By boat from Golfito, Gulfo Dulce, Costa Rica
Across a gulf from the wildlife–rich Osa Peninsula of southern Costa Rica, Playa Cativo offers an exclusive, laid-back getaway with as much or as little activity and wildlife viewing as you'd like.
Located in an area of the country that is far off the usual mass–market tour itineraries, Playa Cativo Eco Lodge hits all the right check boxes of what makes a Costa Rica vacation great, but without so many people to share it with. When you're nestled in this intimate lodge with seven rooms and no neighbors except the natural ones, it's easy to feel like you're a world away from everyone else. And it's easy to forget how relatively easy it was to get here. Most guests fly into the main international airport in San Jose and then catch a scenic prop plane flight to Golfito. A representative from the lodge provides a short tour of this former banana plantation port and then whisks you on a boat ride to the beach at the resort. Most of the staff comes out to greet you, helping with bags as you wade into the water, then provides cool towels and a welcome drink.
This is about as frenetic as things get here and you soon find your stress melting away like coconut ice cream as your biggest decisions of the day become binary ones. Should I go out on a paddleboard or a kayak? Do I want the nature hike or the morning birdwatching tour? Should I order the fish or the beef? Swim in the gulf or in the pool?
There's a real "as you'd like" ethos running through all the options at Playa Cativo. There's no "breakfast time" posted and you can eat anywhere you want. Rates here include all meals and you can order them in your room or by the pool if you'd like, though the outdoor dining area is enchanting with its view of the water and mountains on the other side. If there's one fault here it's that meals can get kind of redundant after a few days, with a limited number of choices each time. But hey, you do have to make a few sacrifices at least if you're going to stay in a place where everything must arrive by boat. Everything except what's grown in the on–site organic garden that is, which supplies most of what can be grown in this climate.
Naturally all the food is quite fresh, whether that's a papaya just plucked that morning or fish delivered to the beach by a local fisherman. Add Costa Rican coffee and Centenario rum and you can have a true locavore experience the whole time you're here.
The 18 rooms come in four categories, with the best being the two top–floor ones with terrific views and huge bathrooms. Besides having the most space, these also feature stocked mini–fridges. All are made with an abundance of reclaimed hardwood and decorated with beautiful tiles and fabrics from local artisans. Power comes from solar and hydro here, so there's no energy–sucking air conditioning. Instead rooms are completely open to the breezes during the day and before dusk a staffer comes and closes all the screens. With ceiling fans running, they stay quite comfortable. There are electronic safes if you feel you need one and the Wi–Fi works surprisingly well throughout if you have to check in while you're here. Baths have fluffy towels, rain showers, quality biodegradable bathroom amenities, and robes.
An experienced guide leads various wildlife viewing tours, whether that's a relatively flat morning nature hike or a trip where a boat takes your group up a river and you kayak back while seeing monkeys and birds. You don't have to go far here to spot animals: they far outnumber the humans. Within an hour I spotted wild peccaries, agoutis, anole lizards, a golden naped woodpecker (exclusive to this region), osprey, a teanamu wild chicken, and howler monkeys. A sea turtle swam beside me as I went out paddleboarding and blue morpho butterflies flitted around the hotel grounds. From June to September, there's a chance of seeing humpback whales, rays, and whale sharks offshore.
There are multiple lounging spaces throughout the property, with sofas in the main lobby, lounge chairs around the pool, and benches around the gardens. There's also a combination library/business center off the lobby. A massage therapist is ready for rubdowns and she leads yoga classes on a jungle platform facing the sea.
Rate plans can best be described as "mostly inclusive." You'll only be billed for taxes, alcoholic beverages, extra tours, and add–ons such as massages.
Overall, Playa Cativo is a well–designed and attractive resort that does a good job of balancing isolation with expected luxury comforts and attentive service. It is eco–friendly in all the right ways—even supplying you with a quality refillable water bottle you can keep—but doing it without making it all seem like a major hassle. It is less rustic than nearby Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge and doesn't have the commanding hillside views of Lapa Rios, but for people who would like plenty of comfort and a good internet connection during their Costa Rica vacation, this latest option is a welcome alternative.
Web address: PlayaCativo.com
Total number of rooms: 18
Published rates: $190 to $515 per person including transfers, meals, and some activities/equipment
Photos and Review by Timothy Scott.