Our Sustainable Approach

Our Sustainable Approach

Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality is sustainable tourism in action. We are a small company dedicated to the management and development of hotels, lodges and other tourism-related projects that have an ecological, conservationist or sustainable aspect to them. We focus on projects in Latin America and the Caribbean currently managing seven hotels in Costa Rica and one in Nicaragua. Our hotels are small, ranging from five to thirty-eight rooms, and boutique. Each is independently owned, and they reflect the visions of the owners and embody elements of the geographies surrounding them. We tailor our work to meet the unique needs of each property while keeping the following end goal in mind: to redefine the standards of upscale hospitality, and to create a symbiosis of luxury and sustainability that is loved by our guests and employees alike.

All properties are managed to attain the highest rating of the Certification in Sustainable Tourism In Costa Rica. Thus far, a total of only six properties have ever been awarded the highest ranking, four of which are managed by Cayuga. (Two additional Cayuga properties, Jicaro Island Lodge in Nicaragua and Latitude 10 in Costa Rica, are not eligible for the certification, as the certification does not exist in Nicaragua and the five room resort of Latitude 10 is too small to be considered. Nonetheless, both properties are managed with the same standard of sustainability excellence.)

Cayuga assures that the operations of the hotels and lodges with whom we work apply the highest standards of sustainability. Each property has a Sustainability Coordinator who ensures that relevant and innovative sustainability practices and technologies are incorporated in all departments of the hotel and that they function at the highest possible standards. The coordinator additionally creates incentives, activities and programs to expand employee knowledge of and participation in sustainability, and also ensures that guests receive appropriate information and exposure to the theme as it pertains to each hotel and the world at large. The coordinator further liaises with the community and finds meaningful ways for the hotel to support community development. Finally, Cayuga employs a corporate level Sustainability Director whose job it is to oversee all hotel coordinators and ensure that Cayuga stays on the cutting edge of green hospitality.

To learn more about our multifaceted sustainability practices, take a read through the six main initiatives below.

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All properties implement programs, projects, and technologies that foster environmental sustainability. These are as follows:

Water usage and wastewater management: We approach water management from three
angles: with our guests, with our employees, and through water saving technology.

  • Guests are encouraged to re-use their towels, sheets are changed every other day unless a guest requests daily, and they are reminded to be mindful of water use during their showers. The guestbooks in each room talk about these procedures and there are signs in the rooms that remind the guest.
  • Employees are taught the importance of water conservation and are reminded constantly via signs or regular checkups by the sustainability coordinator that water taps must never be left dripping and that water must not be left running when brushing teeth, cleaning produce, or washing dishes. They are taught how to spot water leaks and required to report them immediately.
  • Aerators are used in the faucets and shower heads to decrease the use of water without sacrificing pressure or even flow. Some of the properties have low flush toilets and water-free urinals and in those were the transition has not been made we place bottles filled with sand in the toilet tanks to decrease water used in flushing without affecting the quality of the flush. Preventive maintenance programs at the hotels focus on detecting potential water leaks.
  • Key to the water conservation program are the black water treatment systems which allow hotels to reuse all its “dirty” water to irrigate the gardens. Water used in the laundry, showers, sinks, kitchen, and toilets is all collected and piped into a filtration system that removes all large non soluble material. The water then enters a large four chamber tank with specialized bacteria that eat up all organic material in the water. The water circulates through all four chambers and progressively gets cleaner and cleaner. On a daily basis these systems can produce between 35-38m3 of clean treated water. Our intent is to give back to nature as much of the water that we take out! (We are currently applying these systems in three of our hotels where water scarcity is a big concern for the local communities, and are exploring ways to convert the systems in the other three hotels within the next years).
  • The water in the pools is maintained clean via salt and ionization systems. No chlorine or other toxic chemicals are used in any of the hotel’s pools.
  • The laundry and cleaning products are biodegradable, and the bath and body products offered in the guests rooms are both organic and biodegradable.

Energy Usage: Similarly to our water management, we work on reducing our energy consumption via our guests, employees, and through simple technologies.

  • Both guests and employees are reminded to turn off lights, air conditioners, TV’s and fans when not in use. Since building designs allow for effective and constant cross ventilation, four of the six properties do not use air conditioners; and in the two properties that use them we have installed top of the line energy efficient ACs. Since the properties also espouse wellness, TV’s are not used in five of the six properties.
  • Solar panels are used to heat water in room showers and sinks, and in the kitchen. At one of the properties were Cayuga took over we invested in a solar heating system and the switch to solar panels for heating water represented annual energy financial savings of almost 50%.
  • Efficient energy saving light bulbs make-up 85% of the bulbs used on the properties.
  • Energy efficient appliances:This includes refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners (on two properties only) and washers and dryers. The washers are programmed to use precise amounts of biodegradable detergents and water depending on the quantity and type of laundry. Air and sun drying is used at all properties when the climactic conditions allow it, which is about eight months of the twelve. Additionally, the washing machines also use a new and revolutionary ozonization process. Ozone is injected into the washer, expanding the fibers of the cloth and allowing the detergents and water to act more efficiently, and also allowing for a faster dry time if the dryer is used.
  • Methane production at Lapa Rios: Non compostable organic wastes are fed to the pigs and the methane gas produced from pig wastes is captured and used for cooking in the employee kitchens. This methane gas replaced 75% of the propane gas used for cooking.

Solid Waste Reduction: All properties have established thorough reducing, reusing, and recycling programs.

  • The first step is reducingthe amount of packaging bought. Whenever possible we work with suppliers who are conscious of this practice and we often exercise diplomatic pressure so they switch to the most efficient approach for packaging. Purchasing in bulk quantity is standard policy for anything that can be bought that way, which is almost 90% percent of the canned and dry goods. Our amount of packaging is also reduced by the high amounts of fresh, unpackaged food that we purchase.
  • We have reduced the use of disposable plastic water bottles by over 90% in the past years. Guests are encouraged to purchase and refill stainless steel water bottles and upon checking in they are gifted an oxo-biodegradable bottle and encouraged to refill and re-use during their stay in Costa Rica instead of purchasing regular plastic water bottles.
  • The use of aluminum is minimal on all properties. A small amount of cans are used in the mini-bars. Whenever possible glass is preferred over aluminum. Lapa Rios relies exclusively on glass since it does not have the mini-bar challenge. All aluminum is separated and sent for recycling.
  • We have switched to rechargeable and kinetic flashlights at all properties to avoid the use of batteries. When batteries are used, we use only Panasonic batteries as they are the only ones that can be recycled in Costa Rica.
  • Much of the paper used on the properties is made from sugar cane, coffee, or banana fibers, so in essence we are not contributing to loss of tree cover for our paper needs. Paper in the administrative offices is re-used whenever possible. The policy is to keep printing to a minimum. Containers for packaging “take out” food are made of palm fibers. All materials that we can compost on site.
  • Organic matter is separated into three categories: citrus, all other raw vegetables and fruits, and cooked food. The citrus is used for the compost, the other raw vegetables and fruits for the vermiculture, and the cooked food is donated to certain community members to feed pigs. In Lapa Rios, onsite pigs are fed the scraps, the pig waste is processed and the methane gas is used for cooking in the employee kitchen.
  • Beach and road clean ups: Every week the sustainability coordinator with volunteer staff walk the beach or rural roads and pick up trash. Guests are encouraged to participate and occasionally a bigger event is planned when schools and other organizations are invited to participate in order to clean a larger expanse of beach or road.

Natural and Native Plant Landscaping: All the properties have created gardens that are based on native, local plants, and only natural, organic fertilizers and natural non-toxic pesticides are used in the gardens. These plants help with water conservation since they require less water during the dry months, and they also restore habitat thus attracting birds, insects, reptiles, and mammal species.

  • Organic herb and vegetable gardens are an important component of the natural and native plant landscaping. These gardens are educational for our guests as they can learn about, and sometimes pick, herbs and local vegetables that are served in the restaurant.
  • Plant a Tree Program: All properties offer guests the opportunity to plant a tree. The trees are native species and are planted on site as part of the restoration efforts of the properties. The trees for the program and a large part of the plants to maintain the gardens come from on-site native plant nurseries. Depending on the season and availability of plants, hotels will donate trees to schools so that children can plant and take care of the trees and the school property can be improved.


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The wellbeing of our surrounding communities is of paramount importance to Cayuga. We believe that the communities in which we operate are the linchpin for creating successful sustainable tourism and development. Hence, our hotels support initiatives to improve community economic development, health, education, cultural development, and natural resource management.

This year we commissioned the production of a musical CD, “Movimientos, EcoSalsa”. Produced by a Costa Rican musical group and recording company, the CD is a musical tribute to Latin rhythms, national parks, ecotourism and the most distinguished sustainable hotels and resorts in Costa Rica. We sent the main artists of the musical group to each Cayuga property where they spent some time, got inspired, and then wrote a song with lyrics focusing on sustainable subjects about that hotel. We offset all emissions related with the production of the CD by purchasing and planting 120 native trees in a biological corridor. The CD is available for sale in late February and a percentage of the profits go to Equilibrium, a Costa Rican nonprofit organization that works to propel a more harmonious way of living with the natural environment.

Our properties incorporate cultural elements from the surrounding community into their daily operations. In this way we provide opportunities for guests to experience the local culture, and at the same time economically support local artists.

At some properties cultural events are scheduled on a daily basis. The hotels have developed relationships with the various local artists and contract them on a weekly basis to perform at the hotel. Some of these cultural activities include

  • Salsa Dancing: The staff volunteers to teach guests how to dance salsa and merengue. The classes are often open to the community. In some cases, the staff selects a cause to support via the classes so participants are encouraged to donate a small sum of money that at the end of the year will be used to support the chosen cause. Funds from the classes have helped buy school materials in the past and this year will be used to help build a town recycling center.
  • Typical Dances: Members of the local community, often from the local elementary and high schools come to the hotel dressed in folkloric outfits and present the typical dances of Costa Rica to the guests. The hotels support their efforts by sponsoring their dance teacher, giving them the folkloric outfits, and organizing their transfers. Tips left by guests are directly given to the dancers.
  • Cooking classes: Guests work side by side with kitchen staff and cook traditional simple Costa Rican dishes, like tortillas, gallo pinto, platanos, and picadillos.
  • Music groups: The communities surrounding the hotels often have a variety of local musical groups playing everything from calypso, to traditional Costa Rican songs, to rock-n-roll. The hotels will hire these groups to play on a regular basis or for special events.
  • Local Artisans: The gift shops in the hotels pride themselves in selling only products that are made in Costa Rica by Costa Rican craftsmen and artists. The hotels that do not have gift shops invite the local artists to sell their crafts on the premises. And in many cases, the local artists meet guests and give them the opportunity to work with them on making a small craft.
  • Coffee Tour: There is perhaps nothing more emblematic to Costa Rica than coffee. Finca Rosa Blanca grows its own certified, shade, organic coffee and offers its guests a memorable tour of the coffee plantation — from coffee bean to coffee cup. Guests learn how coffee is grown, harvested, dried, and processed and they finish with a coffee tasting session that gives them the opportunity to discern the tastes and aromatic nuances of different coffees.
  • Visit to local farm: In some properties we offer visits to local farms where guests have a hearty breakfast with locally made cheese, handmade tortillas, and free range eggs produced onsite. Families are encouraged to milk the cows to make sure that city children understand that milk does not get produced in factories or supermarkets.

The cuisine at all restaurants uses local ingredients in both traditional and innovative ways. The restaurants prepare daily information on local foods, explaining to guests what the ingredient is, how it is typically used in Costa Rica, the cultural history it may have, and the nutritional aspects of the food itself. A special day to celebrate Costa Rican culture is Independence Day on September 15. Guests partake in the festivities by eating a variety of typical dishes, listening to folkloric musical groups, and watching community groups perform typical dances.


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The wellbeing of our surrounding communities is cornerstone to Cayuga’s work and health is one of the aspects of wellbeing. Costa Rica is blessed with having a healthcare system that manages to provide for the basic needs of its population, nonetheless each year there are special needs that require support. Yearly, the hotels pick a health cause and donate funds or goods for its improvement. Recently, the causes have included:

  • Re-equipping the Red Cross Ambulance in Puerto Jimenez, the major town near the Lapa Rios property. Funds raised from a half marathon race, the Lapathon organized by the hotel, were donated to this cause. Lapa Rios has also offered its staff CPR and first aid training to the community.
  • Supporting the campaign against dengue in Quepos, the major town near Arenas del Mar. The hotel donated funds for the educational preventive health campaign.
  • Renovating the local clinic in Nosara, the main town near the Harmony Hotel property. The hotel donated money and materials.

Our most substantial contribution to improving living conditions in the area is employing people from the area. Our salaries are far higher than the national average, and the hotels employ all staff year round, even during low season. Also, it is policy for the hotels to buy local produce and products so as to benefit local producers, commerce, and retail in the area. What is purchased varies from property to property since not all the towns around the hotels have equally diverse merchandise availability. Whatever cannot be bought in town is purchased in San Jose. The policy is to use as much national product as possible. In addition, all properties depend on local transportation companies (mostly small entrepreneurs) for boat, air and ground transfers. As mentioned earlier, the hotels hire local music and dance groups and they bring in local artisans to sell their crafts. The hotels do not charge the artisans a commission for selling their crafts; the artisans keep 100% of revenue from sales.

The properties and Cayuga will also support immediate needs like the improvement of roads, the building of bridges to help children cross rivers and get to school, or improving infrastructure of key organizations, like a recent contribution of funds raised from another half marathon, this one in Nosara, to help build the local police station.

By directly employing over 200 people Cayuga is contributing directly to poverty relief and moreover, to innovation and changes in behavior towards a behavior that is more aligned with a sustainable way of living.

Cayuga hotels believe that all education, whether formal or informal, basic or skilled, provides people with the necessary tools to make decisions that improve lives, and can propel respect for the natural world and the use of its resources. The hotels carry out Cayuga’s belief in education in several ways. The sustainability coordinator at each property visits schools to give chats on environmental topics, such as recycling, vermiculture, and local wildlife. The hotels host groups of children to participate in beach clean ups or an activity like making recycled paper. Older students are taken on the sustainability tour of the hotel. Every year each hotel will select a school to help out with general supplies, like paper, paints, pencils, crayons, and scissors. The hotel will purchase supplies and donate them. Hotels also encourage guests, through the Pack for a Purpose Program, to bring supplies and donate them to the schools.

Lapa Rios was instrumental in the building of the Carbonera School. In January 1991 the owners of Lapa Rios brought together a group of neighbors to discuss the idea of opening up a school. At the time, most neighbors had never met each other nor had known that they shared a common ideal of educating their children. Most families were illiterate and were unaccustomed to the idea of their children attending school. This meeting spurred the building of Carbonera School and the developing of the surrounding community. The hotel contributed a large amount of funds towards the construction and through its guests helped raise the remainder. The Carbonera School opened on March 1, 1993 and still operates today.

Since 2006 Lapa Rios has been supporting a scholarship program for the students of its employees. Based on a competitive application and selection process the hotel selects two children and pays for their tuition at the private, bilingual school in Puerto Jimenez. This is a donation of around $5000 every year.


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Maintaining healthy ecosystems in our surrounding communities is a key piece of our work. Cayuga is a member of ProParques, and Hans Pfister, the President and Co-Owner of Cayuga, sits on the board. ProParques is a non-profit organization dedicated to resolving needs of National Parks in order to increase their management efficiency. In order to safeguard resources, the hotels we will support the work of the national parks, conservation organizations, community groups, or researchers. Examples of our conservation work are listed below.

National Parks and Protected Areas: Every property is located within 10 minutes to one hour of a national park or other nationally protected areas. Hotels encourage guests to visit the protected areas, and they provide information on flora and fauna of the area, suggest advisable behavior with regards to wildlife, and inform of relevant rules and laws that should be observed regarding national park visitation and wildlife interaction.

Private Conservation: Arenas del Mar and Lapa Rios are part of the Association of Private Costa Rican Reserves. Arenas del Mar protects and restores 4 hectares of forest surrounding its property, and Lapa Rios protects a primary forest of 400 hectares on its property. These forests contribute directly to the conservation of native habitat and species in the areas, and are carbon sinks mitigating emissions produced by hotel operations.

Wildlife Conservation: Lapa Rios supports The Wildcat Conservation Program that works to determine the status of feline populations and their prey on the Osa Peninsula. The project uses cameras and video equipment to watch wild cats in action, allowing for study of their behavior and population densities in order to better protect and save these highly endangered species. Lapa Rios donates money to purchase the cameras and video equipment and has supported the participation of the researchers in key academic conferences. Plus, guests are encouraged to donate to the projects and take a tour with the researchers to help them place cameras in the forest.

Lapa Rios is very close to Corcovado National Park so it supports park rangers by donating specific equipment, like boots, walkie–talkies, and sleeping bags. Lapa Rios has also paid the salary of one park ranger for over six years.

Arenas del Mar is a member of the Titi Conservation Alliance, a non-profit group that protects the endangered Titi (squirrel) monkey in all areas surrounding Manuel Antonio National Park. The Alliance implements an environmental education program for the schools in Manuel Antonio and Quepos, and it has an extensive native species reforestation program to connect habitats and thus provide living space for the Titi monkey. The hotel contributes directly to the organization and also collects donations from its guests for this effort.

The Harmony Hotel supports efforts of Sibu Sanctuary and Nosara Wildlife Refuge, both small local organizations that work to protect, rescue, and rehabilitate arboreal mammals, principally monkeys. The hotel has donated funds for the construction of the outdoor rehabilitation habitat and it has also formed a staff volunteer team that is trained to assist with the rescue of monkeys and other animals. One of the self made chefs at harmony used to hunt monkeys as a child. Today he is part of the rescue team, no longer hunts any wildlife, and more importantly is a community voice for explaining the benefits of all wildlife. He is one example of many staff at Cayuga who have become more environmentally aware and involved by working with us.

Through the years Finca Rosa Blanca has reforested its gardens with over 300 native trees and thousands of plants and its coffee farm with over 3,000 native trees. One of the outstanding results of such efforts is that in the last ten years the number of bird species spotted on the property has grown from 56 to over 130!

Our newer properties, Jicaro in Nicaragua and Latitute 10 in Costa Rica, are in the process of defining how they will specifically contribute to wildlife and habitat conservation.


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Cayuga chooses its projects based on the following criteria:

  • Shared values with owners and/or developers (ethics, community involvement, and development and environmental principles).
    • Key is the possibility of developing projects that will have a high positive impact on community well-being.
  • Quality and impact of the project (only small, boutique sustainable properties are considered).
    • Cayuga only considers projects that will have a low impact on the environment, including the architectural design and a layout that will blend in with the landscape; avoiding residential condo developments, condo hotels and high rises.
    • Hotel projects that will harm the environment (i.e. sea turtle nesting sites, massive deforestation, etc.) will not be taken into consideration and Cayuga has passed up on many economically attractive management opportunities to stay true to its vision and mission.
  • Long term vision of the project (future projects must be of same quality and standards as the project taken into consideration).
    • We have conducted studies at some of our lodges to determine the social and environmental impact of the lodges and will continue to carefully monitor our impact in the years to come.

Properties that from the get-go are designed with sustainability in mind usually maximize the use of environmentally friendly building methods. Some of the design principles and construction methods used on Cayuga properties include:

Building Site Selection

  • Buildings and bungalows have been strategically placed to minimize the amount of trees that needed to be cut during construction and care was taken not to disturb any existing natural corridors for wildlife as well. In some cases, trees were saved and now grow “through” buildings.

Architectural Design

  • Passive ventilation: Buildings and bungalows were designed to maximize cross ventilation and therefore avoid use of air conditioners on most properties. This included strategically placing buildings to utilize existing wind patterns, minimizing the use of walls or closed windows and replacing those with open air structures.
  • Passive lighting: The structures were also designed to maximize natural light but not increase heat. Again, placement of building is essential as are the placement of windows (closed or open air), and natural light structures in the ceiling.
  • Minimal visual pollution: Placement of the buildings is key to minimize visual pollution. This, combined with paint color choices for walls and roofs that emulate natural surrounding colors help blend the properties with the landscape.
  • Minimal light pollution: 80% of the lighting on the properties is energy efficient and night lighting is strategically placed, since little and low lighting is less of disturbance for wildlife, and aesthetically, it allows the guest a much better experience of the night sky!

Construction and Materials

  • Rainforest Alliance Certified sustainable wood
  • Plantation wood from reforestation projects close to the properties
  • Fallen trees; permits to take the trees from the forest are acquired and the wood is duly processed
  • Natural thatch roofs are used in some of the constructions. Others employ roof shingles made from recycled plastic bags used by the 100’s of thousands in the banana industry. Pool and patio furniture made from recycled plastic is also used.
  • Power lines are buried underground and those that remain above ground are insulated in order to minimize electrocution of arboreal fauna.


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Cayuga provides full social benefits as required by law to all its employees. This allows employees to receive free healthcare at public hospitals, a pension upon retirement, payment in case of work disability, insurance in case of accidents on the job, and paid maternity leave. Employees also receive a “13th salary”, one additional months pay at the end of the year. Our employees are our most valuable asset, they are our immediate community and we offer them opportunities to grow and succeed. These opportunities are focused on:

  • Education, such as working with reimbursement plans that assist those employees who wish to continue their studies.
  • Health, sponsoring activities and campaigns that promote the well being of our employees.
  • Job training and development, training our employees to be more knowledgeable and skilled in their positions so that they can learn and grow.

Operational staff training starts from day one. Because over 90% of our employees are local, and a large majority have little education, most of them require intensive training to be able to perform their day to day responsibilities (cooking, serving, using computers, speaking English, etc). The training is performed on the job, by supervisors and/or team members.

Cayuga itself imparts training for all of their hotels and departments. Courses are open to all staff members who want to attend and some of them are mandatory for everybody. Over the last four years staff has received ample training in various themes specific to food and beverage, guest management, human resources, and sustainability. In the last two years we have also augmented training in team building and motivation, revenue management, personal finances, work life balance, and leadership and management.