 128-meter-long hanging bridge suspended 40 meters above a river and swirling pool under a cascading waterfall. When we reached the pool, we declined taking a dip, as it was a chilly, drizzly afternoon. From there, a 15-minute walk took us to Quebrada Arroyo, where we were given a tour of the tiny village with its population of 16 families.
Before dinner, Mora told us the history of the 33-hectare Reserva Los Campesinos, situated on the lower part of the SavegreRiver. Half the reserve is made up of primary forest; the other half is secondary tropical humid forest, most regenerated from farming and cattle-grazing land.
In 1994, Quebrada Arroyo was a bustling vanilla-producing community, but when disease killed the crops, many families left the area. The remaining 16 families, concerned about the endangered forest, purchased the land with financial help from various organizations.
They have now found an alternative way of earning a living through grassroots rural tourism, preserving the environment and working toward sustainability.
On our second day, Mora took us on a fascinating two-and-a-half-hour hike through the forest to a lookout with panoramic views stretching to the Pacific Ocean.
It wasn’t as strenuous as it sounds, as we constantly stopped along the way while Mora pointed out medicinal plants and explained their uses. We saw many colorful frogs and birds but no animals – only tracks. On our way back to the lodge, we had an exciting river crossing standing on a platform attached to a pulley.
More hikes on seven kilometers of forest trails and horseback riding tours are also offered, as well as rafting on the SavegreRiver. The really adventurous can try rappelling down the waterfall.
A visit to Los Campesinos is a delightful experience and highly recommended if you want to spend a couple of days living the simple life surrounded by nature. If you don’t speak Spanish, you can request an English-speaking guide. You will gain insight into Costa Rican rural life and are guaranteed a wonderful welcome and genuine hospitality.
Getting There, Rates, Info
Traveling south from San José, before entering Quepos, turn at the gas station on the left toward Londres. Follow the signs to Reserva Los Campesinos (10 kilometers). Four-wheel drive is essential from Londres to the reserve. If your car doesn’t have it, you can leave your vehicle in Londres and arrange for transport to the reserve.
Nonresidents pay $61, residents and nationals $58, for a two-day, one-night package including three guided hikes and three meals a day.
For information and reservations, call 2770-8329 and leave a message for Miguel Mora in Spanish only. For English, contact the Costa Rican Association for Community-based Rural Tourism (ACTUAR) at 2248-9470 or [email protected], or visit www.actuarcostarica.com. The ACTUAR office is in San José at Avenida 9, between Calle 3 and 5.
The group publishes an excellent guidebook on community-based rural tourism in Costa Rica.