By Kearston Winrow
GUACIMAL, Costa Rica — While standing on the front porch of Rancho el Rio, visitors can hear the tranquil sound of the flowing river. To the left of the porch, banana trees sway side to side in the brisk wind. To the right, two rescue dogs dart around, showing love to guests.
Located 400 meters above sea level, Rancho el Rio sits on 112 acres. Owners Veronica Sheehan and her husband, Alex, share their ranch with adventurous tourists looking for an alternative to the run-of-the-mill tourism found in Monteverde.
Sheehan moved to Costa Rica five years ago with her son, Stuart. She lived in Monteverde before moving to Guacimal to purchase her home, which she named Casa Cielo. She opened Rancho el Rio in 2012.
Rancho el Rio offers tourists a real-life adventure without the hustle and bustle found at the country’s all-inclusive beach resorts, allowing them to experience life on a ranch.
Guests have the opportunity to help feed roosters, hens, sheep, pigs, chicken, cows and horses.
Hiking trails offer the chance to see the more than 90 bird species that bird certifiers have identified there, according to a web advertisement Sheehan wrote.
Because the cabin has no walls, guests can be part of nature even while they are inside.
Sheehan describes Rancho el Rio as rural tourism, which she said is a way of saving the environment.
“Rural tourism is an alternative that is in harmony with the environment,” she said.
Sheehan said there are three main benefits to rural tourism.
The first benefit is the way people learn to think about animals. Rural tourism teaches them how to utilize animals for not only for their own benefit but also for the benefit of the environment.
It also teaches local residents to recycle, and to not throw everything in the river, as they normally might.
The final benefit concerns animal welfare. Rancho el Rio offers animals that were once abandoned a safe, compassionate home base where they are free to roam around and enjoy the natural setting.
Sheehan hopes that other people in the area will follow her lead and start thinking about rural tourism as a means of helping the environment.
“It is better not to tell people what to do but tell them here is what we are doing, and it’s working,” she said.
Sheehan said outside influence is really important in educating people about how rural tourism can help the environment.
Rancho el Rio is located in the Bellbird Biological Corridor. Its mission of keeping in harmony with the environment fits with the corridor project’s plans.
Sheehan said she has great hope for the future of the corridor area.
“It’s going to be beautiful because we can restore a lot of rivers that have been dried up,” she said. “We can restore the forest that has been cut down.”