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The Juanilama Community: Rural Tourism in Costa Rica

Happy Travellers

Costa Rica

This is the first of a series of blog posts about ecotourism and rural tourism in Costa Rica. Earlier this month, we organised a tour for Hannah, Kasi and Simone, bloggers and members of the Ethical Influencer Network. Hannah kicks off the series by sharing with us her experience at the Juanilama community:

A little over two weeks ago, I was sitting in a sunny outdoor kitchen in the home of a Costa Rican family, scooping up rice and beans onto a handmade tortilla while laughing along with the women sitting across from me as they teased each other in rapid-fire Spanish.

Sharing a meal. It brings us together; it’s been used as a symbol of goodwill and friendship from the very beginnings of society. When I travel, my most treasured moments usually come from connecting with others, so it’s not surprising that many of my favorite memories of my recent trip to Costa Rica through Sumak Travel center around the meals and experiences I shared with my new local friends while visiting the Juanilama Rural Community.

The Juanilama Community is a beautiful group of people committed to preserving cultural traditions and conserving the land that they prize through a rural tourism initiative that they run themselves. The initiative has been running since 2000, and the community has managed to keep the groups that they host small, and the impact of these groups minimal, during the past 16 years. Though the tourism program brings in some supplemental income for the community, any member will quickly tell you that “it’s not about the money”, but rather about facilitating a truly authentic travel experience for their guests and sharing their love for their beloved Costa Rica.

Immersion in a rural community

I spent two action-packed days visiting the Juanilama Community with fellow writers from The Ethical Influencer Network. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by our hosts, who introduced themselves and told us about their individual roles within the community’s tourism program. They’d prepared a full schedule of activities for us to immerse us within “the real Costa Rica” and teach us about “la vida local”. That immersion included dividing our group up to stay in the various homes of community members who’d been “assigned” to each of us (wonderful people who jokingly referred to themselves as our “mamas” and “papas” while we stayed in their homes).

Throughout our time at the Juanilama community, we were constantly learning from our hosts:

Sandra showed us around the community, filling us in on the history of the area and showing us how yucca and sugarcane are harvested. We also walked through the gardens surrounding many of the community’s colorful homes, and were schooled on the diverse offering of plants grown there and each of their medicinal uses. Learning is hands-on at Juanilama and we were constantly encouraged to experience everything with as many senses as we could: touching the gigantic, thick leaves that are known as the “poor man’s umbrella”, smelling the bark of the cinnamon tree, tasting herbs.

Carlos (who has lived in the community for 30 years), took us on a trek through the green jewel that is the rainforest to visit a pristine waterfall surrounded by lush primary forest. He spoke about the rainforest as though it was a much-beloved friend, stopping at regular intervals to let us in on the secrets that it has to share (trees that can “walk”, shy plants that shrink back in response to touch, a tiny ant that can deliver a sting so powerful you’ll feel a searing, bullet-like pain…).

Elena and Giselle taught us how to repurpose trash- plastic bottles, old newspapers, and tin cans- to make crafts to take home as souvenirs.

This is what makes Sumak’s particular brand of travel so impactful, in my eyes: so often, travelers visit other countries with the intention of volunteering or “teaching” something to the local community. With Sumak, the tables are turned. Instead of looking at what you can offer, you’ll realize how much you have to learn.

Back to those meals I mentioned – the women of the community all came together to teach my fellow travelers and me several cooking classes throughout our time together, showing us how to make tortillas, cook plantains, and assemble a delicious sugary coconut dessert. We even milked a cow and learned how to make fresh cheese! We’d then sit and enjoy the fruits of our labor together. We learned about each others’ lives, families, hobbies, and beliefs. Everyone came together on our final night to put on a “fiesta”- we shared yet another memorable meal, watched the local schoolchildren perform traditional dances, and shared many laughs as several of our “mamas” patiently taught us merengue and salsa moves.

For the eco-conscious traveler, you’ll be thrilled to find that the Juanilama Community shares your values. Your food will be local (much of it grown in the gardens a few steps outside your lodgings), and you’ll note that the community produces very little waste. You’ll be encouraged to keep your use of electricity to a minimum and to conserve water when you shower.

If you’ve never experienced community based, rural tourism, you’re missing out! Many travelers crave an “authentic” experience while touring a new country, but I’d venture to guess that not many really find it while zip-lining with other tourists or hanging out at an overcrowded beach. Let Sumak Travel’s expert staff set you up with a customized experience that reaches beyond the scope of normal tourist activities and be amazed at how much richer your time spent abroad will become.

About the author:

Hannah writes about ethical and sustainable living at Life, Style & Justice. She is also the founder of the Ethical Influencer Network – a global community of writers and creatives committed to promoting conscious consumerism. See more from Hannah’s trip with us on Instagram: #ethicalinfluencersxsumaktravel

How to do it:

If you are planning to visit Juanilama on your own, you can contact Sandra at info@turismoruraljuanilama.org (in Spanish) or visit their website: www.turismoruraljuanilama.org

If you are looking for a tailor-made tour in Costa Rica, visit our Costa Rica holidays page. Finally, don’t forget to subscribe to our quarterly newsletter to make sure you never miss blog posts like this one in the future!

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