Go out on a limb: Costa Rica’s best tree houses

Sleeping in a tree house is the best, maybe because it is something different, or maybe because the human subconscious understands that a few million years ago it was something normal. Even after our arboreal ancestors stopped living in trees, they still climbed up to sleep because it felt safe.

Lately a lot of places around the world are seeing renewed interest in tree houses, and Costa Rica – with its vast stretches of primary forest and ubiquitous, durable hardwoods – is no exception. These days, visitors are opting to sleep in tree houses not just because it’s awesome, but also because they care about forest conservation. When a tree generates more income standing than felled, people have incentive to keep it alive.

Lonely Planet‘s Ashley Harrell looks up to the canopies…

The tree house named El Castillo at Finca Bella Vista © Jeremy Papasso / Finca Bella Vista

The tree house named El Castillo at Finca Bellavista © Jeremy Papasso / Finca Bellavista

Wherever you happen to be traveling in Costa Rica, you will likely be near a tree house of some kind. There are tree house rentals, tree house hotels, tree house resort communities, tree house restaurants and even a tree hostel. A word of caution though – many internet advertisements for ‘tree houses’ are actually offering regular houses near trees or on stilts. What follows are our picks for the best real tree houses in Costa Rica, but do feel free to branch out.

Kickin’ it in the canopy

For a sense of what its like to live in a primary forest’s canopy, spend the night at Nature Observatorio (natureobservatorio.com) in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. Getting there involves a 45-minute hike in the jungle, then an 80-foot climb up a rope ladder strung over an old growth Nispero tree. Owner Peter Garcar straps you into a harness for this feat, then sends up baskets with all your meals. The circular, two-level deck sleeps four, and guests often encounter all manner of other tree dwellers, including monkeys, toucans, iguanas and kinkajous. This all-inclusive experience runs for $160 per person.

The tree house at Nature Observatorio requires guests to ascend via rope and harness © Nature Observatorio

The tree house at Nature Observatorio requires guests to ascend via rope and harness © Nature Observatorio

Swiss Family (insert your last name here)

In Costa Rica’s Southern Caribbean, an imaginative Dutchman taught himself architecture and created Tree House Lodge, a collection of whimsical vacation homes just steps from Playa Chiquita. Not all the homes are proper tree houses, but the eponymous ‘Tree House’ accommodation is. The first floor is built around a Sangrillo tree, and the second-story master bedroom is a proper tree room, with a hanging bridge for an entrance. The newest home on the property is also built around several trees and contains a mini-golf course in the living room. This place is amazing, and that’s why it costs $400 a night.

The first floor of the tree house at Tree House Lodge © Tree House Lodge

The first floor of the tree house at Tree House Lodge © Tree House Lodge

Because money doesn’t grow on trees

Arboreal accommodations are undeniably upper class, but there is one spot on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast where a stay in the trees doesn’t require too many greenbacks. Just a few years ago, the beloved Flutterby Hostel (flutterbyhouse.com) in Uvita constructed three treetop accommodations on its property, including two private rooms and the country’s first tree dormitory. The adorably decorated tree digs go for $50 or $60 a night and dorm beds are $18, which is not a whole lot more than an area dorm bed costs on the ground.

Elevate your palate

In downtown Santa Elena in northwestern Costa Rica, a quaint eatery appropriately dubbed Tree House Restaurant and Café is perched inside an enormous Ficus tree. Guests ascend a staircase up into the dining room and take their seats at tree trunk tables, and although the food is not particularly cheap, you really can’t beat the atmosphere. This is a fun option for families and a great spot for ice cream. Also, if you can’t get enough of being in trees around Monteverde, Hidden Canopy is a boutique stay offering five tree chalets just up the road from the restaurant. The over-sized beds are constructed out of tree roots, and the showers are waterfall-style.

A volcano reTREEt

Near the Arenal Volcano, in a 70-hectare wildlife refuge containing waterfalls, refreshing pools and a river, Tree Houses Hotel (treehouseshotelcostarica.com) offers seven adorable tree houses equipped with air conditioning, warm water showers and even refrigerators. Guests admire birds from rocking chairs on wrap-around decks and often receive monkey and toucan visitors. Prices are a moderate $99-175 a night for double occupancy, including breakfast, and there’s also an onsite spa.

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The comfortable interior of the tree house at Tree Houses Hotel © Tree Houses Hotel

A village in the trees

Costa Rica’s most ambitious tree house project is the 600-acre Finca Bellavista (fincabellavista.com), an upscale community of tree houses in the vicinity of Palmar Norte on the Osa Peninsula (the exact location is emailed to guests once they’ve booked). Like many vacation home communities, the houses are individually owned and rented out when unoccupied. Unlike many communities, residents and visitors can travel between homes on hanging bridges, and dinner is grown in a garden on the rainforest floor down below. The amenities in each house vary, but the highest end offerings have kitchens, electricity and running water. Prices start at $50 for a single occupancy, and range from $100 to $275 a night for two people, with a two-night minimum.

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