This tiny nation, with its remarkably diverse topography and natural treasures, was a pleasure to visit. With a landmass of just under 20,000 square miles, approximately the size of the West Virginia, or Denmark, it stands out as a premier tourism destination in Latin America for travelers drawn by its intense biodiversity. After experiencing some of the highest rates of deforestation on the planet in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Costa Rica engineered radical measures in the past two decades to reverse this alarming trend. One quarter of its land has been set aside for national parks and nature preserves. The country can now boast to being host to a startling five percent of the world’s biodiversity, including more than 800 recorded species of birds, 200 species of mammals, and 900 kinds of trees. Costa Rica attracts over one million foreign ecologically-minded tourists per year.
The Lapa Rios Ecolodge has garnered so many awards and accolades in recent years that I approached it with high expectations; these were promptly exceeded! No words or trophies could have prepared me for the breathtaking reality of Lapa Rios. The site was spectacular. Perched high on the tip of Costa Rica’s remote Osa Peninsula, the resort discretely blended into a private nature preserve that spread over 1,000 pristine acres of one of the last remaining lowland tropical forests in Central America. The main lodge, built at the top of a 350-foot ridge, housed the reception area, restaurant and bar. From there, 16 private bungalows were strung through the lush tropical vegetation along a sloping 500-yard long path of steps and bridges that connect three ridges. Like the main lodge, all the bungalows were built exclusively of local materials, topped by high pitched roofs thickly thatched with Suiita palm and casually decorated with comfortable bamboo furniture. Each bungalow featured a private deck and patio, complete with outdoor shower, and a sumptuous view of the forest canopy rippling down to the gentle waters of the Golfo Dulce. Fifteen miles across the gulf, the rolling hills of the mainland fade in the distant haze.
The Reserva Comual Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo is a remote eight hundred thousand acre nature preserve tucked away deep in the jungle of Loreto, Peru’s largest state. Loreto is an area the size of Montana that lies almost entirely in the Western Amazonian rain forest. The Reserve is bordered to the West by the upper Tahuayo River and its tributary the Blanco River. This is a place where seasonally flooded verzea forests and non-flooding terra firme forests meet, making it one of the most biologically diverse environments in the world. It has been the site of several decades of scientific studies that have yielded some of the Amazon’s richest varieties of plans, birds and mammals as well as amphibians and reptiles. Additionally, the villages in the permanent settlement zone adjacent to the Reserve have been at the forefront of community-based management of the natural resources of the Reserve and surrounding areas for over a quarter of a century. This commitment has enabled them to succeed in preserving their traditional way of life as well as their environment. All of these considerations made the upper Tahuayo River a compelling choice of destination for our Amazon rainforest discovery adventure.
One of the most extraordinary things about the Tahuayo Lodge was that this welcoming enclave of comfort should exist at all in the midst of the untamed wilderness of the Western Amazon. Perched high on a bank of the Tahuayo River, the lodge was a sprawling, thatched-roofed complex of large huts linked together by covered bridge-like walkways. Entirely built on stilts, it was distinguishable only by its size and layout from the tidy indigenous villages down river.