Sugar Beach Goes Native

Passiflora pusilla is the smallest of the passionfruit vines and one of the many native treasures to be found growing wild near Hotel Sugar Beach

We are revamping our gardens and going native! With the help of ProNativas, a non-profit group based in Monteverde, Hotel Sugar Beach is putting in all-native plants, many of them unique to this very region.  We believe our guests will enjoy Guanacaste’s distinctive flora, and more importantly, the role they play in attracting local wildlife such as hummingbirds, monkeys, butterflies and more.

Having a hotel in the dry tropical forest carries a certain responsibility.  Often, when visitors imagine what Costa Rica will be like, images of lush greenery and exuberant flowering plants spring to mind, cloaked in clouds and rife with wildlife.  And there are many places in Costa Rica that fit the bill – from rainforest to cloudforest to the sweaty lowland jungles, the posters fairly come to life.

But here at Sugar Beach, we lie within a rare and fragile ecosystem: the dry tropical forest.  It carries a magic all its own, made up of the unique plants and animals hardened to the months-long droughts that make up our hot and sunny summer months.

Many of the species that have become synonymous with the tropical band, such as ginger and hibiscus, are actually transplants from halfway around the world.  Some varieties do fairly well here, but other exotic plants are fragile, needing copious water to stay alive in summer, fungicides and pesticides to ward off attacks from insects and other organisms, special fertilizers to give them nutrients not abundant in our soil – in short, they need a lot of work and care to stay lively and blooming.

“There are a lot of plants that people think are native because they see them everywhere,” says Willow Zuchowski, founder of ProNativas.  “People build on the beach and think only of a very typical idea of the ‘tropics’ – they plant heliconias and hibiscus, and these need water.

“In this part of the country that’s the last thing you want.”

Willow tends to a nursery of Agave Agustifolia cuttings, a native species particularly well-adapted to Guanacaste's coast

Native plants, on the other hand, have long ago adapted to the cycle of rain and drought, of scorching summer heat and hardened, dry soil, as well as the drenching downpours of the rainy season.  They’ve developed immunities to the insects that would devour their leaves and roots, and have natural resistance to many of the more predatory micro-organisms found in the air and soil.  They’ve earned their place in the sun (and the rain!).

With our new native gardens, you’ll see some of loveliest specimens of Guanacaste’s plant life on display.  Thanks to their adaptations, we will need to use far less water to maintain the gardens, and no need for chemical pesticides or fertilizers – with the help of our kitchen compost, the soil will provide all the nutrients they need to look their very best.

Thanks to the help of Willow and Lorenzo from ProNativas, we’ve started a nursery of native plants taken from cuttings of locally-sourced plants.  We’re always on the lookout for unusual beauties, and we’re thinking seasonally too – the garden’s appearance will change with the seasons, bringing dormant plants to life as each responds to their specific environmental cues.

“Native gardens can serve to produce the seeds and seedlings for future gardens,” Willow points out – and we agree wholeheartedly: let’s plant for the future.

To see more of ProNativas’ work, and find out more about invasive and native species in Costa Rica, visit