Our first impressions of San Jose reminded us of the surrounding hills and valleys of the San Francisco Bay Area in California. My husband and I had just landed (via San Salvador) and the warm, moist air was a lovely change from a winter up north that just cannot seem to lose its grip on the Washington DC metro area. The next impression we had was that while we were most definitely in a developing country in Central America, the people are some of the friendliest, sincerest and well educated in the entire region. Our first stop on our journey through Costa Rica was Finca Rosa Blanca, a sustainable coffee plantation inn located 20 minutes from the airport in the Santa Barbara area. Finca Rosa Blanca holds a Certificate in Sustainable Tourism Level 5 designation (the highest) and upon arrival, I could not help but marvel at both the beautiful vistas at every turn and the quality details dedicated to sustainable living.
Given that the Inn is so popular, we actually could not stay in the same villa for both nights, but I didn’t mind at all because it gave me a better sense of the type of accommodations the Inn offers. The clientele was mostly American – about 70% – with Europeans (mostly British and German) and a very small number Central Americans making up the difference. In addition, given that we were there during Spring Break, there were a number of families with younger children though one would never know since the Inn was still remarkably quiet. Yet, what was very surprising was that most visitors did not realize the significance of what supporting a CST Level 5 hotel does for a surrounding community. Most visitors were there because they had heard “it was nice” and actually felt better about their stay once they learned more about the hotel’s history and raison d’etre.
We stayed at El Valle the first night and El Pino the second night. Although completely different, they were both outstanding villas with very comfortable beds (with ecological bamboo linens), immense bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs and large tropical-style shower areas, and lovely balcony views with nature at every turn.
After settling in, we took some time to walk the grounds and stumbled along a path that surrounds the entire Inn. The path meanders through unusual looking trees and brightly-colored flowers up to an inviting pool with a little man-made waterfall, which later I found out helps keep the pool clean using more environmentally friendly methods than chlorination.
Although I had a general sense of the steps the Inn had taken toward achieving sustainability, I did not really appreciate all that went into it until we took the 8:00 AM Sustainability Tour offered every day to any interested client.
Leo, a former chemist, and literary scholar turned coffee plantation manager, proudly explained how every process from construction, landscaping, hot water generation, linen use, detergent use, food preparation and others was studied to determine the most environmentally friendly method for the Inn. Some methods are new, such as the use of ionization to clean the pool, while others are tried and true, such as using solar panels for hot water and building on slants to eliminate the need for irrigation systems. Add to that community and youth education programs, extensive recycling, a composting system, an organic greenhouse, and an employee annual energy usage competition, and you have a community working together to do for themselves where government programs and charity handouts do not.
There are plenty of tours available to accommodate almost every taste including horseback riding as well as nature and community tours, but we opted for the coffee plantation tour where Leo once again explained the organic coffee production process from seed to coffee cup tasting. It was an eye-opening tour mixed with organic coffee bean production and distribution politics as well as what constitutes true organic coffee bean creation. Leo loves what he does and it shows – and we are the richer for knowing how to select quality coffee beans!
Given that the Inn is a bit out of the way in Santa Barbara, we opted to have our meals there and we were not disappointed at all as there were excellent selection and service, and the food was delicious.
Lastly, we met up with the affable owners, Glenn and Teri, who are American ex-pats living out a dream in Costa Rica. I had actually met Glenn last year at the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference after he had given a presentation about the CST certification program. After hearing about his efforts toward sustainability, I knew I had to see Finca Rosa Blanca for myself and hopefully, spread the word for how beautiful, comfortable and educational sustainable lodging can be for visitors to the San Jose area.
After two days, we set off for Pacuare Lodge.