Girls just wanna have fun… in Costa Rica and Nicaragua

May 18, 2011, San José, Costa Rica – This summer and fall, leave work and life stresses at home and round up your favourite gal-pal for a Central American girlfriend getaway.

From now through Nov. 15, 2011, Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality is offering new Girlfriend Getaway Packages at all six of its Costa Rican and Nicaraguan properties. Known around the world for their highly sustainable and Earth-friendly ways, the hotels offer a range of outdoor activities for girls on-the-go with on-site amenities for ladies in need of relaxation including: surf lessons, ziplining over a rainforest canopy, rebalancing the sprit with private yoga, learning to make authentic tortillas, and more.

“Our studies show that the dream Girlfriend Getaway often includes an international destination, a long weekend, a pool or beach location, and plenty of fun things to do in the company of their inspirational female buddies,” said Managing Director of Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality, Andrea Bonilla. “We’ve created our new Girlfriend Getaway Packages specifically around these interests. We set the stage for a fabulous getaway during a time when we can offer great value.”

Perks of the Girlfriend Getaway Packages vary at each of the Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality properties:

Lapa Rios Ecolodge
Costa Rica’s Lapa Rios Ecolodge is set on a private nature reserve spread over 1,000-acres of Central America’s last remaining lowland tropical rainforest. This property’s Girlfriend Getaway Package includes five nights accommodation for the price of four, three gourmet meals per day, transfers to and from the Puerto Jimenez airport, a sustainability tour of the Lapa Rios property (includes participating in your own Plant a Tree program) and an on-site, guided tour (choices include bird watching at sunrise, a local medicine walk and exploring the rainforest). The five-night Girlfriend Getaway Package starts at $2,175 US.

Finca Rosa Blanca Plantation
Come stay at the first certified sustainable hotel in Costa Rica, and the only property to achieve a perfect score on the Sustainable Tourism Certification program. This property’s Girlfriend Getaway Package includes three nights accommodation, three gourmet meals per day, transfers to and from the airport, a tour of the inn’s organic coffee plantation, a rainforest massage and a head-to-toe massage. The three-night Girlfriend Getaway Package starts at $1,843 US.

Arenas Del Mar Beach and Nature Resort
Set on two private white sand beaches in Costa Rica, Playa Espadilla and Playitas, the resort is safe, close to a range of nightlife activities and offers a number of activities, tours and adventures. This property’s Girlfriend Getaway Package includes five nights accommodation for the price of four, transfers to and from the airport, breakfast each day, two 50-minute massages (one per guest), a tortilla-making class, a sustainability tour, 25 per cent discount at the gift shop and a choice of tour (explore Manuel Antonio National Park, go bird watching, hike the Biezans Beach, go horseback riding, white water raft or take a surfing lesson). The five-night Girlfriend Getaway Package starts at $1,590 US.

Latitued 10 Resort
Stay in one of the private casitas at this private beachfront resort in Costa Rica for the ultimate in gal pal relaxation and fun. This property’s Girlfriend Getaway Package includes five nights accommodation for the price of four, gourmet breakfasts, transfers to and from the airport, a surf lesson, dinner prepared by a private chef with a complimentary bottle of wine and the choice of one of four tours (hike the Montezuma Waterfalls, explore the Malpais canopy, go horseback riding or discover local turtles). The five-night Girlfriend Getaway Package starts at $1,587 US.

Jicaro Island Ecolodge
Girlfriends will feel good staying on their own private island at Jicaro Island Ecolodge, Nicaragua, a lodge built with minimum impact to the island and with careful planning in terms of water supply, wastewater treatment and electricity usage. This property’s Girlfriend Getaway Package includes three nights accommodation for the price of two, transfers to and from the airport, three gourmet meals per day, two 50-minute massages (one per guest) and a sunrise or sunset kayaking tour. The three-night Girlfriend Getaway Package starts at $1,970 US.

For more information or to book, contact us at info@cayugaonline.com.

Table Rock Wins Green Business Competition

The University of Belize (UB) in partnership with the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), the Belize Tourism Board (BTB), and the Belize Hotel Association (BHA) has announced Table Rock Jungle Lodge as the winner of Belize’s 2011 Green Business Award!
The Faculty of Science and Technology (FS&T) of UB conducted the Green Business Competition. All Belizean businesses, such as banks, media houses, hotels, agro-industries, field stations, etc. were encouraged to apply for the award.

Table Rock Jungle Lodge was recognized as a leader in the use or promotion of green practices and technologies, as well as for its sustainable and responsible practices for the benefit of the environment, the people of Belize, and the overall development that contributes to the conservation of our natural resources.

Lecturer in the Faculty of Science and Technology, Mr. Eden Garcia, says that “UB envisions that this Green Business Competition will act as a powerful catalyst to sensitize businesses about the importance of being environmentally friendly and to inspire other businesses to take the initiative in adopting new practices that can make them future leaders as Green Businesses in Belize.”
Table Rock thanks the outstanding work of our dedicated staff in helping us achieve this great honor. We will continue our efforts to reduce our footprint in this beautiful land and to improve our eco-friendly practices in the coming years.

Gecko Villa, Thailand: Interview Under a Traveller’s Palm

Up in the countryside of Northeast Thailand, in Udon Thani province, we recently sat down with Khun Ten, one of the owners of Gecko Villa, to discuss his unusual Thailand holiday villa, Isan itself (or the Northeast of the kingdom), and the property’s support for responsible, eco-friendly tourism.

Gecko Villa is a rural Thai holiday villa offering fully catered vacations of two nights or more, for anywhere between one and six guests. The villa enjoys a unique and tranquil rural setting among rice paddies and plantations stretching from the property’s private swimming pool.

What made you choose Isan as home for your holiday villa?
In fact, Isan chose us! I was born and raised near Khon Kaen and my wife is from this village here in Udon Thani province, so we are both locals.

The region is one of Thailand’s least developed, and employment is difficult to secure here, with the exception of working one’s own rice farm smallholding: this is always precarious, as a successful crop always depends on the weather patterns, and incomes are very low.

It was a friend who was in the hotel business who created the impetus to launch Gecko Villa – to create local employment and prevent the migration of parents to Bangkok or elsewhere to seek work. Traditionally parents, like my wife and I, have migrated to seek work whilst leaving children in the villages with grandparents, and we wanted to avoid such a split of our family.

How did you go about the construction of the villa?
From the inception of Gecko Villa, both I and the villagers involved were keen to ensure that the villa be designed, constructed and finished using only local skills and labour – and then be operated by local villagers, who would maximize the use of local produce and encourage the preservation of indigenous traditions.

And when I say local, I mean local! All of the builders and craftsmen who worked on the construction were from the three small villages nearest to the property. In decorating it, we used traditional Isan silks, cottons, cushions and Isan-heritage Ban Chiang pottery.

What makes Gecko Villa eco-friendly?
It’s a number of things we do, all of which add up.

In fact, villagers in Isan are very close to the land and have been for centuries, so tradition and necessity also play a major role. As an example, harvesting rainwater and minimizing water usage is automatic in a location where there is no mains water supply – you’ll see every house around Isan has big earthenware jars beside them. These collect rainwater from the roof and store it for later use.

Using salt water chlorination in the swimming pool (as opposed to chlorine) makes sense here, an area where salt is abundant in the ground. Growing vegetables organically is a local tradition in villages whose inhabitants do not want to waste scant funds on fertilizers.

From the outset, the property was constructed on disused rice paddies so no negative economic impact occurred. The wood used is local “Pradoo”. It is heavier than teak and twice as hard and is resistant to termites, grows rapidly, and is well suited to the soil of the Northeast. Most importantly, it is a local and sustainable tree that has the advantages of teak without the environmental implications.

At Gecko Villa we have reforested several acres of disused rice paddies with indigenous species, to help restore the local ecosystems.

We practice recycling and waste disposal programs. Again, these are in fact things that have happened in Thailand for a long time, practiced by people referred to as Saleng.

The villa uses power efficient, energy and water saving fittings and equipment. If one thing upsets us it is the high cost of solar power devices in Thailand: it seems absurd in a country where sunshine is almost always guaranteed and we would love to be able to deploy this!

I understand you are a keen cook. Can you tell me about Isan food?

We cook all meals for our guests during their holidays with us – and I’m always happy when guests learn how to make something special and can then recreate these dishes at home! Isan food is famous for its spiciness and complex depth of flavor – blending the spicy, sour, sweet and salty. Some local dishes include Larb – a spicy beef salad with fresh herbs; Som Tam – a zingy and crunchy green papaya salad, and of course sticky rice – the staple accompaniment to Isan meals.

We also cook traditional Thai food, and I suppose the greatest differences between the two are the extra spiciness of Isan food, and the fact that Isan cuisine rarely uses the “curry paste and coconut milk” formula of central Thai dishes. For us, the fresher the better!

The locals here have traditionally lived off the land, rather than simply on it, and we are always happy to show guests traditional hunting and food gathering techniques, and how these can be preserved only if the natural balance is maintained – and pollution avoided. For the more adventurous, there are local specialties including a golden array of crunchy, deep fried insects…or the kick of red ant eggs!

All produce is sourced locally, and we run our own organic herb and fruit orchards, growing limes, chilies, lemongrass, basil, pea eggplant, banana, mango, passion fruit, dragon fruit, mint, spring onions, jackfruit and more! The rice we serve is quite literally from our doorstep, from our own paddies.

How do you provide more enjoyable experiences for visitors and meaningful connections with local people?
Gecko Villa is deliberately limited to accept only a maximum of six guests at a time. They are directly welcomed by the local villagers involved in the property (including me!), with whom they have frequent daily interactions. We will involve guests in daily Thai village life and rituals (if they want!) and show them the area, explaining facets of life that may not be evident to visitors.
We also make sure that visits are generally made in ways that minimize the impact on the environment and maximize direct contact with the locals (ie visits by bicycle or boat rather than by minibus!)
Stays at Gecko Villa are tailored for each guest. Visitors may wish to relax in the privacy of the villa, or to be fully integrated into the local ways of life by the families that run the property – participating in rice farming, in temple or local village school visits, museum tours, Thai cooking classes, and so on. These activities are free of charge: additional services such as traditional Thai massage are sourced locally by experienced villagers to whom payment is made at cost, directly. We specifically aim to attract visitors who are interested in experiencing the ‘real’ Thailand, away from the major tourist centers. Those involved in the project thus understand the need to preserve and promote traditional local culture and ways of life. These are explained to guests at the property, but also on our website.
We also accompany guests to important ecological sites such as the listed wetlands of Nong Han, to museums such as Ban Chiang, and to a variety of local households to witness and experience life here at first hand.
In fact, it is the very local-specific things that interest guests the most often so we want to preserve and promote local Isan traditions – khit weaving, silk making, morlam music, Isan food, and Isan ceremonies such as Phuk Xieow. Most people will remember things that are unusual or special to them, such as visits to the local lotus lake, helping out with a rice harvest, learning to drive a tuk-tuk, negotiating local wet markets or giving alms to monks from rural temples, or discovering how silk is woven on old-fashioned wooden looms…

How successful has Gecko Villa been?
We have just had our tenth birthday!

I must say though, at the beginning, things were difficult. Very few people had ever heard of Isan, and the idea of a fully catered pool villa here, with local interaction, was a new one.

But I think time was on our side. The internet changed travel planning, allowing small, individual properties such as ours to gain a foothold. The, as we started to welcome back repeat visitors, word of mouth became a great ally. And finally, I think our concept came of age, as more people now want a genuine, authentic experience – they want to meet the locals and make a difference – and they are less tempted by a simple hotel or resort room where they are just a room number.

After ten years, we were also able to launch our second Thai holiday villa, Green Gecko. We aim to carry on what we do best, but ultimately think that two villas is enough: we want to keep the personal touch!

If I may, I’d like to thank all of the guests we have had the opportunity to meet over the years. The families here would not be here today were it not for them, and when guests come back, it really is as friends. I’d also like to thank the team at Thailand Holiday Villas who have given us so much support. We are so thankful to all of them!

For more information on Gecko Villa: Gecko Villa