A special place on the planet: Playa Nicuesa

Sometimes the places most worth visiting require a little more effort to get there. Like Playa Nicuesa.

I’ve taken a small 19-passenger plane 50 minutes south from San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, to the pancake flat coastal town of Puerto Jimenez. We disembark into the sweltering tropical heat of the near-equator and quickly jump into the air-conditioned taxi waiting to drive us five minutes to a rickety, dubious-looking boat dock. All smiles, we are greeted by our very friendly boat captain and guide, who assist our little group to clamber down the dock steps into the little panga boat – thankfully outfitted with a canopy roof.

As we zip across the calm blue-gray waters of the Golfo Dulce (“Sweet Gulf”) for our 25-minute boat ride to Playa Nicuesa – the only way to get there – I am mesmerized by the scenery. The horizon is filled with dense green forest and mountains; the Gulf stretches on and on like a giant mirror to the sky. There are no buildings to be seen, not even another boat. And I wonder if this is what Costa Rica must have looked like hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

Soon, we are pulling up to the long, very solidly built boat dock at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge. Here, the clear water looks like liquid jade, reflecting the endless shades of green of palm trees and jungle that crowd the edge of the pebble and sand beach. We are helped off the boat by smiling, friendly staff, and as we walk down the dock toward shore, I nearly expect to see Ricardo Montalban of Fantasy Island come out to greet us.

The extraordinary Costa Rica eco-lodge was designed for sustainable travel. Lodge buildings and bungalows are tucked into the forest, preserving the beautiful coastline. Everything is constructed from naturally fallen or farmed trees and recycled materials, like the roof tiles made from recycled plastic banana bags and other plastics. Lights and electricity come from solar panels and a biodiesel generator that burns recycled fast food oil and other vegetable oils. All water on the property is potable, being piped in from a mountain spring and filtered. The Costa Rica rainforest lodge is one of only three dozen hotels in Costa Rica that have received the highest rating in the Certification for Sustainable Tourism Program (CST).

Guests are spread out around the lodge area – located on a 165-acre private preserve that borders the Piedras Blancas National Park – in six private cabins and the four-room two-story Mango Guesthouse. Beautifully built accommodations are very comfortable, and feature bathrooms with a high-walled open-air garden shower.

Over the next three days at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge, I enjoyed dolphin and whale-watching to see migrating Pacific Humpback Whales that come into the pristine Golfo Dulce to give birth and breed – we saw a mother whale and her calf. I hiked in the rainforest on lodge trails; kayaked in the mangroves of Esquinas River; enjoyed a yoga class; sat at the beach and relaxed; swam in the warm Golfo Dulce; and had fun socializing with other guests at happy hour every night in the bar, and while savoring delicious, fresh, creative dishes from Nicuesa’s commendable kitchen.

Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge is located by the Osa Peninsula on Golfo Dulce in southern Costa Rica. To get there, drive or fly (NatureAir or Sansa Airlines) to either Puerto Jimenez or Golfito. Nicuesa Lodge will pick you up by boat and transfer you to the lodge (about 30 minutes one-way). Included in lodge rates are all meals, boat transfers, all taxes, all meals and snacks, unlimited self-guided hikes on preserve, use of kayaks, snorkeling and fishing equipment.

Article by Shannon Farley

 

Playa Nicuesa is a top sustainable hotel in Costa Rica

What does eco-tourism and being sustainable really mean? Is that just recycling the trash or turning off a few lights?

At Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge in Costa Rica, sustainability means much more. The Costa Rica rainforest lodge is one of only three dozen hotels in Costa Rica that have received the highest rating of Five Leaves in the Certification for Sustainable Tourism Program (CST).

Created by the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT), the CST program rates and certifies tourism businesses based on their compliance with natural, cultural and social resource management. CST consists of five levels, called “Leaves”; Level five, or Five Leaves, signifies that the company is considered “outstanding in terms of sustainability.”

“Our goal is to provide guests with an experience that they will always remember fondly: Excellence, friendly service, high-end accommodations, educational opportunities and unique, well-run adventure activities, and to provide this experience while operating the lodge in the most environmentally-friendly manner possible,” explained Playa Nicuesa owners, Michael and Donna Butler.

The extraordinary Costa Rica eco-lodge was designed in harmony with the environment constructed from naturally fallen trees and recycled materials. Immersed in the dense tropical rainforest bordering the Piedras Blancas National Park and the pristine Golfo Dulce (Sweet Gulf) in southern Costa Rica, Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge is located on a 165-acre private preserve. Adding to its uniqueness, the only way to get there is by boat across the pristine waters of the Golfo Dulce from either Golfito or Puerto Jimenez.

“We traveled all over Costa Rica and other parts of Central America to find and create a special place where one can intimately experience the natural world of both the tropical rainforest and the Pacific Ocean,” expounded the Costa Rica rainforest lodge owners. “Our plan was to create a place that offers the comfort of a lodge and the activities and diversity of an adventure tour.”

The area is part of a giant conservation area including the world-famous Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula. The unique tropical fjord of Golfo Dulce is a critical habitat for migrating Pacific Humpback Whales, and resident and migratory communities of dolphins and sea turtles.

Playa Nicuesa sustainability highlights:

  • Lodge buildings are located on less than 2% of property – 98% is a private protected area.
  • Used recycled construction materials, such as: roof tiles on the lodge and cabins made from recycled plastics, including banana bags.
  • Wood came from naturally fallen trees, permitted by the government to be pulled out of the forest by oxen, or from farmed trees.
  • Electricity is provided by solar energy. Panels are located on main lodge structure. Back-up generator runs on recycled vegetable oil.
  • Solar drying room used to dry all of the lodge wash.
  • Hot water is provided by on-demand propane which means that the propane is used only when the hot water faucet is turned on.
  • Received the Ecological Blue Flag Award for clean beaches.

Check out Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge Green Season Specials for adventure, nature, yoga, relaxation and comfort at great prices through Sept. 30, 2014.

Article by Shannon Farley

 

Webs of Gold in the Costa Rica Rainforest

The morning sun filtering through the rainforest foliage at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge in Costa Rica shimmers gold as the light catches the strands of the complex web woven by a golden orb spider.

I’m generally not a big fan of spiders, like most people, but the golden orb is fascinating. These large spiders weave enormous pigmented webs, adjusted in color for camouflage, with protecting chemicals, and such incredible strength and elasticity that bioengineers and other scientists are studying ways to mass-produce their silk.

The golden silk orb-weavers (genus Nephila) are noted for the impressive webs they weave, and are also called giant wood spiders or banana spiders, according to Wikipedia. Their name refers to the color of their web silk, although the female spiders do have gold spots on their large bodies and black and yellow striped legs, which are specialized for weaving.

The spiders are widespread in warmer regions around the world – the Americas, Australia, Africa, India and Southeast Asia. They are the oldest surviving genus of spiders, with a fossilized specimen dating to 165 million years ago. You can find golden orb spiders hanging out in their shimmering webs everywhere around Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge and along the trails.

Threads of their webs shine like gold in sunlight. Studies suggest that the silk’s color may serve a dual purpose: sunlit webs ensnare bees and other insects that are attracted to the bright yellow strands, and in the shade, the yellow color blends in with background foliage to act as camouflage. Golden orb spiders can adjust the web’s pigment intensity relative to background light and color. They also secrete a chemical – pyrrolidine alkaloid – on the strands that protects the web from ants.

The fine-meshed spiral webs are gigantic: they can span 20 feet tall (6m) and 6.5 feet wide (2m). When you look at a web, you can’t help noticing the female spider since she is huge; golden orb females reach sizes of 4.8–5.1 cm (1.5–2 in) not including leg span. Those little spiders on the web are the males, being usually 2/3 smaller (less than 2.5 cm, 1 in).

If you should doubt the strength and elasticity of a golden orb weaver web, walk into one. You’ll find it is not easy to remove. When walking the trails at Nicuesa Lodge, I always watch out for golden orb webs – they are beautiful to admire, and you want to avoid being covered in the sticky silk. While the spiders rarely bite humans, their venom is potent with a neurotoxin effect, though not lethal to humans.

During your visit to the unique Costa Rica eco lodge at Playa Nicuesa, be sure to look out for these amazing eight-legged wonders. Capturing the morning or afternoon sunlight on their webs produces beautiful photos.

Article by Shannon Farley