True to form, the vacation industry refers to many eco-vacation deals as ecotourism in much the same way that car rental companies refer to econo boxes as mid-size cars. A five-star resort located in a sensitive ecological area replete with ten-dollar words like sustainability and referencing recycle materials while printing out globs of printed material on expensive parchment moves into ego tourism, not eco tourism. Actually, I enjoy both ego and ecotourism immensely.
But to experience true eco-tourism, I chose Costa Rica, a top five choice of Travelzoo for 2012. It also a very affordable round trip fare from many US and Canadian cities with flights from American, Continental and Jet Blue among others. To take it further, I picked an area of Ganacaste away from the typical tourist traps of Tamarindo, Arenal and Jaco and headed toward the volcano of Miravalles. The Miravalles Volcano is an andesitic stratovolcano in Costa Rica. The caldera was formed during several major explosive eruptions that produced voluminous dacitic-rhyolitic pyroclastic flows between about 1.5 and 0.6 million years ago. The only reported historical eruptive activity was a small steam explosion on the SW flank in 1946. High heat flow remains, and the Miravalles region is the site of the largest developed geothermal field in Costa Rica. Windmills in the area also produce electricity. Since this area produces all electricity from geothermal and wind, my vacation had the added eco boost of a low carbon footprint.
The Miravalles Volcano region of Guanacaste is convenient to both the San Jose and Liberia Airport. Since I was going for double eco, ecological and economical, it meant that I needed to incorporate camping into the vacation to keep cost low. Through my online search of AirBnB and TripAdvisor, I found the Ailanto Campground and Preserve.
The Ailanto Campground and Preserve in Guanacaste Costa Rica meets double eco vacation standard. It features several very comfortable fully furnished Hostel Houses starting at 25 dollars per night, replica Native American Teepees on the campground, warm thermal pools, and a fishing lake stocked with talapia and catfish. The property is gated. Best of all, as a guest, I had access to the entire 83 acre property for hiking. There are several self directed hiking trails on the property and at the end of your hike, you can rest at your choice of four thermal pools located on the Campgound or in the forest.
I usually started my day at the tree house yoga platform or soaking in the thermal pools in the forest. Ailanto's warm upper thermal pools are ancient deep earth sources that bubble up through the thermal cap that supplies the steam for the areas sustainable energy plants and bring to the surface mineral rich waters that have been in the earth for at least 10,000 years. These waters are rich in biocarbonates, calcium, magnesium and low in sulfer sharing qualities of the worlds best springs. On my hikes through the 83 acre property, I spotted congo and carrablanco monkeys, hummingbirds, toucans, parrots, and more butterflies than I could count. During my stay, The staff at Ailanto also arranged a two-hour zip line tour that feels like Spiderman swinging through the Jungle($40), the use of the Hot Springs at Yoko Thermales ($8) and a tour through a walkable crater at Los Hornillas ($25) and two wonderful relaxing long massages ($40) one in the Yoga Treehouse and one in the Maleku Cabin which was my one indulges to ego tourism. To add an educational purpose to you trip, a tour of the nearby Geothermal electrical plant can be arranged by the staff of Ailanto.
On the starlit nights I spent in the campground, the staff supplied a cot to sleep on inside the yellow Choza. They keep a large supply of firewood and after staring my own campfire and cooking, I felt the spirit of of what it must have felt to live in the 1800's with the security of knowing I had a return ticket to the present. Its a very peaceful and exiting feeling to camp outside in Costa Rica.
For provisions, I visited and toured the small, safe and very friendly nearby towns of La Fortuna de Bagaces and Guayabo where its not unusual to see gentleman farmers prancing on their Paso Fino Horses.
My one-week stay at Ailanto of 4 nights in the Maleku cabin and three nights at the campground $145. Ailanto gets added eco points for using solar to heat water for its cabins. They serve a typical tico breakfast of gallopinto, fried eggs, bread and coffee for $5. Local tours amounted to $73, so one week was less than two days at an ego hotel with the added benefit of being well rested and at peace while saving money. For more information, their website is http://www.ailantocampground.com