How to Own Your Own Costa Rican Cabin Retreat

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


family_vacation_at_arenal_volcano_costa_rica“Name ten things you would like to do if money and time were no object? Ask your partner the same question, write down your answers separately and compare your lists.”

According to Steve and Debbie Legg, this is how the volcano cabin retreat of Leaves and Lizards was born.  They write about their experience in this piece entitled “Thinking About Moving to Costa Rica?  How We Dreamed It, Planned It, and Did It!”

We know this is the real thing because we stayed at Leaves and Lizards a little over a year ago.  It was a genuine treat.  We hiked through a primary rainforest, saw the elusive toucan, and toured an organic farm where we made cheese, ate our own freshly-caught fish, and bonded enough with the farmer that he took us to an authentic Costa Rican rodeo later that night.  It was an experience we will never forget. 

We had the chance to interview Debbie and Steve about their Leaves and Lizards journey.  After our interview are excerpts from their article.

The Mindful Tourist:  What made you decide to take on this big project of building and managing a cabin retreat in another country?

Debbie and Steve: It sort of evolved…. now looking back it does seem BIG but at the time it was just step by step. We loved Costa Rica and wanted to find a way we could support ourselves and share our love of a beautiful country with a wonderful culture. We really just started out wanting to plant trees…we needed a way to support that project.
TMT: What are some of the unexpected things that you’ve encountered in your time in CR – both good and bad?

DaS: Well, we never expected our community to be SO supportive and become an integral part of our operation and success. The bad…well let’s see, we didn’t expect to have a growing menagerie of farm animals…now we are even working with the government department of environmental protection (MINAE) to become a wild animal intermediate release location. Of course this is not really bad….just fun!

TMT: Would you do it all again if you had the choice?

DaS: OH YES! In a minute!

TMT: Where do you yourselves vacation after taking care of others on their vacations?

DaS: We don’t have much time for that yet…just too new in the business, we really just like spending time at home when we have any down time without guests. Playing with the animals, riding horses, planting and tending trees.

TMT: What do you like the most about your property and the experience that your visitors can have when staying at Leaves and Lizards?

DaS:  These are a few of our favorite comments, “I feel like I left my world behind, escaped into a fantasy world of jungle, volcanoes, birds, monkeys….” “This was a totally rejuvenating experience for me (us)”….”I learned so much about nature, biodiversity, the importance of trees while I was here.” “I never slept so well.”

TMT: Is there anything else you’d like to say to The Mindful Tourist readers?

DaS: Some of our other projects include a newly started therapuetic horseback riding program and Amazing Race type of vacation package. We welcome individuals looking for an opportunity to experience the real Costa Rica in a community of friendly generous Costa Ricans.

Excerpts from the article:

Remember that list?

“Moving to Costa Rica was on my list, Steve’s list included items that could be accomplished while living in Costa Rica, actually up and moving to Costa Rica had never occurred to Steve, until he met me and I took him to Costa Rica on vacation in 2003. 

“During that vacation my dream of moving to Costa Rica became our dream. We hiked the Osa Peninsula, swam in the Pacific at Manual Antonio, sipped rum drinks on our porch at the Arenal Observatory Lodge and watched the volcano’s nightly fireworks show while listening to the complaints of Howler monkeys after an afternoon rain.

“We learned about the fragile circle of life in the cloud forest at Monteverde, the effects of deforestation to the ecosystem and longed for a way to make a difference in this magical land. We fell in love with the culture, the people, and the way of life in Costa Rica.

“Things that seem so important in the US, what kind of car you drive, how big your house is, name brand this and name brand that are unimportant here. Spending Sundays with family and friends, planting trees, education, and conservation take the place of the superficial goals advertisers try to convince us are essential for happiness.

“We started to seriously consider the possibility of moving to Costa Rica. How would we do it? When would we do it? What will the family say?

“Harvesting the teak, which is not a native tree of Costa Rica, generates the funds to buy the land in need of reforestation and supports the multi-disciplinary team necessary to accomplish re-growing a rain forest. Growing teak correctly is a major undertaking and the decided to let the experts at Finca Leola handle it. We bought 1,000 teak trees from them and will receive income as the teak is harvested over the next 25 years.

“People ask us how we like living in a third world country. Is Costa Rica a third world country? What makes a country third world? With a literacy rate in the upper 90′s, health care for everyone, one of the longest life expectancies in the world, a country that uses only wind, water or geothermal energy for power, and free college education for its residents – Costa Rica can’t be third world.

“Next we needed to decide where we wanted to live. In the summer and fall of 2005 we traveled to Costa Rica, to look for a place to rent. Over the last 12 years we had traveled to many locations, but we found ourselves being drawn to the Arenal Volcano area. We found a house to rent in Cuidad Quesada about a one hour drive from La Fortuna. Our new friends, Fred and Amy Morgan lived in the city, and encouraged us to start out in this community, to learn the language and get acclimated to the culture and way of life in Costa Rica.

“Our friends Hector and Christine Ramirez found us a perfect 26 acres of land, near La Fortuna with unbeatable views of the Arenal Volcano. They helped us through the property buying process in Costa Rica. Customers of Finca Leola are frequently in search of land to buy and reforest.  Christina has started a real estate company, Venado Valley Real Estate, and Hector is providing the resources for individuals who are interested in reforesting their property.  Hector and Christina are the perfect resource for individuals who want to buy from locals, restore/preserve the land and culture.  They are committed to the environment and preservation of Costa Rican Culture.

“The people of our community, Monterrey, are incredible, helpful and welcoming. The kindness, support and generosity of these people have made our transition to life in Costa Rica easy.

“Leaves and Lizards Arenal Volcano Cabin Retreat is our paradise.  Reforesting the pasture is one of our priorities. If everyone does just a small amount of reforestation, collectively we could accomplish re- growing a huge forest.  Keeping our facility small and personable enables us to provide our guests with an experience that creates a customized mix of adventure, discovery and tranquility.”

Thank you, Steve and Debbie, for sharing your story with us.  We have a feeling we’ll be back!

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2 Responses to “How to Own Your Own Costa Rican Cabin Retreat”

  1. Hi i love your story and me myself are trying to get in contact with people that live there and help me . how to move to costa rica and work there . I can build homes and renavated. I am a very handy man and love to help people .
    I hope to here from You .
    johan Spapen

  2. My wife and I are looking to develop a business opportunity in Costa Rica. We both have great management backgrounds, and we were curious as to what the market opportunity in Costa Rica is like, what are great business opportunities in Costa Rica, and with whom can we speak to locally to assist with marketing products and services to Costa Rica.


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