By Sky Fisher, Epicure & Culture Contributor
When the taxi driver at the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border knew exactly where Casa Oro was, I took that as a good sign; I was not the first person to head there.
An hour later, after winding through some Nicaraguan hills, the taxi pulled up in front of a large, multi-level building in the center of town.This #hostel in San Juan del Sur, #Nicaragua is more than a place to sleep...it's the town's first eco-hostel and eco-hub! #sjds Click To Tweet
More Than A Hostel – An Ecohub
It’s also the focus of this Nicaragua travel guide.
Though Casa Oro has existed for many years, an ownership change at the end of 2016 has taken the accommodation from one of the typical San Juan del Sur hostels to the area’s first eco-hostel and eco-hub.
The first thing I noticed: art everywhere. Floor mosaics became giant murals as my eyes moved up the walls, the colorful scene enveloping my senses under DIY chandeliers crafted from up-cycled materials like glass bottles and wood.
This inspiring scene isn’t just for aesthetics; it’s part of the hostel’s new initiative to create awareness in the community through example. One way they do this is through accepting bottles and cans from anyone who brings them by. Their team turns what others see as trash into functional, beautiful art inspired by nature.
Volunteers at the hostel often take it upon themselves to create their own projects, too. In fact, one enlisted her friends to collect hundreds of soda tabs from the streets, and then transformed them into a surf gear display in Casa Oro’s surf shop. Crafting eco-bricks — plastic bottles stuffed with chip bags and other soft plastics — is another project in the works.
Realizing My Contribution
As someone who is slowly becoming more aware of the impact humans and our trash have on the environment, I was inspired just by wandering around Casa Oro. Seeing all of the recycled trash turned into art made me realize how much garbage I create on the road, particularly in countries, like Nicaragua, where disposable plastic is frequently used.
One of the biggest culprits: plastic straws. Over 500 million are used daily; and while the number seems unfathomable at first, I realized that a typical night out could equal ten or more straws as restaurants typically put them in every drink — even water refills! Due to their small size, they rarely end up in recycling bins, and instead end up polluting the ocean.
Straws may be an ingrained part of culture around the world, but Casa Oro is currently looking into alternatives for use in their restaurant, such as reusable or biodegradable straws.
Transforming The Mindset
And while Casa Oro attracts those looking for eco-accommodation, it is still a large hostel located in the center of a popular town. This means not everyone staying there is aware of the importance of recycling and taking care of the environment.
It’s an on-going goal, but the hope is that everyone who enters Casa Oro leaves a little more enlightened, whether it’s through reading the Casa Oro mission in one of their helpful handbooks or taking notice of an eco-friendly initiative, like the availability of clay-filtered water or composting.
From my short stay there, I gathered their efforts were working. For example, I chatted to numerous other travelers in my dorm, who all seemed really impressed by Casa Oro’s model. Not only that, but aware of the impact they make of the earth on a day-to-day basis, and how they could work to lessen it.Check out this #hostel in San Juan del Sur that's changing the mindset of guests, one eco-initiative at a time! #sjds #ecotravel Click To Tweet
The Circulo Initiative
Over lunch, Jasi — the volunteer coordinator — explained that Casa Oro is just one piece of a puzzle working to make San Juan del Sur a more eco-friendly destination.
Other initiatives include the surf school and shop located in the front of Casa Oro, as well as the bar we’re sitting in, and two bed and breakfasts, Casa Andalucia and Nuestra Casa. Each of the bed and breakfasts operates on similar principles to Casa Oro, with beautiful up-cycled artwork throughout. Their guests are also free to participate in activities offered by Casa Oro, like yoga on the beach.
The biggest focus is Rancho Regeneracion. Currently, it’s a project consisting of 88 acres of jungle with a bodega and a bathroom. The goal, however, is to turn it into a farm that can feed 1,000 people — including growing the food served in Casa Oro’s own restaurant.
The entire empire is based around the Circulo Initiative, the idea that humanity is one part of the world’s ecosystem and business is a tool to regenerate the environment and empower communities. There’s a strong belief in an endless cycle of experimentation.
Engaging The Community
The Circulo Initiative is an outward project, one that aims to get the entire community involved. And, during the few days I spent there, I noticed San Juan del Sur is a community that is willing to work together to create awareness and change.
For their part, the staff and volunteers of Casa Oro hit the street and lead by example, always personally reaching out to locals and providing fun and accessible activities, like free yoga at the beach. Jasi mentioned that though it had taken a lot of personal outreach in the beginning, several local Nicaraguans were now regulars at yoga class, which is helping the hostel build a positive reputation and relationship beyond the expat crowd.
They also work hard to make sure that each visitor to Casa Oro has the trip of their dreams, by coordinating activities and experiences with local tour guides and businesses, including horseback riding on the beach, sailing to nearby beaches, ziplining or even a trip to Parque de Aventuras Las Nubes (Cloud Adventure Park), which is located at one of the highest points in San Juan del Sur and allows for stunning views of the coast and volcanoes while being surrounded in tropical forest.
Unsurprisingly, Casa Oro is also involved in the conservation efforts of the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles, which come ashore between July and February at the nearby La Flor Nature Reserve. The reserve is one of the only nesting sites in the world for the endangered turtles and during nesting season, Casa Oro coordinates night expeditions so that guests can witness the beautiful site.
Casa Oro is at the beginning of something special and travelers through San Juan del Sur shouldn’t miss it.
If you’re visiting San Juan del Sur, you can get involved with Casa Oro’s eco-initiatives by staying at the hostel or one of the bed and breakfasts, dining at their in-hostel restaurant or taking your recycling to their eco-hub. Volunteer opportunities for yoga instructors and help on their eco-projects may also be available. Visit their website for more details.
Additionally, understand that waste is a problem in Nicaragua (and elsewhere), and do your part when in the country. Start by choosing an eco-friendly water bottle for your travels, and educating yourself on ways to travel plastic free (or at least using less plastic). Remember, even small actions can make a difference, like:
- Making a grocery list to avoid food waste
- Bringing your own mug to the cafe (hey, some shops, even Starbucks, offer discounts for this!)
- Choosing snacks sans packaging
- Asking your takeaway restaurant to *not* include utensils and condiments if you don’t need them
- Eating and shopping locally (less transport = less emissions)
San Juan del Sur hostels abound, but Casa Oro is undeniably special. What’s your #1 tip for traveling in a more eco-friendly manner?
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