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Hotel Punta Islita — Guanacaste

Islita Beach, Guanacaste, Near Samara Beach, Costa Rica

One of the original deluxe hotels to open in Costa Rica, Hotel Punta Islita still competes well against the many newer and more upscale options, despite its out–of–the–way location. Exuding romance, it is considered a perfect honeymoon spot.

Punta Islita Hotel

Perched high upon a steep coastal mountain range in a remote valley that can be a challenge to access by car in wet season, Punta Islita hotel confounded nay–sayers when it opened in 1994 on the site of a former cattle hacienda. Clever marketing helped propel the property into the international limelight and a rapidly–earned sterling reputation for quality and luxurious living sealed the deal. The cognoscenti have been flocking ever since, many flying in on small–plane charters to the hotel's own airstrip.

The dominant aspect of this boutique hotel is its circular lobby lounge, built as a contemporary take on a traditional indigenous palenque constructed of tree–trunks and thatch. Open–walled to the fore and sides, it affords spectacular views of the ocean and the forested slopes that rise all around. Its core serves as an elegant 1492 Restaurant, with log canoes, old barrels, plus wrought–iron seating and tables set with fresh floral displays. Rattan lounge chairs fill the surrounding space, a relaxing place to lounge and savor nature at fingertip reach. The lounge–restaurant drops to a sunken bar that also serves the spectacular infinity pool, while waiters deliver cocktails to patrons sunning on comfy lounge chairs on the hardwood sundeck. Below, rooms and villas are tucked discreetly out of sight along tiers stairstepping down to the beach.

This core complex also includes a more traditional reading lounge, a spa and air–conditioned gymnasium, plus thatched open–air yoga platform. A nine–hole golf course was completed in December 2006 to complement twin tennis courts. And a zipline canopy tour fulfills any desires to get eye to eye with the monkeys. A guests–only beach club has its own bar, pool, and lawned lounge space. The sands here are dark gray and often littered with driftwood though, and rough surf and strong undertows often preclude safe swimming.

Punta Islita's distinctive style, including its universal use of creams, siennas and ochers, carries into the guests rooms, suites, and casitas. All feature beds of roughhewn timbers yet with firm orthopedic mattresses and crisp white high–thread–count linens. Terra cotta tiles underfoot and ceiling fans overhead help keep things cool. Suites exude a more luxuriously rustic feel and offer bamboo lined ceilings, canopied king beds, and their own Jacuzzis on private thatch–shaded terraces. Casitas take the luxe up a notch while adding additional elements of traditional Costa Rican rusticity, such as roughhewn antique doors and gracious indigenous art on the walls. Each of these has a plunge pool in its own private garden. There are also two spacious villas with two bedrooms and a private pool that are a good match for families.

Despite heavier competition in recent years, this enduring pioneer is still a choice spot for upscale travelers.

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Total Number of Rooms: 28 rooms, suites, and casitas, plus two villas
>Published rates: $298 to $750

Review and small photos by Christopher Baker, top photo courtesy of Punta Islita resort.

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