Eco vacations: the best eco lodges in Costa Rica

What is an eco resort or eco lodge? An eco lodge is a hospitality establishment that has been conceived and is run with the aim of providing guests with a stay that is strongly oriented to nature-based experiences while educating them about the immediate natural environment and how to preserve it. Unlike green hotels –with which they share energy and resource-saving features-, the eco resorts are normally integrated in secluded areas that may be forests, beaches, jungles or mountains, away from the noise and pollution inherent to urban zones. This way, travellers get the unique chance to immerse themselves in the local culture, stay in close touch with nature and even learn and help to preserve the indigenous ecosystem.

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Booking your stay in an eco lodge

In their mission to limit waste and reduce all kinds of negative impacts that tourism may exert on the environment, eco lodges use eco-friendly, recyclable, biodegradable and organic supplies, and strive to ensure that most amenities and utensils made available are non-disposable. In the same manner and in order to offer guests a completely innovative experience that will feel nothing like a hotel stay, these small lodges are normally run by locals who are experts in the local flora and fauna rather than business people, and also make an effort to contribute back to the community by employing insiders who will be better tour guides than many trained professionals, using local produce to elaborate their dishes and devoting themselves to the preservation of natural resources.

Eco resorts and eco lodges typically specialise in a vast range of activities so that travellers have plenty to do during their eco vacation: from visits to natural spas to hiking and kayaking tours, yoga lessons, outdoor and water sports, harvesting and cooking classes, and trips to archaeological sites and natural reserves.

Eco lodges in Costa Rica

This sort of accommodation is frequently found in islands and tropical regions, among which Costa Rica –with both its Pacific and its Caribbean coast- stands out as home to some of the best eco resorts in the world. Such a denomination does not come as a surprise when talking about a land boasting tropical forests and paradisiacal views that is extremely rich in biologically-diverse ecosystems never discovered anywhere else on earth. Below you will find a selection of our recommended eco lodges in Costa Rica.

The Catarata eco lodge in Costa Rica

Location: this accommodation is superbly located in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, and provides confirmed guests with private shuttle services to and from Juan Santamaría International airport, approximately two hours and a half away. It also offers free parking spaces if you decide to hire a car. A short drive separates the lodge from nearby hot springs and waterfalls, while the non-smoking and accessible facilities afford stunning views of the Arenal Volcano, and feature blooming gardens where indigenous birds live, an onsite restaurant specialising in traditional food, a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi aside from other amenities.

Activities: while staying here, travellers may take day-trips to many natural sites of interest in La Fortuna such as geothermal spas, waterfalls, the Arenal Eco Zoo and adventure parks ideally located within easy reach from the accommodation.

Characteristics: this eco lodge in Costa Rica features complimentary WiFi internet in their premises, free parking spaces, laundry services, daily housekeeping and breakfast. Guests may choose to stay in family rooms with capacity of 4 adults and 2 children, double units or triple units.

Lookout Inn Beach Rain-Forest / Eco Lodge in Costa Rica

Location: the Lookout Inn is actually an eco resort on the beach that offers rooms and bungalows with ocean views in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Airport transfers are available to and from the nearest airports: Puerto Jimenez International (20 kilometres from the accommodation) and the domestic terminal Carate (1 kilometre from the lodge). It is ideally located to take short trips to the Corcovado National Park.

Activities: guests may enjoy the swimming pool with views, request massage services on site or go horse-riding, kayaking, hiking or bird-watching. The nearby Corcovado National Park is a mandatory visit.

Characteristics. All units of this eco resort in Costa Rica have private bathrooms with amenities and fall into the following categories: beach bungalow, family room, double room, quadruple room and deluxe room. The restaurant inside the premises specialises in international cuisine and serves meals all throughout the day.

Eco lodge in a natural reserve in Costa Rica

Location: the Cedrela eco lodge is situated in the heart of a natural reserve known as Cedrela in Copey, 46 kilometres away  from Playa Hermosa and some 40 kilometres from the nearest air passenger terminal (Tobias Bolaños International); airport transfers are provided for a small surcharge.

Activities: as a guest, join the organised daily tours and excursions to explore the reserve and its vicinity, or stay and try the scrumptious local dishes in its onsite restaurant.

Characteristics: the Cedrela eco lodge complex in Costa Rica has a diverse range of accommodation options featuring free WiFi and garden views that include cottages, bungalows, villas and double or twin rooms.

The Maquenque eco lodge in Costa Rica

Location: this environmentally-friendly accommodation is nestled in the tropical jungle in Boca Tapada, surrounded by local fauna and wildlife, with gardens where they grow their own fruits and vegetables. It takes about three hours to reach this point from San Jose International airport in Costa Rica, but so much to see awaits here that the journey is well worth it; airport transfers are offered at an extra cost.

Activities: although the Maquenque reserve features nearby markets and even an area with local dining outlets and bars few kilometres apart, it is known and valued for being a tranquil place ideal for nature lovers to admire the indigenous wildlife. Aside from that, visitors may enrol in a wide range of tours that imply activities like hiking trails, bird-watching, canoeing, boat trips to River San Carlos and even night safaris. Should they feel like staying at the lodge, there is a sports bar and a local restaurant inside the facilities.

Characteristics: the spacious rooms at this accommodation for your eco vacation in Costa Rica can be of double or triple occupancy or bungalows, and they feature private terrace and en suite bathroom with amenities. Complimentary breakfast is available.

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A quick guide to the main airport in Costa Rica (Juan Santamaría International)

According to reputed travel publications, Costa Rica is an international destination on the rise for world adventurers, digital nomads and travelers looking for unconventional experiences such as staying in an eco-lodge instead of a resort to spend their vacation learning about environmental care, promoting sustainability and looking after nature in an unparalleled setting. The primary airport serving its capital city –San José- is named after national hero Juan Santamaría and lies roughly 20 kilometers from the downtown. It welcomes passengers who fly into the country, one of the seven that make up Central America, from airports in South America, the Caribbean, the United States, Canada and Europe

If you have fallen under the spell of its tropical forests and the dreamy coastlines along both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and whether you want to visit La Fortuna, Puntarenas, Copey, Playa Hermosa, Boca Tapada, Tamarindo or all of them, your flight to Costa Rica will probably land in San José airport, that is, in Juan Santamaría International. The vast majority of its operations within Latin America are operated by Avianca, Copa Airlines, Green Airways, Sansa and Volaris, whereas flights to and from major hubs in North America and Europe are handled by American Airlines, JetBlue, Air Canada, Iberia, Air France, British Airways, KLM and Lufthansa, among others.

Terminals of Juan Santamaría airport in San José, Costa Rica

Since 2018, when the domestic terminal was inaugurated, San José airport in Costa Rica has two terminal buildings: Terminal M (main terminal), also known as the international building, and Terminal D (domestic terminal) exclusively dedicated to Sansa flights. The international terminal of Juan Santamaría airport is divided into three levels, each of which accommodates the arrivals zone, the departures area and the VIP lounges respectively.

Ground transportation options at Juan Santamaría airport of Costa Rica

Travelling by taxi in Costa Rica. The fastest way to commute from Juan Santamaría airport to San José downtown is by taxi; you will find officially licensed taxi cabs outside the terminals and it is likely that you are approached by some drivers too. In order to identify a reliable vehicle, look for either the red with yellow triangles fleet or the orange fleet. They typically charge around $20.

Travelling by bus. The same route can be covered by bus if you hop on the public line “Montezuma-San José” from the airport. The journey lasts about 20 minutes and one-way ticket fares are under $1. Note that this service may be affected by covid-19 restrictions.

*Boarding buses and shuttle services towards Puntarenas, Guanacaste and other regions of Costa Rica is also possible from both the airport and downtown San José.

Hotels near the facilities of SJO

If you are travelling for business or need to spend an overnight layover close to the terminals, you may consider staying in one of the hotels near Juan Santamaría airport in San José, Costa Rica. We recommend:

Holiday Inn Express hotel SJO

Only 1,5 kilometers from the airport, this hotel provides confirmed guests with complimentary transfers to and from the terminals, breakfast is included in the nightly rates and double, triple or family rooms are available for booking. Enhanced disinfection and social distancing measures are currently in place due to covid-19.

Courtyard by Marriott San José airport / Alajuela

This hotel near Juan Santamaría airport in Costa Rica is equally striving to ensure the safety of their guests throughout their stay, and the use of face masks is mandatory in all communal areas of the premises. Its rooms and suites are conveniently located less than one kilometer away from the passenger terminals and shuttle transfers are operated at no extra charge.

Passenger services in San José airport of Costa Rica

Should you need to connect your device to the WiFi network, eat, drink, buy a last-minute gift, withdraw cash in the local currency or spend the wait at an airport lounge, Juan Santamaría International has you covered. See a quick guide to the available services and amenities below.

WiFi. Passengers going through SJO can use the free WiFi connection for a limited period of time (3 hours) whether they are on the public landside zone or the restricted airside area.

ATMs. There are BAC San José and Scotiabank ATMs in the arrivals zone and they remain operational 24 hours a day so that you can withdraw your “colones”.

Restaurants. The majority of eateries in Juan Santamaría airport of Costa Rica are found in the Departures area after security. Malinche and Imperial serve traditional Costa Rican dishes, but many international franchises also have presence here such as Cinnabon, Starbucks, Lavazza Coffee, Teriyaki Express and Smashburger.

Duty free stores. They are strategically situated by boarding gates 4, 5 and 8 and boast a wide array of top quality jewelry, watches, liquors, fragrances, make up and accessories for kids, women and men.

VIP lounges in San José airport. There are two airport lounges in SJO, namely the VIP Santamaría –a Star Alliance lounge managed by Avianca-, which stays open from 4:30 to 20:00 every day of the week and is located on the upper floor of the main terminal, and the Copa Club lounge, with the same opening hours and located near Gate 5 on the lower level.

(Archived) COVID-19 prevention measures in place at San José airport

Travelers flying to Costa Rica and landing in Juan Santamaría International airport (SJO) must comply with the rules and regulations in effect aimed at preventing the spread of covid. Due to the changing nature of the global pandemic situation, requirements are constantly being modified, so it is strongly recommended that you check and confirm with both the destination and the airline what you need to do before travelling and upon landing in San José. In the recent months, visitors have been required to submit a digital Health Declaration form, show proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival and present evidence for having purchased travel medical insurance. Quarantine measures might apply as well.