The San Isidro, Costa Rica area… a grassroots epicenter!


I am writing from Finca Amrta, a small nature reserve, and farm in the foothills of the Talamaca mountains in Costa Rica’s southern zone. Finca Amrta has, among other things, served as a base for me to explore the area around San Isidro, Costa Rica. This area has so much to offer and is truly the epicenter of an ecological, grassroots, back to the earth movement here in Costa Rica! I have barely been able to scratch the surface of what this area has to offer in my 10 days here. Within a 30km range of where I sit there are, according to my locally verified list, 14 established Appropriate Technology/permaculture farm/school/intentional community type places…Incredible!

Each Thursday there is a farmer’s market and most of the organizations, farms, and groups in the area meet here to sell their overflow and to connect and build community. At the last market, I was able to make quite a few contacts and was invited to visit several projects in the area. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to make a choice, bounce around like a butterfly, briefly introducing people to Appropedia and getting a glimpse of what their project is about, or… try to cover just a few projects in depth.

My decision was to visit just a few places and attempt more in-depth documentation of their projects. So I am working on pages about some of the elegant “low-tech” projects at Finca Amrta and New Dawn. Both farms have been a presence in the area for over 20 years and have some simple solutions figured out for this particular climate in regards to farming, bamboo building, composting systems, etc. My hosts and the stewards of Finca Amrta, Susanna and Miguel, have been dedicated to living and demonstrating ecological land use and earth-based principles since they bought this land in 1989. My time here has been deeply grounding and enriching. Simply following Susanna and Miguel to watching them work and live has been nothing short of awe-inspiring.

As an added bonus, renowned medicinal plant expert Ed Bernhardt, N.D., and his wife Jessica live just next door. Ed has been working with tropical medicinal plants & gardens in Costa Rica for 20+ years and he and his wife now run the New Dawn school where they teach natural health care and permaculture classes on their land where students can eat from the garden and live in their bamboo- waddle and daub cabin (Appropedia page coming soon!)

Despite my decision to stay put, I couldn’t resist the invitation to make one quick stop to visit Finca Fruicion, mostly because I felt a connection with Alana, Jason, and their amazing new arrival (baby boy) Cedar. On the bus ride over to, I asked the woman next to me if she knew which stop to get off for Finca Fruicion. As it turns out, this woman was Desiree Wells, who is now living and offering permaculture courses on the farm. Alana and Jason just bought the farm in 2008, are raising 2 young boys, and just had a 3rd in May. Given the circumstances, I assumed I would be visiting a site with still very much in its infancy. I am happy to admit I was completely incorrect in my assumptions and am blown away with their accomplishments which include (among other things): tilapia aquaculture ponds, a chicken coop, a goat pen, a thatched roof rancho, biodiesel run school bus cabins, a greenhouse, composting toilets, solar-heated showers, the sturdy beginnings of permaculture gardens, and over 150 young fruit trees! . Needless to say I could not document these projects during my one-day stay. Looks like we need another Appropedia Travel Intern to follow up on this gem of a project (as well as numerous others in the area and, actually, in the world)!

This area is also a hot-spot for anyone interested in learning about bamboo construction. I will soon be posting pages documenting some of the bamboo-building methods my good friend Arya has learned while working at the local bamboo shop. Also, Arya and I paid a visit to another larger bamboo factory in the area called Bambu Tico. We were quite inspired by their operation and the myriad of bamboo products they have to offer.

I have to say that my favorite tidbit about bamboo construction came from Ed over at New Dawn; his simple bamboo-curing method. Simply cut the pieces of bamboo you would like to use and leave them standing in the bamboo stand for about 2 months resting on a rock (so they don’t act as straws). The bamboo stand acts as a natural pest and mold repellent for the curing bamboo. After a few months in the stand remove the bamboo and let the pieces bake in the sun for about 2 weeks. .. and that is that! It has worked for Ed and his building for years!

My fantastic voyage is approaching its last stop, one of my favorite places in the world: Rancho Mastatal!!! They have some amazing natural buildings, composting toilets, permaculture gardens, a bio-digester, solar electric and water, rainwater catch, and more! I was lucky enough to visit Rancho Mastatal 4 years ago; the spirit of the land and the community made a lasting impression and I am excited to return and to have a chance to share what is happening there with the Appropedia community!

That’s all for now. Thanks for checking in!

8 thoughts on “The San Isidro, Costa Rica area… a grassroots epicenter!

  1. I personally rejoice and celebrate your mentioning the low-tech approach to sustainability. It has many benefits. Like its available to more people almost immediately. It is traditional, well understood, proven technology. For me the most important thing about these traditional ways is the way it makes me feel to do them. It gives me great joy.

    thanks for the ways
    you are shining
    the light along (y)our way.


  2. this is why San Isidro quickly became for me the hub of my Costa Rica life…I offer grin goes a chance to come down and experience this area for 10 days for only $595…see my facebook page or our website for more details…pura vida!
    Louis Bourgeois

  3. Hey Liz!! Love reading about your adventure. I was in that area of CR in 2001 on Finca Ipe – located in the middle of San Isidro and the playa town Dominical. I used to go to that thursday market with them! They build with bamboo, have a composting toilet and a methane digester, grow organically, etc. Did you hear of them?

  4. First, I want to send you thanks and kudos for following such a path! Traveling with a purpose!

    I am a single mother, and am planning to stay at Finca Amrta with my son (4) for a while. I am wondering if, in your opinion, there will be enough community, particularly children, to fulfill his social needs. He really enjoys being around other kiddos… I saw that the family at Finca Fruition has youngin’s… might it be a better fit? I’m putting feelers out there and listening to worldwide feedback!

    Hope this finds you well and content on your travels

  5. I am looking to open the first backpaker’s hostel in San Isidro later this year, renting a house in the El Prado area very near to Musoc. Wanting to put out the word early and often, and also looking for one or two who may enjoy helping to run the place with me.

    Pura Vida!

  6. @louis,

    moving to san isidro in 2 weeks. looking to get involved in projects. opening a hostel would be pretty phenomenal. i was an intern at rancho mastatal (see above) last year, and am returning to my fiance and looking to make connections. please respond if you are interested in sharing more of your ideas with me!

  7. Hi there
    My daughter, Louise has been travelleling around Central America is currently at Finca Amarta – would you know how I could contact her? She has not been in contact for 2 weeks and I am starting to get a bit anxious
    Alternatively who could I contact at the farm who could get a message to her?
    Ingrid (South Africa)

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