Recently when I wrote about visiting the Sábalo community, I posed the question of just how many other communities are there in Costa Rica that are dying out and not being seen or heard. And as the universe often does, an opportunity to learn more about these small communities presented itself to me.
A few weeks ago I met Jim Damalas, owner of Hotel Si Como No in Manuel Antonio, at his new community project in Santa Juana. Santa Juana Lodge is opening this month but in the past, the adventure agro-tourism tour in this rural village was already known as one of the top rated tours of the Central Coast. Located in the Fila Chonta Mountain range of Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Region, Santa Juana is a rural community with a population of just under 50 people. It was only in the last few years that they actually got electricity installed. (take a moment and sit with that last sentence). They now have 5 children in their school and they are reforesting the area, reintroducing the endangered scarlet macaws while also protecting the valuable watershed which supplies Quepos and other nearby coastal cities with the precious resource of water. Jim and his exceptional team have been working with the local people to teach them how to be guides, tour operators and hospitality staff, bringing more tourism into the area and revitalizing the community.
The adventure starts on the road to Santa Juana. Located about one hour northwest of Manuel Antonio, you’ll drive through African palm plantations, cross over beautiful rivers and enter picturesque valleys, surrounded by lush green hillsides. You can also travel from San Jose, through San Marcos de Tarrazu (one of Costa Rica’s best regions for coffee!). Either way, it’s a beautiful drive that eventually lands you 500 meters up in the tropical mountains. I say tropical as it was still a pleasant 80 degrees. Knowing we were going to the mountains, I had worn capri pants that day (the extent of my “cold weather” clothes) thinking it would be cooler but was so happy to learn that was not the case. Not only was it a mild temperature, it was also so fresh. And even when it was cloudy in the afternoon and a light rain fell, the thermometer still read 80 degrees.
Each of the casitas are large (I think they are larger than my house!) and exquisitely designed. From the outside, they may appear simple (which is on purpose, in order to blend in with the environment) but once you step inside, you will feel a sense of tranquil comfort. With gorgeous views of the Manuel Antonio coastline and the Fila Chonta ridgeline, it’s no wonder that Jim just happened to stop here one day on a drive and decide this was a perfect place for a rural tourism project.
When you visit, the experience is to understand Costa Rica, the real Costa Rica. You will enjoy delicious, homestyle Tico food, learn about the traditions and culture of the community and experience a little of what the now developed Costa Rica was like many, many years ago. It’s the perfect place for a yoga retreat, wedding ceremonies and receptions or just some time away from the daily grind of life. And it’s all sustainable. Jim is the founder of Greentique hotels so you can rest assured that staying at Santa Juana Lodge will have little impact on the environment but a huge (and positive) impact on the community.
It’s exciting for me to be able to work with projects like this and see the good that comes from it. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I didn’t move to Costa Rica to party or lead a mindless life. I moved to Costa Rica to make a difference, in my life and the lives of others. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to do just that with the Santa Juana Lodge and community.
I’ll leave you with this: One of the things that Jim said that day has stuck with me…“these are cathedrals of nature…and we must protect them”. I couldn’t agree more.
Enjoy the slideshow…