Wait. ecotourism in San Jose?

It is not a secret that some people don’t think that San Jose is the prettiest city in Central America. People usually don’t come to Costa Rica thinking to spend much time exploring San Jose.

I have to admit that, like many people, I am guilty of bad-mouthing San Jose. However, not all San José is as crowded, full of traffic and dirty as people picture based on what some people will tell you about the city.

The city is surrounded by mountains, and those mountains have beautiful towns inside with beautiful landscapes to explore. They show a complete different face of San José.

Rodrigo and I met in San José. He is from there. But honestly, San José hasn’t been my favorite part of the country.

However, I have always been interested to learn more about rural tourism and responsible travel. (If you want to know about it please check this article.)

As I was searching and reading about the topic, I came across a project that has been a pioneer in Costa Rica in sustainable tourism.

The project name is: “Nacientes Palmichal” and is located in SAN JOSÉ, but in the rural side of the city.

So we contacted the association, organized a visit and decide to try the little-known side of San José. Why not?

About Nacientes Palmichal

  • Location: San Pablo, Palmichal de Acosta
  • Distance from the airport: 40 km (25 miles) – Approx. 1:15 min from the airport. 
  • Number of rooms: 8 rooms – Capacity for 46 guests. 
  • Facilities: Lodge, restaurant, trails, greenhouse, gardens.  

A little history

The idea behind how this project started is really interesting and meaningful at the same time.

The area is located next to two important water resources for the San José population.

The Tabarcia River and the Negro River produce around 500 liters of water per second.
According to Hernán Ramírez, President of ADESSARU (Asociación de desarrollo San José Rural), same the runs

Nacientes Palmichal, has confirmed that the rivers provide water for 50,000 people.

That is a pretty significant number.

But in the 90’s, the area faced a huge pollution problem. The water pollution was the result of the coffee production in the area. The waste of the coffee was thrown into the river.

Some neighbors took action to protect the springs of water and the forest area next to them.

They created an association (here in Costa Rica, associations work like NGOs) dedicated creating the conditions to protect the nature in the area.

After that, in 2001, together with other initiatives in the country, they started to think of a larger goal of ecotourism.

They obtained some funds from an international organization to start the project of rural tourism.

As a matter of fact, our Costa Rican tourism board promotes rural tourism as the 4th strongest tourist product in the country.

In 2004, The association that manage Nacientes Palmichal got really involved in the development of alliance with people with same mindset for this type of tourism.

In 2009, the government, together with private and public organizations, signed the law of promotion of rural tourism.

It’s really inspiring to see the hard work and effort that this community does. They not only took steps to protect nature, but they also took it further to create a network of local businesses where the families will benefit from tourism.

What should you expect from Nacientes Palmichal?

The way the project is structured, it’s different than when you visit a hotel or a development tourist attraction because the philosophy and the nature of the project.

In this case, you first visit the lodge. From there, you will have to walk or drive to the other projects that partner with Nacientes Palmichal.

What are those projects?

All of the projects are family-based projects and have a direct impact in the people of the area.

They are neighbors in the area who are mainly dedicated to one of Costa Rica’s main economic activities: coffee, dairy, sugar cane, crafts, trout fishing. etc.

Tourism helps support and generate extra income for these families, especially while the harvesting seasons are low.

This way, they don’t have to depend only on one income source.

At the same time, they want you to experience their daily context. This lets you learn from the culture and interact in a deeper way with them.

  • Activities: Nacientes Palmichal offers a one-day tour in the area so people can visit different initiatives.

Each activity has an extra cost, but if you are doing a one-day tour they will take you to at least two of those activities.
In our case, we did the dairy farm tour.

Trails: There are a few trails, around 15 minutes walking distance from the lodge.

Coffee: They will take you to a house where they do the whole coffee process.

Agriculture: Also, they can take you to visit trout fish farms, organic farms that have sustainable practices.

  • Accommodation: Rustic Chalet. The room we stayed in had 1 queen bed and 2 bunk beds. 
  • Food: Typical Costa Rican Food. No alcohol drinks. No menu available.
  • Service: Warm and kind. The staff doesn’t speak English.

Who is this project best suited for?

The project has a lot of experience with groups of students and families. Their strength is working with teams (for example: local universities and international students).

But couples like us will also like this project.

For solo travelers, well, it’s ideal for the ones who are looking to step out of their comfort zone and be willing to try an experience of the local culture of Costa Rica. However, it can get a little challenging if you don’t speak Spanish.

Also, we experienced that the staff is not there all the time. There was a guard the first night but not the second night. Some people might feel lonely.

However the staff of the lodge lives across the street of the place. At least this was our personal experience.

Good place for writers, artists or anyone who wants to relax

In our case, we love being active outdoors.

We wanted to hike as soon as we got settled into the lodge.

There was not a specific trail that belonged to Nacientes Palmichal, but they suggested we walk uphill through the gravel street that was kind of a “trail”.

However, since there were several private properties around and we could see the fences, we decided that it was not a good idea because we didn’t want to break into a private property and get in trouble.

Also, it started raining that day. So we stayed at the lodge.

Once you are in the lodge, there is not much flexibility to explore around and there are not any stores to buy groceries around. There’s also no internet, so just be prepared with a book.

I am not trying to sound like it’s a complaint—actually, I love the fact that you disconnect without WIFI. But since we love to be busy, it was a challenge at first, but a good opportunity to slow down and relax.

It would be a great place for someone who needs to write or find inspiration.

So, in other words, the project is for people who want to disconnect, learn and relax.

Our recommendation is try to come with an open mind to experience the way they organize your tour. Expect rustic lodging and a lot of good food. I felt most what I did in each activity was EAT and have good conversations.

Also, you will be treated more like a friend than a client. So it’s different, but not necessarily bad.

Actually, it’s a great project to visit and learn about the rural side of San Jose to see a different perspective of their lifestyle.

We applaud their hard work and fight to protect an important resource of water for San Jose, where the majority of the population of the country lives.

Amazing! You need to visit yourself to witness the project because it will be hard to put in this article all their love and work that they do in water conservation in our country.  

Highlights of the experience

  • The lodge is next to a river and the sound to sleep is beautiful.
  • The view of the green mountains in front of the lodge were really pretty.
  • The food was good. Even when they don’t have a menu that you can pick from, they select a good variety of options, all produced locally.
  • Even for us as locals that have visited similar places, the uniqueness of this project is that they are pioneers in water conservation and rural tourism. It’s a pleasure to support the hard work that they have done through the years.
  • Meeting “Doña Mery” and listening to her wisdom was a cool moment—connecting with her and talking about the old times.

How to get there?

*From Nacientes Palmichal website

By Bus:

It requires 2 buses to get there.

  • From San José, in the area called Coca-Cola. Look for the company Comtrasuli bus stop. This company provides service to Palmichal de Acosta.
  • Tell the driver that you are getting off at the Palmichal de Acosta School.
  • Then you will have to take another bus called locally “Periferica” and this bus will get to the village of San Pablo of Palmichal. Tell the driver that you are going to Nacientes Palmichal
  • The last bus stop is 800 meters from the lodge.

Another option is to coordinate with the lodge and arrange that they pick you up at the school, especially if you are doing the one-day tour.

By Car:

From Downtown San José

  • Take the Próspero Fernández highway from La Sabana Park and drive to Puriscal.
  • 9 km before Santiago de Puriscal, at the crossroad, take the left road to Tabarcia.
  • Once you get there, keep driving 3 km east to San Pablo of Palmichal where the Environmental School Nacientes Palmichal is located.

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