Above Uvita and Marina Ballena National Park, Costa Rica
Perched high above the Marina Ballena "Whale Tail" national park on the Pacific coast, this intimate and upscale adults–only nature lodge offers unparalleled views and a cooler climate, but with plenty of birdwatching and animal spotting in the adjoining rainforest.
Getting to the secluded jungle lodge of Rancho Pacifico used to be an ordeal, but with Costa Rica's roads getting better all the time, it's now less than an hour from the Quepos airport, near Manuel Antonio, to here. The resort practically has a whole mountain to itself, however, with the villas and public areas looking down on the ocean in the distance 1,800 feet altitude below and the sandbar extending into it that's shaped like a whale's tail. Real whales migrate past here at certain times of the year and the trees are filled with toucans and other colorful birds.
Although this carefully constructed project is billed as an eco–lodge—and has enough cred in that department to host Al Gore before I visited—this is a more luxurious option than many stricter choices. It's hooked up to the electric grid, for one thing, so you get ample lighting, outlets, and complimentary Wi–Fi. Situated at a high elevation, the hotel is also relatively free from mosquitoes. Yellow bulbs on the outside keep most other flying creatures out of the living quarters as well.
The nerve center of Rancho Pacifico is a group of buildings and pools that are open to the air, the birds, and the view. Terraced pools on three levels offer multiple places to sun and relax, with one hot tub being a romantic spot for two to sip cocktails and watch the sun go down. A spa offers the same stunning views from its treatment rooms, one set up as a his-and-hers space. There's a small gym on site as well.
The excellent open–air restaurant serves all meals and thankfully they're quite good since any other option is a long trek back to Uvita on a dirt and gravel road only suited for four-wheel drives. Naturally there's usually some kind of seafood dish on offer, but each meal offers a rotating menu of choices all expertly prepared and presented with flair. Breakfast and lunch are accompanied by the sight of the sea and the animals moving between the trees, while at night candles are lit and the town's lights twinkle below.
Most guests congregate around the bar and lounge before dinner, where appetizers come out to give everyone in the mood for the night's dishes. This attractive space between the restaurant and pools has a well–stocked bar with seating. Bottles lit from underneath create a nice glow and the bartender whips up a variety of specialty cocktails using local ingredients like ginger and tropical fruits. Contemporary sofas and armchairs are off to the side, with books and games at the ready for lazy afternoons. There's also a scope set up for birdwatching (around 300 species have been recorded here) or monkey spotting.
The 10 guest rooms and villas scattered around the property house fewer than 30 guests total even when the place is maxed out. The units come in a variety of configurations, with one to three bedrooms. Even the smallest three Lodge Rooms have a queen bed, his-and-hers showers, and doors that open completely to terraces with a great view. They all have ample furniture, coffee makers, mini-refrigerators, robes, and quality toiletries in the attractive baths.
The 650–square–feet Spa Suites have glass walls, a huge terrace, and a private plunge pool. Some of the villas are the size of a tropical home, with meandering rooms, a full kitchen, multiple large baths, and multiple decks on two levels. The most secluded are the two Treehaus Suites, situated in the canopy away from the other buildings.
A part of a 250-acre private nature reserve, Rancho Pacifico offers plenty of hiking and animal–spotting opportunities just outside your door. The longest trail is 3.5 hours and climbs 2,500 vertical feet into the cloudforest, but there are shorter loops, including one down to a beautiful waterfall. On the way back I spotted a pack of agoutis and got to watch them root around in the underbrush, hummingbirds flitting around at the same time. Even rare creatures like anteaters and jaguars have been found in this forest. The staff can set up excursions to a variety of other local attractions also, including a ziplining park. They can arrange activities like surfing, fishing, horseback riding, or kayaking and have access to a beach club on the water.
All this off-site activity requires traversing the rough mountain road down and back, of course, so many guests choose to just kick back and unwind. Pick your season carefully though or you won't have any choice. The mountains of books left by guests are a testament to downpour days when there was little to do but read, eat, lounge around, and drink. As with other Costa Rican rainforest lodges, being here during the six-month rainy season can get frustrating if your time is limited.
Owned by an American and his former Miss Costa Rica wife, Rancho Pacifico is well-designed and places a high emphasis on personalized service, with a very high staff-to-guest ratio. It's popular with honeymooners and couples wanting time to connect with few distractions—or children. Guests with high expectations will be happy in this secluded enclave, provided they're more interested in nature and killer views than in beach chairs and boogie boarding.
Web Address: www.ranchopacifico.com
Total number of units:
Published Rates: $265 to $875
Review and photos by Timothy Scott