Standing outside your palm-thatched river-view suite, its wooden doors opened on to the terrace to reveal a vast canopy, king-size, Egyptian-cotton sheets ruffling in the breeze, Pacuare Jungle Lodge seems like the archetypal luxury hideaway. But there’s one big difference: you’re dripping wet and are kitted out in a life jacket and helmet.
At some hotels, you arrive by limo; at Pacuare, you (and your guide) paddle there in a raft, negotiating several kilometres of the raging Río Pacuare in order to bed down for the night in your own private piece of paradise. Surrounded by rainforest, the lodge perches on a bend in the river and has to be one of the few five-stars in the world where you can truly say that getting there is half the fun.
The Río Pacuare’s adrenalin-inducing mix of open canyons and narrow passages has made it one of the best whitewater-rafting rivers on Earth – when rapids are called “Double Drop” and “Upper Pinball” you know they’ve earned their names – but the journey is as much about the scenery as the scintillation. Thundering waterfalls cascade down overhanging rocks, and the lowland tropical forest that borders the river spills right down to the water’s edge, its thick undergrowth providing refuge for monkeys, sloths and an incredible array of birdlife.
There’s more nature when you step out of the raft. A lot of so-called ecolodges only pay lip-service to the environment, but Pacuare wears its credentials on its sleeve: it part-funds a nearby jaguar research project and has started its own conservation effort by reintroducing howler monkeys into the surrounding area, two initiatives that have helped it become one of only 65 hotels recognized by the World Tourism Organization for good practice in sustainability and ecotourism.
Hopefully, the howler monkeys won’t disturb you too much in the night – you’ll need as much sleep as you can get for the return journey.
Pacuare Jungle Lodge (http://www.junglelodgecostarica.com) is near the town of Siquirres, southeast of San José. Two-night packages, including rafting in and out, start from US$375.