Xandari, a sustainable lodge in Costa Rica
Our last blog post was about Simone sharing her thoughts on organic farming and rural tourism in Costa Rica. Today we turn our eyes to what Jocelyn from the Xandari Resort and Spa Costa Rica writes about the great work that is done at the lodge in terms of sustainability. They work very hard, in partnership with the local community, to improve the sustainability of the area. This also contributes to decrease waste and garbage, something that travellers going to Xandari will notice. In her own words:
I never expected to return to Costa Rica after finishing my degree at Boston University, and much less to fulfil a role that I had, until then, only dreamed about. The opportunity to become the Sustainability Coordinator at Xandari Resort in Costa Rica, a hotel rooted on the principles of environmentalism and community engagement, was an opportunity I could not let pass. As a native-born Costa Rican who grew up amidst this Central American country’s tropical splendour until the age of twelve, I was no stranger to the ecotourism concept. However, learning to exercise the holistic model was an experience that expanded and challenged my perception about sustainability beyond the elementary principles of saving energy, reducing waste, and eating locally.
Upon arriving at Xandari, my senses were immediately awakened by the singing of birds, the fluttering of butterflies, the aroma of flowers, and the vibrancy of the mosaics; I was welcomed not only by my fellow coworkers but also by the plentitude of flora and fauna that give life to the forest reserve overlooking Costa Rica’s second largest city, Alajuela. The colourful and undulating design of the buildings complements the hues and patterns found in the lush surroundings, blending in with the natural environment. Dense gardens around the twenty-four villas help shade the windows, while the interior design and cross-breeze potential of the ventilation means guests don’t need air-conditioning to feel cool in the foothills of Poas Volcano, where temperatures range in the seventies (early to mid 20’s C) practically year-round. The scenic attraction of Poas itself is normally foggy and easily reaches the high fifties (~14˚C) or low sixties (~17˚C) due to its elevation, but if that gets too cold for some of you while on vacation in the tropics, just take the forty-five minute drive back to Xandari and warm up in one of our saline-treated, solar-heated pools!
On my first full day at Xandari, I facilitated the Plant-a-Tree activity, which continuously helps to expand the forested areas of the property. Land that used to be a coffee plantation has now been transformed into blossoming greenery – thanks to the vision of the head gardener and the participation of guests – to restore the flourishing forest that existed beforehand. To further promulgate the spirit of “greening our planet”, the hotel developed a campaign with the goal of planting 1000 trees by the country’s bicentennial anniversary, which not only includes tree plantings within the property, but also through regional reforestation programs.
Between the tree plantings and other work-related commitments, I never missed an opportunity to visit the fruit and vegetable gardens. The fertile soil and the humid, tropical weather conditions of Costa Rica provide the ideal conditions for growing football-sized watermelons under the sunshine and lettuce leaves bursting with flavour in the greenhouse. We’re able to supply the hotel’s restaurant year-round with produce from our property. On the way to the gardens, bold yiguїrros (Costa Rica’s national bird, the Clay-coloured Thrush) and stately bobos (Xandari’s unofficial mascot, the Lesson’s Motmot), and occasionally, Red-legged Honeycreepers, flutter about pervasively, making bird-spotting a habit. Birds will sometimes be nibbling at a piece of fruit right before it could become an ingredient in a guest’s fruit smoothie, but the frustration fades as you get the opportunity to marvel at these feathery creatures that thrive in Xandari.
Another group of fruit-eating visitors to the resort are the bubbly elementary students from the local village who visit Xandari every year to learn about the importance of living sustainably and to join in with a few of our routine sustainable practices. One of the highlights in the educational tour is a brief stop at the bamboo hydroponic gardens, and an explanation of the benefits of this gardening method. The rosy-red strawberries hanging over the bamboo retainer are a scrumptious temptation, and the kids’ favourite stop of the tour. Once the students can remember three of the benefits of hydroponic gardening, they can each pick out one strawberry to eat. Of course, at that point, nearly all the berries are gone!
After the fruity indulgence the students visit the compost area, which is not quite as as exciting for them. It’s probable that the sharp, earthy smell stuns their senses. They stand in a semicircle as far away as possible and take turns approaching a pile that the gardener urges them to touch. As they get a closer look, the kids ogle at the steam coming out the overturned pile and whisper “oooooooohhhs” and “aaaaaaaahhhhhs” upon touching the warm organic material. Once the compost demonstration is over, the children are eager to move on to a less odorous location and the rest of the educational tour continues with less pungency.
The kids may find it difficult to see the decomposing waste as a useful vegetable material, but another yearly event Xandari hosts shows them what real garbage looks (and smells) like when improperly disposed of. The Association of Terra Nostra (ATN) in Costa Rica organises a “National Clean-up Week”, during the third week of September every year, and Xandari always supports ATN’s efforts by organising its own local street clean-up in the town. The success and joy of the event lies in the close relationship between the staff and the local villagers – because most of the staff grew up in and live in the surrounding villages. This valuable community event therefore becomes an extended gathering of family and friends. Local organisation leaders, students, and businesses join forces to help with the street clean-up, and pick up around 450kg of garbage and more than 200kg of recyclables each year.
We hope that the effort of cleaning the streets and rivers in town shows the young members of the community how much easier it is to simply throw things away properly to begin with. To make recycling simpler in a relatively remote area, for example, Xandari receives bags of any recyclable material from the community, and then sorts it and takes it to the appropriate processing facility free of charge. Doing things this way, and growing produce and coffee on our property organically, allow for educational opportunities that our staff can share with their neighbours and, over time, change their behaviour towards more sustainable practices.
Xandari Resort’s efforts to maximise sustainability, whether it’s through gardening or housekeeping, cooking or office work, serve as a reminder not only to the staff, but also to the local community and the guests, of the depth and complexity of ways in which we can actively mitigate our environmental impact. I look forward to seeing how Xandari continues to progress and contribute to the greater sustainable tourism movement, because it is a trend that is vital to the conservation of our world, no matter which corner of the world one travels to.
Thanks to Jocelyn for this post about the Xandari Resort and Spa and how it contributes to sustainable tourism in Costa Rica.