Laid-back and sociable atmosphere at this family-run property
A photogenic infinity pool and swim-up bar are highlights
Sunset cocktail scene is popular with guests and locals
Generous breakfast portions (menu changes daily) are included in the rates
Barbecue dinners and a healthy salad bar are served on-site (reservations required)
Surfboard instruction and board rentals, plus, ATV tours, can be arranged
Villas have King-sized beds and patios with views
Spa services available
Eco-friendly touches throughout, including new solar panels
Free parking and Wi-Fi
Those who are not crazy about dogs may want to stay elsewhere
Stairs are required for some villas
Not ideal for travelers who like to stick to themselves as it has a very communal environment
Two of the villas share a patio (though good for families)
Some find decor a bit stark (others, simply beachy)
This small, mid-range hotel, more like a home-away-from-home, has five villas on a hillside, where the highlight is an infinity pool (said to be the first in Nicoya Peninsula) from which guests can watch surfers in the distance. Owned and operated by a lovable, eccentric family of four, along with their team of expats, the hotel encourages guests interaction, including eating the free breakfast together. Anyone is able to use the pool and swim-up bar for a buzzy happy hour designed for meeting friends -- and yes, it will happen. After sunset, guests can enjoy prime steaks on the grill or head to Santa Teresa for more options. Spotlessly clean, but simple, villas come with Egyptian cotton sheets, empty mini-fridges, and outdoor bathrooms. Two sons (both easy on the eyes) offer surf lessons, ATV tours, and airport transfers. For more privacy and romance, consider Casa Chameleon down the road.
These pioneers of Mal Pais are pros at facilitating friendships between guests.
The steep, gravel hill makes its way up to the property entrance with a brick parking area mixed with 4x4 vehicles and ATVs (some equipped with surf boards). From here, there is a flight of stairs and an upward sloping pathway (an area that could use a coat of paint) where a sign points to reception. It may seem that the house is the hub, but it is not -- that is a private area where the owners live. Instead, a lawn and thatched pavilion (the restaurant) acts as the headquarters, next to the infinity pool. Roger, the tattooed head honcho, is often working from a table near the kitchen which serve as his "office," where his dogs, wife Heidi, and two boys make their way back and forth. Roger facilitates check-in, and if he's in a chatty mood, he'll tell stories, like how he and Heidi intended to buy property in Mexico and instead ended up here in a VW bus. When the first villa was built, it was essentially for Roger's mother-in-law. Soon though, surfers without other options started asking to rent it. Ever since that moment in 1994, they've continued to evolve the place into a hotel property, while raising two sons.
Breakfast is served in an atmosphere designed to promote socializing (the family is social themselves and likes their guests to be, too) and then couples, friends, and siblings (nearly all Americans) separate and enjoy the pool, or head off on ATV tours or surf lessons from the two sons (they are practically pros themselves). Enjoy the peace and quiet while it's available, because like clockwork, each day in the early afternoon, anyone can come and use the pool if they meet a drink minimum. This is a big source of profit for the hotel, and it creates a fun sunset scene that closes down early, allowing those who are dining on-site to get their small hotel vibe back after a few hours.
On the day of their departure, Roger encourages guests to sign the book, which is chock-full of adoration and praise. Hugs are common between new friends and there will likely be a flurry of e-mail address exchanges and genuine well wishes. Pura vida, indeed.
High on a hill near a surfer town -- hard to get to, but that's the best part
Hotel Vista de Olas is located in Mal País at the southwestern tip of Nicoya Penisula. The out-of-the-way location is suited for those seeking authentic Costa Rica, for the difficulty in arriving deters most conventional tourists who favor paved roads and bigger resorts, say in slightly commercialized Tamarindo or Jaco. Roads in this part of the peninsula -- a common conversation piece -- are dirt and gravel with some deep, jarring potholes, which pick up the dust in dry season. Some love it, some do not, but make no mistake, this is one of the area's defining cool characteristics, which might take some getting used to.
Guests will want a 4x4 vehicle, ATV, or bicycle-- all preferred by the locals -- to get around, and there are several activities within easy reach with surfing taking front and center stage. In fact, this is the hottest spot in the country for international surfers, and there are excellent surf schools within a few miles of the hotel, as well as instructors on-site. The town of Santa Teresa (with cool bars and restaurants) is a five-minute drive away; it attracts good-looking expats from all over the world, all who seem to have been plucked out of a surfer magazine. Non-surfers need not worry, though, as there are plenty of other activities like snorkeling, diving, and ATV and wildlife tours. For less activity, simply park at one of the wide beaches, take a swim in the warm ocean, and then crack open a beer at sunset while watching the surfers do their thing.
Visitors can arrive via a multitude of ways -- and no one way seems easier than the next. One option is to arrive to Liberia International Airport, rent a vehicle, and make the five-hour drive through a mix of paved and rough roads. Another option (perhaps the best one) is to take a commuter plane from Liberia or San Jose to the smaller Tambor Airport, and then a 45-minute taxi to the hotel. Once in town, rent an ATV for the duration of the trip. Other options include a ferry from the main land to Tambor, though ferry times are not always reliable. Another ferry makes rounds between Jaco and Montezuma, which is a great option if looking to check out a few different parts of the country. The hotel provides pick-up/drop-off service via Tambor airport for an additional fee.
Simple villas have outdoor bathrooms and decks with views (two of which share space).
Each of the five villas is a standalone building tucked into the tropical landscaping, complete with exotic birds and occasional monkey sightings. They're located in two areas of the property: one that is accessed next to the parking lot through a pretty walking path, and the other that is down a set of steps next to the restaurant. Decorated in clean and simple decor, villas have occasional bright pops of color against blue tile floors, wood ceilings, and big windows for natural light. They are equipped with air-conditioners, orthopedic King-sized mattresses (topped with Egyptian cotton sheets), futon sofas, empty mini-fridges, and coffeemakers. Outdoor tiled bathrooms have walk-in showers and eco-friendly toiletries. Furnished decks (two of them share space and the others are private) have views of the hillside and ocean beyond.
Free breakfasts, and an infinity pool with sunset positioning
The most important feature of the property for guests and locals is the beautiful infinity pool and swim-up pool bar. This beauty has prime positioning with a rounded edge that looks out past the hills towards the ocean where lines of surfers wait their turn. The pool is quite spectacular (especially considering it's a rarity in the area) and it is made even more beautiful at sunset when throngs of young, good-looking types come to order drinks and swim out to the edge for selfies. The pool has a few sun loungers, a palapa day-bed, and a hot tub (though this is the same temperature as the pool). The pool bar is open all day for guests, but comes alive in the early afternoon. Here, bartenders serve frozen coffee drinks, red and white wines, Champagne, and over 30 types of beer, as well as mixed drinks, shots, and fresh juices. The bartenders and owners seem to be in a groove for about two hours working together to get out a vast number of drinks for sunset, perhaps making a round of 12 margaritas at a time.
Every day breakfast (included in the rate) is served by one of the staff members who works from the open kitchen, also overlooking the ocean view. The main course changes daily, and while the meal is being cooked up, guests help themselves to coffee, tea, fruit, and toast, and then wait for an enormous plate of food to arrive. Dinner is the same way every night: Guests can choose to make a reservation at the impressive barbecue and salad bar, in which case Roger will take the order and visit the butcher for T-bone, filet mignon, New York strip, rib eye, baby back ribs, chicken, or fresh-caught fish. Heidi is in charge of choosing the produce for an extensive salad bar.
Affordable surf lessons are provided from the sons, called the "Bros," who are well on their way to becoming pros in the competition circuit. They also offer ATV tours and rentals. If couples prefer private time, Roger will draw out a map.
Spa services -- like deep tissue massages, hot stone massages, and facials -- can be arranged on-site.
A major investment in 2015 included the installation of 144 solar panels, which will power 90 percent of the property. Free and reliable Wi-Fi is available throughout.
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