La Paloma Lodge


After a 15-minute 'Rambo' ride through the jungle, we arrived at the beach where a boat was waiting to take us to our destination. Itπs a good idea to wear shorts and shoes that can get wet because that is guaranteed.

We motored along the coastline until we came to villas perched high along the cliffs overlooking the spectacular coastline of Drakes Bay. This is the home of La Paloma Lodge, only minutes from Cano Island and Corcovado National Park. Our boat entered a river mouth where we stepped onto the dock of La Paloma Lodge.

A steep walk up to the lodge led us into another world, where the magic of the rainforests comes alive. The climb was rewarded with fresh smoothies from the bar in the main open-air lodge. This is the social gathering place where people meet and share the wonderful experiences of their day.

La Paloma feels like home. We were immediately impressed with its comfortable elegance and peaceful surroundings. We were amazed to come all this way to met a couple from Santa Cruz with their 16 year-old niece. We were in the middle of nowhere, and yet I guess, lovers of nature find themselves in the same places.

Mike Kalmbach, the owner and his daughter Kate, warmly greeted us and walked us to our villa. Wow, does Mike have a personal story to tell on survival and how La Paloma came to be. Too long to write in here, so ask him when you visit.

La Paloma is architecturally amazing. Since its first structure was built in 1986, the Kalmbach family has taken their dreams into a reality. Nestled into the lush hillside are 11 enchanting open-air villas, with breathtaking views from every direction.

The simplistic design of teak woods and bamboo is accented with fine linens and Guatemalan textiles. This was not an easy creation. All materials had to be brought in by boat, down the Sierpe River that connects to the Inter-American Highway. There are four standard villas, five rancheros, and two sunset rancheros located on the two farthest points jutting out to the sea.

We had a wonderful dinner that night, seated within the formal setting of a long table amongst 12 guests. The chef prepared exotic Indian dishes, accompanied by fresh fish, good wine and fun conversation. The cuisine at La Palomaπs is simple, with a large selection of fresh fruits and
vegetables, whole grains, seafood, poultry, and occasional beef dishes. There are always optional vegetarian choices, depending on your dietary restrictions.

A group after dinner prepared for the night hike with the 'bug lady,' one of the many night tours offered at La Paloma. We retired to our villa, falling asleep to the rhythm of the surf and the sweet scents of hibiscus and orchids in the moist ocean air under a starry night.

There are many activities to choose from a long list of nature tours, scuba, snorkeling and horseback riding. With access to miles of rainforest and beach trails, by foot, horse or boat, there are just about any activities you can imagine.

If you choose to relax, La Paloma offers massage and yoga classes or you can just lounge around the pool with a good book while taking in the incredible views. There is also a beautiful beach below the lodge that was safe for our children to wander down the trail and swim during the day.

On our first day, we decided to visit Cano Island for a day snorkeling and diving. This was a chance to experience some of the best snorkeling and diving in all of Costa Rica. Randall, La Paloma's
naturalist, took us on a 35-minute boat ride out to the island. Deanna and Ryan were excited to spot schools of bottlenose and spinner dolphins breaching the water. Jurassic Park was filmed on this 600-acre prehistoric island. The Humpback whales migrate past the island yearly, their populations increasing due to the 86-degree water temperature from global warming.

Cano means 'fresh water' and is known for its abundant streams and waterfalls. There are many different species of plants and trees but little wildlife on land in contrast to the diverse surrounding marine life. In the late 1970s the United Fruit Company wiped the island clean of all its pre-Columbian artifacts. The large spheres you read about in books are no longer here. Today, the island is a protected national park.

We checked in at the ranger station located on the northern leeward side of the island, the only area accessible to land. The rest of the island is protected and off limits. Our morning snorkel was in depths of 5-30 feet over rock and coral formations. We spotted needlefish, parrotfish, several puffers, and hogfish. The visibility was fair since the wind was picking up and it looked like it might rain. It really did not matter, the kids loved it and the currents were mild.

The beach near the ranger station is a resting place where visitors rest, picnic, play volleyball and lounge on the warm sand while sharing conversation with fellow travelers. After a lunch break, we snorkeled just offshore with better sunlight giving us great visibility to view a teaming display of tropical fish.

Back at the lodge, they had their annual Christmas party, which is the biggest event of the year for
the Drakes Bay locals. This event was a local affair with full buffet and Tico games. One of the
staff that was quite the entertainer got me out on the dance floor to the sounds of Morenge. I later
found out I was dancing with my dive master. Wilson enjoys sharing his love for his past three years
of diving with the many guests of La Paloma. He emphasizes the importance of making dive spots
accessible to all levels of experience, keeping the groups small and honoring the ocean, its reefs
and marine life. La Paloma offers a full dive shop and features a 36-foot catamaran powerboat, the
best in the area.

My dives on the second day were fantastic. We dove Devil's rock, one mile off the Cano Island, where hard and soft corals lead you down 80-150 foot wall schooling with fish. On any given day you will spot large pelagic fish here. The greatest chance for finding manta rays is at Diablo Rock, one mile off Paradise island and four miles from Cano. My second dive was at El Barco, 1/4 mile off the island where I was surrounded by schools of white tip sharks in 50-60 feet of water. The visibility on both dives was about 40-80 feet depending on the sunlight.

Everyone and everything is full of life at La Paloma. Itis clear to see that the Kalmbachs have extended their hearts to the Drakes Bay community. They sponsor the local school and their eco-lodge is dedicated to preserving the earthπs limited resources. Sarongs are provided rather than towels to limit water usage, Tupperware replaces disposable plastics, and trash reduction is a way of life.

They recycle and compost everything. La Paloma also plays a major role in the conservation of the Osa Rainforest and the protection of its pristine paradise through Fundacion Corcovado, an organization dedicated to that goal.

The exciting days were spent at Cano Island with a wonderful group of guests, warm hosts, impeccable service, and beautiful surroundings. Our four-day-three-night visit was far too short. I highly suggest staying at least four nights or more in the tropical paradise of La Paloma Lodge.

  • Website:
  • Lodging: $1000.00-1210.00 pp - 3 nights, 4 days, $1130.00-1555.00 - 4 nights/5 days
  • Includes: Round-trip air, taxi and boat transportation San Jose/La Paloma, all meals, full-day
    guided tour to Corcovado National Park, full-day guided tour to Cano Island, park fees and taxes.
    Extra tours and diving packages are also available

Story and photography by Denise D. Stansfield. Copyright ©2003-2005 All Rights Reserved.