A Tree House In The Jungle—Passion And Profit Off-Gridding In Southern Costa Rica
“My favorite part of living at this finca is being in sync with nature.
“I wake to the sounds of the birds and fall asleep to the sounds of the frogs.
“And every day I see something new—a new bug, a new plant, a new tree—or I hear a new sound. The constant discovery has become an important and special component of my daily life.”
So says Erica Andrews of Finca Bellavista, the eco-community she and her partner Matt Hogan have developed on the south Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
Erica and Matt first visited the 62-acre site in 2006. At that time, the property was being used to grow trees for timber harvest.
However, the couple had a different vision for the location, which, for them, seemed enchanted from the first time they saw it.
Erica spent many of her childhood years on her grandfather’s ranch in Oklahoma, where her appreciation for the environment and her desire to live immersed in nature began.
After high school Erica attended Western State Colorado University, where she met Matt in an ecosystems management class. At that time Matt owned a company distributing roofing supplies made from recycled materials.
“Matt and I both really came to value our university experience when developing Finca Bellavista,” Erica says. “If not for the skills we learned there, I don’t know that we’d have been able to accomplish what we’ve accomplished. We’ve built this community from the ground up.
“The classes we took together were outdoors, encouraged independence and creativity, and prioritized common sense in problem-solving.”
Back in 2006 neither Erica nor Matt had the financial means to support the purchase but, after walking the river frontage and feeling drawn to the property, they felt personally connected.
“We were concerned that someone else might buy it and cut down the spectacular trees,” Erica explains, “and became determined to find a solution and told each other and ourselves that we’d just figure it out.
“How about building a tree house?” we wondered. “Would friends or others be interested in investing? Would they also build tree houses?”
And so the Finca Bellavista story began.
Now, 10 years later, the property includes almost 600 acres of primary and secondary growth forest and recovering pastureland, as well as an entire peninsula of rain forest, white water river frontage, and plenty of wildlife.
“We’ve subdivided 140 acres into residential parcels that we sell to people interested in becoming part of our rain forest community,” Erica explains. “Then we work with them to design and build their dream tree houses.
“We have a rental management company that takes care of cleaning, maintenance, marketing, and reservations for their properties when the owners are absent.”
Acres of organic gardens, zip-line tours, miles of hiking trails, rivers, and waterfalls are the amenities on offer in this wildlife-filled tropical paradise.
“We now have 13 rentals that we manage for absentee owners and function as a sort of tree-house resort community. From the start our objective has been to create an immersion experience like nowhere else on Earth… to give people a rain forest experience unlike any other… and that is what we have done.”
Of course, the journey from dream to reality hasn’t been struggle-free.
“Providing the basics of living—things like food, water, and electricity—for a growing community of people in a remote location has been a real challenge,” Erica admits.
“For me personally, living in a tent, being the only woman in a work camp, not speaking the language, and having no prior knowledge or experience of living or developing land in this part of the world… all those things made the experience at times brutal.”
The experience of life at Finca Bellavista is far more comfortable these days. The grounds are tranquil and feature extensive flower and vegetable gardens, and the property’s base camp provides customized activities, tours, bike trips, zip-lining, yoga classes, and movie nights.
There is a community dining hall and a Wi-Fi zone. This is a cozy environment where visitors can gather for Happy Hour and relax.
What advice would Erica offer a fellow entrepreneur considering starting a tourism business in Costa Rica today?
“What I have observed,” she explains, “is that visitors to this country are leaning toward smaller, more intimate experiences rather than the big all-inclusive resorts.
“Thinking more generally,” Erica continues, “I’d say that the most important thing I’ve learned building and running a business in Costa Rica is that a secret to success at this is abandoning any expectations you have for how things ‘should’ go. There is no such thing as a hard and fast timeline in the developing world, for example. This isn’t going to change. You have to adapt.”
Erica and Matt set out to create a place where people could coexist with the rain forest, embracing all the wonders of this environment. After a decade of hard work, determination, and sacrifice, their vision has come to life. Finca Bellavista is an off-the-grid treetop paradise for those searching for a life less ordinary.
Take a look.