Even in eco-obsessed Costa Rica, Lapa Rios Lodge in the Osa Peninsula stands out like a green thumb. The 17 sustainably built, largely open-air bungalows occupy sea-view perches amid 1,000 acres of protected rainforest – your closest neighbour is likely to be a howler monkey or a toucan. Take a wilderness tour of the hotel’s conservation zone, zip-line across the forest canopy, swim the pristine Pacific waters, or just sit back on the balcony and soak up that view…
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A romantic poolside dinner for two and 15 per cent off the first spa treatment
11am. Earliest check-in, 2pm, though guests who arrive early are welcome to use the pool and beach.
Double rooms from £618.81 ($751), including tax at 13 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional resort fee of $25.00 per person on check-out.
Rates include all meals, snacks and non-alcoholic drinks, hot drinks delivered to your room each morning, transfers to and from Puerto Jimenez, and some free activities (up to eight depending on your booking); check with the hotel for inclusions.
Want an intriguing souvenir to take back? The hotel sells local arts and crafts onsite.
At the hotel
Spa, yoga area, activity hut, gardens, binoculars to borrow from reception, charged laundry service, free WiFi. In rooms: radio, local bath products.
Our favourite rooms
All rooms are set in the jungle and feel intimate and natural, and we like the 17 open-plan bungalows overlooking the Golfo del Dulce and the Pacific, each holding a canopied bed (or two) beneath its thatched roof.
The ocean-facing pool (open 6am to 6pm) is filled with ionised water and surrounded by teak decking, with sunloungers and a thatched pavilion.
To a soundtrack of scarlet macaws and toucans, amid copious greenery, the spa offers massages and facials using local botanicals in two secluded cabins. Guided yoga sessions are held overlooking the reserve, and personal trainers can be arranged on request.
Before you throw your entire wardrobe in your suitcase, keep in mind that domestic flights in Costa Rica limit checked luggage to one bag a person, weighing a maximum of 30 lbs. Use some Tetris-honed skills to fit in clothes for all weather and activities: Lapa Rios could inspire hiking, swimming, zip-lining or climbing. Sturdy boots are recommended, though staff can supply rubber boots, along with a walking stick, binoculars and guidebooks. Insect spray, reef-safe sunscreen, a refillable water bottle and a light raincoat will come in handy too.
The hotel offers guided tours of the Lapa Rios Reserve to support its maintenance and preservation.
Adventurous, nature-loving children over six are welcome. The hotel has a customisable menu for young diners and rollaway beds are available on request for free.
Lapa Rios Lodge is as green as it gets. It’s tasked with protecting an estate spanning 1,000 acres of rainforest, which in turn acts as a wildlife corridor and protective barrier for the richly biodiverse 100,000-acre Corcovado National Park. With this in mind, the stay is deeply involved in local conservation prospects, and each decision is made in the most sustainable manner. They’ve worked with the Nature Conservancy and land-conservation organisation Cedarena to ensure the wilderness will be looked after in perpetuity and ban harmful activities such as mining, forestry and hunting and building large-scale tourism facilities. Even trails are capped at 10,000 metres; but scientific and educational adventuring is allowed as long as it works towards the hotel’s common cause (some researchers are offered room and board too). This includes protecting wild cats (jaguars, margays, ocelots, jaguarundis and pumas) and other native species by supplying tracking equipment and monitoring the water supply to their habitats. Guests are encouraged to get involved through donating or planting tree seedlings before they check out. The hotel sources food sustainably and was built using local, renewable materials. And its team is formed of local hires (all of whom have been schooled in environmental matters), who are employed year-round with higher-than-average salaries, access to a doctor at a very reduced cost, and a chance for growth in their jobs and further education. Solar power is used to heat water, single-use plastics are banned, all cleaning and laundry products are biodegradable and organic, and everything that can be is recycled.
The views are as good as views get: sit as close to the edge of the viewing platform as you dare. And you can get some food for thought as you dine if you invite one of the lodge’s knowledgeable guides to join you for lunch.
Jungle casual will do you best here. Don’t bother bringing fancy footwear: the steps and pathways are best navigated in flats.
Set in a thatched open-air hut with 360-degree views of the Pacific, Golfo Dulce and waves of rainforest greenery, Brisa Azul Restaurant serves a menu of seasonal, sustainable Costa Rican dishes and some more international picks too, plus à la carte breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in your room rate. To limit waste, the staff requests orders each morning, often serving wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, local berries and vegetables. Start your day with squash bread, tropical fruit bowls, the Tico breakfast (with gallo pinto, tortillas, eggs, Turrialba cheese, caramelised plantain and avocado), garden omelettes with fresh-grown veggies, mango-coconut pancakes drizzled with guava-cinnamon syrup, and tamarind French toast. Then, lunch on mango gazpacho, chilli-spiked ceviche, fish with a turmeric-lemon glaze, or a tropical fish salad. Dinners have a global influence (but don’t forget their roots), with dishes such as pork tenderloin with pancetta, leek purée and fried yucca; herb-crusted sea bass served atop citrussy cassava; or passionfruit cake with white-chocolate mousse.Vegetarian and vegan options are legion too.
La Papalapa is a bamboo bar on the side of the restaurant with excellent tropical cocktails. Specials include the MamaLapa, a vodka-based blend of passion fruit and coconut cream, and Guaypiriña, a limey drink made with Guaro, a local sugar-cane liquor. And the hotel has a well-stocked wine cellar too.
Breakfast is served daily from 7am until 10am; lunch is offered from 11am until 3pm, and dinner is served from 6pm until 9pm. Drinks flow till 9pm.
Thanks to light-fingered monkeys and their ilk, food is a no-no in the open-to-the-air bungalows, but staff will deliver the hotel’s special local coffee, tea or hot chocolate to the rooms at 6am, as well as sunset cocktails on request.
Lapa Rios is located on the Osa Peninsula on the south-western side of Costa Rica, in the Puntarenas Province.
The closest airport is the regional air strip Puerto Jimenez, a 45-minute drive from the hotel (transfers are included in your room rate). Sansa Air operates several flights a day to the region from San José’s Juan Santamaría International (SJO), the main air hub, served by most major airlines, including United and British Airways. Flights operate from New York, Madrid, Miami, Toronto and more. There's a departure tax of about US$29. If you’re combining your stay with a stop at sister stay Pacuare Lodge, it’s possible to charter a private plane for groups of four or more; and for an extra charge the hotel can pick you up from San José for a scenic seven-hour drive, sending a well-informed bilingual driver who knows the best photo stops.
Travellers wishing to see more of the country are best off renting a car, but be sure that it’s equipped with four-wheel-drive. Roads can be difficult to navigate in standard sedans. The hotel has free on-site parking. The hotel can give you detailed instructions on how to reach them, and their coordinates are 8º24’1” N, 83º16’50″W.
Worth getting out of bed for
The nearest town is a 40-minute drive along bumpy roads, but there’s so much to do at Lapa Rios Lodge that you’ll never be bored. Wake up early for a sunrise bird-watching walk (or wait until the sunset one preceded by a glorious natural light show) – there are more than 300 species, including scarlet macaws (which the lodge is named after), toucans and endemic ant tanagers. Later in the morning, hike the hotel’s rainforest trail (with a guide), there’s a staggering 2.5 per cent of the world’s biodiversity concentrated in the Osas Peninsula, so it’s even more of a creature feature than Noah’s ark. You’ll see cheeky monkeys, kinkajous, sloths, skunks, armadilloes, anteaters, opossums, bats, frogs, lizards, snakes and all manner of creepy crawlies – all of which keep the delicate environs in balance. You could also take the Osa Trail, which is studded with trap cameras, so you can pause to see which animal hijinx have been taking place in your absence; or head out after sundown to see shy nocturnes. The beachy headland of Matapalo is also run-wild with furred and feathered things, and is popular with surfers for its unbridled waves. Under-the-sea residents come to the fore on a Starfish Walk and you can unleash your inner mermaid on a Wild Waterfall walk, which meanders along by the Carbonera River until you hit a picturesque glade where you can dive and swim. For a deeper dive into sustainability, visit the hotel’s Carbonera School where the educate locals on green measures, plant a tree onsite, learn how to unlock the healing properties of plants and trees on a Medicine Tour, and follow the hotel’s journey to eco-friendliness (including how they protected their garden from hungry critters) on a Twigs, Pigs and Garbage Sustainability Tour. Adrenaline-seekers can arrange for a zip-line trip over the tree canopies or a horseback ride along Pan Dulce beach, watching whales and dolphins surface as if on cue. Those who want to spread a towel down on the sand and chill can take advantage of the hotel’s private-beach-club service with transport to the playa, snacks, umbrellas and loungers. If you’d like your own dip in the Pacific, arrange surf lessons with local wave-rider Pollo. By that point, you’ll have earned a visit to the spa, perhaps a curious glimpse at any cooking demos taking place, and a chair by the pool.
Untroubled by seatbelt checks and tedious safety spiels, we zip up and out of smoggy San José aboard a tiny 12-seater plane, heading southwest over the mountains of Costa Rica for a 90-minute flight into the great, green beyond. So this is what it takes to get off the beaten track...
Gung-ho Mr Smith has relished every second, but I’ve been engaged in silent prayer. With the door handle held together by tape and the pilot’s packed lunch stowed on the flight panel, it’s like being aboard an ancient Land Rover that’s suddenly taken to the skies.
It comes as a relief to alight at small, sweetly lo-fi Puerto Jiménez, where locals’ laundry flutters along the landing-strip fence and the driver awaits to take us to Lapa Rios, a boutique hotel set deep in the rainforest. Our bags exchanged for refreshing coconuts poked through with straws, he points to the tree above our heads, and right on cue a pair of scarlet macaws shyly sidle into view. It seems like an excellent omen for our stay; lapa rios means ‘red macaw rivers’, well, in Mr Smith’s Spanglish, at least.
From here, it’s a 45-minute excursion – dodging potholes, spotting sleeping owls and fording a small creek. We arrive at the hotel, perched on the tip of the Osa peninsula overlooking the sea, amid a thousand-acre swathe of protected lowland rainforest. This is the kind of place where work will never, ever find you; it doesn’t even have a landline, just a marine radio for emergencies.
We’re greeted by cool towels and smoothies in the lofty, bamboo-clad main pavilion – home to the bar and restaurant, along with a low-key library (trashy poolside reads and twitchers’ handbooks satisfy both of our needs).
Happily, lunch takes precedence over check-in, and we’re led to a table on the deck. Over cool gazpacho and citrusy fish tacos we contemplate the view: treetops swaying down to the sea and birds soaring over the valley. ‘Big birds,’ nods Mr Smith sagely, having consulted his birding tome.
Our bungalow is one of 16 sea-view hideaways strung along the ridge, past the glinting saltwater pool and hibiscus-shaded loungers. Saucer-sized blue butterflies flit across the path, while spider monkeys launch an aerial offensive (after a speeding nut narrowly misses Mr Smith, we decide it’s not the moment for a photo).
Instead, we make for the palm-thatched safety of our room – a palatial take on the jungle hut, with hardwood floors and a stately, canopied bed. With mesh screens replacing three of the walls, we’re immersed in the rustling, chattering jungle; round here, it’s the howler monkey that decides when it’s time to get up.
The bathroom features sleek twin sinks, a stone shower room and a stash of natural, biodegradable toiletries. This place is impeccably eco-friendly, as well as seriously luxe. The usual TV and gadgets are conspicuous by their absence: instead, a laminated wildlife guide is the sum of the in-room entertainment. Out back, we discover a private deck and outdoor shower, and for the duration of our stay, we take our morning ablutions under a toucan’s curious gaze.
One of the lodge’s major draws is that all guided hikes are included, and in the spirit of research – and a few beers to the wind – we’ve signed up with giddy abandon. Over the days that follow, our books remain untouched. Instead, we stalk through narrow jungle trails, necks cricked and cameras at the ready. Leaf-cutter ants toil past our boots, howler monkeys roar overhead and coatis (racoon-like critter) stare down their narrow noses as we pass.
There are also languid sloths, squabbling lizards, neon-tipped dragonflies, tiny poisonous frogs and trees with sap like blood and strangling vines. The guide’s telescope-like magnifying lens pulls every detail into wondrous close-up. Perhaps a little too close, when a surprised Mr Smith finds his gaze trained on a grizzled primate’s privates.
After each hike a truck picks us up, and we return to find Roberto, the handsome barman, waiting for us at the hotel’s gates with a mint-spiked passion fruit granita. When it’s too hot for a hike, we loll by the pool, or meander down to the beach – a pristine, undeveloped crescent of sand, backed by riotous jungle. We float on our backs in the balmy waves, surrounded by bobbing pelicans, and on shore we watch the steeplechase of scuttling, fingernail-sized crabs in the sand.
Back at the lodge, any calories expended are swiftly regained tenfold. Breakfast brings pancakes, syrup-laced French toast or egg and salsa-topped corn arepa. Lunch and dinner are three-course feasts. We indulge in octopus-avocado cocktail, lobster-infused fish stew, buttery risotto and silky chocolate mousse. Staggering back to our room at night, we find it lit by flickering candles, with chocolates by the bed that we somehow manage to squeeze in.
On our last evening, Mr Smith proposes a midnight swim (daringly late-night for Lapa Rios, whose bar closes at ten). We creep up the moonlit path to the glimmering pool to find we’re not alone: a posse of masked tree-frogs has the same idea, and is shamelessly cavorting in the shallows.
Their squelchy, whoopee-cushion croaks are less than conducive to romance, and knowing when to admit defeat, we beat a dignified retreat. It’s an unexpected reminder of what the staff have told us all along – that this place belongs to the wild things, and we’re just their fortunate, fleeting guests.