Costa Rica: The Republic of Green

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Wyndham
The entrance of the Hotel Wyndham San Jose Herradura, where Expotour was held this year.

At Expotur 2014, the annual Costa Rica travel marketplace held every May in San Jose, delegates came away with one important message: While visitor numbers are approaching the 2.5 million mark, Costa Rica has lost none of its vim and vigor in actively re-enforcing its role as a leader in sustainable ecotourism.

During his opening address to delegates, Costa Rica’s new Minister of Tourism, Wilhelm von Breymann, reminded delegates that Costa Rica proposes to become the first carbon-neutral country in the world by 2021. He pointed out that “Costa Rica has been the tropical country which has succeeded in stopping deforestation, going from 21 percent of forest coverage in 1987 to 52 percent in 2013.––– In working towards carbon neutrality, the country has invested in its forests through compensation or carbon offset credit programs.”

Actually, this year’s Expotur celebrated its 30th anniversary by being the first carbon-neutral travel mart. This means that all greenhouse gas emissions produced by the event—such as aerial and land transportation, lodging, electricity and air-conditioning—will be measured, reduced and compensated for.

In keeping with this sustainable mantra—and pura vida motto—Costa Rica already has in place a model and exacting Certificate for Sustainable Tourism (CST) program, ranking by “green leafs” (starting with one, with the highest ranking of five) hotels, tour operators, theme parks, and transportation companies that have embraced and worked hard to implement environmental and social best practices. Minister von Breymann underlined strongly his unconditional support of this program, adding that “we will motivate with new incentives all companies so that they can begin or continue with the rigorous process of completing the CST process.”

Minister von Breymann comes well-suited to his new tourism position. He pointed out to delegates that “early in the 1980s when Expotur was barely beginning to take shape, I was starting out as a tour guide, [never dreaming that] I would be here delivering an opening-day speech.” Since 1989, he has been co-owner of several prominent tourism businesses, including Costa Rica Trails, one of 15 tour companies with the highest, five-leaf CST rating; currently 71 tour companies are participating at some level in the certification program. Costa Rica Trails was a seller at Expotur, joined by other CST five-leaf attainers: Actuar (specializing in rural and community tourism), Discovery Travel Costa Rica and Horizontes Nature Tours.

Among the 36 hotels in Costa Rica with five-leaf CST rankings—they come in all sizes: city hotels and resorts to jungle lodges and seaside getaways—Recommend spotted among the participating sellers at Expotur: the 32-room Punta Islita from Guanacaste, sharing a booth with its forest-bound sister hotel, the 15-room El Silencio Lodge and Spa in the Alajuela province; the 15-room Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge from Osa Peninsula was there, as was 35-room Quinta Sarapiqui Country Inn sharing a big display with other properties, attractions and one live snake from the Sarapiqui region. Enchanting Hotels maintained an elegant booth to introduce buyers to its five deluxe hotels: Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge is the group’s five-leaf achiever, The 198-room Hotel Barcelo Langosta Beach on the Pacific coast is the Barcelo Hotels & Resorts leader in CST rankings. Above all, Expotur was once again held this year in San Jose on the deluxe premises of top-ranked, CST-rated Hotel Wyndham San Jose Herradura.

The colorful lobby at the Aloft Hotel.
The colorful lobby at the Aloft Hotel.

Worthy of Note
Starwood Hotels was a major participant at Expotur, showcasing to delegates their its Costa Rica properties: Sheraton San Jose Hotel in Escazu, the all-inclusive Westin Golf Resort & Spa on the Pacific coast at Playa Conchal, and their newest entry, Aloft San Jose Hotel in the business district of Santa Ana. 

This delegate stayed at the Aloft and really enjoyed a fitting-to-San Jose urban hotel experience, one that the capital needs more of. Aloft is a modern, stylish, informal, friendly, good value and hip hotel with a really on-the-ball and helpful staff. Its 150 non-smoking rooms are bright and breezy, with “signature” beds, lots of pillows, fridge, tea and coffee maker, complimentary WiFi, 42-inch TV. The Backyard Restaurant serves up tasty meals (specialties of tuna and citrus chipotle and chicken breast with passion fruit spheres); the lobby bar mixes up original tropical sippers and has a snack-attack menu; and the  really neat, Scandinavian-style lobby area is reserved for Re-fuel by Aloft: a self-serve gourmet pantry where 24/7 guests can mix-and-match ingredients into a quick bite or make their own cappuccinos. The hotel has a gym and live music on tap several times a week. The developing district of Santa Ana is no beauty, and the hotel is long drive to downtown; however Aloft is well positioned otherwise, six miles from the international airport with easy access to the coast highway.  Room rates start at $108. For more information, call (877)GO-ALOFT or visit starwoodhotels.com/alofthotels.

Make note of what sounds like a really interesting new property opening in December: Chayote Lodge in Costa Rica’s famed coffee region of Llano Bonito de Naranjo, slated to offer a unique combination of nature and culture.  “Ours will be an experiential lodge,” says Rolando Campos, a 20-year veteran of the travel and tourism industry, “a place where the historic and traditional coffee growers’ culture blends easily with the surrounding natural environment of El Chayote Cloud Forest Reserve to offer our guests a distinctive, enriching and luxurious experience.” Hotel guests stay in 12 bungalows, designed to incorporate elements of the coffee culture in resembling the iconic Recibidores (coffee receiving stations). Each 500 sq. foot bungalow features king or queen beds, sitting area with desk, large two-sink bathrooms, and  a private balcony with grand views to Poas, Barva and Irazu volcanoes and the Central Valley. The main building, which opens this June, hosts a grand fireplace, bar, restaurant, a terrace café and a fair-trade gift store.  Located at the halfway point between San Jose and the Arenal volcano, Chayote Lodge activities will include excursions to the Poas Volcano and Los Bajos del Toro waterfall, as well as ziplining and horseback riding. Bungalow rates for two with breakfast will range from $250 to $300 per night. For more information, e-mail chayotelodge@gmail.com.

Also new from Costa Rica is the just-opened (May 26) in a brand new building is the Museum of Jade and pre-Columbian Culture (Museo del Jade y de la Cultura Precolombina).  The original Jade Museum was always an essential stop on any good tour of the city’s excellent museums. With 75,000 sq. ft. of space, spread over five floors of a new $21 million building, the new museum is able to finally display all of the treasures in its impressive collection. Jade, from its production process to the final creation of artifacts,  is, of course, the focus of the exhibits, which also position the precious stone in relation to the pre-Columbian cultures and traditions of the people who treasured it.  Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.