Many places around the world are seeing a resurgence of interest in treehouses, and Costa Rica – with its vast expanses of primary forest and enduring, ubiquitous hardwoods – is no exception.
These days, visitors choose to sleep in treehouses not only because it’s something different, but also because they care about forest conservation. When a tree generates more standing income than when it is felled, people have an incentive to keep it alive.
Wherever you travel in Costa Rica, you will likely be near some sort of treehouse. There are treehouse rentals, treehouse hotels, treehouse resort communities, treehouse restaurants, and even a treehouse. But a word of warning: many Internet advertisements for “tree houses” actually offer ordinary houses near trees or on stilts. These are our picks for the best real treehouses in Costa Rica, but don’t hesitate to branch out.
To get a feel for what it’s like to live in the canopy of a primary forest, spend the night at Nature Observatorio in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. Getting there involves a 45-minute jungle hike, then an 80-foot ascent on a rope ladder suspended above an old Nispero tree. You are strapped into a harness for this feat, then sent baskets with all of your meals. The two-level circular deck seats four, and guests often encounter all kinds of other tree dwellers, including monkeys, toucans, iguanas, and kinkajous.
Tree-dwelling accommodations are undeniably top-notch, but there is a hostel on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast where a stay in the trees isn’t a burden on your wallet. The beloved Flutterby House in Uvita has built three tree-lined accommodations on its property, including two private bedrooms and the country’s first tree-lined dormitory.
In the southern Caribbean of Costa Rica, an imaginative Dutchman learned architecture himself and created Tree House Lodge, a collection of whimsical vacation homes just steps from Playa Chiquita. Not all of the houses are true treehouses, but the eponymous “Tree House” accommodation is. The first floor is built around a Sangrillo tree, and the second floor master bedroom is a real tree room, with a suspension bridge for an entrance. Another house on the property is built around several trees and contains a mini golf course in the living room.
Treehouse restaurant and cafe
In downtown Santa Elena in northwest Costa Rica, a quaint restaurant aptly dubbed Tree House Restaurant and Café perches inside a huge Ficus tree. Guests climb stairs to the dining room and take their seats at tree trunk tables. While the food isn’t particularly cheap, you can’t beat the atmosphere. The Tree House Restaurant and Café is a fun option for families and a great place for ice cream. If you can’t get enough of being in the trees around Monteverde, Hidden Canopy is a boutique stay with five tree-top cabins just up the road from the restaurant. The oversized beds are constructed from tree roots, and the showers are waterfall style.
In a 173-acre wildlife refuge containing waterfalls, refreshing pools, and a river near Arenal Volcano, the Tree Houses Hotel offers seven adorable treehouses equipped with air conditioning, hot water showers and even refrigerators. Guests admire the birds from the rocking chairs on the wraparound decks and often receive visitors monkeys and toucans. Rates include breakfast, and there’s also an on-site spa.
Costa Rica’s most ambitious treehouse project is 600 acres Finca Bellavista, an upscale treehouse community near Palmar Norte on the Osa Peninsula (exact location is emailed to guests once they have booked). Like many vacation home communities, homes are privately owned and rented out when unoccupied. But unlike many communities, residents and visitors can travel between homes on suspension bridges, and dinner is grown in a garden on the rainforest floor below. Each house’s amenities vary, but the more upscale offerings have kitchens, electricity, and running water.
This article was originally published in May 2016.