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The Llama Travel Blog
Get Back To Nature At Costa Rica's Pacuare Lodge
- 09 April 2021
Some of the most beautiful places in the world are the most difficult to get to, and this is certainly case for the newest addition to Llama Travel's Costa Rica programme. Hidden away in the heart of Costa Rica’s lush jungle, accessible by white-water raft, Pacuare Lodge is a stunning eco-lodge sitting on the banks of Pacuare River. Pacuare has won notable awards over the years including the National Geographic Traveller’s world’s best lodges, Condé Nast World Savers, exemplary tourism practise by the World Tourism Organisation and first pilot programme for eco-design in Central America. Keep reading for everything you need to know about Pacuare Lodge, from the exhilerating journey and activities during your stay to the bountiful wildlife and luxury facilities.
Where is Pacuare Lodge?
Pacuare Lodge is located in a protected area of forest in the Limón Province of Costa Rica, about 20 miles from the town of Siquirres, at an altitude of 770 feet. Its remote location in the wilderness is the main attraction, as guests can get back to nature and disconnect from the world, leaving feeling rejuvenated and at one with the natural world.
How do you get to Pacuare Lodge?
Much of Pacuare Lodge’s allure and rustic charm is due to the fact that it is not directly accessible by road. The journey to Pacuare Lodge is one of the most exciting parts, as it involves rafting down the picturesque Pacuare River, known for being one of the best rafting rivers in the world, surrounded by spectacular thick forests and deep canyons.
The adventure begins with an early pickup (around 6:30am) from your hotel in San Jose, for a three-hour drive through forests and central highlands. Halfway, you stop for a traditional Costa Rican ‘tico’ breakfast (gallo pinto - beans and rice, with fresh fruit and coffee) in a rustic restaurant with mountain views. Upon arriving at the edge of the river (the ‘put in’ area) in the town of Turrialba, you meet your experienced guides who will be with you for the duration of your time at Pacuare Lodge, and are given a safety briefing and supplied with all the necessary equipment (helmets, life jackets etc.). Roberto, the owner of Pacuare Lodge, knows all the guides personally, choosing them for their fluent English, diligence on safety procedures and excitement about their adventure. It’s then time to climb into your raft with up to five others, for a gentle one and a half hour ride down the river, on 2-3 grade rapids. The rafting journey is beautiful, down the wide river with banks of thick forest on either side of you. Your luggage is transported in airtight containers in a separate raft with the flotilla, along with all the lodge’s supplies. When you arrive at Pacuare, you are greeted with a welcome drink and towel, with plenty of time to settle in while your luggage is taken to your room for you.
When it’s time to leave the eco lodge on the final day, you head out at 9am for a three and a half hour final rafting adventure on one of the world’s most beautiful rivers, through canyons and over exciting rapids, stopping at a beach near Siquirres for a buffet-style picnic lunch before the three-hour drive back to San Jose.
Alternative route to Pacuare Lodge
The rafting is suitable for anyone aged 12+ who is physically fit enough for soft adventure activities such as hiking and horse riding. However, if your guide feels that you aren’t capable of participating, or if you’d prefer not to raft, there is the option to arrive by road.
The road journey takes around two and a half hours from Santa Marta, past coffee plantations and soaring volcanoes on a mixture of main and small roads. You switch to a 4x4 vehicle for the final six kilometres on a bumpy dirt track, and the final part of the journey is a 100-metre-long cable across the river, to add a little extra adventure for those arriving by land.
For a more special and exclusive experience, it is possible to travel from San Jose to Pacuare on a 20-minute helicopter ride, for a significant extra cost.
Sustainability at Pacuare
As well as being proud members of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, Pacuare Lodge is one of the very few hotels in Costa Rica to have gained the country’s highest elite certification of sustainability. Roberto has owned Pacuare Lodge for over 20 years, and his whole life is dedicated to showing guests the best Costa Rica has to offer, putting major sustainable measures in place so the unspoiled river and ecosystem can be enjoyed with minimal impact on the environment and local communities. The lodge is situated within 340 hectares of protected forest, in a reserve which forms part of the Barbilla Biological Corridor which is used to protect the local ecosystem and offset the atmospheric carbon created by the vehicles going to and from the riverbank. This means that all the excursions on offer are carbon-neutral. Brought up locally and inspired by the nature that surrounded him, Roberto built the lodge using materials from local projects and natural reserves, ensuring no trees were cut down to accommodate the bungalows. 22 years later, he still puts every effort possible into conserving the environment, from working with local communities and employing local guides to carrying out scientific research to monitor jaguars and reintroduce howler monkeys into the region.
100% of the Pacuare Lodge staff are from local communities, and 95% of the rafting guides from Turrialba, Pacuare’s closest city. Pacuare also donates money and supplies to three primary schools in the area, and has launched an environmental education programme for schools in nearby communities. To help fund these projects, a $25 conservation fee is included in the holiday price. All of the energy used at Pacuare is renewable and produced onsite, with 120 solar panels and micro water turbines being two of the main sources. The main swimming pool and the private plunge pools are fed by spring water and kept clean with natural salts. The pool also has special self-heating tiles to reduce environmental impact. Additionally, all waste from the lodge is sorted and then rafted out to be recycled. Other efforts to conserve natural resources include the eco-friendly bath and cleaning products, organic home-grown produce for the restaurant, a bio-digester to produce gas from organic waste and limited use of electricity.
Pacuare offers a sustainable tour as part of its package, where you go behind the scenes to learn about what they are doing to conserve the environment, from the hydroelectric micro-central turbine to the recycling programme and Jaguar Hall where you learn about this endangered feline. This educational walk shows how simple actions can support and benefit the planet.
Pacuare is an all-inclusive lodge, so during your two-night stay here you get all meals and up to eight excursions included, plus transfers in and out. The lodge has an impressive menu of activities, from indigenous village visits to birdwatching and forest walks to spot monkeys and amphibians. For the less adventure-inclined, there is an excellent spa and brand new yoga programme which can be booked as a group or privately.
Cabécar Indigenous Village
Costa Rica may not be known for its culture and indigenous roots when compared to the rest of South America, but the Cabécar in the Talamanca Mountains near Pacuare Lodge are the country’s largest indigenous group, retaining their language, traditional customs and beliefs. Pacuare offers a trek to meet the families whose ancestors have lived in harmony with the mountains and rivers for many centuries. Many of the lodge’s staff come from villages like this one. The Cabécar people keep themselves to themselves, and guests are taken to a separate hut rather than the actual homes, to respect their privacy. The hike up the mountain between Pacuare is physically challenging due to the steep and muddy paths, but you are rewarded with beautiful scenery along the way. Wellies are provided.
Cooking with the Cabécar Community
As well as visiting the community, there is also an authentic culinary experience on offer, where you can learn to prepare and cook delicious natural produce of the rainforest using traditional methods with the Cabécar people. The dishes you create are traditionally created for family gatherings, with all the ingredients collected in the Nairi Awari Indigenous reserve. Pacuare Lodge’s cooks are on-hand to add a few finishing touches to the dishes which you can eat and enjoy with the locals.
Hidden Waterfall Hike
Accompanied by your expert naturalist guide who was born and bred in the area, this is a challenging hike and great option for those wanting to venture further into the more remote areas. After a steep hike to reach the mule trail, which has been used by the Cabécar Indians for generations, take a series of switchbacks on the jabas trail to reach the path of the puma, eventually reaching the highest point of the excursion: the hidden waterfall. Stop for a picnic lunch and cool off in the waterfall then hike along the trail to visit the Cabécar community where you get to explore the indigenous village and learn about their traditional way of life. Hike back along the rainforest trail to the lodge. Along the way your guide will point out exotic flora and fauna including monkeys, sloths and macaws.
Sunrise Birdwatching Experience
Costa Rica is a birder’s paradise, home to some 850 species of which 630 are originally from Costa Rica. The best time to spot them is in the early morning, on a sunrise birdwatching trip. Accompanied by a resident ornithologist, you explore the property which is home to over 150 bird species. With the help of a telescope and binoculars, the expert guide will help you identify exotic species including the Sun Bittern, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Black-cheeked Woodpecker and a variety of colourful toucans. After around an hour and a half, you return to the lodge for breakfast where you can reflect on your early-morning experience with Mother Nature. In the evening, nocturnal walks are available for those who want to discover the secrets of the rainforest when the sun goes down, with amphibians, snakes, spiders and a range of other weird and wonderful creatures.
For the more adventurous, adrenalin-seeking guests, there is a fabulous canyoning experience which combines climbing, rappelling and hiking in a lush jungle gorge. The creek that flows out of the mountains behind the lodge provides a natural adventure playground in an idyllic setting, so you can rappel down cliffs up to 30-metres high, swing through the jungle on a series of cables and descend waterfalls.
Rafting (not included)
For those who enjoyed the journey into Pacuare so much that they want to have another go at white-water rafting, there is a five-hour rafting experience on class 3-4 rapids, coursing through rugged canyons and tropical rainforests, under tumbling cascades on one of the world’s most scenic rivers, all the way to the town of Siquirres.
Most of the action in the jungle takes place in the treetops, and Costa Rica is famed worldwide for its amazing zip lining opportunities. One of Pacuare’s most exhilarating features is a series of 10 zip line wires and 11 platforms within the private reserve. After an initial 15-minute hike, you will receive a safety briefing where your guide will show you the ropes! The adventure tour begins as you rappel down towering trees and slide along cables from tree to tree, descending the jungle-cloaked mountain all the way back to the main lodge.
In-between activities and meals at Pacuare Lodge, there is plenty of time to relax and soak up the sun. One of the lodge’s most picturesque areas is the 20-metre infinity pool, framed by the lush rainforest. Following sustainability standards, the pool has special Italian tiles which reflect the heat and keep the temperature at a perfect 26 degrees. Fed by natural mountain springs, the pool is filtered and kept clean with natural salts, to avoid using chlorine. This is also the case for the private plunge pools in the private villas and suites. There is a poolside bar so you can sip a refreshing smoothie or cocktail as you lie back in a sun lounger on the deck.
The restaurant at Pacuare serves delicious and organic ‘farm to table’ food. The gourmet-style dishes are outstanding, especially considering the remote location, with fresh high-quality ingredients coming from the local vicinity. The eclectic menu is constantly evolving, with a fusion of international and Costa Rican fare on offer, from seared tunas and beautiful steaks to fresh salads and creamy risottos – simple and delicious. Roberto is constantly coming up with new ways to protect the environment at Pacuare, and the cuisine is no exception, with tropical fruits and vegetables grown in the lodge’s own organic farm, in the mountains above the river. He employs young people from local communities, helping them pursue their cooking passion.
The setting is sublime, and there is the option to set tables up next to the river for intimate candlelit dinners by the fire, so you can be wine and dine with a soundtrack of the forest. There is a spacious lounge and bar with hand-hewn timber beams and wrought iron chandeliers, and several lookout areas where you can relax during the day, with wicker chairs, board games and colourful bromeliads.
Translating in the Cabécar Indian language as the house of the shaman, the Jawa Jüu Spa at Pacuare uses the soothing power of the rainforest to create blissful treatments. There is an extensive menu of massages and sensory experiences, with natural lotions and the unbeatable setting of an open-air room facing the river, so you can relax whilst listening to birdsong and the sounds of the river flowing in the background.
Part of Pacuare’s wellbeing menu also includes a yoga programme which is offered as a private experience in your suite or a group session in the communal area.
Pacuare Lodge offers a range of accommodation, ranging from the beautiful 62 square metre garden suites to the exclusive 350 square metre Jaguar Villa. The 20 suites and villages are nestled amongst the trees and slopes of the mountain which lead down to the river, and each one offers something special and unique. The décor is outstanding, with hardwood flooring, teak furniture, burnished copper features and natural artwork blending into the surrounding tropical foliage. Facilities in each villa and suite include king-sized beds and comfy hammocks to unwind with a book between activities.
The 350 square metre Jaguar Villa is the most luxurious option, suitable for five guests. As well as boasting a private plunge pool and large deck, the villa is close enough to the river that you can hear its soothing sounds from the villa, watching for toucans and monkeys in the trees surrounding you. There is a private dining area built into the tree, accessed via a wooden bridge.
Accessed via a private suspension bridge through the canopy, the Canopy Suite is great for guests wanting a more secluded stay in the middle of the forest. There is a plunge pool and private bridge with a 360 degree view of the surrounding nature.
Linda Vista Villas
Slightly further away from the main area, there are seven Linda Vista Villas offering private plunge pools and spacious wraparound decks overlooking the river.
River View Suite
Hidden away in the forest, the four River View Suites are good for those who are mobile and on a bit of a budget but wanting something extra special. The secluded suites comprise large terraces with comfy hammocks and seating areas.
The least expensive but by no means less special option is the Garden Suite, of which there are seven. These 62-square-metre suites offer a terrace with hammocks and seating area and an alfresco shower so you can experience the seclusion and beauty of the rainforest. The terrace opens onto the landscaped native bush gardens and the towering vine-draped trees, boasting spectacular views of the thick rainforest cascading down to the river. The close proximity to the main amenities provides a great option for families or those with less mobility.
Pacuare Lodge Weather
Costa Rica’s tropical rainforest can be unpredictable and it is best to be prepared for all kinds of weather. During the day, temperatures are around 25-30C, getting cooler in the evenings. The dry season is December to April and the rainy season is June to August, when river levels are high and rafting can be harder and more thrilling. If the river levels are too high for rafting, the guides will make an informed decision for guests to travel by road instead.
What to pack for a stay at Pacuare Lodge
You can use this non-exhaustive list as a rough packing guide for the Pacuare extension.
- Shorts, t-shirt and shoes or sandals suitable for rafting
- Suitable walking shoes or boots
- Sunhat, sunglasses and sun cream
- Lightweight cotton shirts and trousers or shorts
- Sweatshirt and windbreaker for cooler evenings
- Insect repellent
- Toiletry kit - no aerosols
- Waterproof camera (for rafting) or regular camera (with waterproof case, for hiking and lodge)
- Small day pack
- Head torch to read at night
Perfect for nature lovers and water sports aficionados, this incredible tropical paradise is a prime example of ecotourism at its best. You can add Pacuare Lodge as an extension to any of our Costa Rica holidays, before discovering the rest of the delights the country has to offer – from watching turtles hatching in Tortuguero and zip lining through the treetops near Arenal Volcano to birdwatching in the Villa Blanca Cloud Forest and relaxing on the rainforest-fringed beaches of Manuel Antonio and Corcovado.
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