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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Kickin’ it at La Carolina Lodge

After several hours of horseback riding through jungle and pasture, there is probably nothing more relaxing than kicking back in La Carolina Lodge’s fire-warmed hot tub. And after a long soak by the river and a bounteous, organic meal, this became clear: the rustic life is definitely for me.

Situated far off the beaten path in north central Costa Rica, La Carolina Lodge is the perfect getaway for the adventurous, or anyone who likes relaxing in woods by a river.

The lodge sits on 170 acres of land just a short hike away from Tenorio Volcano National Park and the famous Rio Celeste. Named for it’s electric blue water, Rio Celeste is one of Costa Rica’s unique but largely undiscovered tourist destinations. One of two rivers running from the Tenorio Volcano, Rio Celeste picks up minerals that create its color. The second river runs clear as glass alongside La Carolina Lodge.


The deck off the back of one of La Carolina Lodge’s features a hammock and a private hot tub.

Lindsay Fendt

The lodge has 4,500 feet of riverfront property, and a wooden deck overlooking a small rapid provides a spot for guests to jump in for a dip, fish or just lounge by the water. Also overlooking the river is the lodge’s innovative stone hot tub, heated by a wood-burning fire. The river water enters metal tubes that wrap around the fire, heating the water before it is released into the tub.

Set back deep in the jungle, toucans, butterflies and anteaters all frequent the property. Animals are easy to spot right outside the lodge’s main dining area, where fruit atop two stone slabs attracts many vibrantly colored birds. The lodge’s friendly staff keeps a trained eye on the trees for a glimpse at one of the property’s elusive sloths.


An intimate riverside cabin at La Carolina Lodge.

Lindsay Fendt

Also calling La Carolina Lodge home are 38 beautiful horses. The newest addition, Besito, was born just eight days before our arrival, and was carefully watched over by the horses’ exuberant caretaker, Alejandro Padilla.

Padilla and his 14-year-old son Michael Jordan are horse fanatics. The older Padilla will happily show you his horse belt-buckle and his prized possession, a circular horse-shaped necklace carved from a horse bone. He never takes it off.

“I hope when I die that they bury me with this,” he said. “I want to take a horse to the other side with me.”

The lodge has horses for any skill level, and Padilla guides trips down jungle trails and across the numerous pastures of the lodge’s property, past cows, colts and the lodge’s two giant, white bulls, Indio and Palomo.


La Carolina Lodge’s Alejandro Padilla pets one of the hotel’s bulls, Indio.

Lindsay Fendt

At the top of one hill, the lodge keeps its own organic garden. Beans, corn, rice, papayas and yuca are just several of the plants grown on the property using all-natural farming techniques. The hotel also raises its own chickens and pigs.

The farm’s products show up at the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner, where heaping portions of the traditional Costa Rican fare are shared, family-style, among guests.

Fried fish also makes a frequent appearance on the menu, caught by the staff or guests at the lake property just up the road, which also belongs to La Carolina’s owners. My trip into the lake in the lodge’s wooden rowboat was a relaxing experience, but maybe too relaxing, as my lack of fishing skills left me unable to contribute to the hotel’s dinner that night.

Fortunately, in addition to his horse riding ability, Michael Jordan is also an expert fishermen. He somehow landed fish big enough for the dining room table. The final count: Michael Jordan: 5, Tico Times: 0.

After sunset we headed back to lodge, where the path to my secluded cabin had been illuminated by candles. After a quick dunk in the private hot tub, it was time to slip under the mosquito nets and between comfy fleece sheets, where I drifted off to the perpetual rush of the river.

Yes, the rustic life is definitely for me.

Going there: From San José take the 27 coastal highway until you hit the connector for the Pan-American, Route 1 just before Puntarenas. Take the Pan-American north past Cañas and turn north onto the Upala Highway (Route 6). Drive 35 km until you see a sign for La Carolina Lodge where you will turn right. Continue to follow the signs for the lodge until you reach it. Accommodations range from dorm-style rooms with a shared bathroom to private cabins. In the high season rates run from $75 per person to $105 per person with all meals included. In the low season rates run from $65 per person to $95 per person with all meals included. Horseback riding and tours of Rio Celeste are not included in the rates. Horseback riding is $15 per adult and $10 per child and tours of the park are $5 for the guide and the $10 entry fee.

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