Nature in the raw! Untamed tropical Nirvana! Rainforest euphoria.
As I search for the right words to describe the magic of Selva Bananito, I begin to realize that the English language may not have sufficient horsepower to do the job. In Costa Rica, they call it Pura Vida (Pure Life). This is a phrase you'll hear repeated constantly on your Costa Rica vacation.
At Selva Bananito, this regenerative force seems to jump right out of the jungle and become part of you! Located on the Caribbean watershed of the Talamanca mountains, about a four-hour drive from Costa Rica's capital of San Jose, Selva Bananito Lodge and its surrounding tropical rain forest reserve are owned and managed by the Stein family, whose roots in the area go back to 1974. Their property lies adjacent to one of Costa Rica's most pristine and unexplored regions, protected in La Amistad International Park. The Park is a part of United Nations Biosphere Reserve that stretches all the way to Panama. It's a Costa Rica vacation must-see.
When family patriarch Rudi Stein first moved here, about one third of this 3,000-acre tract had already been stripped of its tropical hardwood timber by employees of a U.S.-based banana exporter and abandoned in the late 1920's. Government permits were in place to selectively harvest what remained. Considering the vast economic value of the timber alone...it didn't appear a very bright future was in store for virtually untouched tropical jungle. Luckily (can you imagine a Costa Rica vacation without such spectacular wildlife?) a couple of small miracles occurred.
In 1994, after years of agricultural experimentation on the already-cleared portion of their land (including plantain, organic bananas, dual purpose cattle, coconuts and heliconia flowers), Rudi and his family made the somewhat risky decision to declare 2,000 acres (two-thirds) of their farm as a private biological reserve. Eleven rustic but very comfortable cabins were built on previously cleared land to offer scientists, students and families the opportunity of experiencing first hand the enchanting mystery and awesome power of a remote neo-tropical rain forest.
This was followed in 1997 by the establishment of the Limon Watershed Foundatioin (known locally as Fundacion Cuencas de Limon), a grassroots environmental movement that is largely funded by Selva Bananito Lodge and tax-deductible contributions originating from the United States. Costa Rica vacation options are now very eco-conscious, and eco-aware travelers love hearing about the triumphs of this key organization. They have been instrumental in the legal shutdown of at least two illegal logging operations in the region, and continues to gain local support through environmental education programs directed towards local landowners.
The Limon Watershed Foundation has become a leading member of the regional CIMAPROCBA commission - a government-sponsored task force for watershed management. This commission is made up of key representatives from Costa Rica's Ministry of Agriculture, National Park System administrators, Ministry of Transportation and Public Works, Forestry Department, Public Water Supply, National Emergency Commission, community spokespersons from the town of Bananito and the Standard Fruit Company.
The Limon Watershed Foundation, together with CIMAPROCB, is responsible for the long term management of some 85% of the watershed basin providing water of the city of Limon. The Foundation's active dialogue with both government and non-government entities, combined with their no-nonsense stance on illegal logging, has positioned them at the forefront of environmental network.
If you include Selva Bananito Lodge in your Costa Rica vacation, however, the focus moves from policymaking and enforcement to jungle fun and adventure about as fast as you can blink. With more than 300 species of birds recorded, the surrounding rain forest sounds like a huge 2,000-acre San Diego Zoo aviary - minus the walls. Egrets, Herons, Ospreys, Hummingbirds, Kingfishers, Toucans, Parrots, Wood Peckers, Swallows, Wrens, Gnatcatchers, Vireos, Warbles, Tanagers, Antbirds, Flycatchers, Swifts! the list seems to go on and on! And most of them can be seen from the comfort of the deck of your cabin.
If your idea of a Costa Rica vacation is pitching a tent and listening to the distant howl of Jaguars, there is always jungle camping. You'll be out in one of the deepest, darkest, rain forests on earth. But be prepared! They don't call it RAIN forest just to impress you. When it does rain, some campers may wish they had pontoons on the sides of their tent!
For those who prefer a Costa Rica vacation with a solid roof, you may prefer exploring the forest on horseback. This option is offered year round by Selva Bananito Lodge and may provide the most interesting daytime introduction to both the farm and the jungle's edge. Although the terrain can at times be challenging to novices, you will cover a lot more ground and have more opportunity to look around.
Hiking with a guide along Selva Bananito's several miles of rain forest trails or along the river beds is probably the best way to see wildlife, take close-up photographs and get an expert interpretation of what you are seeing. Day-trips to the waterfalls can be especially rewarding.
There may be a point during your Costa Rica travel experience when you feel as though you have seen and done it all. Well, look up! You can always climb one of Selva Bananito's memorable Ceiba or "Broccoli" trees (yikes!: 100 to 150 feet straight up!). The Lodge provides instruction, assistance and specialized equipment. With all of these activities, you will probably find muscles you never knew you had. You will sweat. You will get grubby. You may curse the mud. But when the day is over, and you've washed it all off in the solar-heated shower in your comfortable, candle-lit cabin, you will no doubt be a better person for having experienced one of nature's true mysteries. Perhaps you will go and encourage others to preserve what has become one of humankind's most endangered resources - the magic of Costa Rica's hidden rain forests. You'll never forget this Costa Rica vacation.
This article has been reprinted with permission. It originally appeared in Costa Rica Outdoors, Vol. 5, No. 4 (July-August, 2000), on page 37.