The Truth about Costa Rican Eco-Lodges

With the rising popularity of eco-travel, it’s hard not to question what accommodation is truly an environmentally-friendly eco-lodge as opposed to those who label themselves as ‘eco’ because it’s fashionable.

When we were researching our travels in Costa Rica, our web searches were inundated with eco-lodges and eco-retreats. With such a vast number of places to stay labelling themselves as eco, it was difficult not be skeptical. Were they all as genuinely green as they claimed to be, or are some of them greenwashing because eco-travel is on trend?

Costa Rica’s incredibly diverse ecosystems, large areas of rainforest and rich wildlife make it an ideal country for eco-tourism to flourish and is the reason behind the large amount of eco-lodges. So far, we’ve had the opportunity to stay in three Costa Rican eco-lodges. They were all incredibly different from one another: a jungle tipi eco-retreat run by a couple enjoying a very simple, natural way of life; an eco-island inhabited by a self-sufficient family who create their own energy and grow all their own food; and a large, family-friendly eco-lodge who offer jungle adventure tours.

Despite being drastically different, all three of them can truly be considered as eco-lodges. They were tied together by the same three principles.

Protecting Nature and Wildlife

Being located in a natural area away from the pollution and urbanisation of towns and cities is one thing, but eco-lodges should also be protecting and conserving the surrounding environment and the local wildlife.

Eco-lodges should have a minimal impact on the environment. Recycling, sustainable waste management, saving water and minimising the use of non-biodegradable chemicals are all part of this. All three eco-lodges were focused on sustainable practices to protect nature and wildlife, as well as passing on this philosophy to their guests.

Baby sloth being saved at Tipi Jungla eco-lodge
Baby sloth on his way to a rescue centre from Tipi Jungla eco-lodge.

Using Natural Energy Sources

Renewable energy utilises the earth’s natural resources to generate clean energy that has a much lower impact on the environment than traditional energy sources. Solar power was used at all of our eco-lodges here in Costa Rica. Whilst the smaller two eco-lodges had only cold water showers (not uncommon here anyway), the larger eco-lodge had larger panels that were also able to heat water as well.

Solar panels at Hacienda Baru eco-lodge

Supporting Local Culture

Supporting local people and the local culture is also important to eco-lodges. Two of the eco-lodges we stayed in had no employees and were run by the owners themselves, the other employed staff from the local community, including nature guides. The eco-lodge owners all talked about how they were actively involved in the local community – promoting environmental awareness, volunteering and supporting projects in the area, and so on.

Nature Guide at Hacienda Baru Eco-Lodge
Nature Guide at Hacienda Baru eco-lodge.

The Importance of Eco-Lodges

Eco-lodges have an important role in protecting the environment, promoting green tourism, and educating others about sustainability and good practice. There are many aspects that contribute to the label of “eco” -lodge, -retreat, -hotel, and every country has different criteria. While in some countries businesses are free to just adopt the “eco” label, in Costa Rica there are standards set by the tourism board that must be met to qualify as eco.

Don’t overlook small eco-lodges, which have lower star ratings in Costa Rica. Many of them are still growing and may not have the funds for big eco-projects. Their star rating, even though low, is a sign that they have been recognised as working toward having a positive impact on the environment and local community.

Have you ever stayed in an eco-lodge? What do you think are important aspects of the “eco” label when it comes to accommodation?


Charlie Marchant

Charlie is a long-term traveller from the UK who writes about simple ways to travel sustainably, including how to become a house sitter and slow traveller, eating local and vegetarian, and making responsible travel choices.

22 thoughts to “The Truth about Costa Rican Eco-Lodges”

    1. Soo cute! He’s an infant, only 6 months old, lost it’s mum, and the couple who run Tipi Jungla rescued him.

      It’s very interesting how differently they are run, the kinds of activities they offer, and the animals they have in the surrounding area.

      Thanks, Ken :)

    1. Thanks, Polly :) Oh really? How long were you here? I have to admit that eco lodging is really quite expensive (mid-range – luxury price tags), but there are quite a few affordable tours, treks especially are usually a good price. It’s good to know that Costa Rica has a rating system to keep the ‘eco’ label in check.

  1. I love this positive truth piece, as it highlights a caring and optimistic approach that we should all consider in life. Thank you for creating this awareness, it certainly gives me much to think about for my future travels:)

  2. Excellent post and I totally agree with your point! There are so many places that use the word ‘eco’ as a gimmick when they are actually nothing of the sort. As a result there is so much information on what an eco lodge or an eco attraction actually is, especially when it comes to wildlife! There really does need to be so much more awareness and education on these issues.
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    1. Thanks, Michael. Yes, gimmick is a good word to describe it. I definitely agree about the need for awareness and education on these issues, and also regarding why using it as a gimmick for marketing isn’t good practice. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Charlie I’m glad you managed to see a sloth at the end, he is so incredibly cute!
    On another note, it’s very interesting to read how eco-accommodations can differ depending on the country. I’ve never stayed in one personally and I’d love to, it’s such an important approach to have to protect the environment, travel responsibly and promote sustainability.
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    1. Yes! Right up close, though it was a sad story about him… Having lost his mummy and fallen down from a tree during a rainstorm. He went to live with a local woman, a surrogate mother until he’s a year old and can go back out on his own.

      Yes, very different. Certainly in Europe and Asia you see “eco” hostels even in large cities on main roads and things… Totally different to here. Sometimes those hostels use renewable energy, organic coffee, bio soap, and can be considered eco for the area. Other times they just have a few weak lightbulbs and want to attract more tourists.

      I’m certainly keen to stay in more as I’ve only stayed in a few during my travels – mainly because of expat living, Couchsurfing, or lack of availability of eco lodges in certain countries.

      Let me know if you guys get the opportunity to stay in any! Would be interested to hear more about them in general :)

  4. Awesome article Charlie! I’m heading to Costa Rica myself soon, very excited! Planning on visiting a few eco-lodges, is there one in particular you would recommend hands down? I’m hoping to write a review for one in exchange for a free night’s accommodation – was reading your other article the other day about scoring free digs when backpacking around the World.
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    1. Awesome! Costa Rica is amazing. All of the eco-lodges I stayed at had their pros and cons, they were all super different, so it really depends what you’re looking for. Also, eco-lodges are quite expensive places to stay here (mostly), so you’ll need to do quite a lot of research about eco-lodges that would suit the style of your blog beforehand. Look for people who have a similar style to your own and that fit a similar niche, is my advice :)

  5. This year on our Costa Rica roadtrip we slept three nights in the tipi eco lodge. NO wi-fi, no electricity and no hot water, in the middle of the jungle. A very interesting place for nature lovers. Mario took us to a night jungle tour….amazing!!! We learned from this stay to respect even more our nature at home to keep its beauty up alive… Greetings from Tascha & Patrick
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