At Home in Paradise: A Profile of Costa Rica Expert Evelyn Gallardo

Evelyn GallardoEvelyn Gallardo’s life reads like an inspiring travelogue. She first discovered the world as a self-described “backpacking hippie” and went on to pursue her lifelong passion for primates by working with Dr. Dian Fossey’s Mountain Gorilla Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda and the Orangutan Project with Dr. Birute Galdikas in Borneo in the 1980s. This work led to the creation of Evelyn’s first book, Among the Orangutans.

But all travelers need a home base, and for Evelyn and her husband, as soon as they arrived at Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica they knew this was it. They now own two vacation rental properties there, Discovery Beach House and Monkey House. Evelyn loves living like a local in Costa Rica, so much so that she has recently published a new book, The Best of Manuel Antonio & Quepos 2012, to share her inside tips.

We recently caught up with Evelyn at home in Costa Rica after returning from an adventure in Peru and asked her a few questions about her fascinating life.

Crooked Trails: Costa Rica is well-known by travelers as the ultimate ecological destination. What are a few lesser-known surprises about Costa Rica to be discovered?

Evelyn Gallardo: 1. Costa Rica was ranked the #1 Happiest Country in the world by the British New Economics Foundation. The findings were in part based on life satisfaction, average life span and ecological footprint. Costa Ricans are a stress-free society. A common respond to “How are you?” is “Pura Vida!” It means they’re living the pure life with no worries. Their biggest joy is spending time with family.

2. Costa Rica’s army was abolished in 1948 when it redirected its military budget to public health and education.

3. Costa Rica has been known as the Switzerland of Central America ever since its former president, Oscar Arias, brought peace to Central America in 1987. He won the Nobel Peace Prize that same year.

CT: Manuel Antonio is your little corner of the world… what makes it special and unique?

EG: My husband and I moved to Manuel Antonio because Costa Rica beachwe knew we’d never get bored. Every day is an adventure!

1.We have 3 kinds of monkeys, 2 kinds of sloths, a “Jesus Christ” basilisk lizard that walks/runs on water (sometimes across our pool!), huge iridescent turquoise blue morpho butterflies whose beauty takes your breath away – and that’s just the wildlife!

2. Seven islands dot Espadilla Bay, which makes for spectacular views from most everywhere in Manuel Antonio.

3. The ocean is 82 degrees.

4. There’s so much to see and do by way of tours, restaurants, live music, activities and services that even if you stayed a month you wouldn’t be able to do it all.

5. There’s a warm and welcoming sense of community here. People have chosen to live in Manuel Antonio from all over the world. Many of them first visited as tourists. There’s a tendency to fall in love with Manuel Antonio and the Costa Rica spirit of Pura Vida. I remember feeling a real sense of belonging from the very beginning.

CT: What brought you there in the first place?

EG: I was a wildlife photographer with a specialty in primates. I’d photographed mountain gorillas in Rwanda, chimpanzees in Costa Rica Capuchins_DippingUganda and orangutans in Borneo. I originally came here to photograph howler monkeys, the loudest monkey in the world and the endangered red-backed squirrel monkey. Now I have monkeys in my own backyard. How cool is that!?

CT: I understand you have a background in primatology and conservation. How has your connection to the natural world shaped the way you travel?

EG: I worked as a volunteer with gorilla authority Dian Fossey in Rwanda and with orangutan expert Dr. Birute Galdikas in Borneo. Becoming a conservationist and a writer was born from a passion for primates and as a result of those incredible experiences.

I feel most at home and alive in the rain forest and so, it’s what I seek out in most of my travels. I also enjoy interacting with and learning about indigenous people. One of my favorite quotes is from Robert Frost poem,  “I took the one [road] less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Another quote I embraced came to me from inside a fortune cookie, “Life is a bold and dashing adventure!”

CT: You are a well-traveled person…how have your own travel experiences shaped your vision for the way you host travelers in your home of Costa Rica?

EG: As a backpacking hippie traveling all through South America (including a one-month trip up the Amazon) in the 70’s I spent no money on nice hotels or fancy meals in order to see more of the world. Now, as a Baby Boomer I still love taking the road less traveled but with splashes of luxury. The contrast is delicious! I love sharing a contrast of worlds with our guests. As a conservationist I spoke about endangered primates and their threatened habitats for more than 20 years. What I once did on a global level I now do on a personal level with our boutique vacation villa in the rain forest. I hope people leave here changed by their experiences among the wildlife. Zip lining, whitewater river rafting, Jungle Waterfall tours and more provide the thrills. Our staff offers up the luxury with a private chef, private transport and unexpected surprises such as being served fresh and healthy coconut water from our own trees, pointing out a baby sloth or creating a colorful towel origami decoration on their bed of a monkey they’ve seen that day. We love pampering our guests in paradise.

Discovery House Great Room Costa RicaCT: How did you find the properties that became Discovery Beach House and Monkey House and what made you decide to open them up to visitors as rental properties?

EG: We were looking for an ocean view with monkeys in our yard and our properties have both. The idea for the vacation rentals came about as a way to share the magic of living in paradise and to help fund our future travels.

CT: Your new book promises readers the ‘insiders’ experience in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, as if through the eyes of family and friends. Is it hard to share some of Costa Rica’s best-kept secrets? Do you worry about the impacts of tourism in your area?

EG: I was at a jam session at a friend’s house recently and one of the locals mentioned we might not be able to get into our favorite places after the word got out. I’m thinking our strategy will be timing. We’ll just get there earlier!

CT: You recently traveled to Peru with Crooked Trails to have your own ‘insider’ experience in the Andes. What was your favorite experience on that journey?

EG: I really enjoyed our stay with the family of Chinchero weavers. Being steeped in their lives, learning how they weave, eating with them as a family and having the opportunity for a cultural exchange was a profound experience. It made all the difference between scraping the surface of Peru (as I did in the 70’s) and truly immersing yourself in the people, culture, rich history and its many mysteries. It made me want more of the same!

CT: Where are you planning (or dreaming) to travel to next?

EG: I’d love to take an extended trip to Bhutan and Thailand then stay with a Maasai Tribe in Kenya.

Costa Rica travel guide cover
Thinking of heading to Costa Rica? So are we!

Be sure to check out Evelyn’s book, The Best of Manuel Antonio & Quepos 2012, before you go. And if you’d like an amazing place to stay while you play, her Discovery House and Monkey House vacation properties are available to rent.

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