Category: Guanacaste

Curubanda: History and future of a working farm turned ecotourism lodge

Curubanda Lodge in the Guanacaste hill country

Curubanda Lodge in the Guanacaste hill country

Curubanda Lodge is a small ecotourism lodge in the heart of a working farm—Finca Nueva Zealandia–in the Costa Rican highlands. Its four modest but comfortable guest rooms are within spitting distance of the farm’s dairy, chickens wind their way through the gardens, and on your way back to your room you might have to push through the cows waiting to be milked.

Curuvabda Lodge in Guanacaste is also a working dairy.

Curubanda Lodge in Guanacaste is also a working dairy.

The Nueva Zealandia farm and dairy has been in the Brizuela family since 1930. At that time, there were few roads, and the family would take milk and cheese by oxcart to Quebrada Grande (often shown as Garcia Flamenco), a small town 13 km away, to trade for staples like rice and beans.

The 100-hectare farm stayed pretty much the same, says Wilberth Brizuela Chavarria, 34, from 1930 to 1980, with successive generations working the dairy and in the fields. The area was high and green enough for dairy cattle, but they also kept chickens and pigs.

In 1980, the government was offering nearby land at a very good price if the buyers would agree to help reforest the area (which had been cleared for farms and pastures) so that there might be a biological corridor between the two volcanoes and the two national parks. The Brizuela family bought up land around the original farm and increased their holdings to 350 hectares.

Another big change for the family farm came in 2000, when Wilbirth finished his business degree at Universidad Latina in Santa Cruz (on the Nicoya Peninsula). The price of milk is notoriously volatile, and Wilbirth came home with big ideas about how the family could diversify and not rely solely on the dairy.


A non-paying guest at Curubanda Lodge

Soon after 2000, the farm began its transformation from working farm to working farm that welcomes guests. They built four guest rooms (the best is on the second floor, with a deck, an amazing view, and a bathtub big enough for two). They built a large restaurant, created trails for walking and for horseback riding, landscaped the grounds so that part of it looks more like a hotel than a farm, and are in the process of relocating the dairy barn so it’s not within smelling distance of the guest rooms. (Right now it’s quite close, but the smell isn’t unpleasant, just earthy.)

Agro-Eco-Tourism, complete with mud wallows

Wilberth calls the new project agro-eco-tourism. “It’s a radical change for us,” he says, and indeed it seems as if they are working out some kinks. The guest rooms could use screens on the windows and the water pressure means that the impressive tub takes over an hour to fill up. Guests are fed extremely well but there are no choices—you eat what they’re cooking, and many meals have rice and French fries on the same plate. A friend who came up to watch the sunset drove into a huge swampy hole in the driveway that  was hard to see in the dark and the rain, and upon later inspection that was just one of many tire-swallowing holes. In the Costa Rican manner, Wilbirth smiled and shrugged, as if to say, Who’d be dumb enough to drive into those holes?