Field Study and Service-Learning MediaBlog

21 March, 2011

Catarata Eco-lodge

Catarata Eco-lodge first started as an organic agriculture project in 1992 with the help of the World Wildlife Fund and the Ministry of Agriculture. During this period, farmers were growing tired of their failed production on chemical-filled farms and the diseases emerging as a result of consuming the produce. Eleven families convened in an effort to pursue more sustainable initiatives and formed the” Pro-Environmental and Sustainable Development Association.” The organic agriculture project managed by this Association was designed FOR and BY the community and cultivated papaya, yucca and corn for commercial purposes. Over time, as ecotourism appeared in the area, the Association decided it would be more beneficial to focus on an Eco-lodge business instead. The families pooled together their resources and took out a loan from the National Costa Rican bank to construct the first rooms. Catarata is the first true Eco-lodge in La Fortuna, dedicated to conserving the environment and reducing its impact on the planet.

Catarata Eco-lodge began with only 4 rooms in 1995. There were no telephones, no roads, and not even furniture. The families of the Association as well as the community collected donations of furniture, sheets and silverware to start the operations of the Eco-lodge. They also worked diligently with the local government to build roads, establish phone lines and gain access clean water. In the early stages of its development, there were very few visitors. Not many tourists new about the Eco-lodge. Until one day, two German tourists stumbled upon their business and after their stay, submitted information about Catarata to Lonely Planet. The unexpected recommendation increased their number of visitors and encouraged them to expand further. Today, the Eco-lodge is comprised of 19 comfortable rooms with hot water, private bathrooms and ceiling fans. The water in two of their rooms are powered by solar energy. This is an attempt to save energy and further comply with CST standards to increase their rating. The rooms are surrounded by beautiful gardens, containing a wealth of tropical plant species and scenic landscapes. A large pool is located in the center of the property. There is a magnificent view of the Arenal Volcano and plenty of nearby attractions to explore such as natural thermal springs and spas, hiking trails, caves, a wildlife refuge, waterfalls and rivers.

In this picture Hannia Berrocal , the owner and manager of the Catarata Ecolodge, is giving us a presentation on the crossroads of Ecotourism, Community Development and Sustainable Development as represented by the Eco-lodge. In 2003, Hannia and her husband who were part of the Association from its inception bought the Eco-lodge and are currently the sole owners. The Association is still working in the community on various projects and the Eco-lodge supports their efforts. We are shown here sitting in the dining room of the lodge. There is ample dining space where typical Costa Rican cuisine is served daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Service is quick and the food is exceptionally good. Among their best dishes are the Casado (rice, beans, vegetables, plantains and your choice of meat), Sopa Negra (a black bean broth soap) and Pescado al Ajillo (grilled garlic fish). Restaurant hours are from 7 am to 8 pm. Breakfast is included in lodging. Meals are very affordable and typically range between $2 -$8 US dollars. Free unlimited Wi-Fi internet is also offered in this area. As a community-based Eco-lodge, dining space is frequently donated to local schools and community groups for special events.

As a certified sustainable business, Catarata strives to reduce their carbon footprint by growing their own fruits and vegetables for the restaurant. Throughout the year, pineapple, lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro and other seasonal produce is cultivated and harvested. The Eco-lodge also owns a parabolic solar cooker, which is a reflective dish that concentrates sunlight until the food in the center is cooked. These solar cookers are known to be quite dangerous as the sun’s energy can be concentrated to an extreme point that cannot be immediately seen and surrounding flammable objects can catch on fire. Parabolic solar cookers are usually compared to the box cooker which is basically an insulated box with a reflecting glass or plastic lid allowing sunlight to enter through the top and slowly heating up the box. The one major drawback to the box solar cooker is that energy enters only through the top while escaping through the other sides, pulling heat away from the food. Catarata uses the parabolic solar cooker for educational purposes, demonstrating its functions to students from local elementary and secondary schools. Additionally, the Association received funds 3 years ago to secure a truck for a local women’s recycling project. Catarata has large receptacles stored in the dining area to collect plastic bottles and other containers for the women’s group.

The picture to the bottom left is of a Paca Agouti, a solitary nocturnal animal which can be found in Latin America from Mexico to Paraguay and considered to be the second- largest rodent species behind the Capybara . They have coarse brown to black fur on the upper body and white on the underbelly. They live in the rainforests near water and feed on plants and seeds of the forest understory. Paca Agoutis are claimed to be one of the most important herbivores in the rainforest and play an important role in forest dynamics as seed predators and dispersers. They are considered as agricultural pests and therefore killed by farmers. As a result, they are endangered throughout Costa Rica. In an effort to boost their population, the Eco-lodge started a Paca Agouti breeding program to reintroduce the mammals back to the natural environment. Currently, there are four at Catarata with two of them brought from Guanacaste.

Shown to the right is Catarata’s rating by the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST). As of September of 2010, the Ecolodge holds a #2 out of #5 rating. CST is a program of the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) and based on the degree to which they comply with a sustainable model of natural, cultural and social resource management. CST is regulated by the Costa Rican National Accreditation Commission and consists of 5 “levels” of sustainable tourism achievement. Certification is renewed every year and the evaluation process is very demanding. Four fundamental aspects are evaluated: (1) physical-biological parameters, (2) infrastructure and services (exclusive for lodging companies), (3) external client and (4) socio-economic environment. For each and every one of these items a list of specific questions is designed to help evaluate how thoroughly the firm complies with a series of standard s previously established. Each and every one of the questions refers to an element of sustainability with which the firm should comply in order to qualify in any one of the different stages or levels of fulfillment. It has implications for both the tourism operator and the tourist. For the tourism operator, it adds a new level of competitiveness distinguishing its product from others. It also encourages companies to use their resources more efficiently and promotes savings, which always has positive impacts on a business. For the tourist, it helps identify which businesses are pursuing sustainable initiatives. Catarata is continually upgrading their Eco-lodge and raising their sustainability standards by finding new ways to reduce their environmental impact such as installing more energy panels, growing more of their own food and supporting community projects like the women's recycling program. Their commitment to professional growth, preserving the environment and community development is what makes the lodge truly eco-friendly and a reflection of sustainable development.

Author: Joan Ngo