Golfo Dulce, near Golfito, facing the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Located a short boat ride across the Golfo Dulce from the Osa Peninsula’s Puerto Jiminez, this upscale eco-lodge just may be Costa Rica’s most sustainable lodge and is located on a large protected jungle reserve teeming with wildlife.
Luxury tends to be defined a bit differently by the guests who book at a place like Playa Nicuesa. Solar power is more important than the thread count of the linens and they care as much about the materials that went into the buildings as they do about the size of their room.
Playa Nicuesa takes the choice of sustainability over pampering every time it’s one or the other, but does a good job of providing plenty of creature comforts within the confines of its eco-friendly mission. Those confines are certainly much stricter than most competitors, including ones rated as high or higher by the various green certification boards. All power comes from either solar (stored in 12 huge batteries) or recycled vegetable oil. Hot water on-demand showers use propane for now, but a passive solar system will go in before too long. Food is sourced as locally as possible, with nothing imported except a few liquor brands, and vendors must deliver using reusable containers—no plastic bags. The resort composts everything possible, including meat scraps and paper. Linens dry in a passive solar drying room instead of in dryers and the hotel brochure is even printed on banana paper.
The resort also tries to foster guest mingling and community. You eat your meals at one long table with other guests and there’s little choice in what you’re having unless you have special dietary needs. Fortunately it’s always fresh and delicious, whether that’s fish caught that afternoon and accompanied by a sauce made from local fruits, or a breakfast quesadilla made with eggs and cheese from a nearby farm. The coffee is heavenly, of course, and is set out to drink all day. The bar is only open in the evenings, but you can grab what you want other times and jot it down on the honor bar sheet. Each night there’s a special cocktail made from seasonal fruit and local rum and a new appetizer shows up gratis, such as ceviche or a spread made from hearts of palm on toasts.
Most guests spend at least part of each day on some kind of organized excursion. In general these are well-run and reasonably priced and some of the package deal options include a daily excursion as part of the mix. The options include kayaking, fishing, seasonal whale or dolphin spotting, snorkeling, sailing, waterfall hikes, and bird watching trips. On my river kayaking trip, our group spotted two kinds of monkey, a baby crocodile, herons, osprey, bats, and a whole spectrum of birds. In a one-hour hike in the jungle right behind the lodge, I spotted wild pigs, tiny dink frogs, land crabs, hummingbirds, anole lizards, howler monkeys, and agoutis. Besides the access to hiking trails, you can also fish, kayak, snorkel, and do yoga on the grounds of the lodge. If your muscles get worn out, a massage therapist can work you over on a platform looking out at the gulf.
Most guests spend at least some time just lounging around however, taking advantage of the many hammocks and comfortable chairs scattered around the main building and their own cabins. It’s easy to while away the hours playing board games, playing cards, or reading a book. The rocky beach out front is just so–so for swimming, but to make things easier you can dive off the end of the pier into the deeper water.
Accommodations range from spacious rooms with a balcony in a lodge building to family cabins with multiple bedrooms that have their own little spot in the woods. All use a smattering of concrete and lots of sustainably harvested dark wood, with the bathrooms open to the tropical breezes and at least one wall able to open up completely to the greenery outside. All have ceiling fans, bedside reading lights, a couple electrical outlets, safes, and ample shower-only baths with biodegradable toiletries and make–up mirrors.
Four rooms in the Mango Guesthouse are priced the lowest, but these are perfectly comfortable for couples. The cabins offer larger furnished decks, more living space inside, larger baths, and more privacy. The two two–bedroom cabins are great for families, with sofas in the living room allowing another child or two to sleep there.
For those wanting the same kind of luxury hotel experience they would get in any other resort area, Playa Nicuesa may be too humble. But for adventurous travelers who want to coexist with nature without having much of an impact, this eco–resort offers a guilt–free vacation that gets the heart pumping, with the sea out front and a jungle teeming with wildlife coming right up to the edge.
Web Address: www.nicuesalodge.com
Total number of rooms: 9
Published Rates: $160 to $353 per person incl. meals and transfers
Review by Timothy Scott, photos by author except where indicated.