- brittreints, Flickr
Serenity isn't the first word that comes to mind when the howler monkeys are living up to their name just after dawn on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. There is a luxuriously relaxing air about the Lapa Rios eco resort though, even when the wildlife refuse to keep the noise down.
The Lapa Rios eco-lodge and wildlife reserve is one of the shining examples of Costa Rica's commendable emphasis on sustainable tourism. Resisting the temptation to go for the mass market, the country has made a virtue of environmental awareness and sensitive development. It helps that Lapa Rios is in an idyllic setting, overlooking the Golfo Dulce and the Pacific, with 1000 acres of rainforest nature reserve for visitors to explore.
The bungalow and forest hut accommodation is reached on walkways through the rainforest, offering an air of exotic seclusion within easy reach of the lodge's restaurants and facilities. These are comfortable bordering on luxurious and the menu is careful to strike a balance between the familiar and dishes with a local flavour, like mashed cassava or chayote squash.
After that howler monkey wake-up call, the days present a dilemma between heading for the pristine beach or exploring the rainforest. The lodge provides expert guides for hikes to see the wildlife. This is fascinating, especially for bird-watchers who can spot species like scarlet-rumped tanagers, yellow-headed caracaras and northern jacanas.
The monkeys tend to be exhibitionists. In addition to howlers, you can also see white-faced, squirrel and spider-monkeys. Kids will delight in the gymnastic displays of the spider-monkeys, gliding from branch to branch using their tails for balance and leverage.
If you are lucky, you might even spot some of Costa Rica's more exotic species, like the poison-dart frog, with its alarming red stripe signalling the presence of its toxic secretions, a coati mundi, or a sloth hanging inelegantly from the branches near the lodge. Lapa Rios has not imposed itself on the environment; it just allows you to creep closer and experience its wonders.