Travel & Culture

Sneak Peek InTo A Luxury Stay In Costa Rica’s Wilderness

June 7, 2024

A member of Marriot’s Autograph Collection, Costa Rica’s Hotel Punta Islita is an oasis of sustainable luxury amid a sea of lush forest. But more than that, the resort is part of a community revitalized by ecotourism. —Ayesha Habib


After a two-hour drive from Costa Rica’s Liberia airport, where city streets transform into windy roads flanked by tangled greenery, Hotel Punta Islita sits atop a cliffside overlooking the lush Nicoyan peninsula on the Pacific coast. The resort is a sprawl of villas with private plunge pools surrounding a central open-air lobby, lounge, adults-only pool, and world-class restaurant. Nature and luxury blend into one here. Wandering through the labyrinth of little walkways that connect the vast resort (or opt for a golf cart to take you to your destination), you may find your path crossed by a line of leaf-cutter ants or spot a cheeky howler monkey jumping through treetops. The ocean breeze carries fluttering butterflies as it cuts through the humid air, and at dusk, flashing fireflies light up the gardens better than any string lights could.


In the languorous afternoon, there are two pools at Punta Islita to choose to lounge by: the adults-only pool with a swim-up bar overlooking sweeping cliffside views, or a short downhill amble away, the beachside pool—also with a swim-up bar, of course. A few steps away, the Pacific beckons with its tepid waters, salty mists, and dramatic waves carrying a surfer or two. For an extra dose of indulgence, Nanko Spa offers private massages right by the beach. The spa draws from the thalassotherapy rituals and methods of the Chorotegas, the Indigenous ancestors of modern Costa Ricans.


Punta Islita is its own little world, bursting with life and adventure. It’s hard to believe that thirty years ago, these forested hills were barren—a result of the cattle ranches that once dominated the area. When the hotel purchased the land, they reforested the entire area. Now, the thicket is almost impenetrable and wildlife has returned. The hotel is also home to the Macaw Recovery Network, which protects the endangered macaw parrot. You’ll spot a flock of the breathtakingly vibrant birds swooping through the air on any of the excursions offered by the hotel: 4×4 rides through the forest, horseback riding along the beach, ziplining, hiking at sunset, or kayaking in the nearby mangroves.


Community is central to Punta Islita, which shares its name with the adjacent town. The two work in harmony: the hotel employs most of the town (it’s not uncommon to see mother and sons working together) and has funded renovations to the community square, which holds an art museum, daycare, store, and open-air amphitheater used exclusively by locals. Hotel guests can visit the town to take cooking lessons or purchase art made by the local women. If you’re lucky, you could even catch a local soccer game—cheering for Punta Islita’s team, of course—while munching on homemade ceviche handed out by vendors.


The Nicoyan peninsula is internationally famous for being a Blue Zone: one of the few areas in the world where people live much longer than anywhere else. The key to this, beyond keeping to traditional lifestyles, is the fertile soil where nutritious ingredients grow in abundance. And Amla restaurant is abundant in locally sourced ingredients core to the historic Mesoamerican diet: squash, beans, and corn. An onsite permaculture farm provides all the hotel’s legumes, grains, fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The farm is tended to by the local community, which has full access to the ingredients as well. It’s all part of the hotel’s philosophy of living well.

Photos: Hotel Punta Islita, Autograph Collection


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