San Isidro del General, Pérez Zeledón, Costa Rica
With 50 individual casitas located on a huge expanse of land, this grand project is like nothing else in Central America. It offers an extravagant experience with panoramic views of the nearby mountains and valley.
Looking like the manifestation of a dream, it's hard to believe that AltaGracia Hacienda Hotel is even real. With its 50 small houses dotted around only a small portion of its 850 acres (344 hectares), with misty mountains as a backdrop, staying here feels like being part of a vast kingdom. This area was an extensive farm in a previous life, growing coffee, pineapples, and other crops. Now the land stretching out in every direction serves as a beautiful backdrop and a series of routes for horseback rides.
Nothing was done halfway here, or even in phases. Apart from the spa getting its finishing touches, the "soft opening" time here in the first half of 2015 looked more polished than most resorts do after being open for years. Staffers were well–trained and gracious, the dining experiences were impressive—especially for Costa Rica—and the only real comparisons in Central America for the accommodations are Mukul in Nicaragua and the top suites at the Four Seasons in Papagayo. As soon as the resort opened, all the bungalows were finished and ready for guests.
Calling any of these "rooms" would be kind of an insult. The smallest category, the Deluxe Casita, is 1,173 square feet. Functioning like an oversized junior suite that has a huge bathroom and walk-in closet, it feels spacious and indulgent. There's also a large furnished terrace area on the other side of the picture windows to get closer to the green vistas. With 24–hour room service available and a stocked minibar, you don't have to leave here often if you want to make the most of the comfortable high–end furniture and ever–changing views.
The next category up is the Premium Casita, which adds a separate living room, additional 50–inch TV, and work desk. The Master Casitas are about the size of a median U.S. house, at 2,293 square feet—but with just one palatial bedroom. An extra–large living room, larger terrace, and kitchenette join a bathroom that's the size of many city apartments on its own. This category is the only one with bathtubs, so book a Master if you want to soak with the jets on after hiking the hills or riding a horse.
All units come with large TVs loaded with Apple TV and Netflix, iPhone/iPod docks, a gas fireplace, a complimentary bottle of welcome champagne, and their own router with surprisingly fast internet. Naturally you get the expected luxury amenities like robes, fluffy towels, and a pillow menu. Whenever it's time to venture to the bar, spa, or restaurants, one button on the phone summons a golf cart and driver.
Two–bedroom Casitas make room for an additional bedroom with two queen beds and a family–sized terrace. Outdoor lounging space is not limited to the individual buildings though: scattered around the property between them are large gazebo–type, thatched-roof open structures with room for groups from different casitas to congregate and converse or play games. They can be stocked up with food and drinks and you can arrange for waiter service during a party or company meeting.
The public areas are as impressive as the sleeping quarters, put together by talented designers and stocked with high-end furniture. The main bar and dining room have an extensive area for outdoor dining when the weather is clear and large windows that make the most of the hilltop setting. A talented chef from Asia takes Costa Rican hotel food to a new level at Ambar by mixing in international influences and a wider range of ingredients than you usually find in this country's cuisine. With plenty of garden space on site and the ocean a short drive away, the food is fresh and doesn't travel far.
A more casual restaurant and bakery, El Bistro, is great for pastries, sandwiches, and salads, while El Grill is open when there are equestrian events at the covered riding ring area.
The horse stable here wouldn't be out of place in Kentucky, with its clean and well-designed facilities keeping the animals happy and in great condition. The well–fed beasts that guests ride around the grounds are docile and kind, while show horses that will jump and gallop are available for more advanced equestrian experiences. For those wanting to get into the air instead, it is possible to ride an ultralight plane over the "Tail of the Whale" formation near Uvita on the ocean or fly over a series of nearby waterfalls. Staffers can arrange guided hikes in the nearby mountains, a visit to a coffee farm, or a visit to a nearby wildlife refuge. Naturally they'll put together customized special request experiences as well and arrange transportation.
On the grounds, there's a dramatic infinity pool that looks out over the hills to the city beyond, the shifting clouds reflected on the water. A whirlpool is next to it if the air is a little cool and a fire pit to gather around at night. A recreation room has board games and a full billiard table. There's also a gift shop on site with quality handicrafts and a wine cellar room with tastings and bottles for sale.
The spa at Alta Gracia is a thing of wonder, the largest by far in Central America. It dwarfs its closest competitor, the Four Seasons up north, but is overseen by a manager who has run spas for that company in multiple countries. It boasts a large indoor swimming pool fronted by wall of glass facing the valley, 10 indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, a full gym with excellent equipment, and a healthy snack and drink bar. The men's and women's changing and relaxation areas have saunas, steam rooms, and whirlpools. There are extensive hydrotherapy treatment offerings, including Vichy showers.
This is a well–designed property that is visually pleasing from every angle, with a setting that feels exotic when the morning clouds are sitting below you as you sip a coffee and survey the scene. Alta Gracia is in a rather isolated location and has a lot of casitas to fill, so the introductory rates are an unbelievable value for a place this luxurious. Book now to get the experience of a lifetime for half the price of a comparable stay elsewhere.
Web Address: AltaGracia.cr
Total Number of Rooms: 50
Published rates: $359 - $815 including breakfast but not taxes
Review and photos by Timothy Scott.