You may have heard of the exciting trend of eco-tourism, a socially and environmentally conscious effort to preserve delicate natural ecosystems and enlighten the inquisitive traveler as to their beauty and significance within local communities. This trend has particularly taken off in the exotic country of Costa Rica, where rocky tropical rainforests cozy right up to white sandy beaches. What’s even better is that even the most luxurious resorts in Costa Rica have taken up the eco-friendly banner. It certainly has grabbed our attention, so we’ve put together a list of our top eco-luxury destinations in this Central American gem.
Costa Rica’s attractions are plenty, drawing in many-a-traveler from honeymooners to adventure-seekers to families. Rainforests, cloud forests, mountains, volcanoes, the Pacific to the west and the Caribbean to the east, white sand, black sand, blazing sunsets and balmy breezes…can you see the correlation? And it gets even better—Costa Rica isn’t a fan of the über-large commercial tourism industry. Rather, it has mainly delved into the sustainability-seeking, nature-loving niche of eco-tourism. We can’t help but love the concept of exploring the planet in a way which at once appreciates its delicacy and awesome beauty.
One of the great things about the eco-tourism industry is that it invites an off-the-beaten-path travel philosophy that quietly and incredulously discovers the world’s hidden gems without the disturbance of several hundred cameras and a queue. Our personal luxury checklist exploded a while ago.
Guanacaste Region (northern highlands): Tenorio and Miravalles Volcano
Though considered dormant, the Tenorio (6,287 ft) and Miravalles (6,653 ft) Volcanoes are surrounded by geothermal hot springs and geysers amongst its cloud rainforests. This area is home to the Río Celeste, which is a vividly blue river that’s unique color is created by chemical reactions of sulfur and calcium carbonates. Intense green river grass sways in the current in clumps throughout the river, and the Río Celeste waterfall with a lagoon surrounded by mossy rocks is the most well-known feature. These twin volcanic peaks sit on either side of the small rural town of Bijagua.
(Whilst in the region, head over to the Golfo de Santa Elena for some ultra-luxurious Pacific beach time.)
Our Resort Selection
Aptly named, the Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel offers a secluded and luxurious atmosphere surrounded by rainforest. You can tour the hotel’s grounds or arrange tours for the surrounding region of the Tenorio National Park. This resort boasts rejuvenating private outdoor showers, a wondrous tropical restaurant that serves the hotel’s own delicious Costa Rican fusion recipes, indoor Jacuzzis, hardwood floors, a spa, a pool and a swim-up bar among other amenities.
Resting on the edge of the Tenorio National Park, this luxury hideaway is deeply eco-appreciative. Surrounded by rainforest, the hotel and its open-air restaurant invite all manner of wildlife and give you no choice but to feel absolutely one with nature. The village of Bijagua nearby offers a taste of local culture that complements the surrounding forest rather than marring its wild beauty.
Why We Like It
Time and again, the Río Celeste Hideaway receives top reviews, and it’s easy to see why. The suite rooms offer the most luxurious rainforest accommodation; it’s the closest you’ll be to sleeping and living in nature in conditions that are the polar opposite of camping. Activities to suit all ages and interests abound, from bird watching to horseback riding to rafting. The geothermal hot springs near the surreal blue of the Río Celeste as well as the local cuisine offerings create a fantastically diversified sensory experience.
How to Get There
The Río Celeste Hideaway offers transfer service from all airports and many locations in Costa Rica, but the closest is the Liberia International (LIR), which is a 2.5 hour drive. From JOI in San Jose, the drive is 3.5 hours. From La Fortuna (Arenal Volcano), the drive is 1.5 hours. However, as there are many unique areas to explore in this northern region, The Luxe Travel recommends renting a car (preferred rates offered via booking through Rio Celeste Hideaway) to ensure you have the luxury of discovering these breathtaking sights at your own pace and interest.
Cabo Matapalo, Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula (South Pacific coast)
This area at the tip of the Osa Peninsula is an ideal location if you want to experience tropical rainforests edging right up to sandy beaches. Corcovado National Park is an expansive 103,290 acres (41,800 hectares) and safely encompasses a vastly diverse ecosystem with all manner of wildlife, such as macaws, toucans, wild cats (ocelots, pumas and jaguars!), monkeys, tapirs and all four species of sea turtle, which lay eggs in abundance in the park’s beaches. Rainforest trails, yoga, sport fishing, surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving and some good old fashioned sun-loving are popular activities in the area, though it offers much more than this.
Our Resort Selection
El Remanso Lodge. While Lapa Ríos and Bosque del Cabo are noted as the first two eco-lodges in the area (both exceptionally luxurious), El Remanso has caught up to the luxurious standards of these two resorts but is still under the radar. This grants it the advantage of having particularly abandoned beaches, rocky tide pools and lagoons, enabling you to feel utterly emerged in the wild solitude of this tropical paradise. A mountaintop haven, El Remanso offers spectacular Pacific views whilst being surrounded by rocky rainforest abundant with streams, waterfalls and wildlife. Though the beach is a 10-15 minute stroll down through the forest, the isolated serenity is completely worth it. You’ll appreciate having cool mountain breezes at the top during the night time.
El Remanso goes above and beyond standard eco-lodge efforts. Adhering to strict ecological standards, El Remanso is highly sustainable: powered exclusively by hydroelectricity, recycles all waste, maintains a compost system, waste water treatment and local reforestation programs and the employment of local staff to ensure a positive and sustainable community relationship. Ultra-eco-luxury.
Why We Like It
Beyond its state of the art eco-lodge efforts and its secluded hidden gem status, El Remanso is just absolutely beautiful. If you’re looking to unplug from day-to-day buzz, it’s impossible not to accomplish it here. Its mountaintop location places it, well, a bit above the rest. While being within easy distance from the Osa Peninsula’s most well-known beaches, you can take advantage of El Remanso’s own nature reserve and secluded beaches and explore tour-guide-less or take advantage of a variety of slightly more structured activities. With a well-developed yoga culture, El Remanso makes you feel like you are in the actual soul of the rainforest. BONUS: A humpback whale was spotted recently from the beach! A WHALE!
How to Get There
El Remanso is located halfway between the towns of Puerto Jímenez and Carate on the road to the Corcovado National Park. You can catch a flight to Puerto Jímenez from either the Juan Santamaria International Airport (Alajuela) or the Tobias Bolanos (Pavas) from San Jose. The airline you can take from the respective airports are Sansa and Nature Air. The flight is only about an hour, but if you choose to rent a car and drive down from San Jose, the drive is 7-8 hours! However, there is now an Alamo rental car agency in Puerto Jímenez if you’d like to have a car in the area. El Remanso can arrange for a taxi to take you the short distance from Puerto Jímenez airport to the lodge.
Uvita, Central Pacific
We’ve mentioned empty beaches and rainforests. We’re going to do it again—sorry, but we’re not sorry. The Southern Central Pacific coast offers more expansive pristine beaches and both secluded and more lively towns in relatively close proximity, allowing you to vary your interaction a little more than in Guanacaste or Osa Peninsula.
Our Resort Selection
Rancho Pacifico. Rather hands down, actually. Though the buzz about Rancho Pacifico’s incredible experience is getting louder, the boutique resort still prioritizes personalized attention and serene seclusion, maintaining only 10 luxury suites and villas total. If their promo video doesn’t get you excited, we don’t know what will.
Rancho Pacifico’s villas weren’t just built in the trees—they were built around them, with the design literally conforming to them in proper deference. Though made from concrete to minimize tree use, the resort incorporates unique stone patterns and wooden beams to create non-obtrusive structures that have received design awards. Due to the future-oriented careful planning of the founders, RP is surrounded by a 250-acre private rainforest reserve. Water is actually pumped up from jungle springs, bringing you even closer to nature and adding to the novel luxury. Rancho Pacifico also operates on sustainable development initiative, employing 28 locals in direct hospitality service but also allowing local entrepreneurs in the tourist industry to thrive (horseback riding, tours, restaurants, building materials, furniture). The resort is highly active in community school and philanthropic activities.
Why We Like It
Full-on eco-luxury standard, Rancho Pacifico’s location and architecture are breathtaking. Super easy access yet properly situated in luxurious seclusion = five stars for stress free. We know, we know…we’re biased towards seclusion as an ideal luxury getaway. However, one of the great things about Uvita is that the town of Manuel Antonio is only a short distance away if you feel the need for more civilization. You can find loads of activities in that nearby town (more shopping, more restaurants, more people but not suffocatingly touristic) and visit more populated beaches.
How to Get There
Roads leading to Rancho Pacifico are well-paved and new. An easy 3.5-hour car drive from San Jose gets you nice and tucked away at Rancho Pacifico in Uvita, ready for adventure and ultimate luxury relaxation. However, you can also take an ultra short flight (30-45 min) from San Jose to the town of Quepos and rent a car from there for an easy 45-minute drive. Manuel Antonio is also nearby. Better yet, Rancho Pacifico can arrange for your transportation to the resort and you can rent a car once you’re there. Sturdier 4×4’s are recommended for the terrain—sounds fun!
Boutique hotels such as these aren’t hard to come by in Costa Rica given its recent expansion in the luxury eco-tourism industry. Small occupancy capacity is key for energy-saving, plus it allows staff to attend to your personal needs with greater care and familiarity, allowing for an ultimately personalized experience. The great thing about Costa Rican hospitality is that if you need something, just ask. The staff will ensure that whatever you want to do, see or have is arranged.
You may have noticed we only selected locations on the Pacific Coast. This is because these locations are absolutely unforgettable and offer exceptional lodging and novel experiences. However, if you prefer a more varied Afro-Caribbean/Latino/indigenous cultural experience, try Playa Cocles on the Caribbean coast. The community itself is small and relaxing, but nearby is Peurto Viejo for live night-time reggae music, boutique, bars and surf shops. Cahuita National Park houses the largest coral reef in Costa Rica, and mangrove swamps filled with all manner of endangered plants and animals can be found in the Talamanca Indian Reserve and Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.
Biased as we are towards these secret paradises, we don’t want you to miss out on all of the incredible luxury, rich culture and diverse nature that Costa Rica has to offer. Here’s a fantastically comprehensive guide to help you tailor your Costa Rican experience to your personal travel desires. We also love the adventures of our friends at Mytanfeet. Explore their travels to get some great ideas for your own!
As always, if we’ve really left you hanging, drop us a line and sit back, relax and we’ll do the research for you.