What it means to be a Manager at the Cayuga Collection

June 24, 2017

The Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges are not for everybody.  We often warn guests that a stay at our hotels might not be right for them.  We are different from other hospitality companies and it takes a group of very special people to run the Cayuga Collection.   We often do things the “hard” way in order to create that synergy between sustainability and luxury.  Being a manager at Cayuga is challenging – but also very rewarding in many ways.

Every year we go on a corporate retreat.  We have hiked the highest peak in Costa Rica, we have slept under a gushing waterfall in a cave, we have explored active volcanoes and we have stayed at posh luxury resorts.  We try to live the Cayuga Philosophy in our retreats.  Here some of the highlights of our Experiencing, Our Learning, our Connecting and our Relaxing

It started with a kayaking trip from Puntarenas to Isla San Lucas in the Golfo de Nicoya.  What was supposed to be a leisurely trip turned into…
… two hours, eight kilometers in rain and sun.  We had to paddle hard to overcome the tough tidal currents in the Golfo.
But it is about team work and we were proud that we made it.   The next activity at the beach  was to clean up the plastic trash that gets washed up on the shores of Isla San Lukas.  We had no idea that this would be even tougher than the kayaking…
This is what we found.  Mostly plastic bottles.  We are all involved in beach cleanups in the areas where we operate our hotels and lodges, but none of us had ever seen anything like this.
So we went to work. Twenty Cayug@s, two hours working with a lot of passion and dedication.
So much trash on just one beach.  And no help as there are no vehicles on the island.  More workout…
But once again, working as a team and bringing out the Cayuga DNA of a strong commitment to the environment and making the world a better place, we also mastered this task.   And we made a difference.
30 large bags of trash.  A total of 350 KG.  Please, if you read this, try to NEVER use a plastic bottle to drink water again, unless it is an emergency.
We spent a few more hours on Isla San Lukas.  Until the 1990s it was Costa Rica’s prison island in the tradition of Alcatraz in California, Devil’s Island in Guyana and Robben Island in South Africa.  Lots of great history and stories.
Onward to our next stop.  Rancho Humo where we “took it easy” and recharged our batteries.  Do you recognize any of our managers?
OK, this might not be everybody’s cup of tea.  But it is the traditional way to roast a pig in Guanacaste.  Eating locally and learning about culinary traditions is also an important part of the Cayuga Way.  This meal was accompanied by a craft beer tasting.  Locally produced high quality craft beer is now available in many parts of Costa Rica.
We went exploring.  We experienced a great bird tour near Palo Verde National Park and a boat trip on the Tempisque river to Isla de Pajaros.
We had “work sessions” where we shared ideas, things we learned, things that fascinated us.  We called it the mini Cayuga Ted-Ex.
Since we were on a working farm, we took part in the early morning chores.  When was the last time you milked a cow?
It takes a lot of different skills and also flexibility to be part of the Cayuga Collection Team.  You never know that the next task or activity will be…
So… where are we going next year?  Any suggestions?  Thanks to everybody at Cayuga for the dedication, the hard work and especially the passion.  And this is just the beginning of the journey.



Takeaways from a week at National Geographic Headquarters

June 15, 2017

Every year in June, the owners and directors of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World meet for a week at the National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, DC. It’s a week of connecting with the inspiring brand and what they stand for, as well as connecting with colleagues from the lodges around the world. Lapa Rios and Jicaro are the two Cayuga Collection members that are part of this elite group of lodges spread over 30 countries in six continents. Reflections on some of the highlights and takeaways from the 2017 meeting…

Inspiration:  What an amazing group of people. If you have dreamed, built, and run a lodge in places like the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, high up in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, or on a remote island in the south Pacific, you are either crazy or a true visionary.  It is a pleasure to be in the company of, and learn from, people that have dedicated their lives to sustainable tourism projects that conserve the treasures of this planet and have a positive impact on the local people that live in those areas.  John and Karen Lewis, the founders of Lapa Rios are two of those “heroes” and visionaries.

Sustainability:  Last year, the Unique Lodges published their first Sustainability Impact Report with impressive results.   And what is better is that, in this year’s meeting, we decided that we will continue to raise the bar on our projects and practices even more.

“In less than two years, lodge collection members have rehabilitated and protected over 3.7 million acres of land and sea, referred to as their collective conservation footprint. They have given over $76 million in direct contributions to historic and cultural site preservation, which lies at the heart of National Geographic’s mission to embrace and protect all aspects of heritage, from language, music, textiles, and art to landmarks, architecture, and sacred sites. Having invested over $3 million in community initiatives, the lodges support education, health, and small business development, and they are actively engaged in reducing waste, recycling materials, and cutting carbon emissions—these efforts have diverted over 3 million pounds of waste from landfills around the world.”

The Cayuga Collection is recognized by National Geographic as, “leaders among leaders.” We won the National Geographic World Legacy Awards earlier this year.

Exploration – Curiosity – Storytelling:  We learned that National Geographic as an organization is in the process of reinventing themselves and focusing again more on their core values.  The concept of exploration is a main driver and the quality of the storytelling will be taken to the next level.  The concept of, “premium content,” was mentioned several times by a new generation of executives that have started to take over the communication of the brand identity.  Two examples of this new high-quality content may be found here.   We are excited to continue to follow this development.

Where to next?  These meetings make us all dream again.  We take a break from the day-to-day operations of our lodges and share dreams and ideas with our peers from around the world. We dream about visiting each one of the lodges; if only we had the time!  So, we are setting up a guide exchange program with two lodges in Ecuador and the Galapagos and hope to send some of our managers to lodges in Africa and Canada for operational training.

Lapa Rios is a founding member of the Unique Lodges Program and Jicaro joined late last year.  National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World is more than a selection of world-class hotels, it is a collection of rare experiences, offering guests intimate encounters with parts of the world not many get to know—and the chance to slow down and truly discover them. Each lodge is deeply rooted in its community and dedicated to protecting the surrounding habitats and cultures—and harnessing their magic to safeguard them for the future.

Just do it!  Ten pieces of sustainability advice that will help you to feel good about your next vacation. 

June 7, 2017

We were recently featured in a New York Times Article by Elaine Glusac about how to “Green your Summer Vacation”.  While we were very thankful for the mention of the Cayuga Collection, CEO Hans Pfister, and Lapa Rios Lodge on the Osa Peninsula, we thought we would expand on what we think is important when thinking about a sustainable vacation.

As with many times in life, it’s the little things that make a difference.

Don’t be afraid to interact with the locals.  Leave the hotel premises and have a meal at a local place that does not feel like it is made for tourists.  The food is probably good, cheap, and healthy.  And you will most likely get into a conversation with the locals and learn about the country or region that you are visiting.

Avoid the purchase and use of water in single use plastic bottles.  Purchasing water in reusable glass bottles is still ok; ideally, bring your own water bottle and refill it where you are indicated that there is safe drinking water.  We have banned all plastic bottles from the Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges.

Engage in an activity that, “gives back.”  Participate in a beach clean-up or volunteer to teach local kids in a subject that you’re an expert .  Singing, reading, playing baseball, etc.  Or plant a tree in to help reforestation efforts in the area.

Drink local.  Why drink whiskey in Nicaragua, when the country produces some of the best rum in the world?  Why order a Mexican Beer in Costa Rica where a great craft beer culture has evolved?  Why sugary carbonate drinks when natural fruit juices are available at every corner?   Drink local water, juices, beer, and spirits.  It helps the local economy and reduces carbon emissions.

Save water the ‘sexy’ way:  We often hear that sustainability is not sexy as it is often about what NOT to do.  Here is our remedy.   Save water by showering with a loved one in one of the many outdoor showers at the Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges.

Santa Teresa Outdoor Shower

“Como te llamas?”  Learn a few words of the local language.  It is fun and gains a lot of respect from the locals.  Try to go beyond words like: hola, cerveza, and gracias.

Never use a plastic straw.  This seems obvious to many, but the campaigns against plastic straws are still in their infancy.  At the Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges, you will be served a compostable bamboo straw.  If you are having a drink somewhere where they are not available, politely tell your server that you won’t need it.

Avoid souvenirs made in the “PRC”.  Many souvenir shops in Costa Rica are full with bags, hats, shirts, mugs, and other souvenirs that are made in the People’s Republic of China.  Try to find local artisans, learn about their crafts and buy directly from them.  Finding them might be part of the experience.

Eat Local:  If you see a restaurant in the tropics that serves “fresh” salmon or blueberry pancakes be suspicious.   Ask for local specialties, fruit, and vegetables that are grown locally. Try to connect with the local fishermen through the “Dock to Dish” program wherever available.


Nat Geo’s CEO falls in love with the Osa Peninsula

May 31, 2017

“There are very few places left in the world as pristine and natural as the Osa Peninsula,” said National Geographic Society’s president and CEO Gary Knell during his recent stay at Lapa Rios Lodge. “John and Karen, the founders of Lapa Rios, are true heroes for protecting this piece of paradise into perpetuity.”

It’s no small feat to hear that from the president and CEO of one of the world’s most trusted brands in travel. Promoting travel that is curious, culturally sensitive and sustainable, National Geographic has high expectations when it comes to accommodations, services and culinary offerings in the destinations they visit.

Early bird hike with Lapa Rios Veteran Guide Edwin. Among many other birds, we spotted a King Vulture.

As a founding member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World program, Lapa Rios already got the Nat Geo stamp of approval. But this one, more personal as a direct result of Gary’s visit to Lapa Rios, meant the world to us at Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels and Lodges.

During the weekend we spent accompanying Gary Knell and his wife Kim Larson at Lapa Rios Lodge, we had many great inspiring conversations. Kim, who had spent time traveling in Costa Rica in the 1970s, was amazed that the beaches near Lapa Rios were still so wild and untouched. “Wow, this is the real thing. The beaches look and feel like 40 years ago!”

Gary leaving the CEO responsibilities behind and enjoying some fresh coconut water with his wife Kim.

During their stay, Gary and Kim took various hikes in the Lapa Rios’ private nature reserve and they were amazed by the wildlife viewing opportunities. It is no wonder: The Osa Peninsula is home to 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity. “What’s incredible is that the wildlife is not afraid of humans here,” noticed Gary. “As I sat on my bungalow deck, it only took a few minutes to spot a great variety of tropical birds and monkeys.”

It’s the rain forest.  Back from the Ridge Hike.  Soaked but happy!

Gary found the Lapa Rios Lodge experience to be the perfect fit for National Geographic travelers. “We are a very special tribe of like-minded people who want to go deeper and further with their travel experiences.” That tribe loves to learn about medicinal plants that grow in the rainforest and sustainability measures that hotels follow. In our case at Cayuga, that includes getting rid of all plastic bottles and straws as well as cooking with methane gas produced by pigs that eat leftovers from the restaurant. These are just a couple of examples of experiences that go beyond sipping cocktails by the pool.

Lapa Rios Lodge is located on the Pacific Coast of the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica.

Impressed by the experience at Lapa Rios, Kim is trying to convince Gary to find the time in their busy schedule to visit Jicaro Lodge in Nicaragua, another member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World. Though there is still some skepticism about traveling to Nicaragua, it is the Nat Geo way to explore and be there first. We applaud Gary and Kim for leading by example. See you at Jicaro to continue our conversation about ways to make sustainability more sexy.

Jicaro Island Lodge is located in Lake Nicaragua, near the colonial town of Granada in Nicaragua.



Tropical Cocktails at Corporate Training?

May 26, 2017

At least four times every year, we organize a Cayuga “Get Together” for our top level management staff of the hotels and lodges as well as the corporate support team.  A couple of weeks ago we had another one of those sessions in San Jose.

Typically, we try to keep the agenda active and visit businesses that we can learn from or spend time in nature, but this time, it was two days in an air-conditioned meeting room and this is not easy for us.  We are used to be out and about in our hotels and lodges in very natural and active environments.

So after learning about how to work with Google Docs and the “cloud” more efficiently, advances in occupational health programs at our properties, getting introduced to the Japanese Management philosophy of the 9 S and fine-tuning our newly launched “Aficionados” loyalty program, it was time to finish the session “the Cayuga way”.

We invited one of Costa Rica’s leading “mixologists” and we all received a thorough introduction into the latest trends in the world of mixed drinks.  It was an eye-opener for many of us and we are now taking what we learned back to the hotels and lodges.  Stay tuned for some great innovations at our bars and be ready to sign up for cocktail lessons while visiting the Cayuga Collection hotels and lodges.


Why Glass Bottles are Better than Plastic

May 23, 2017

From an environmental point of view, most people have already come to the right conclusion when it comes to one of the most important issues being discussed today, using glass bottles or plastic. Glass bottles are environmentally-friendly, plastic bottles are NOT! It cannot be put any simpler then that, one hurts us and our environment and one does not…plastic bottles are not the way moving forward into the future glass bottles are!

2.7 million tons of plastic bottles are used each year worldwide for disposable drinking bottles, with only 1% being recycled, only 1%! Glass bottles are made out of abundant natural resources, and require low energy inputs in the manufacturing process, compared to plastic. Plastic bottles are not biodegradable, meaning they can stay on this green earth for millennia. The artificial toxins from degrading plastics can leach into soil, affecting underground water reserves and farmland. While glass bottles are comparably more heavy and difficult to transport, they hold more benefits for the environment in the long run, we have to look towards what’s best for us and our children, glass is the answer, plastic is the problem.

  • It’s longer-lasting

Glass bottles can be recycled indefinitely, meaning when we throw out glass bottles, they’re easily recyclable in plants to make other glass materials. While glass recycling is a continuous loop, recycled plastic eventually breaks during the process, rendering the material useless. Furthermore, glass bottles don’t wear out with each subsequent use, while plastic bottles need to be thrown out after a few uses. Pyrex glass can be used for both hot and cold substances, while, as mentioned previously, plastic containers easily contaminate warm materials with toxin seepage.

  • Flavor Preservation

We’re settling the age-old argument of whether drinks taste better in glass, plastic or cans. Glass is odorless and tasteless, which means it is neutral to two main senses. Plastic omits a slight chemical taste, because the chemicals can seep into our drinks. Studies also show that human perception is important in determining how food or drinks taste. The color and appearance of a bottle often can affect the way we perceive taste. Water in glass bottles are designed to look aesthetically pleasing to the drinkers, which suggests the water may taste better!


Believe it or not, before the invention of plastic bottles most were actually glass – Including baby bottles – but, because they were considered breakable, the bottles became almost obsolete upon the introduction of a plastic alternative. At the time, of course, the concerns over potential harmful chemicals within the plastic were not apparent. And even though many plastic consumables are now BPA free (considered a potentially harmful plastic chemical), some academics argue that further discoveries of harmful components may still lie uncovered. A focus in the media recently on the dangers of leaving plastic water bottles in sunlight for example simply highlights this fact further. As this research continues to evolve, many of us are becoming more and more conscious and engaged with these concerning issues.

Aside from the health benefits, glass is easier to clean than plastic and can be sterilized very quickly in boiling water – a huge benefit when thinking about baby bottles in particular. Glass bottles last a lot longer than plastic alternatives and are also easily recyclable. In general, glass is considered a better material for the environment and kinder to our bodies too.

Refillable Glass bottles for bath amenities at Lapa Rios Lodge on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.

Here are 5 very compelling reasons and facts that further illustrate the need for us to use Glass over Plastic

  1. Keeps food safe. Scientists no longer ask if toxic substances migrate from plastic to food during microwave heating. They ask how much toxins migrate. They ask if you should use plastic to reheat foods for kids, the ill, the elderly. They ask far too many questions and provide too few reassuring answers, as far as I’m concerned. Glass is simply prettier and more substantial looking than plastic. Glass containers retain their crystalline attractiveness forever. Unlike plastic, glass non-porous surface doesn’t absorb dyes or colors. On another safety note: Glass is cleaner than plastic. Glass’ non-porous surface doesn’t absorb food and germs and it can be safely washed at high temperatures in your dishwasher.
  2. Enhances food flavor. Ever notice how milk and marinara from your grocer taste better packed in glass? The same is true of home-stored food. Food simply tastes fresher, cleaner andfuller stored in glass. Glasses safe glossy surface repels food odors and residual flavors and food reheated in glass—whether in a conventional oven or microwave—tastes superior to food nuked in plastic.
  3. Helps clean-up the planet. Using glass rather than plastic significantly reduces landfill. It also saves energy on plastic’s inefficient recycling process. And unlike that metastasizing heap of mismatched plastic containers in your kitchen cupboard, once you invest in glass storage containers, your supply pretty much stays steady. With care, you’ll use your original glass containers almost indefinitely
  4. If you break a glass container, you can recycle it without guilt:
    • Up to 87% of all recycled glass can be reclaimed.
    • Recycled glass uses 59% less energy than manufacturing new glass.
    • Recycling doesn’t compromise glass’ quality or structure and no toxins are produced in it’s recycling.
  1. Eases food prep, serving and clean-up. You’ll find tempered glass food containers:
  • Move effortlessly from freezer to fridge to stove to table.
  • Reduce food waste—clear containers let you see what’s in the fridge and use up leftovers before they go bad.
  • Let you safely check food as it reheats—glasses clarity allows you to see what’s happening without removing lids.
  • Wash-up faster and cleaner—you can safely pop glass into your dishwasher and cleanse at high temperatures. Plastic as we all know is sometimes dishwasher and microwavable safe and sometimes NOT…always that extra step to make sure your good to go and not melting or blowing up your plastic container.

A move to glass storage marks a raised consciousness—arguably glasses most valuable environmental benefit. Your investment in glass helps you move from a throw-away mind-set to a more sustainable sensibility. Glass saves you money in the long run because glass is usually more expensive than plastic, at first glance, it seems a switch to glass will be more costly. But think about this: Unlike plastic, glass is pretty much a one-time investment.

At Cayuga, we feel strongly about not using plastic.  We have replaced bathroom amenities, plastic straws and plastic bottles at our sustainable luxury hotels and lodges.  But we are not done yet.  Every day we try to figure out how to use less plastic.  If you have ideas how to achieve this, let us know.

Bamboo Straws
Besides plastic bottles, we have also banned plastic straws from our properties. Drinks are service with bamboo straws that get composted after use.

Pick glass not plastic, It’s the smarter safer choice

Sea Lions in Costa Rica?

May 22, 2017

Sea Lions are not native to Costa Rica.   But a couple of weeks ago, one of the managers of the Lapa Rios Lodge located on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica had quite a surprise, when he found a sea lion at “Pan Dulce” Beach on a Sunday afternoon.

Most likely, this sea lion got caught in a current and either came from the Galapagos Islands approximately 1.300 kilometers away or from Baja California which is approximately 4.500 kilometers away. These are the two places that are “close by” where they are native to.

One more wildlife attraction in the Osa Peninsula which already is home to 2.5 percent of the world’s biodiversity.

This sea lion needed a “break” after coming a long way from home.


Gallo Pinto

Gallo Pinto: The Production Behind the Popular Dish in Costa Rica

May 12, 2017

Gallo pinto, or “Spotted Rooster” is a Costa Rican meal that can be found on every menu and in every household. If you’re visiting Costa Rica, you’re highly unlikely to forget the Gallo Pinto and if you’re living in Costa Rica, Gallo Pinto is your life. Made from Costa Rica’s staple crop, rice and beans, the dish represents a product in high demand. In Costa Rica, nearly every meal revolves around rice. Costa Ricans on average, consume 49.82 kilos of rice per year, which is a major part of the diet as well as one of the biggest exports. In fact, rice is the only bulk commodity produced here other than black beans. As a major commodity in Costa Rica, as well as the rest of the world, many people consider cultivating their own rice. Well, here is what you need to do know before you start growing wild rice.

Rice in Costa Rica

The wild rice species in Costa Rica is known as Oryza glumaepatula. This wild rice has a slightly tough, chewy sheath and a soft center. It is more nutritionally rich than cultivated rice as it is gluten-free and compared with grains, is second only to oats in protein content. The wild rice contains high levels of potassium and zinc content compared to any brown or white rice, is a great source of fiber, and is rich in antioxidant phytochemicals.

Growing Rice in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, the soil is said to be so fertile, you can plant a stick in the ground. This provides a great basis to grow products such as rice in a large area of the country. However, rice production is dominated and monopolized by three companies. 4% of producers own 44% of the area sown and 68% of market sales are managed by these three companies. This monopolization is largely caused by a decree from the Government of Costa Rica that fixes the price of rice. The Executive Decree sets the producer price and the minimum and maximum consumer price for different packaging of rice. As the only commodity in the country whose price is established by decree, it causes a lot of controversies within the country as well as internationally. Although the decree has increased rice production in the country, it has led to fewer competitors, a monopolization, and has even been questioned by the World Trade Organization as an issue of noncompliance with membership commitments.

The Weather In Costa Rica

The Weather in Costa Rica:  Why the “Weather App” almost always gets it wrong…

April 17, 2017

Living in North America or Europe, many of our guests are used to turning to their weather apps when planning activities, vacations or festivities.  The forecasts up north have become quite reliable in the past years.  Not in tropical Costa Rica though.

Costa Rica is a country of micro climates and tropical seasons where forecasting weather patterns is almost impossible.  We do have seasons here, but it might rain in the dry season and there have been days without a drop of rain in the rainy or “green” season.

You might have breakfast on one side of a volcano or mountain range in Costa Rica with the rain pounding down.  But just a few miles away in a completely different micro climate, it would be hot and sunny with not a single cloud in the sky.

Real Costa Rica Weather on Sunday, April 16th.
Forecast on Weather App for April 16th.

One day, you will go to bed and experience heavy rains all night long and then wake up to the most glorious day you have ever seen of bright sunshine and blue skies.

So when you open your weather app for Costa Rica, you most likely will see something like this:

This really does not tell you much, right?  You would think it is rainy all week.  But the contrary is the case.  This is a week of blue skies and sunshine.  Yes, there might be a short thunderstorm somehwere in the country at some point in time.

So, what to do about this?  Don’t worry.  It does not matter.  Rain, sun, clouds.  Temperatures are about the same always.  And the rains are warm and in most cases do not get in the way of your activities.

Best if you write to us at info@cayugaonline.com or call our sustainable luxury hotels and lodges.  We will tell you how the weather has been and what is expected in the next day or so.  And with the changes in weather patterns around the world, even the rainy and dry season have gotten all mixed up.

And if you are one of those travelers from up north that is worried about rain in the rainy season, take a look here.

And by the way, the same is true for tropical Nicaragua as well.


What is it like here in the “Rainy Season”?

April 7, 2017

There seems to be a general aversion of traveling to the tropics in the rainy season. Visiting Costa Rica and Nicaragua between May and November is actually a wonderful experience.


We have tried to rename this season to “green season” as it more accurately describes the experience that visitors have.  Everything is lush and green.  Many potential guests from up north think of “cold and nasty” rain and that it rains for weeks non stop.  But the rain here at the coast is warm and rejuvenating in many ways.  The rains usually last only for a few hours at a time.

Have you ever played or danced on a tropical beach in pouring rain?  An experience you will never forget.  Promised.

So to make it more clear, we prepared this video clip for you.  This should explain how a “typical day” in the rainy season would look like.  Including that afternoon nap!  Let us know what you think.  More questions about the rainy season?  info@cayugaonline.com.