SPOTLIGHT ON Gabriel Saragovia, Founder of Rio Perdido

Exterior view of Rio Perdido

In this exclusive interview with the International Luxury Hotel Association, we delve into the visionary journey of the founder of Rio Perdido, a renowned eco-resort and thermal springs spa nestled within the captivating landscapes of Costa Rica. From the initial acquisition of remote land in 2003 to the resort’s grand opening in 2012, discover the inspiration behind this sustainable oasis and the commitment to environmental conservation that drives its success. Learn how Rio Perdido has not only become a beacon of eco-tourism in Central America but also a catalyst for positive change within the local community, embracing initiatives that prioritize social responsibility and environmental stewardship. Explore the seamless integration of luxury hospitality with sustainable practices, where every aspect of guest experience harmonizes with the rich cultural and natural heritage of Costa Rica, fostering a transformative journey for visitors and locals alike.

A big driving force behind the desire to protect and steward this amazing land comes from the fact that it is part of a rare ecosystem that is very vulnerable. This tropical dry forest includes an amazing “dwarf forest” in the more exposed, rocky terrain, and a jungle-like feel within the canyons and along the many thermal springs that dot the land. Despite what it may sound like, this dry forest is teeming with wildlife. You’d be pressed to find more mammals and reptiles, or bird and insect species anywhere else. 

We acquired the first property in 2009 and have since acquired more land to protect it with reforestation efforts and wildlife protection measures. Today, Río Perdido encompasses nearly 1,500 acres. Through changes in land usage and sustainably sound agricultural practices, we’ve been able to transform these previously unprotected lands. Until very recently, all profits at the property have been reinvested into this project, as we’ve continued to place the protection of this land above capital gains and dividends. 

Gabriel Saragovia, Owner of Rio Perdido

There’s so much we can say about our social and environmental responsibility, and much of it has developed organically. Long before we received our Certificate in Sustainable Tourism from the Costa Rican government, we were hiring over 90% locally, despite the fact that there are more supposedly “qualified” individuals in neighboring provinces, with stronger trajectories in hospitality and tourism. We often train from scratch and always invest in our people. Our Bagaces team members are smart, warm, and passionate human beings – the rest can be learned.

We buy everything we can locally and from sustainable sources, from farmed wood to local produce. We also regularly participate in cultural events and donate to educational institutions.  Our Río Perdido soccer team and mountain biking team contribute to our culture of organized sports, outdoor activity, healthy competition, and social integration to help our community thrive.

At the moment, what has our team the most excited is the new garden: a two-acre, 100% organic garden that is a few months old and already has at least 30 species of herbs (with many native), veggies, and fruits. We are making our own organic deterrents, pesticides and fertilizers using worms and a wide variety of microorganism species. Additionally, we have two local species of rare Melipona bees already producing amazing organic honey.  

Beyond being able to give our employees and guests incredible healthy food, one of the best parts of this new initiative is seeing how our team is taking all this knowledge and sustainable farming techniques back home to their extended families, creating change and a ripple effect at the collective level to yield more nutritious food and a healthier population. 

Regarding products, many businesses complain that in going local, you sacrifice the consistency that large (generally international) providers can guarantee. However, if you truly commit by organizing more dynamic inventories with changing menus, and if you focus on truly native, seasonal recipes, you can practically go 100% local.  

Furniture is another great example: we’ve hired several local, truly talented full-time carpenters and artists, and are constantly building out what is already perhaps the best hotel carpentry in our region. We make our own furniture, mostly from fallen or farmed hardwoods. We weld our own steel and copper, and we even work textiles.

I’ve heard many discussions defending the specific overlap where luxury can meet ecologically-minded hospitality – but for me, they are inextricable. True luxury has to be sustainable. When I travel and they hand me a plastic cup with a straw (at a 5-star property), I cringe. When I see hotels that basically operate mostly off-power diesel generators, I don’t want to be there.  When I know that the kitchen is buying food, simply thinking of how to maximize profit, I do not want to eat there. As Río Perdido evolves, we become more self-sufficient as a property, and we optimize comfort levels simultaneously. So again, it all goes together, inevitably.

In terms of incorporating natural Costa Rican elements, our guiding priority is and always has been to offer a comprehensive approach to wellness, while having the natural thermal river of Guanacaste as the perfect complement to the many offered forms of therapy. As guardians of this land and protectors of its immense biodiversity, our goal is to inspire guests through a rare communion with nature to live and travel in ways that better our planet. 

As for design, we incorporate simple, traditional techniques of the area, using repurposed wood and natural materials to allow nature to take center stage throughout our guest areas. We also apply science to make designs that are low-impact and high-comfort.

To celebrate and uphold the native cultural heritage of the local region and promote diversity and inclusion among staff, Río Perdido crafts traditional menus to commemorate holidays throughout the year that honor the traditions of Costa Rica and the local region of Guanacaste. We also bring in cultural dance and music groups for staff and guests’ enjoyment, and staff add traditional elements to their uniforms to celebrate these occasions. We are firmly committed to the Tico lifestyle through diet, conservation, and employing well-trained local staff while allowing their true roots to shine through all their guest interactions. 

By Sharon Hirschowitz, Global Head of Media & Communications for The International Luxury Hotel Association