When my boys were little I once treated them to lunch at the Rainforest Café in the Mall of America. As it turns out my kids were not all that impressed and I paid far too much for mediocre food. Fast forward a few years and we decided to try it again. No, I didn’t take them back to the overpriced mega chain. Instead we’ve had some authentic dining experiences literally in the rainforest.
In 2011, we stumbled upon a small bamboo restaurant in the middle of nowhere Costa Rica. It may not sound like much, but the setting was amazing. The outdoor dining area sat atop a bluff overlooking several gravity-fed tilapia ponds while outrageously sized flowers and palms skirted the perimeter. Added to this was that just a short hike away sat a hidden waterfall which held a deep pool for swimming or soaking at its base. To top it all off we were given the chance to catch our own dinner which is always a hit with my angling obsessed family. We wound up with huge plates of fish, salads, and fried plantains all for just a few dollars. I’ve never experienced better hospitality, ambiance, and pricing all rolled into one.
The following year we spent some time at the edge of the Amazon here in Ecuador. There were no mechanical animals at our lodge, just the real thing. We watched a squirrel monkey’s acrobatic attempts at stealing fruit from the lodge kitchen. Jesse’s apple was snatched by a mischievous toucan. And a macaw and parrot shared a chunk of bread high in the rafters.
Since then we’ve eaten at many out of the way restaurants in the midst of nature. Not all were in the rainforest, but all were special in their own unique ways. I firmly believe that exposing children to true nature vs. a sterile man-made replica will bring life-long benefits. Kids who spend time in the natural world gain understanding and appreciation instead of viewing it as some sort of abstract. They are also more inclined to comprehend the importance of caring for the environment and what stands to be lost.
I can’t say where we’ll be in the next few years, but I do know that wherever it is our family will be sure to dine al fresco in the great outdoors. Hope to see you there!