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“You're paying for the access to wildlife, not the accommodations and certainly not the food”

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La Selva Biological Station
Certificate of Excellence
Miami, FL
Level Contributor
59 reviews
23 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 39 helpful votes
“You're paying for the access to wildlife, not the accommodations and certainly not the food”
Reviewed July 21, 2013

This is a working field station in one of CR's most biodiverse regions, so ecotourists: know what you're getting into. It's hot, humid like you've never seen in the US/Europe but so rich that the positives outweighed the few but significant negatives for me.

Positive notes: In twenty trips for wildlife and landscape photography, I've rarely ever seen so much in four days as at La Selva, probably bc of its rich history of land preservation for ecological research (closeup observations of family groups of peccaries were unforgettable); the old growth forest is the most magnificent I've seen outside of Corcovado NP; the trail system is exceptional and well marked. But ALL the trails, esp the "knots' between the Labs and the River Station need to be on the trail map they give visitors. I spent a lot of time orienteering the first day just to get my bearings. I suggest putting this trail map online as a PDF file for everyone. I requested such and got it in advance by email to make multiple copies to bring. I liked the free access to washer/dryer - very useful for drying soaked clothing.

Negative notes; I was never told that my room was 1km away from the dining hall/Admin center of the station and that I needed a flashlight just to walk to/from at night for meals. Fortunately, I always travel with a headlamp but the fact that it was such a trek just to eat made scheduling my daily outings problematic. I went out on the trails after breakfast, skipped lunch bc of the trail distances, returned to the dining area close to sunset, ate dinner and walked home. For $95/night incl 3 meals and despite the location of the Station in some of CR's richest agricultural land, the food was terrible. No toast or bread or eggs at 3 of 4 breakfasts; no fresh fruit on 2 of 4 breakfasts; lunches and dinners were bland; desserts were miniscule. There were a couple of nice vegetarian options for me, however. Quantity of food was tightly controlled and if you weren't in line when the meal began, you got scraps within 30 minutes. The lack of fresh fruit and even the barest of imagination in the menu was very disappointing. Food prep and service was industrial quality at its worst. Someone needs to instruct the staff and researchers about bike etiquette. Twice I was almost hit on the trails by bikers rounding blind curves and me on the trail shooting with a tripod. I was nearly run down from behind near the Labs by the same researcher who shouted at me from about 3 feet away to get out of the way. No excuse me's; no bells. Someone's gonna get hurt if they haven't already. Similarly, someone from OTS needs to do a better job of instructing the high school groups (and sadly, their teachers too!) with basic trail etiquette such as lowering your voice on the trail, not purposely rocking the hanging bridge (!) while others are on it; not shouting/screaming at 10pm in the Zampopa accommodations.

Would I go back? I think so, but my experience at La Selva was very different from the one at the OTS/Las Cruces Field Station. The lack of hospitality (I felt like OTS was just taking my money - particularly a strange feeling because my wife and I have been long-time financial supporters of OTS) as expressed in the dining area was a disappointment. A benefit of the station is that all the grad students I spoke with were very friendly and happy to talk about (and even show me) their research. I learned a lot that I'll share with my own college ecology students.

Room Tip: Zampopa and the neighboring "new wings" of building are 1km away from the dining hall/admi...
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  • Stayed June 2013, traveled solo
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Helpful?
4 Thank Palmisto
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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107 reviews from our community

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English first
Level Contributor
49 reviews
4 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 19 helpful votes
Reviewed June 25, 2013 via mobile

If you want to experience the lowland rainforest of Costa Rica, this is an amazing opportunity! It is pretty close to San Jose, and an easy drive. The station is located in the middle of a lush preserve. Your stay includes all meals, a room, and a guided tour for about $90/person. Remember, this is a research space, so you should expect luxury camping accommodations. It's priority is serving the researchers, so you are a guest in their world. The rooms are clean, there is hot water, and you literally are sleeping with the howler monkeys and birds around you. It's amazing!! We saw a ton of plants, animals, and birds!! We also attended a free lecture by one of the top scientists in rainforest biology on our trip. A unique and awesome experience for those who want to learn and see the real rainforest!

  • Stayed June 2013
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Helpful?
2 Thank Pandavt23
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
York, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
57 reviews
30 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 32 helpful votes
Reviewed April 12, 2013

Don't expect luxury, but be prepared for a wonderful experience in the lowland forest, with birds and other creatures everywhere. The chalets are basic but clean; the food is good canteen (self service), and you eat with 'proper' research staff.
We read some previous reviews about thefts, and concerns about security. None of our small group experienced any problems, and it didn't feel dodgy (but of course, it often doesn't).
Be prepared for heat, some bugs, and rain, but enjoy the great experience.
La Selva is 'dry', not even selling beer, but there's no restriction on bringing stuff in. There are some beer shops on the road near the park entrance.

Room Tip: we stayed in 'superior' rooms, but a bus ride away from the centre. For birding and general...
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  • Stayed February 2013, traveled with friends
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1 Thank andymendus
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Redruth, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
57 reviews
45 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 42 helpful votes
Reviewed April 4, 2013

The birding is amazing, every time we went out we found new species, it was fantastic. The guides are knowledgeable and there's a lot to explore.

The food is ok and reliably vegetarian, which was unusual in Costa Rica as it happens.

The rooms are small, boxy, with no A/C and single uncomfortable beds, which given the context and a relatively short stay is understandable. Then you find out, but only when you press, that the 3 hour bird walk is in fact a 3 hour general walk and that a 2 hour bird walk costs extra. We got the impression basically the paying guests are (a) a burden the centre staff would rather not have to deal with and (b) that being as they are there, grab them for whatever you can.

We would book to stay again to get the access all areas arm band, but then actually stay off-site, grabbing meals at the centre as needed.

  • Stayed March 2013, traveled with family
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Helpful?
2 Thank MichaelACox
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Hadleigh, Suffolk, UK
Level Contributor
53 reviews
37 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 73 helpful votes
Reviewed March 12, 2013

To be fair this property is not classed as a hotel. However, it is an internationally recognised Biological Station for research, surrounded by trails which are home to myriad birds, trees and plant life. Given the popularity of the station with international birdwatchers and researchers, and the income which they must be making from their guests it is a great pity that the accommodation is so basic and uncomfortable, the food is very basic and the distance from some of the cabins to the dining room is almost a mile. I spent 10 years in the Army back in the 1960`s and 70`s, and had better accommodation and food than this. If you fancy a beer or glass of wine in the evening, make sure you buy some before you arrive, because you WILL NOT be able to purchase any here. On a positive note, the birdwatching is excellent and the staff are pleasant and helpful. But this is the 21st century, and paying guests could reasonably expect a little more for their money.

Room Tip: Ask for a room in the immediate vicinity of the dining area, or bring a very good torch to find your...
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  • Stayed February 2013, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
Thank Sixties-Icon
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Heathfield, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
27 reviews
22 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 17 helpful votes
Reviewed March 11, 2013

There are no particular surprises here, in that the emphasis is on research and there are few frills! But if what you want is expert guiding, never ending trails and a fascinating insight into the flora and fauna of the rainforest, then this is perfect. Our Dormitory cabin with 3x Bunk beds was spartan, but was clean. The meals are all refectory style, but tasty and wholesome with a variety of interesting juices served at each meal. In summary, a place of serious interest.

Room Tip: The newer rooms are 1km away from the centre - but nicer...
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  • Stayed February 2013, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
2 Thank Groomc
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Richmond, Virginia, United States
Level Contributor
6 reviews
5 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 8 helpful votes
Reviewed March 3, 2013

La Selva deserves its accolades as a birder's paradise. We had great morning walks with experienced guides that knew the locations of many of the rare and interesting animals. The walk across the bridge was always an adventure and in the morning it was bird after bird!

The service was great (we arrived late and they had our keys waiting for us) and the staff were attentive. All this while running a biological research station.

Two small words of caution - do not expect great food and if you are in the individual cabins, be prepared for a long walk to get to the comedor (dining room). But the good news is, we saw many great birds on the way.

  • Stayed January 2013, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
2 Thank Chris L
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about La Selva Biological Station

Property: La Selva Biological Station
Address: Highway 4, 41001, Costa Rica
Location: Costa Rica > Province of Heredia > Sarapiqui
Hotel Style:
Ranked #2 of 19 Specialty Lodging in Sarapiqui
Price Range (Based on Average Rates): $
Hotel Class:2.5 star — La Selva Biological Station 2.5*
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Also Known As:
La Selva Biological Station Costa Rica/Sarapiqui

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