“No matter how you cut it – a tree left standing is worth more”

This is the Mission Statement of Lapa Rios Lodge on the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica.  A founding member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World and the Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels and Lodges.

Twenty five years ago today, the lodge received their first guests.  All of those years, Lapa Rios lived its vision that was drafted by founders John and Karen Lewis.  And it worked.

Today, there is significantly increased rain forest coverage at and around the Lapa Rios reserve.  There are more animals to be seen and animals that used to be rarely seen are more frequent visitors to the surroundings of the lodge.   There is a school that has educated more than 600 children over the past years in the very remote area where the lodge is located.   And there is high level employment opportunities for many local families.  For the past 25 years, Lapa Rios has provided direct employment to about 60 staff members.

This picture was taken during the first years of operation. Karen Lewis on the right and Danilo Alvarez, who still works at the Lodge as a guide and head of the guide school on the left.

It started as a dream by John and Karen Lewis.  They were former peace corps volunteers in Kenya in the 60s and looking for a radical change in their lives in the early 90s.  They sold everything up north and pioneered a world class conservation and education projected on the Osa Peninsula.

It is hard to imagine today how they had the vision and the stamina to make this project happen.  There was no road from the mainland to the Peninsula, there were no bridges between Puerto Jimenez and the lodge and there were no utilities.  But a strong vision can overcome any obstacles.

Building a pool was one of the biggest challenges at the time. Today, this pool is surrounded by lush vegetation and it is easy to observe animals sitting in your lounge chair.

Please excuse the poor quality of the photographs in the blog.  They were rescued from the humidity of the Osa Peninsula rain forests.  These conditions can compost paper in a matter of weeks.  

It is a bit easier to get to Lapa Rios today, as the roads have improved and there is frequent air lift from San Jose.  The lodge has undergone several renovations in the past years as the hot and wet tropical climate combined with the salty breezes from the Ocean take a toll on all natural construction materials.

An aerial shot of the Matapalo area where Lapa Rios is located from the early 1990s. Today this area is almost completely covered with forest and protected into perpetuity through the Lapa Rios Conservation Easement.

Today Lapa Rios is going strong and getting ready for the next 25 years.  Things have changed of course.  There is cellular phone coverage and Internet – before it was all marine radio.  But the principals are the same.  Local employment.  Environmental Education.  Expert Nature Guides. World Class Hospitality.  Happy Birthday Lapa Rios.  

If you ever stayed at Lapa Rios, you will appreciate this picture of the first steps of a bungalow going up.

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Andrea Bonilla

Co-Owner & VP Operations