A tale of dreams and adventure: Beginning Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge
Posted by: PLAYA NICUESA RAINFOREST LODGE
Guests staying at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge always ask: how did the Costa Rica eco-lodge get started? The question is a reasonable one given Nicuesa Lodgeâ€™s isolated location in southern Costa Rica. It is a wild placeof dense steamy rainforest and tranquil ocean, intensely populated by thousands of species of tropical wildlife. Playa Nicuesa is a little crescent-shaped beach and small bay on the pristine Golfo Dulce â€" â€œSweet Gulfâ€ â€" a critical habitat for migrating Pacific Humpback Whales, dolphins and hammerhead sharks. The region is a giant conservation area including the world-famous Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, the Piedras Blancas National Park and three other private reserves. What keeps Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge so unique and private is that the lodge is accessible only by boat. Almost directly across the gulf from the town of Puerto Jimenez, Nicuesa Lodgeâ€™s 165-acre private preserve is backed by rugged mountains and wild jungle of the Piedras Blancas National Park. There are no roads, and there is no development. So, how did a high-end eco-lodge come to be in this pure, remote place? The story starts with Nicuesa Lodge owner Michael Butler, when he was a young university graduate student studying urban planning in New York in 1992. Butler had an opportunity to go to Colombia to work on an urban planning project, but first he needed to improve his Spanish language skills. He took a few months to backpack through Central America, which brought him to Costa Rica for the first time. He went to Colombia, finished his degree and was working in urban planning in New York. Then in 1994, he visited a friend in the Peace Corps who was stationed in Costa Rica. He traveled all over the country and especially enjoyed the Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce. â€œI met some people and thought it would be neat to live there,â€ said Butler. But like most people, he returned home and got busy with work and life. Although he never forgot Costa Rica. He met a girl â€" Donna, now his wife, who was working as an environmental planner in New York. The couple talked about Michaelâ€™s dream of creating an eco-lodge, and in 2000, got serious about starting the business. â€œWe wanted to build something in a pristine place and have as little impact as possible,â€ said Butler. â€œWe were really going for sustainabilitywhen no one knew what that was.â€
Building Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge
Butler returned to the area he liked best in Costa Rica â€" the Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce. â€œI fell in love with that area. It was perfect for what we wanted to do,â€ he said. â€œAt first we thought weâ€™d buy a lodge to fix up, but we ended up falling in love with the area where we areâ€ â€" which meant building. The Butlers bought their property â€" an abandoned cacao plantation returning to jungle â€" in 2001, the same year they married. In order to supervise the building, the couple had to move to the remote location. Butler said they rented a small rustic cabin on the next beach (San Josecito). It had an outdoor bathroom, one generator-powered light bulb to use to cook at night, and a propane gas stove. They used a large cooler with blocks of ice to store food, went to town once a week by boat for supplies, and their only mode of communication was a marine radio. For construction materials, it wasnâ€™t like they could get a delivery truck from the nearest hardware store. The Butlers had to buy a barge to transport any materials, including a backhoe once or twice. The main lodge and most of the cabins were built in two years. The couple really paid attention to sustainability, and also the areaâ€™s seismic activity. â€œWe made sure we knew where the wood came from, that the gravel didnâ€™t come from the beach, etc.â€ said Butler. The wood used came from tree farms and naturally fallen trees pulled out of the forest. Roofing materials are made of recycled plastic banana bags. They had to build the gravity-fed water system from the mountain springs, and invest in a high-tech solar system to generate electricity. â€œIt was really labor intensive. It was a whole operation with like 20 guys living there to build. We ended up going with all local guys,â€ said Butler.
An eco-lodge is born
The hard work paid off and nowadays Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge holds the highest rating in the Costa Rica Certification for Sustainable Tourism Program (CST). Playa Nicuesa also recently received the important Ecological Blue Flag Award for the fifth time for having one of Costa Ricaâ€™s cleanest beaches. Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge opened in April 2003 as one of the first true eco-lodges in Costa Rica. Operating now 12 years, Butler says the lodge has improved greatly over the years. â€œThings have changed so much now,â€ he said. â€œThereâ€™s cell phone service at the lodge, electricity, a chef who cooks your meals â€¦.â€ More cabins, a yoga deck, a solar drying room and employee facilities have been added; gardens and orchards planted. The Costa Rica rainforest lodge really is a paradise â€" appreciated more than ever, Butler says since he doesnâ€™t live there full-time anymore. The Butlers first son, Leo, was born in 2004 and spent his first years at the lodge. When the Butlers second son, Henry, was born in 2007, the family needed to move back to â€œcivilizationâ€. For Butler, the best part about the maximum 30-guest lodge is the uncrowded pristine nature. â€œYou experience a big rain in the rainforest. Go out for a kayak at sunset and youâ€™re the only person out there. And then you have a bartender making you a cocktail and a chef cooking you a fresh meal,â€ he said. â€œYou go on the waterfall hike, and itâ€™s just you. There arenâ€™t six groups coming up behind you. Our lodge seems to always be the highlight of peopleâ€™s vacations, something they always remember.â€ For a real Costa Rica rainforest experience, contact Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge.Article by Shannon Farley