There are only so many places I can stay on each trip. This may be a self-evident observation, but in practice it means that on every journey there are properties that I would have loved to have reviewed or revisited, but which could not be levered into my itinerary. And on my recent excursion to Costa Rica, Lapa Rios was top of that list. Long one of my favorite eco-resorts, it is also consistently popular with members.
Unfortunately, the property is located on the Osa Peninsula, in the extreme southwest of the country, whereas all the other hotels that I planned to visit lie north of San José. Lapa Rios is not especially difficult to reach, but getting there does require a 50-minute flight, followed by a 45-minute road transfer. I discussed the matter with the associate in the Andrew Harper Travel Office who was booking my trip — and who had recently returned from Lapa Rios herself — and we concluded, with regret, that on this occasion I would have to pass up the opportunity. I was not especially pleased but could recognize inevitability when I saw it.
When I write a report on a destination and a previously recommended hotel is not featured, readers sometimes assume that it is no longer endorsed. Emphatically, this is not the case with Lapa Rios, which remains Costa Rica’s preeminent eco-resort. If the intention of your proposed trip is to experience the country’s wildlife, especially its astonishing birds, to hike in its rainforest, and to put out to sea in search of dolphins and whales, then Lapa Rios should be the first place you consider.
Founded by American conservationists Karen and John Lewis, the resort is set on a 1,000-acre reserve, close to the 164-square-mile Corcovado National Park, an enclave that is, according to National Geographic, “the most biologically intense place on Earth.” The property is named for the lapa, or scarlet macaw, flocks of which can sometimes be seen streaming through the sky like rivers (ríos). Over 300 bird species have been recorded, including the harpy eagle, the largest raptor of the Americas, with a wingspan of up to 7 feet. Mammals frequently seen near the lodge include howler monkeys, spider monkeys, white-faced monkeys, coatis, kinkajous, two- and three-toed sloths, agoutis, peccaries, anteaters, armadillos and opossums. The area also has a significant population of cats, such as pumas, jaguars, jaguarundis, margays and ocelots. These creatures are elusive but not impossible to spot.
The accommodations at Lapa Rios are dramatically sited on three steep ridges, high above the serene expanse of the Golfo Dulce. They include 17 thatched Deluxe Bungalows with screened windows and private decks. (To encourage guests to relax and disconnect, they lack Wi-Fi, televisions and phones.) The bungalows have recently been augmented by four new Lapa Villas and two magnificent new Premier Villas. These feature hardwood floors, wide wraparound decks, plunge pools and outdoor showers. The living areas come with daybeds and can be reconfigured for two or three children. Master bedrooms have king-size beds, while the spacious baths provide solar-heated walk-in rain showers.
The new villas undoubtedly represent an entirely new standard of lodging at Lapa Rios. Somehow I will have to engineer an early return to Costa Rica so I can write a detailed firsthand account. I assure you, I do not lack motivation.
The dramatic hillside situation overlooking the sea; the pristine natural surroundings and abundance of bird and animal species; the excellent wildlife guides and hospitable local staff.
Not being able to visit more often.
The site of the resort is steep, so the property is not ideal for those who are less than completely mobile. (The higher the room number, the longer the climb to the main building and restaurant.)