Finca Exotica: A Self-Sufficient Costa Rican Farm and Resort

Tired of urban life in Berlin, a modernist architect returns to his roots, building a Costa Rican farm and resort where self-sufficiency is much more than a slogan.

| July/August 2011

When Markus Wehrmeister was 9 years old, his father walked him to the top of a hill overlooking the family farm near El Tajin, Mexico, to show him the land that would someday be his. Young Markus sneered; farming was the last thing he wanted to do when he grew up. Two years later, the Wehrmeister family sold the farm in Mexico and moved to Germany, and it seemed Markus might avoid a farming future. He finished school and became a DJ, then an architect, then a caterer. But something was missing. He felt the pull of his childhood connection with the land. “It was time to go back to the country,” Markus says. “I wanted to make some sense and grow some roots.”

Nine years ago, Markus took over an abandoned cattle ranch next door to Corcovado National Park at the tip of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. He wanted to restore the site’s erosion-ravaged soil to its natural abundance and build an organic farm and sustainable resort. The result is Finca Exotica (which he runs with his partner, Gabriela Naranjo), a grand experiment in self-sufficient hospitality, where guests sleep in open-air cabinas and feast on mangoes grown along jungly trails. Along with his own home, Markus has designed and built five bamboo bungalows, seven tiki tents, a yoga platform, and a lounge for meals and parties. He’s installed a hydro system and solar panels to supply the resort’s power. He’s most satisfied, though, with his successes in rehabilitating the soil and growing food for his guests.

Markus describes the land he purchased nine years ago as “horrible shrubs and cow pasture.” About 40 acres had been cleared for cattle ranching 30 years earlier, then left to erode or overgrow. (Markus registered the rest—about 200 acres of primary rainforest—as protected land.) Markus and three workers turned the wrecked earth with shovels, laid mulch and planted slow-to-mature specimen trees such as mangoes, mangosteens and jackfruit. They filled gaps with fast-growing bamboo, bananas, papayas, citruses and plantains—more than 1,200 trees, all recommended by a local botanist. For erosion control, they planted vetiver grass, which has huge root balls and can be distilled into fragrant oil.

“We follow the principles of permaculture, as far as we know them,” Markus says. “We learn more and more every day.”

During farm tours, Finca guests see 120 tropical fruits, trees and herbs, which Markus urges them to taste and smell, either  right then or later during dinner. Markus might point out that the black bamboo growing just off the trail works well as a roofing material or tell you how to make a light out of thin Sacred Temple bamboo. He might take a bite of the noni fruit, which smells like cheese. “It’s like Gruyère cheese and a glass of champagne together—delicate, spicy and very healthy,” he says. His enthusiasm for what this land offers is contagious. 

If You Build It... 

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