Bellavista’s Biodigesting Treehouses Are Endor on Earth

Bellavista’s Biodigesting Treehouses Are Endor on Earth

Finca Bellavista is an Endor-like treehouse village in the making, with paths and platforms perched on 150-foot trees. Located six miles from Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica, this sustainable rainforest community doesn’t have stupid Ewoks or shield generators, but cute monkeys, site-wide Wi-Fi with internet sat link and biodigestors running on solar power. We interviewed Erica Hogan, the co-founder, and got all the details about this amazing Star Wars-meets-Myst place, right next to the paradise of Piedras Blancas rainforest sanctuary, and some of the most stunning beaches on the planet.

Jesús Díaz: This place is absolutely stunning. The location, the panoramic views from the trees, the rivers and waterfalls… I would imagine that people are running to go and live in this paradise (I certainly would like to do just that). How many people live in Bellavista now?
Erica Hogan: Although things have just started to take shape now, since the beginning of 2008, Finca Bellavista is still in its infancy. At this point, nobody is living on site except for us and some of our employees. Many folks are planning on building their treehouses starting next dry season, which roughly goes from December through May.

JD: So how many structures are in place so far, then?
EH: Right now we are finishing up our personal treehouse, “Mis Ojos Miran la Catarata” (My Eyes Look at the Waterfall). This is a double-decker gem of a tree house, perched in a trio of 150-foot trees with a view of a 40-foot tall waterfall. Words and pictures can’t even describe how cool this house is turning out… we’re thrilled! We also have a “base area” for the community, where several structures are getting underway. We currently have two cabinas, a house/office that is getting finished, and a community centre is getting started next week. In the future, this is where people will likely come to hang out with neighbours for a meal, a game of chess, a movie, etc. We also have several platforms up in our Sky Trail network.

JD: The Sky Trail network? What is that?
EH: Transportation here is a little different… you can’t drive a car in and out to your treehouse. So that involved some creativity and technology as well. The two main forms of transportation within Finca Bellavista will be through a Sky Trail network of ziplines and platforms, and a ground trail network. The ziplines provide an invigorating commute in and out of the jungle, for sure. Getting the cables and platforms up has been challenging, but once they are all in, it will make access in and out of forest much easier (and fun).

JD: It looks like it. The concept of living here is attracting at so many levels. On one side, it sounds to me a bit like the hotels with small bungalows in the Maldives islands. Like Soneva Fushi, but without the luxury of having an army of assistants and chefs. Obviously, those are hotels, but this is a true treeforest village, built from scratch… how big is this going to be?
EH: We have 72 parcels, of which we have sold 28 parcels. Additional parcels are in the process of closing right now. Some people will choose not to build on their lot, while others might have a few tree structures attached via suspension bridge, ziplines, or other means…

JD: I’m trying to imagine what kind of people would like to live here, either full-time or part-time. Looking at it, I’m tempted to leave everything and move there myself…
EH: That’s okay (we won’t tell your boss)…we hear it often! We’ve had an interesting mix of buyers… some are about to retire and are looking for an active retirement home, others are families looking at being here during summer/winter breaks, some are building vacation getaways in the trees with an intent to rent out their treehouse the other portion of the year…

Technology in the jungle

JD: How are you connected with the “outside world”? Is there any kind of computer communications? In other words, can I go and work there?
EH: We installed our Satellite for Internet and communications this January. Boy, did that change our world! Otherwise, it was a half an hour’s drive in either direction to internet. Not very easy, fun, efficient or sustainable in operating a business. Our connection is the fastest we’ve been on in all of Costa Rica and, it’s powered 100% by solar power.

oldemar.gifJD: I guess you’ve got some kind of Wi-Fi network in place for the whole place…
EH: Well, the Wi-Fi zone reaches the entire base area. We have several land owners that are looking into equipment that will amplify the signal onto the mountain where the treehouses will be located, and our satellite technician just notified me today that they are getting a new system in this month that will make that process easier and more affordable! I personally will not put a connection in my treehouse, primarily because it will be my escape from work.

JD: You are sustainable community; do you use any technology to help you towards this goal? And with technology I don’t only mean electronics, but any machines or mechanical gadgets.
EH: Technology is certainly our friend out here in the jungle! Our remote location also requires a fair amount of technology as well…

JD: What about energy?
EH: Right now we are operating our house/office from a photovoltaic solar system. We are in the process of getting a hydroelectric turbine built that will provide power for the entire community. To us, providing off-grid electricity to the Finca Bellavista community was very important. While we could have spent money to tie into it, Costa Rica’s nationalised electricity system is notorious for its high amounts of carbon emissions and its rolling blackouts (brownouts happen almost daily). Plus, we have two powerful whitewater rivers right here for us to harness clean energy from… why use anything else?

Custom-built Canyon Crossflow Turbine that will be installed at Finca Bellavista.

JD: What about the houses themselves? I guess they have to follow some patterns, in terms of architecture (the houses remind me of the tree world in Myst).
EH: Yeah. Structures have to abide by our guidelines, which can also be found on our website. The gist is that they must tie into our electrical grid, use a biodigestor to process wastes, and utilise either rainwater catch or a spring for their water needs. All designs have to go through our Environmental Review board for approval, where we look at materials, feasibility, and systems of attachment.

As a side note, building a treehouse can be a pretty technical adventure. You have to get up in the tree via ropes, harnesses and pulleys, and then there’s the whole business of finding a way to attach the house to the tree. We are using Garnier Limbs for our treehouse.

JD: How much would a house there cost?
EH: We sell the land (with the trees) on which people would build their treehouses. We are rolling into Phase 2 right now, with prices for 2-4 acre parcels ranging in price from US$49,000 to $65,000. Designing and constructing an arboreal or stilt-built dwelling would be adapted to the type and size of the property’s trees, the slope of the land, and personal preferences, views, etc. Treehouses and stilt-built houses can be designed and built either by the owner or by one of our preferred builders.

JD: And those are…
EH: The treehouses can vary greatly in price, based on a person’s needs and desires, but I think a very simple, safe structure can be built for as little as US$15,000 and go as high in price as your imagination and budget will allow. For US$50,000, it’s likely you can have a contractor build and finish a very comfortable tree house.

JD: That’s pretty cheap. I guess being so remote plays a part here. How do you get to this amazing place?
EH: Finca Bellavista is six miles from the Golfo Dulce (Sweet Gulf). The two rivers that make the property boundaries join forces and dump into Piedras Blancas National Park and the Golfo Dulce. A large portion of the area surround the Gulf is protected… therefore, it’s hard to get down to the water from our side. We are about a 30-minute drive from putting in kayaks to the Gulf, where “rainforest fjords” meet the calm waters. There are beaches scattered about—all isolated. A handful of people are starting to pioneer this area for windsurfing… it’s near perfect conditions for it. And tranquil, beautiful, and undeveloped.

The access issues are in the process of changing, as an international airport (that will accommodate even the largest A-380 Airbus) is being built 30 minutes north of here. All the infrastructure is getting upgraded, and it’s anybody’s guess how that will effect the area. They are certainly stepping up their road maintenance efforts and talking about paving.

JD: What about the surroundings? I heard you have some of the best surf beaches in the planet…
EH: The nearest surf beaches are Matapalo and Pavones (longest left in this hemisphere I’ve heard), and again, the access via road is tough (4WD, dirt), and 1.5 to two hours. For easier access to beaches, a drive to Dominical and all the beautiful beaches south of there are about an hour to an hour/half drive away.

Pavones beach

Most of these beaches have been “discovered” recently, but there are so many that are so beautiful and still quiet that it’s worth the short drive to go check them out. Dominical is know for its surfing and has that surf-town “vibe,” which is fun. My favourite beaches in the world are around there…but I’m not naming names just in case this gets published! Very private beaches with cool critters like howler monkeys and scarlet mackaws, caves and rainforest right to the edge). It sounds too good to be true, but trust me, it is!

OK, that’s it. I’m there, with my Jedi suit and Hawaiian surf shorts. [Bellavista via Vancouver Sun]

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