Looking for an off the grid Costa Rica hotel? Hiking, milking cows, horseback riding and more await you at the fabulous La Carolina Lodge near Tenorio Volcano National Park.
Our kids just learned more in 48 hours of travel than they ever would have at school.
Part of it was because we were completely and totally unplugged from the internet and cell services for two whole days.
Part of it was because we had a front row seat to some of the best birdwatching in the world while we ate our home cooked meals in the middle of the rainforest.
Part of it was because we woke up every morning to tromp through the pastures on our way to milk cows and feed pigs before enjoying our farm-to-table breakfast.
But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself so let’s go back to the beginning…
La Carolina Lodge Costa Rica
I was recently looking for a place to spend some unplugged time in nature with my kids. I also am a huge waterfall chaser and wanted to visit the Rio Celeste waterfall with my kids and was looking for family-friendly accommodations in the area of the Tenorio Volcano.
We spend a lot of time in the La Fortuna area at the hot springs, but I also wanted some accommodations that were more off the beaten track. We had spent time at Rancho Margot near La Fortuna, and I wanted a similar experience.
In my searching, I found La Carolina Lodge. I was also excited because, in the price of accommodations, all meals are included.
La Carolina Lodge is a family owned working ranch and accommodations located in the northern part of Costa Rica near Tenorio Volcano National Park, Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve, and about an hour from Liberia.
I love that Bill and Karien, the owners of La Carolina, are committed to sustainability, unplugged parenting, and paying excellent wages to their employees. On the ground, Alejandro is the ranch manager, tour guide, and overall amazing father figure for the entire lodge.
La Carolina Lodge brings visitors to a rural part of Costa Rica in order to experience a truly off the grid Costa Rica travel experience.
Want a perfectly tailored Costa Rica travel experience? Let Christa give you advice for your specific trip!
Where Is La Carolina Lodge Located?
Arrival at La Carolina means driving down dirt roads with soaring views of the Tenorio Volcano and Lake Nicaragua before turning off to the ranch located next to a gurgling river.
The large original house on the property serves as the reception, kitchen, dining area and birdwatching. We were greeted warmly by the employees and other guests who quickly pointed out a sloth climbing a nearby tree to find his lunch. I could tell immediately La Carolina would feel like a second home.
La Carolina Lodge is an expansive fully working farm with nine spacious but simple family cabins and a full kitchen where meals are made. The cabins are simple, made from wood sourced right from the farm and constructed by members of the La Carolina staff.
View this post on Instagram
There are several ways to get to La Carolina Lodge- you can drive over from the Nicoya Penisula through Bagaces. You can also drive from San Jose up highway 1 and get off just before Biagaces.
Or, my personal favorite, you can drive towards La Fortuna but turn off at La Tigra. This route allows phenomenal views of the back side of the Arenal Volcano, and a trip through the Guatuso Indigenous reserve. you can stop off and view some of the indigenous painted masks on your way to the lodge.
Accommodations at La Carolina Lodge
We stayed in the El Paso Fino cabin, which overlooked the entire property. We had a huge porch with a hammock, a private bathroom, two bedrooms and could hear the river rushing past as we fell asleep. Each bed had a bug net above, and the windows could be open or closed allowing a gorgeous cross breeze.
The cabin also had basic electricity for charging devices, a few strategically placed light bulbs, and a simple fan and nightlight for when it was very dark. Otherwise, the paths and porch were lit by candlelight.
We had views of the trees where the toucans arrive and could see the horses and oxen enter and exit the stables. The main hiking trail was just out our front door, and the wraparound porch was the perfect place to read while listening to the river.
Looking for more luxurious accommodations in the area? Check out this review.
Activities At the Lodge
Days at La Carolina Lodge can start early- there is so much to do! Starting at 7 am kids can walk the pastures to the dairy farm to learn to milk cows from the ranchers that work at La Carolina. After breakfast (more on the food in a minute) there are so many ways to spend the day:
- Birding from the main house- the best birdwatching books are available, and the lodge attracts over 20 species of birds
- Swimming at the river’s watering hole- the lodge provides water shoes and goggles so kids can watch the fish swim by
- Hiking the ranch’s private trails- you can choose from an hour or a 2-3 hour hike through private land on a well-marked trail. The ranch even provides rubber boots for the rainy season!
- Swim in the blue river at the local swimming hole
- Soaking in the ranch’s hot tub- heated by a wood fire! You have to see it to believe it
- Paddling across the ranch’s private lake in their paddle boat- or catching tilpaia a the lake with the fishing poles
- Driving up the road to see the Peace Tree- a huge Ceiba tree that is at least 300 years old, and home to tons of blue jeans frogs
- Working out next to the river at the gym- or practicing yoga on the huge multiuse platform
- Touring the gardens where your dinner fruits and veggies are grown
Or, for additional (and super nominal, in my opinion) fees you can do the following-
- Horseback riding
- Guided tour to the Blue River waterfall and Tenorio Volcano National Park
- River floating and rafting tours
- Visit the rescued animals at Las Pumas Biological Reserve
- See the gorgeous Llanos de Cortez waterfall
- Take a Chocolate Farm tour
We chose to use the local guide and ranch manager Alejandro for a tour of the Blue River and to allow the girls a short horseback ride through the gardens next to the main house. Alejandro also took us for a spin the rowboat at the lake where he pointed out many species of birds.
Become Part of the La Carolina Family
One of my favorite things about La Carolina is how at home our kids felt- my husband and I would lounge in the rocking chairs and watch birds while the girls tromped about the gardens chasing the puppy or looking at the horses.
Since this is a true working farm, there is always something happening and my girls especially loved watching the ranch hand Michael move wood using the traditional Costa Rican oxen method.
We loved finding a bird’s nest with a baby bird next to the washhouse, and the girls found all kinds of frogs around our cabin. We spent some of the best, unplugged family time ever because everyone was able to be fully present in our interactions.
Food at La Carolina Lodge
I’ve definitely saved the best for last. La Carolina Lodge is definitely remote, so leaving the property to eat meals isn’t the most feasible solution. That’s why it’s so awesome that meals are included with your stay.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are cooked on a wood stove and served family style around a huge farm table. Dinner is by candlelight, and breakfast and lunch offer amazing bird watching opportunities in the main gardens.
We loved that the food was served in big bowls, and we could serve ourselves the portions that we needed. This greatly reduced food waste and allowed our kids independence in choosing what went on their plates.
We had great conversations about the food as we discussed where the food comes from and where we had seen it on the farm. The girls loved talking about how cheese is made from the milk we got from the cows, and how we saw the tilapia fish in the pond. We ate bananas right from the trees- something my girls adored.
Our guide Alejandro said that the food is about 99% farm to table- they are still purchasing garlic, red peppers and cilantro from a local buyer. There are rice fields at La Carolina, but this year the weather was too hot and all the rice was lost. However, normally, the food is almost entirely sourced from the land itself.
All of the food is traditional Costa Rican recipes such as gallo pinto for breakfast, meat with red sauce for lunch, and of course black beans and white rice made in the traditional Costa Rican style. The picadillos (vegetable hash)- especially the picadillo de chayote– were to die for.
My girls loved the homemade cheese with breakfast, and the eggs were made how everyone likes them. The homemade tortillas disappeared so fast, and the arroz con leche for dessert was the perfect mix of sweet. The homemade bread at breakfast (pan casero) with homemade jelly (guayaba or pineapple) was my favorite.
There’s always coffee, tea, fresh homemade juices and hot chocolate. La Carolina does not serve alcohol but allows guests to bring their own.
Wanting to visit the beach in Costa Rica? Our 20 top Costa Rica Pacific coast beach picks here.
The Ideal La Carolina Guest
I would venture to say that La Carolina Lodge is not for everyone. Arrival requires a 4 wheel drive car (we went in our Rav 4 which was fine because it was higher up) and driving into remote, rural Costa Rica without cell signal.
The accommodations at La Carolina are comfortable- but they aren’t 5 star. Your cabin is truly in nature- and that means bugs and animals around the cabin. Doors and windows have screens, but bugs are still around. (We tested lots of mosquito repellent and I’ll write about which worked best soon!)
One night the girls told me there was a blue jeans frog peeking in by their bed- and I totally did not believe them, but it was true! (And awesome!)
The beds are comfortable and extra blankets are provided- but there aren’t 500 thread count sheets and luxury mattresses. The shower and sinks have hot water and there is electricity at night.
La Carolina Lodge is almost entirely unplugged. No cell service is available in the area, and there is a small WiFi area that I didn’t even notice until the last day.
One of the ranch hands mentioned that there are families who are not used to being unplugged and together who arrive at the farm- he said it was easy to tell when the kids and parents were detoxing from an addictive electronics habit because everyone was crabby at first.
Food is simple and delicious- but the food is definitely Costa Rican, and it’s a set menu. If you are looking to order from a menu, La Carolina isn’t for you.
The Bottom Line
Our time at La Carolina Lodge is some of the best family time we have ever spent together- and I can’t wait to go back. All of the lodge and ranch employees treated us like family. On our last day at the farm, a family arrived who comes to La Carolina once a year.
They had their teenagers with them, and Alejandro had mentioned that he had been working horses with the daughter for almost 15 years. For her and her siblings, La Carolina was a home away from home, and it was incredible to experience the bond between longtime staff and longtime visitors.
La Carolina truly provides one of the best off the grid family travel experiences in the country. I have a feeling that if you go to La Carolina once, you’ll want to return again and again.
If you are looking to book a room at La Carolina, visit their website. One of the awesome English speaking staff will help guide you through the whole process!
Disclosure- I was provided two nights accommodation for myself and my family for the purposes of this review. As always, all opinions are my own.