03 Jan Cabécar Family Partnership – Rios Tropicales
Living in harmony for decades with Costa Rica’s largest indigenous group, the Cabécar, Rios Tropicales shows that respecting other cultures begins with being a good neighbor.
“We’ve had a long relationship with the Cabécar for over 27 years. We’ve always respected each other’s cultures,” said Rafael Gallo, co-founder and president of Rios Tropicales adventure company. “We didn’t do this in order to be sustainable; we were doing this even before ecotourism was invented. We were just trying to be good neighbors.”
The Cabécar live in the remote Talamanca Mountains in eastern Costa Rica, which includes the Pacuare River region. When Rios Tropicales purchased its first parcel of land on the Pacuare River in 1990, beginning the Rios Tropicales Rainforest Reserve, it made them neighbors to the bordering Cabecar indigenous reserve.
It is this piece of land where the award-winning Rios Tropicales Lodge now stands. In 1991, members of the Cabecar community built the first huts there, and lodge construction is inspired by Cabecar-style architecture.
“We had the first Cabécar river guides back in the early 1990s when we were running special tours on the Pacuare River,” said Gallo. “These guides now are environmental leaders in their communities advocating for the protection of the rainforest and of jaguars, stopping illegal poaching and teaching farmers how to protect their livestock and allow the jaguars to live.”
Salatier Barquero, a member of a nearby Cabécar settlement, has been working for Rios Tropicales Lodge for the past 15 years, along with two of his sons, taking care of the property maintenance and the private reserve.
Guests staying at the Rios Tropicales Lodge can take a fascinating all day hiking tour to Salatier’s family settlement. In contrast to other indigenous groups in Costa Rica, the Cabécar prefer to live in small family settlements in this isolated region, rather than in villages.
The hike follows trails in the Rios Tropicales private nature reserve, and then very steep natural trails of the Cabécar up through the mountains in the Cabécar indigenous reserve to the high mountain settlement. The journey is about 4 kilometers each way, but takes several hours due to the rugged terrain. Guests learn about the rainforest, the Cabécar way of life, and the medicinal plants they use from the forest. “The views are amazing of the Pacuare Gorge from up there,” said Gallo.
Over the years, Rios Tropicales has had a good symbiotic relationship with the Cabécar, said Gallo.
“We have provided employment, increased their environmental education and changed their ways from hunting to conservation,” he said. “We have learned about medicinal plants of the forest, and their culture, and their knowledge and respect for the rainforest.”
Every year on October 12, Costa Rica celebrates the Day of Cultures, recognizing the mix of cultures which has contributed to the development and culture of Costa Rica. On this Day of Cultures, Rios Tropicales honors its friends and neighbors, the Cabécar.