Travelers to Costa Rica can enjoy beach days, eco-tourism, and outdoor adventures all in the same trip. The beach and rainforest-filled country in Central America is known for embodying the spirit of pura vida; with a variety of accommodations to meet anyone’s budget and style — from bungalow-style properties to luxurious hotels with doting service — anyone can experience it. We’ve visited dozens of boutique hotels in Costa Rica and are sharing our expert opinion on which are the best of the best. Check out our top picks and get inspired for your next vacation!
Luxurious in every way, the 16-room, adult-only resort Nayara Springs is the top resort in the area for couples seeking romance and privacy -- but who can do without volcano views. Large, rustic-luxe rooms have a bevy of free amenities (free minibar items, free international calls) and gadgets (Bluetooth music players, espresso machines), all of which you pay for in the room rate. Its nearest competitor is the Nayara Hotel, Spa & Gardens, which happens to be its family-friendly sister property next door (volcano views are on offer there). The hotel is only a 15-minute ride into the town of La Fortuna, but most guests seem to spend the majority of their time on the property.
Guests will feel truly pampered at this adults-only, 29-room luxury hotel. Tucked into the hillside of a 14-acre nature reserve, Gaia feels appropriately exclusive and private, and has the attentive, personalized service to match. Roomsare spacious and airy; the great views are never-ending; and the freebies abound: breakfast, Wi-Fi, a mini spa treatment (to name a few). Keep your eyes peeled for iguanas, sloths, and the like.
Lapa Rios, located in the remote coastal rainforests of the Osa Peninsula, is Costa Rica’s original luxury eco lodge. This is the opposite of a Cancun-style beach resort -- guests come to the upscale Lapa Rios to enjoy the spectacular surroundings, learn about sustainable tourism, and re-connect with nature. The 16-bungalow lodge sits amid 1,000 acres of rainforest filled with wildlife, but it's far from a no-frills jungle camp. There are many comforts here, including a pool overlooking the ocean, a splendid restaurant serving sumptuous cuisine, and rustic-luxe rooms with private decks. This is a place to get in touch with nature without roughing it.
This seven-room, upscale, all-inclusive boutique hotel is set on a hillside overlooking the region's dry forest and distant ocean. Villa Buena Onda's hushed, retreat-like vibe stems from the fact that it caters to adults only. The decor is stylish with lots of white seating and colorful contemporary art, while the pool serves as the social center, a place for guests to lounge, drink in hand, and take in the views. While the hotel is not on the beach, guests can catch a free five-minute shuttle ride to Playa del Coco and other nearby beaches.
Arenas del Mar is proof that staying at an eco-resort doesn't mean roughing it: Its 38 contemporary rooms are among the nicest in Manuel Antonio, its restaurant is excellent, and its public spaces embody rustic luxury. The property's lush rainforest, two beautiful white-sand beaches on site -- a rarity in the area -- and diverse wildlife allow guests to truly connect with the nature that the resort's design so painstakingly preserved. But the 11-acre property is steep, so you'll need to call for a hotel golf cart to go just about anywhere.
Renovated in 2014, three-and-a-half pearl Villas Alturas is where nature and style come together on a hilltop overlooking Uvita and its famous Whale's Tale. It's a bit of an adventure to get to the entrance via a winding, rocky road that's steep enough to require four-wheel drive. When we pulled into the parking lot, we spotted a brown snake, unsurprising when you consider that the nearest neighbor is the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary. There are just seven Villas on-site, with either one or two bedrooms and full kitchens. An organic and vegetarian-friendly restaurant and bar is adjacent to the outdoor swimming pool; made-to-order breakfast is free. Views of the Pacific Ocean, Whale's Tail, and Uvita are some of the best in Dominical.
This nine-room eco-hotel with a working farm is about as unique as you'll find in the Arenal region. Mid-range rooms range from wood cabins perched over the rainforest to the truly unusual Hobbit Hole, which is like staying in cross between a Tolkien-esque fairytale burrow and the Flintstones' living room. They may not come with modern conveniences such as TV and AC, but they have marvelous views. The hotel is remote (the word "retreat" in the name should be taken quite literally), and requires a long trip (more than a half-hour drive) from La Fortuna over treacherous roads. Finca Luna Nueva Lodge is a slightly cheaper eco-friendly, remote farm hotel, but its rooms aren't as characterful.
Issimo Suites Boutique Hotel and Spa is a small, upscale property that's a strong contender for most romantic in Manuel Antonio. All of the rooms are suites and include jetted tubs, ocean views, and minibars. Issimos Restaurant serves a free, luxe breakfast buffet and Italian favorites for lunch and dinner, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The pool is on the small side, but it's open 24 hours and there's an adjacent bar for sunset cocktails. Kids under the age of 16 aren't allowed.
Makanda by the Sea is an upscale and romantic boutique hotel nestled into the hills of Manuel Antonio. Many of the 12 Villas and Studios are currently under construction, so there's a fair bit of noise and some of them haven't been updated yet. Villa 12 is the newest and most luxurious unit, with a private infinity-edge pool, two bedrooms, and a modern kitchen. All of the rooms have ocean views and come with a free daily delivered breakfast. The communal pool and adjacent Sunspot restaurant get high marks from past guests -- but there are complaints about the uncomfortable hike to a small private beach.
This conveniently located, 46-room mid-range resort offers brightly colored bungalows that wouldn't look out of place in a Smurf village. They feature showers that mimic natural waterfalls and come with private outdoor hot tubs or pools, though views of the volcanos and Wi-Fi signals are both limited. The hotel boasts two restaurants, including one that serves local Costa Rican cuisine and has a splendid balcony view of the volcano and surrounding countryside.