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Rancho Margot: a sustainable and wellness experience in Costa Rica

Rancho Margot is a combination of an organic farm and an eco-lodge that is run in a sustainable way. It is located in a lakeside valley, not far from theNational Park of Arenal Volcano, in the province of Alajuela, Costa Rica. The cloudforest of Monteverde, which are considered Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO, are nearby. Rancho Margot is a living experiment that attracts visitors all over the world to explore, relax and learn about sustainability.

In 2004 Juan Sostheim bought 176 hectares of horse and cow pasture with the intention of recovering the original ecosystem that was there in the past. In the last ten years he worked in a reforestation project in order to achieve this objective and the result has been impressive because it is difficult to believe that this was bare and unproductive land before. The exuberant vegetation that covers the whole property hosts diverse populations of animal species, most of them were not here before the project started. Bird lovers would not be disappointed as it is possible to find more than 100 species of birds here, which delight visitors with their spectacular colours and sounds.

Although these days the main focus of Rancho Margot is the ecotourism business, education about agriculture and environmental issues are always a priority and tourists are made aware of this at the famous ranch tour. Apart from regular tourists, groups of students from universities and other academic centers, come to the ranch. There is also a volunteer program that offers the opportunity to people all over the world to work in one of the many projects of the ranch for a period of time of at least one month. Workers are always Costarican, most of them from the local area.

Out of the 176 hectares, the ranch is only using 40% of the land; the other 60% is used for reforestation. The secondary forest that grew as a result of the reforestation project protects the soil from erosion, which is important due to the amount of rain that receives the area. There is also a big variety of plants with colourful flowers such as heliconias, different species of orchids, and bongavilla, among others.

The bunkhouse is the first type of accommodation that was offered at the ranch and it contains 20 rooms with 2 bunkbeds. The bungalows are the luxury accommodation of the ranch and their roofs are made from recycled tiles. Furthermore, they provide a living roof that was created from the wind and birds carrying seeds that are able to stem on the tiles, and it has an important function for minimizing the visual impact.

The compost system is an essential part of Rancho Margot as it provides not only the compost for the farm, but also the hot water for bungalows and the bunkhouse. Fresh manure from horses, pigs and cows, as well as greens from the gardens and leftovers from the kitchen are mixed together. Inside the compost area there are two lines of coils and the water that passes through them is heated by the contact with the compost (there are high temperatures due to the heat produced by the microorganism that breakdown the organic material). Then the water is stored in tanks and pumped into the bungalows and bunkhouse. Something that is noticed is that there is no odor and flies present in the compost, and this is due to the vegetarian diet of the farm animals and the mountain microorganisms that are used to break down the waste.

Hydro-electric pumps are used to create electricity at the ranch. The mechanical energy produced by the movement of the water makes the turbine to turn the dynamo which will result into electrical energy. The electrical energy created is unstable and must be stabilized by the converter into energy used in the 110 watt light bulbs in the bunkhouse and the bungalows. This specific hydro-electric pump can create 8KW per hour.

Chickens have an important role in the ranch, not only for the meat and the eggs that they provide, but also because they help to turn the soil and eat insects that could affect the crops. Their diet is mostly composed of insects and worms, bananas, grinded corn and eggshells from the kitchen. All of the chickens are free range chickens and have four different areas where they can roam.

The pigs are also important in the farm and two species are used to create a hybrid form that is good for meat and is resistant. They provide the pork for the buffet but also the manure that is used as fertilizer and compost. The liquid waste is used to obtain biofuel for the kitchen. Cows are used for providing milk and compost only; their meat is not used in the kitchen. Their milk is used to produce yogurt and cheese. Tourists are offered an activity of cow milking every morning.

Now it is time to visit the vegetable garden. They grow carrots, celeries, several kinds of lettuce, onions, cabbage, chili peppers, native potatoes (malanga, camote, yucca or cassava, etc), radish, arugula, cucumbers, spinach, squash, ginger, tomatoes, papaya, citrus trees, avocado trees, nonis (a medicinal plant), etc. These gardens use the principles of organic farming such as crops rotation to keep the nutrients in the soil, plants with deep roots to retain soil (fight erosion) and plants that act as bug repellants (for example, basil). In other areas of the property there are plantations of cocoa, bananas and sugar cane, among others.

Everything is recycled and reused as much as possible. Furniture is made here from laurel and teak woods (mostly from dead trees from the ranch) and left-over materials from construction are used in the wood oven of the kitchen. Bottles are re-used to store seeds and home-made organic products (repellants and disinfectants). Remaining recyclable material will be taken to factories to be processed. Soap is made here with the used oil from the kitchen. All of the excess soap not used is collected to make liquid detergent for the laundry. Disinfectants are made here as well.

Now it is time to talk about the famous biodigesters, an important component of the ranch cycles. There are three of them, made out of plastic, and inside them there is an anaerobic chemical reaction taking place. Liquid waste from pigs and cows are funneled through a system of underground tubes. The methanol-bacteria present in digestive systems of mammals flow in with the liquid waste through the biodigester where the breakdown of waste occurs and methane is released and collected to use as biogas for cooking in the kitchen. At the end of the process, the fresh liquid pushes out the old liquid, which can then be used as a good fertilizer high in nitrogen and phosphorus for the fields, closing one of the cycles of the farm. This is good for the environment because methane gas is 20 times more damaging than the effects of carbon dioxide and it is possible to make a burnable gas of it.

Some of the facilities that are offered to the guests at the ranch are:

An open-air yoga studio where two yoga classes are held every day (at 7 am and at 4 pm), an amazing place for relaxing and connecting to yourself.

A cold pool circulated by the natural water and a warm pool heated by the electricity that is created at the ranch.

An artificial lake with a platform for events and concerts.

There are also a variety of tours that are offered to guests. The famous ranch tour is included in the package of accommodation and meals that they pay, a two hours guided tour in the property for learning about the different projects of the ranch. There are extra tours that are not included in the package and both guests and visitors can participate in them: horseback tours, kayak tours and hiking tours.

You can also watch this resident artist working on his pottery, chorotega style, an indigenous art from the province of Guanacaste. At the shop of Rancho Margot you can buy one of his pieces of art.

Furthermore, there are a number of trails than one can do on their own, such as the famous trail to the Mirador, an amazing viewpoint on a hill in the property. From there it is possible to contemplate the views of Arenal lake and volcano; very recommended for the sunrise. For more of the experience, you can walk from there to the nearby town of El Castillo, and then come back to Rancho Margot on the paved road. A very enjoyable walk that will not leave you indifferent.

If you liked what you read about Rancho Margot and its surroundings, you should be aware of our trips in Costa Rica, as some on them include a visit of this place. There is a trip in preparation for March next year and this trip includes Arenal and Rancho Margot. We will be giving details in our website in the next couple of months.

Author: Belén Paredes
Co-founder and CEO of EcoMind Travel

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