Quien is mas treehouse? Life in the Costa Rican trees

Treehouse at Finca Bella Vista, Costa Rica; photo by David W. Smith

Treehouse at Finca Bella Vista, Costa Rica; photo by David W. Smith

Remember the old Saturday Night Live skit, ‘Quien es mas macho?’ The contestants included Jack Lord from Hawaii-5-0 and Ricardo Montalban, who consistently came out on top.

Here we have a variation on that theme, with all the Costa Rican treehouses I’ve visited vying for the honor of being treehouser than thou.

One thing I’ve noticed in my treehouse travels is that everyone has a different idea of what a treehouse should be.  Even the highest-ranking contestants–Finca Bella Vista, a sustainable treehouse community on the Southern Pacific coast, and Michael Cranford’s multi-level masterpiece on the Osa Peninsula–have philosophical differences about what constitutes a treehouse.

Cranford didn’t want to drill into the enormous Guanacaste tree that is now his home, so has his treetop home supported with wooden supports that go from the ground to the platforms that make up their home. Erica and Matt of Finca Bella Vista didn’t want support from the ground so brought in experts from the States to rig their treehouses without support from below.

Here’s a sampler of the treehouses I’ve seen on this trip, starting with the whimsical and working towards amazing feats of engineering and imagination.

1. The Treehouse Hotel in Arenal is fun but they’re not strictly treehouses—they’re cute little houselets up on stilts.

2. In Uvita, Tra McPeak from Memphis runs the Tucan Hotel, 100 meters east of the Costanera (the coast highway), a hostel with a restaurant, a pen full of rabbits, and high-speed wireless internet. They have a small wooden treehouse out front you can rent for $6/per person. The price includes hammocks but it’s extra for mattresses and bedding. Tra, who arrived in Costa Rica in 2006, says he built the treehouse for his kids but all the backpackers coming through wanted to sleep up there, so he now makes it available to guests.

Casa Arbol treehouse, Costa Rica

Casa Arbol treehouse, Costa Rica; photo by David W. Smith

3. Humbert deSilva from France and Lisa Brouillard from Quebec have been in Costa Rica for almost 20 years. They run a small bed and breakfast, Casa Arbol, not far from Chacarita, where you turn off to go to the Osa Peninsula. Their entire house is a work of art—Hugh made the cupboards and the bed stands and the bath that look like something out of ancient Rome, not to mention the small treehouse that guests can stay in if they like. He never knows how a project will turn out when he begins it. He kept showing me carvings and rooms and tilework and saying, ‘When I finished, I saw that it was a “….swan, or frog, or a meditation on humanity.

4. Finca Bella Vista : a treehouse community in the jungle

Eric and Matt Hogan of Finca Bella Vista

Eric and Matt Hogan of Finca Bella Vista

A few short years ago Erica and Matt Hogan were camped in the mud by the Bella Vista River, up a rocky road to a spread of gorgeous but undeveloped land in Costa Rica’s Zona Sur. They weren’t sure what exactly was going to get them out of the mud, but dreamed of building a kind of Ewok village where they’d live in the trees and get to their neighbors’ houses via zipline.

Most people would have let that rather whimsical dream sputter and die, but Erica and Matt kicked into high gear and created Finca Bella Vista, a sustainable treehouse community with 82 lots available for people who want to live off the grid and in the trees. They’ve strung 18 ziplines, which they use fir both transportation and fun, but eventually there will be 45.

Treehouse at Finca Bella Vista, Costa Rica

Treehouse at Finca Bella Vista, Costa Rica; photo by David W. Smith

We stayed in the first treehouse they built, and once I was 50 feet up in a structure cradled by three trees, listening to the roar of a nearby waterfall (visible from the top floor), I sighed and thought, This is it. This is the real thing.

5. At home in the trees: Michael Cranford’s treehouse on the Osa Peninsula

Michael Cranford and Rebecca Amelia were drinking margaritas in Boquete, Panama, talking about how as kids they’d retreat to the trees when they needed to get away. A few hours and numerous drinks later, they were sketching designs for a treehouse on napkins.

Michael Cranford's treehouse in Costa Rica; photo by Michael Cranford

Michael Cranford's treehouse in Costa Rica; photo by Michael Cranford

Years later, the scrawled blueprints became reality when they hauled a few platforms built on the ground up into an enormous Guanacaste tree on their land on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.

That was about a year ago, and Michael and Rebecca now live full-time in the trees, with Siete, a miniature husky, and Reina, an aging brindle boxer.

Breakfast nook in the treehouse;l photo by Michael Cranford

Breakfast nook in the treehouse; photo by Michael Cranford

The treehouse is a true home, with a spacious, fully-equipped kitchen, guest bedrooms, an office for each of them, and a master bedroom. Eighty percent of the wood used for the treehouse is downed hardwood from the jungle that is their backyard. They have internet and cable, flush toilets, and plenty of hot water in the shower.

They’ve seen a sloth right outside the kitchen, 3 kinds of monkeys—howlers, white face, and squirrel—come through regularly, and scarlet macaws hang out in the nearby branches.

They rent the place out occasionally—check their web site.

“I learned more about myself working with this tree,” says Michael, “than I have through any other life experience.”

Michael is a painter as well as an architect and visionary. “I moved down [to Costa Rica in 1998] to become an artist,” he says. He sold his painting contracting business in Colorado Springs, and gave himself “a window of 3-4 years to paint.” He painted 6 days a week.

That’s his goal this year, too—to do nothing but paint.  He created the painting below before he created his actual treehouse.

Photo by Michael Cranford
  • By MIchael, January 4, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

    Very cool, Make us tree people famous !!


  • By wm, January 4, 2010 @ 3:32 pm

    Thank you for posting this – the photos, the background, the stories – what a nice journey to another world for the beginning of the New Year!

  • By Brian van der Plugh, January 5, 2010 @ 7:17 pm

    Given our arboreal ancestral roots, this feels like coming home.

  • By Eileen, January 15, 2010 @ 10:36 am

    RVR and I loved this piece and want to get ourselves into a tree! We did wonder about the third “mas macho” man…wasn’t Lloyd Bridges one of them?

  • By Ikal Living - Playa del Carmen, February 24, 2010 @ 8:45 am

    nice place! the movie Avatar adds new dimension to canopy living!

  • By MSamm Alba, November 28, 2011 @ 11:20 am

    this is all I need with hot showers, of course!

  • By felicia, February 28, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

    Whoa! Tree house beauty, indeed. Sounds so romantic. Urban girl, me, can only think about spiders! Yike. I’d jump out of the that tree. But no, really, it’s breathtakingly beautiful. Thanks for posting.

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