Guest Experiences

Life Long Memories
L&L is an excellent example of a successful business run by resident owners who have put so much love and attention into every inch of the property. It is evident from your arrival to departure that it is important that you enjoy your stay and gain a full and varied experience of the local area. It is well managed and impeccably presented…

Travelers Choice 2009-2018 • Award of Excellence 2010-2017 • Green Leader- Silver

“Left a piece of my heart there…”

Where do I begin? How about the road there?

Like all the best things in life, it takes some effort to get to L&L. The road there is a trip in and of itself but if you let a little gravel stand in the way of you getting there, this place probably isn’t for you anyway. Eventually, you make you way through the village that time forgot and end up in the retreat.

I can’t really describe the feel of the place. It has the laid-back Costa Rican vibe along with Debbie’s Midwestern friendliness and hospitality, Steve’s whimsy and creativity, and the overt LOVE the staff have for the place. Every employee approached their job with pride and care and the property sings with a voice of its own.

You can’t complain about the view. Each cabin is perched on a hillside and they all have views of Arenal. You will feel like you are miles from the nearest person, they are each situated so privately. Everything you need, nothing you don’t. All the cabins are now equipped with outdoor showers in addition to the indoor ones. Fun! WiFi in the restaurant only…I did miss it at first but I can see why its the decision they made. As the globe continues to warm they may want to add A/C, but most of the time we were perfectly comfortable. We stayed in the Monkey Cabin (the most private, I think) and our friends were in the AWESOME hobbit house.

There will be bugs. Get over it. There will also be hammocks and tropical birds and monkeys and sloths and flowers beyond compare. It is impossible to believe that ten years ago the property was clear-cut grazing land. Steve and Debbie have engineered a come-back for the ages and should be proud – more than proud – of the land they have redeemed. The love Debbie has for her horses is amazing…

Let me tell you about these horses. They are the most themselves of any horses I have ever seen. They play, they have personalities, they are sure footed and stout-hearted. They have horses that were born there and horses that have luckily retired there and they were utterly splendid. No bits needed for these guys; they are gentle and responsive. Best of all, Debbie makes sure you spend adequate time bonding and working with the horse to develop a bond before you hop up on their backs – for the mutual benefit of horse and rider. The trail rides are not boring, nose to tail affairs. These horses are actualized and alive and you will feel more so just by being near them!

The food is farm to table. Delicious. Eat there more often than not. Drink their lemonade, it is delicious. The pancakes in the morning were the best I’ve ever had. Whatever is in the yeast rolls (other than yeast) was addictive and unreal good. The kitchen staff is eager to please, and was so patient with my bad Spanish. When I ordered a complicated pizza, the cook and I shared a laugh and she dragged me into the kitchen so I could frantically gesture over what I wanted where – and was just awesome through the whole trip – teaching me the word for “spoon” and “maple syrup.”

Sally and Enrique were also great stand outs. Sally is from the UK and left her job to come work with the horses. She was a great help and possessed a sort of charmed spirit. Enrique led the tour to the waterfall. He was raised in the local village and was a wonderful guide on the trip. His assistant Esteban was great too, the strong and silent type for sure but a wonderful help.

I would be completely remiss if I did not mention Sabina, who is a recent addition to the family there and yet feels like the soul of the place. Her kind welcome, courteous attention to our every need in planning activities, and best of all her Yoga classes were priceless. (Take the Yoga classes! They are on an outdoor deck overlooking the horse arena and are only ten dollars!) At the end of her class, she led the group in meditation… “This is your safe place, and you can come back here whenever you are scared or stressed or unhappy.” I know she was speaking about the space inside yourself, but to me that happy place will always look a lot like Leaves and Lizards, a sanctuary for all who make the journey.

Where do I end? How about the road away? It feels less rough somehow, you will leave noticing the bumps less and less. When your wheels finally hit pavement again, it won’t feel as good as it once did. You will be more secure, sure, and I guess it’s easier driving…but somewhat less satisfying. You will find yourself longing for the bumps, for the bugs, for the sounds of the rain forest at night. You will miss the friends you made and the friends you could have made if only you had the words. You will miss the hidden waterfall, and the horses, and the taste of the fresh eggs and milk. You will leave thinking that maybe Pura Vida cannot be found on a paved road.

“Absolutely beautiful. Stunning views, gorgeous room, great food and lovely people”

This is a real treat. I’ve been to 50 countries around the world so I’ve stayed at a lot of places but this is one of the best.

We stayed in the ‘Hobbit’. A gorgeously creative room with sculpted white walls and carved wood, a wooden door like something from Tolkien, a long wide balcony with carved table and stools and rocking chairs looking out over the volcano and beautiful exotic flowering plants. Lying on the bed you look out of a floor to ceiling picture window across your balcony watching hummingbirds and butterflies flitting amongst the flowers. It really is stunning. You get what you pay for and this is worth every penny. The shower is great, hot water and a glass ceiling looking up to the sky. A huge bed which is one of the most comfortable I’ve slept in, two more single beds which are the most original bunk beds you’ll ever see whilst still being safe for kids if you’re sharing a room with them. A fridge, microwave, coffee maker and free coffee and fresh milk and juice. Fresh spring water that you can drink straight from the tap. Refill your bottles instead of wasting plastic. A separate toilet to the large bathroom also in your room. A sofa. This place really is fabulous.

Breakfasts vary daily and are delicious and included, generous proportions. Eaten in the onsite dining area overlooking the small infinity swimming pool and views of the volcano. Bar area. Great dinners, just let them know in the morning if you need dinner or lunches.

An incredible onsite horse riding school which doesn’t just stick you on a horse but gives you a 90 minute lesson and instruction with a trainer Enrique, and the horse you will ride. We then took a long ride through stunning scenery to a waterfall and back. Packed lunch provided. My highlight of my trip to Costa Rica. Enrique is a patient and professional teacher, my husband and I were so impressed. We hadn’t ridden before and the introductory teaching was simply fantastic.

There’s not enough superlatives for me to use to describe this place. Just go, it will be a highlight of your trip to Costa Rica and you will see so many species of birds and toucans just by sitting and taking in the serene scenery from your balcony. A truly wonderful experience. The American owners Steve and Debbie have created something unique and very special. Tours can be arranged, also week long horse riding workshops or one hour or daily horse riding, cookery classes, yoga classes, local hot springs reservations, they will book drivers/taxis for you…we stayed 3 nights but you could base yourself here for 7 days and see and do so much.

Definitely go to the hot springs. Bring a hairdryer, waterproof coats, closed shoes like trainers or boots. You may get muddy horse riding or hiking but a full bag of laundry is only $10 and returned to you the next morning. Bring flip flops for the hot springs. Sun cream, a sun hat and some bug spray will go a long way in Costa Rica and expensive to buy once here. An umbrella is also worth packing as weather can change very quickly, and if you have binoculars you will see even more birds closer up.

Reviewed by Leza H

“Eponicity- Equine Experiential Learning”

Equine facilitated learning and the medicine wheel is a perfect combination for profound and meaningful self work. The guides from Leaves and Lizards and Rites of Passage do a fabulous job at creating a hands-on activity-filled workshop that promotes personal growth and the gaining of valuable life wisdom, while balancing down time for rest, play, exploration and rejuvenation. The massages, accommodations and meals are equally delicious and I found myself looking forward to them each day, yet not wanting the workshop sessions to end. I felt cared for, seen and heard – and that’s how well they treat their horses too! You will deeply connect with these divine creatures, with the Costa Rican jungle, and with the guides and other participants. I highly recommend this event and it is most definitely money well spent.”

Paula B, Alberta, Canada

“Gratitude for Horses!”

I’m so grateful for the experience I had at Leaves and Lizards. It was truly a life changing experience that I couldn’t have anticipated. Being surrounded by such love from all the horses and animals on the farm, waking up to a stunning view of the volcano, eating delicious organic meals, being in the middle of the  jungle and working with such amazing facilitators (Debbie, Sally, Dashielle and Mike) was healing on so many levels.

Each day I worked with my horse was like peeling off layers of the onion. My whole life I had been afraid of horses. When I was a kid I was kicked off my horse and it really scared me. But with guidance and support I was able to embrace my fear and feel my feeling rather than running from them (something I’ve been doing for a long time).

On the very first day, we were blind folded and they brought the horses in to choose us. The guides informed us that the right horse would chose us, that we could trust that whatever horse was drawn to us, had something to teach us and that we could grow from them. Sitting in the dark, next to a huge creature (that I didn’t trust) required me to have trust (to just be willing to sit there and believe what the guides where telling me). I considered this experience a breakthrough in itself.

The horse who chose me was named “Beauty” and she is absolutely stunning. Through various exercises and spending time together she taught me that I needed to speak up, to be more assertive in my life and to stop letting people take advantage of me. She demanding that I use my power to communicate and if I didn’t…..she would rather just eat grass. She did this a lot. She ate grass all the time and at first I took it really personally. I felt that she must be so bored with me.

One day when she and I sat alone in the barn (and after what felt like hours of watching her eat) I suddenly realized that people are going to do what they do and that it has nothing to do with me. Also, that if I wanted a different result or for something to change, that it wasn’t going to happen by just thinking about it. I decided I need to do something different, go out of my comfort zone and for me that meant putting on Beauty’s mouth harness (she has a special one she has to wear because she escapes all the time. This made me laugh because I think she’s a bit of a rebel and I can relate to that). I was so scared she might bite me or run away if I tried to get too close to her but I chose to do it anyway. It took a couple tries but then she just let me do it! And while this may not sound like a victory to anyone but myself…it was! I had created a new level of intimacy with her and was so proud of myself. We walked peacefully back to the pasture together that night and I felt a new sense of freedom.

I also learned so much from watching other people on the retreat work with their horses. These animals are so sacred and special they are like truth serum. They have this incredible ability to reveal the very things in ourselves that we hide from and push down. These horses meet us with such grace in the midst of our darkness and support us in revealing the truth of who we….an abundance of love and joy. I guess you could say that the horses were like medicine, working on us in ways that we might not even be aware of. However, without Sally and Debbie none of this would have been possible. I don’t think these women really get how amazing they are. I couldn’t have even gotten close to these animals without their guidance. They were both so gentle yet stern and really stood for me to be courageous when I wanted to run. There were no back doors on this retreat. I had to be present…all the time and deal with whatever came up…but I didn’t have to do it alone. Having Sally and Debbie there to help explain the kind of work we were doing and watching them interact with the horses and witnessing their great love for these animals was just such a tremendous thing to experience.

Dashielle and Mike who were also guides on the trip incorporated the practice of the medicine wheel which really helped provide a beautiful container for all the work we did. It gave me a safe space to process my experiences and allowed me to use the elements in nature as information for growth. Everyone had to come together and work as a team and while it wasn’t always easy, the bumps along the way turned out to be a perfect part of the journey.  I came away from this experience with a new appreciation for the things that scare me. I was reminded to step into my own power and to listen to my emotions as useful information and trust that my intuition will guide me.

My overall experience of this workshop if I could choose three words would be sacred, exhilarating and unforgettable!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.


“Paradise Found!”

Leaves and Lizards is a beautiful and relaxing paradise set in the rainforest of Northern Costa Rica. It’s a rough track as you near this paradise but, without doubt, worth it. The views from every cabin and the open air restaurant are spectacular, vistas of luscious green rainforest and the famous volcano Arenal, which casually smokes and takes on a different character almost by the minute, as the mist and clouds swirl around it.

Each cabin is nestled in its private arena of rainforest with a large verandah and hammocks for those lazy moments to read and doze. Apparently Steve designed and built them all and he has certainly given them each an individual stamp of Costa Rican charm. There is luxury within their simplicity, hot powerful showers, large comfortable beds with crisp white linen and fluffy white towels but the real luxury is to feel one is actually a part of their spectacular ecosystem.

The bird life is incredible, even for someone as ignorant as myself, with stunning and fearless varieties of hummingbirds surrounding the restaurant and the cabins. The wildlife, including Howler monkeys can be heard and seen and the knowledgeable and friendly guides will find and point out rare frogs, lizards and extraordinary birds and mammals on your rides.

The riding, whether you are experienced or a beginner is excellent. The little Costa Rican horses are beautiful, strong, responsive, gentle, well mannered and extremely sure-footed so that you can truly enjoy the adventure and experience of the terrain and rainforest, sometimes ending up at a waterfall or rock pool for a refreshing swim and a delicious picnic.

They also offer wonderful hour long body massages and spa treatments which are well worth indulging in after a day’s adventure. I chose a chocolate and coconut wrap one day – it was delicious!

Debbie and Steve, the owners, are very much hands-on and nothing is too much trouble. They are passionate about Leaves & Lizards, the environment, the delicious fresh organic food they provide, their delightful local staff, their horses and making your stay as comfortable, as fun and as rewarding as possible. They are very special people and will soon become warm friends.

I visited for two back to back Eponaquest workshops in October run by Debbie, Shelly, Rosa and Nancy (all exceptional, professional, wise and compassionate) and I found this time to observe, share and immerse in this special environment of warmth, acceptance, nature and nurture the most unique, rewarding and empowering life journey and probably the very best investment I have ever made for myself. I fully recommend this journey to embrace the authentic self.

P.S Just a quick note, It’s a rainforest – remember it rains!

“An amazing experience!!!”

We visited Leaves and Lizards in August and none of us wanted to leave! Everyone there feels like family! We stayed in the Hobbit House and it was the most amazing home with an absolutely incredible view! The facilities are amazing. You eat meals in this amazing open air building with gorgeous views of the volcano. The dining is intimate and you get to visit with other families, which makes everything that much more special. The grounds are beautiful. The kids loved doing the morning chores and visiting with the animals. You will regret it if you don’t take time to do the horseback riding. Debbie, her horses, and Enrique make it a truly memorable experience. We have ridden horses before and, I promise you, there is nothing like the experience you will have. You will learn – about horses and yourself – and you will have a truly adventurous and gorgeous ride!! Hazel is great at helping to ensure that your activities and vacation is exactly what you would like. We were so glad we didn’t make plans before arriving – Hazel took care of everything and helped us figure out and schedule all of the amazing activities we did! Everyone takes care of you like family. We had one sick family member during our stay – and everyone there took extra care of her and helped nurse her. They cheered when she was feeling better.

I’ve tried to include the big stuff – but there’s no way to communicate the tranquility and peacefulness that Leaves and Lizards has to offer. I can definitely understand why people return time after time. Can’t wait to go back!!

“Great family Vacation”

We went with our boys (ages 5,8,9), and it was one of our best and most adventurous trips. We stayed in The Hobbit Cabin which was perfect and charming. Everyone was wonderful– from the driver, Martin, to the waitresses. The staff helped us plan a great trip, and we were able to make adjustments as needed. We stayed 5 days there. My boys (and us) loved the horse riding. The 5 yo rode with a guide. We ended up booking a second day of rides. We went to Cano Negro with a guide and saw many animals. We went to the hanging bridges and had the best guide, Mairon. It is worth the money to have a guide. Martin drove us from the airport. We did rent a car for a couple of days which they delivered to the hotel. We went to Proyecto Asis , the animal rescue center. I highly recommend this vacation. Also, at night, we enjoyed dinner in the restaurant and met several nice families. Many people speak English, so Spanish is not necessary. Our last 2 nights we spent on the dairy farm at Finca Tuete. This was one of the best parts for the boys. We really felt like we stayed with a family for 2 days and got to know life on a farm in Costa Rica. I would say this part wasn’t as relaxing as we helped and you aren’t as pampered as at the hotel, but it was a wonderful experience. You do have your own place to stay but you share meals and spend the time with the family. We hope to go again.

“Huge room with a view”

Leaves and Lizards is out of the way. It is a 20 minute drive from La Fortuna on bumpy dirt roads. I think it was very worth it. Our room, the Congo Cabin, was enormous. We needed an extra bed besides the two queens provided and the bed fit more than comfortably in the big space, with much room to spare. The entire front of the cabin is window, perfectly framing the spectacular volcano. Brilliant design idea to put a clean wooden bench the entire length of the window where all of our suitcases could live comfortably. The floor is polished concrete, and the deck – well the deck is heaven. Hammock chairs, natural wood table, hummingbirds and of course more view make it irresistible. Inside the cabin is a coffee maker, fridge, coffee, fresh milk from the cow there, and even a couple complimentary Imperials (beer). The food was very, very good and the restaurant setting delightful. Oscar gave us an early morning, very informative guided tour of the property and regeneration/reforestation in the area and the teenagers took a great horseback ride complete with an education about horses and how they can be used for therapy, etc. Dora is a very enthusiastic maker of coffee the traditional way (Cafe al la Dora! YAY) with the delicious (included) breakfast. If you want a sterile hotel experience stay in town, if you want to wake up with a giant volcano view in your face and the peace and tranquility of the outdoors close up, stay here!

“Simply the best”

L&L is an excellent example of a successful business run by resident owners who have put so much love and attention into every inch of the property. It is evident from your arrival to departure that it is important that you enjoy your stay and gain a full and varied experience of the local area. It is well managed and impeccably presented.

The information provided before your arrival is very helpful. The road map provides a choice of routes and useful tips on what to expect. We experienced all three routes during our stay in Costa Rica and I would recommend the scenic drive as the countryside is beautiful. The truck route is slow but has the interesting towns of Grecia and Zarcero en-route which are worth checking out. The fast route had better road surfaces and less traffic, but ascends in to the cloud forest which can make visibility difficult.

Driving in Costa Rica is easy, unlike some European countries. My experience of Costa Rican drivers is very positive on the whole. Driving allows you to stop when we you see things of interest. I thoroughly recommend Vamos Car Rental recommended by the lodge. The representative was punctual and spoke excellent English. He spent some time going through the rental agreement and gave us tips on driving in Costa Rica. He also explained how to use the sat nav and the complimentary phone, which was far from my experience of international companies where you are merely directed to a car lot. They are cheaper because the cars are not new but there is no point having a new car in Costa Rica.

We rose every morning at 05.30 to the chorus of beautiful birds whilst watching Arenal Volcano reveal itself and if you are lucky the caldera appears with a backdrop of white fluffy clouds.

The restaurant staff are delightful and check your preferences before serving you. Nothing appears to be too much trouble. The set menu is varied and where possible the ingredients are fresh from the farm. Everything is well prepared and presented.

The bird feeders next to the restaurant attract a multitude of birds that seemed oblivious to our presence. We have some fantastic photos and video of them squabbling over their share of bananas. Birds of all varieties abound around the property, perching in the tree in front of the cabins making for easy viewing. The highlight were the beautiful collared aracaries.

We spent some time in and around the lodge. Our cabin (Vulcan Cabin) provided us with the tranquility we sought. The site has been planted extremely well with trees and interesting flowering shrubs. The room was large and had all the facilities you need with little extras such as fresh milk and a refreshing fruit juice daily. We drove to the river which is not too far away and paddled in the warm water. There is a small beach area where you can picnic if others have not beaten you to it. It provides welcome shelter from the heat.

We stayed at L&L at the beginning of our holiday so we had nothing to compare it with but having stayed at more expensive establishments elsewhere in Cost Rica I now realize what a wonderful place this is and worth every penny. Such a unique experience with great attention to detail and excellent, friendly staff who go out of their way to ensure you enjoy your time at L&L.

“The Big Family Vacation”

This was our second trip to L&L, the first being  our honeymoon. After that visit we decided it was a great trip for the entire family of six. Our kids are older from 11-16 and despite the fact that we worried about the retreat aspects of no A/C, no TV, or other “distractions” everyone had a spectacular time. This year we went in mid-June–rainy season. This was also a concern, but it was not an issue at all. Yes it rains frequently, but the duration is general short and occurs at night. As before the owners and staff were AWESOME. The food is wonderful, the setting is spectacular and the overall experience is authentic and wonderful. I highly suggest partaking in the activities onsite; the horseback riding and trip to the Tico farm. Obviously, the other excursions were experiences we got to share with our children that they will never forget.

“Even more than we hoped for!!! Definitely going back!”

We had such a wonderful time in Costa Rica at Leaves and Lizards! We loved loved, loved the Hummingbird house and were SO glad that we upgraded to it. The bird watching was just incredible – far more than we even hoped for. We had toucans in the trees right outside the house singing to each other, a flock of green parrots, saw a white hawk, and of course saw gorgeous hummingbirds all around. The horse riding was wonderful – my girls who compete and ride pretty much daily especially enjoyed just the freedom to ride in the country and to just enjoy the horses, who were very well trained. We enjoyed learning about  relationship based horsemanship and found the horses to be very willing and responsive and kind! The guides were also wonderful! They helped us see two different kinds of poison dart frogs and also explained so much about the wildlife and plants that we saw, including information about the leaf cutter ants that we found very interesting. The food was also delicious and the setting of the restaurant could not have been more perfect. Everyone we met who served us was so willing and kind and joyful. Please tell everyone on your staff thank you!! I could probably go on and on!! We felt so relaxed and only wished we had more days there 🙂 We hope to return!

“A must Stay”

My family and I stayed at the Leaves and Lizards for 3 nights (too bad it couldn’t be longer) and had the best time! We felt at home with Steve and Debbie and all the staff. Everyone was so friendly including the animals! We stayed in the Congo cabin and had the most breathtaking view of the volcano through the floor to ceiling window. The porch was such a relaxing place to sit. The hammock was pretty comfortable too. There were board games and a deck of cards in the room already for our convenience. We had such a great time playing games together. It was refreshing not to have wifi available in our rooms so we weren’t tempted with technology. Although it was available in the dining room and we caught up on our emails in there! We were nervous that there wasn’t air conditioning but that wasn’t a problem at all since our elevation was so high. We had a lot of rain considering it was rainy season but what a peaceful sound it was to have our windows open all the time and listen to the rain. There are hikes to enjoy as well as the kids going to the barn to see the horses, chickens, pigs and cows. The kids enjoyed collecting the eggs and milking the cows in the morning. The horseback ride is a must do to the waterfall. Our guide Enrique was amazing and got us up close to a sloth!! His dog followed us the whole way. The food was so fresh every morning for breakfast and the dinners were even better. We had a great view of the volcano even from open air dining room. We would highly recommend Leaves and Lizards to anyone!

“Best Vacation – EVER”

We stayed at Leaves and Lizards January 28 – February 5. If you’re up for a true vacation where you can escape the tourist traps and experience the real Costa Rica, this is it! Hands down this is the best vacation we’ve ever experienced. Steve and Debbie are wonderful hosts and take a real interest in their guests. The staff here are second to none. They will help plan your day, give you advice on things to do, tell you the best times to go places and avoid crowds. The web site says don’t book up your time prior to arrival. Take that advice to heart; you will change your mind on what you want to do, you will get a better experience with Leaves and Lizards. The accommodations are top notch (we stayed in Congo Cabin). We had an incredible view of the Arenal Volcano and wonderful gardens and rainforest just off one of the best decks I’ve ever experienced. During our stay we spent a couple days just relaxing around the property. There is so much to see and do. The food is five star all the way. They went out of their way to prepare dishes that suited everyone’s tastes and dietary needs. Breakfast and supper were two highlights every day. The staff brought people together in the dining room for supper, you got to meet the other guests, make friends and exchange experiences we had over the day; this  helped immensely in planning an outing for the next day.

This is the place to be if you enjoy nature, birds, animals, plants. It’s the place to be if you want a central location where you can go out daily and enjoy adventures like ziplining, white water rafting, hiking, kayaking and much more.

Leaves and Lizards is featured in Amazing Remote Inns of the World.

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