Pacuare Lodge For Natural Adventures by Bonnie and Bill Neely

Our primary reason to go to Costa Rica was for a soft adventure trip to the tropical rain forest we had read about so enthusiastically. We chose Costa Rica Nature Adventures to plan our trip, and we are so very glad we did! With eight glorious days in that exquisite country, which is world-renowned as the best conserver of the environment, our favorite part was our experience rafting on the Pacuare River and our stay at Pacuare Lodge. The Adventuras Naturales driver, who spoke good English, arrived in early morning for us and a few other tourists at Hotel Don Carlos in San Jose. We had been told ahead of time to pack one small bag to take to Pacuare Lodge and we stopped briefly at the Adventuras Naturales office to leave our other luggage.
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After about two hours in the comfortable, air-conditioned van, we stopped for an excellent breakfast at a beautiful hilltop restaurant with lovely mountain and pastoral views. Beyond that the road got very rough, winding, steep, and difficult. After another hour we arrived at noon at the top of a mountain. We donned our boat shoes, which we had purchased at the breakfast stop for $10 and headed straight down the very steep and long gravel road for a thirty minute hike. Hot and legs cramping we arrived at Pacuare River’s edge where we met our guide and had almost an hour of instructions and lessons in rafting safety.Kurt Stodt, River Guide, Pacuare River Kurt Studt, one of Adventuras Naturales’ rafting experts, is the best guide we have ever had anywhere. His family had re-located from California to Costa Rica when he was seventeen, so he is bi-lingual. He is a certified naturalist, and also highly trained and certified in CPR and First Response Safety, which is far more taining than Red Cross First Aid. He believes in teaching safety first instead of handling disasters later, so we all had to practice the rafting safety rules and maneuvers before beginning our trip. All our gear was stowed in waterproof bags, and we were issued good life jackets and helmets. We all wore clothing we could get soaked because that was assured. Cameras and even wedding rings and all jewelry were carefully stowed in special safety pouches. Fortunately, everyone had been able to purchase waterproof cameras also at the breakfast stop.
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The rafting trip on this pristine river is a delightful experience. With only up to Class Three rapids, even the most timid water person can enjoy the experience, and I fell into that category. We all felt very safe with Kurt. All of Adventuras Naturales rafting trips have a lead kayak which goes ahead to test the waters, and the supply raft goes ahead of the passenger one. The excursion was so very well planned and managed. The splashes felt refreshing, and the dipping, paddling, and plunging from side to side so we wouldn’t tip over were very exciting and fun. We had just enough thrills to satisfy senior citizens as our orange rubber raft plunged for two hours through the raging waters and traveled about five miles on the beautiful Pacuare as it cut through lush jungles on either side in its trip toward the Caribbean. We were happy that the river was not at its surge, since we had chosen to come in March before the rainy season, which is usually in September and October. The younger, more adventurous rafters will challenge Class Four rapids on their rafting trip out, while we signed up for return by four-wheel truck.
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After passing several other more rustic camp sites, we rounded the bend and beheld our exquisite Pacuare Lodge location. What a thrill and delight met our eyes! We disembarked at a flat landing beach and walked up the stone pathway amidst beautiful pink, red, and yellow flowering shrubs and huge trees intermittently thriving on the vast lawn which surrounded nine cabins. We had arrived at a true jungle paradise!

We first were welcomed at Pacuare Lodge Bar, which felt like a huge tree house in an open-air second floor overlooking the river, and lovely birdsong greeting us in all the branches. There were big hand-made hammocks and comfy couches and games and books for relaxing. We sipped a delicious fresh juice drink and learned a bit about our new “home” from our resident host, Then we were led to our cabins to wash up for lunch.
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Our newly renovated cabin was so wonderful we thought we had been given the honeymoon suite, but learned later that each couple thought the same! Built in the style of indigenous huts with a modern flair, the log buildings are on stilts and have wide porches with big wood couch for enjoying the view. We entered a very large bedroom, which had wood walls halfway up and sturdy screens on the top half. Our huge, extremely comfortable bed was larger than a normal king and built onto the floor, canopied with a decorative and functional mosquito net (which we never needed.) Passing through another screen door we went down some steps to our private slate-floored bathroom with a huge slate shower with copper fixtures and warm running water, heated by solar panels. We had a lovely marble dressing area with copper sink and flush toilet…a nice surprise in the middle of this remote area! Although there was no electricity, a flashlight was supplied and candles were everywhere.
Through the screen walls, which had curtains we could pull, we could see our privacy was assured by tall helicopia plants covered with brilliant red blooms all the way around our cabin. This was truly a jungle paradise suitable for the most exotic of cinemas! We were thrilled! Open year-round Pacuare Lodge can handle large groups, with nine of these cabins and seven spacious tents that have beds and good restrooms. The rainy season is warmer, but usually the rains do not interfere with activities.
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After settling into our cabin we returned to the Lodge for lunch. Wilman was our expert chef, who arrived just ahead of us in the supply raft with all the food for the group. How he prepared such a delicious meal from scratch so rapidly was beyond comprehension! I guess his twelve years’ experience here helped! The dining room and kitchen are one large screened room of the Lodge, beneath the Bar.

While at the Lodge no one ever lacks for things to enjoy. You can choose to just kick back, read in the hammock, and do nothing. Or you can take many guided hikes and learn all about your surroundings. We had planned to hike to see the indigenous Cabecar Indians high in the mountains, but we were discouraged to try it because it is a very steep, hot, muddy, and difficult all-day hike. We were glad to be warned.
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For our first afternoon everyone decided the first experience we wanted was the Canopy Tour, for which Costa Rica is famous. This one at Pacuare Lodge, the Highest Original Canopy Tour, was built by the person who opened and patented the first canopy tour in Costa Rica at Monteverde. Our two guides, Carlos and Gerardo, led us up the hill on a pretty trail through the foliage, past the secluded honeymoon cabin where we all had to try the swaying rope bridge. After about a half hour’s hike we came to the first steel platform to begin our canopy glides. Carlos and Gerardo spoke little English but were able to show us just what to do and made sure we stayed quite safe and felt secure in the exciting hour and a half experience. None of us knew quite what to expect the first time we were hoisted up by our girdle-like harness and clipped to the steel cable with huge cleats. We were given leather gloves to protect our hands when we had to brake to stop at each successive platform. We learned rapidly and overcame our initial fears, and each of us loved the great adrenaline rush as we zipped over the tree tops of the jungle canopy. As we waited for each person to solo zip we were safely hooked to the stationary cable on each platform and were able to enjoy looking down on the jungle below. It was so fun to feel like a monkey on the platforms and like a bird on the zip…what a glorious thrill. From several of the platforms we learned to do a quite scary repel, but we were in very capable leadership and our guides were extremely well trained and careful. We each found that even these “freefalls” were great fun!
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Happy hour at quick-falling dusk is a good time to relax and discuss the day’s thrills with other guests. Dinner was as lovely as it was delicious, with the oh-so-fresh cuisine, excellent wines, and rich Costa Rican coffee. If you let the company know ahead of time, they will meet any special dietary needs.

Some guests lingered at the bar for hours after dinner, talking and playing board games. Others opted for an early bedtime after a full day of exercise. Flashlights were necessary to return to our cabins along the torch-lighted pathways.

Candle-lit cabins are cozy and romantic with the various wildlife chirping and singing all around. The jungle comes to life at night, so no-one needs a sleep-sound for white noise. It was pleasantly cool, and the constant concert of the rushing river lulled us to sleep. What a lovely, refreshing night!

Early risers can enjoy a guided bird-watching tour with guides knowing just where to look for the brightest colors of the many birds. About 400 species have been identified here!
Among the most plentiful here are the black and bright yellow Mantezuma’s Oropendula. They are fun to watch because the male has a harem which he calls to him by a strange dance call. He sings loudly as he makes a forward swing from a branch, falling like a trapeze artist clutching the branch, until his head is straight down where he bobs like a pendulum and displays his brilliant plumage for a bit before righting himself. Their unusual basket-like nests also hang like pendula from the trees.
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Our experience at Pacuare Lodge is among our most wonderful of our many trips. We took long hikes on the comfortable trails with Kurt telling us the habits and curiosities of each of the plants and fascinating insects we encountered. He carefully warned us as to what was safe and what was hazardous among the flora and fauna. The most fascinating to all of us were the leaf-cutter ants, which laboriously cut and carry leaves three or four times their size, marching in rows to their nest, where they plant these and grow a harvest of fungus to eat. Kurt told us all about the strange habits of these little creatures, which made us wonder if we humans are actually the most advanced of the species? Another day we hiked to the waterfall and enjoyed a brisk swim in its lovely hidden pool and the thrill of its idyllic shower on our heads.

Pacuare Lodge is the perfect place to find true serenity, rest, and rejuvenation. Surrounded and inspired by the exquisiteness of nature in perfect balance, it is impossible to rush or worry, and no computers, TV, news, or cell phones can disturb your tranquility.
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City life may offer advantages of progress, possessions, and many “toys” that make our lives “easy,” but we all learned we have forfeited much peace and exhilaration in exchange for great stress. Every one of the guests wished for another week or two at Pacuare Lodge, and we all plan to return.
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Costa Rica Nature Adventures (Adventuras Naturales) owns Pacuare Lodge and is well-known as one of the best tour companies in Costa Rica and specializes in eco-tours. Although the grounds are beautifully manicured, they were not cleared to build the resort. This location decades ago was a cattle ranch. The buildings and furnishings were constructed entirely from trees that had already fallen, or purchased from a sustainable reforestation project operated by small farmers and transport it to the construction site. There is no insect spraying. The entirely natural habitat is revered and carefully preserved. Although there are excellent trails for the nature tour hikes, these are altered frequently so as not to impact the environment. Running tap water here is from a natural underground spring high in the mountains, is tested frequently, and is more pure than bottled water! Biodegradable soaps and shampoos are provided for guests, biodegradable disinfectants are used for cleaning, and biodegradable wastes are handled here, while recyclables are rafted back to town. Grey water is cycled onto leach fields, while toilets flush into a septic tank. The camp is well drained by ditches, and ony rainwater runs off into the river. Although we had expected mosquitoes to be a problem, we never saw one. We believe nature in such perfect balance solves the problem with the beautiful array of birds here! We learned so much about how to have habits that save our planet. This is an excellent place for groups to come to learn ecology or study plant life of Costa Rica. Pacuare Lodge can handle groups up to 36, but children under 12 are not allowed to raft.

Because of the high degree of skill in the well-trained guides at Pacuare Lodge, accidents are rare, but we were assured they can be handled expertly and a person can be transported to an excellent private hospital quickly.

For the first and last night of our trip we stayed in San Jose at Hotel Don Carlos, a beautiful historic hotel built in 1925 in the center of the capital city. The hotel’s vast reception, bar, and restaurant area is beautifully tiled, decorated with ceramics and stone replicas of archeological pieces from ancient indigenous Indian cultures, lovely orchid gardens, and fountains. The hotel has spacious rooms with hand-made, real parquet floors. Breezes and fans make air conditioning unnecessary, and bathrooms are modern. The cozy restaurant offers excellent meals for quite reasonable prices, and the full breakfast included is delicious. The hotel serves many tourists in transit. It is in the old, classical center of town with beautiful parks, theater, National Museum, shopping and business. However, after dark it is not safe to walk around the area. The city, like many Latin capitals, is a bit ragged, and the beautiful architecture of decades past has not been maintained well. We were warned that after dark it is only safe to go out by taxi, no walking around in the city.