By Insiya Rasiwala
While the multi–hued tropical sunsets of Costa Rica's Pacific Coast will force you to slow down each night and take in the vibrant, natural beauty of this Latin country, expect to marvel at the variety of remote yet luxurious hotels and spas that dot its far reaches, forging an amenable partnership between nature and human architectural prowess.
From a quiet "green" haven in the hip surf outpost of Nosara, to a glorious enclave high in the lush Gaia reserve, here is a round up of five unique eco–luxe spa–hotels. They harmonize local, indigenous knowledge with state of the art amenities and treatments highlighting Costa Rica's natural beauty in an ecologically sensitive manner, while offering the discriminating traveler a unique vacation experience.
Harmony Hotel in Nosara
Luxury meets laid–back at Harmony Hotel, a low–key yet glamorous eco resort, cradled on the ocean's edge in the sleepy Pacific Coast village of Nosara, where you may spot Susan Sarandon sipping a raw green smoothie beside you at the coconut palm–roofed raw–bar, just a few steps away from the chlorine–free, salt water pool.
Fit surfers as well as weekend wave warriors make up much of Harmony Hotel's clientele and deep–tissue massage to ease those tired surfed–out muscles such as the intriguingly named "Octopus Massage," where four hands work their expert magic on you, are bestsellers at the hotel's Healing Center and Spa.
Ostensibly, you cannot go wrong with anything on Harmony's Spa menu, especially since ingredients such as the fresh papaya, avocado and bananas utilized in the whole body skin–fitness treatments such as "Banana Bliss" and "Papaya Delight" are grown right on the hotel property and laced with essential oils harvested from a Costa Rican perma–culture farm. And if you want to push your spa sustainability sensibilities, you can also harvest you very own scrub–loofah from the loofah plant in the spa's herb garden, and après treatment, take it home.
Expect not just to connect to, but tango in tune with your natural rhythms at the Harmony Spa.
Massage and body treatment rates from $75 to $90
See more at the Harmony Hotel site
The Four Seasons in Papagayo
Nothing, not even the grandeur of a gateway graced with hundreds of imposingly beautiful king palm trees, or the ten kilometer drive past rolling hills, fairways and hints of tropical ocean vistas to the main hotel and spa prepares you for the magnificent locale of the Four Season's Resort in Papagayo, Costa Rica. Perched on a rugged peninsula on Costa Rica's northwestern coast, the resort epitomizes the romance of refined and remote luxury.
The full–service spa is no exception. Painted in serene colors of pale ocean–green and off–white with accents of local bamboo, the treatment rooms showcase the sweeping views of the Pacific and the coastline of Nicaragua to the North, allowing you to drink nature right in.
A dip in the outdoor, aqua therapy pools is a pre–treatment must. Choose to follow with the spa's signature "Natural Bamboo Massage," an intense, yet relaxing session of bodywork that uses freshly cut healing bamboo to reduce tension, relieve tightness in muscles and tendons, and stimulate the flow of blood and lymph. For an authentic Costa Rican experience, the "Organic Coffee Scrub" is a great option. Prepare to be scrubbed in a paste of freshly ground, local coffee beans and natural oils, a treatment that helps to increase circulation and reduce the appearance of cellulite, followed by a luscious application of rich, body lotion that leaves the skin soft, refreshed and pool–side ready.
Treatments from $100, "Bamboo Massage" is $150 to $200
See our review of the Four Seasons Papagayo
Los Altos de Eros
A bumpy, winding road seems to go on forever, but eventually stops atop a mountainside only to open up to Los Altos de Eros, an intimate, indulgent luxury inn and spa situated high above the coast of Costa Rica's Guanacaste Province.
From its 360 degree–view, beaches shimmer in the distance, sunsets thrill you with their dramatic colorscapes and the infinity pool seems to drop away into nothingness. Not surprisingly, this adult only resort is a discreet honeymooner's paradise and its tastefully appointed spa highlights treatments such as a "Couples Sunset Massage for Two with Champagne and Fresh Fruit" followed by a specially prepared dinner at the spa.
The spa building has been carved painstakingly out of the steep mountainside and designed to allow each treatment room a private yet panoramic jungle and ocean view. All of Los Altos' treatments involve the use of organic fruits, plants, flowers, herbs, minerals and oils indigenous to Costa Rica.
"Signature Spa de Eros Massage" is $90 to $125
See more on Los Altos de Eros
Flor Blanca Resort and the Bambu Spa
Facing a sweeping stretch of the famed white sand beach of Santa Teresa and surrounded by colorful and lush vegetation, Flor Blanca Resort (White Flower) embraces its tropical landscape, inviting it into the stylish villas that dot the property. Each villa features huge shaded patios with strategically placed hammocks that enjoy the Pacific's breezes and simple yet luxurious furnishings that evoke a tropical minimalism.
The resort exudes a calm peacefulness and features a yoga studio overlooking the ocean offering classes led by expert instructors from around the world. The serene Bambu Spa features an extensive menu of indulgence and healing with a focus on personalized deep tissue and Thai massage, shiatsu and hot stone therapies, as well as aesthetics and personal care, all using naturally sourced products.
Flor Blanca will open the re–designed Bambu Spa in July 2008 as a treetop spa retreat, nestled deep in the property's jungle and offering many more treatment options.
"Deep Tissue Massage" or similar is $90 to $130
See our review of Flor Blanca
Terra Spa at Gaia Hotel and Reserve
Surrounded by coastal rainforest sits the 14–acre Gaia Hotel and Reserve, on land originally set aside to offer refuge to Costa Rica's endangered wildlife, lush vegetation and native orchids. Today, the hotel is committed to the preservation of Costa Rica's pristine beauty and this sense of appreciation for its local ecology is reflected in the resort's design, which showcases breathtaking views of the wild and lush Manuel Antonio area, the volcanic mountain ranges and the Pacific coastline.
The Terra Spa at Gaia entices with an array of personal or couples treatments, offering well–heeled travelers attentive luxury in the forest. The "Vichy Rain Shower" treatment is a standout, bringing tropical rainfall indoors, with a six–head warm waterfall cascading over your sore muscles and easing them towards a deep relaxation. We also recommend the "Sea Breeze Hydration" a gentle body and face treatment, which replenishes and repairs skin with vitamin–rich marine algae and sea vegetables, smoothing your skin into softness.
"Terra Massage" Classic, Swedish full–body massage $90 to $120
See our review of Gaia Hotel and Reserve
Los Altos de Eros photo by the author, all others courtesy of the hotel and spa.
Story by Insiya Rasiwala