Costa Rica’s “Pura Vida” is a way of life that means the “pure life” or “simple life,” and that mood and lifestyle is a big part of what made Hotel Punta Islita so special.
Part of the Autograph Collection, a group of upscale, luxury hotels, Hotel Punta Islita is perched on the top of a lush, green hill, in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province, and the views are a literal breath of fresh air. It’s an awe-inspiring place that is as fun as it is relaxing, with a focus on community that’s vital and woven into to the fabric of everything, from the food to the activities.
The resort runs at a different pace, helping visitors step into nature in a way that makes you appreciate this beautiful country, the people, and the lifestyle. It left me with a connection that has stuck with me weeks later, and it’s very easy to see why so many people visit again and again.
The eco-conscious, luxury resort features two restaurants, Alma and Aura, the Nanku Spa, a large number of activities, and cozy suites that feel homey and relaxed.
Read on for all the reasons why the hotel is charming, authentic, inviting, and serene.
A community in the forest
The heart of Hotel Punta Islita is the community of Punta Islita, and the little village has been a big part of the hotel since it was built.
In the early days of the hotel, the families in the community helped build the villas and restaurants, and they bring so much heart to their work. There’s a big sense of pride, and they welcome guests to connect with the flourishing region.
At the same time, the charm of the place is that it’s not surrounded by other hotels. Punta Islita is a small community a little over two hours from the Liberia airport, and it’s an oasis in the middle of greenery, trees, and rolling hills with beautiful, rugged beaches all along the coast.
Exploring the region, and the community, is an invitation to learn about the people, try local dishes and meals made from food from their back yards, and discover what makes this place so special.
Supported by the hotel itself, the town’s museum features local art that you can buy, helping to fuel creativity in the community. And activities like making the traditional Mazamorra corn dessert have been passed down here for generations. You’ll also find their music too, with a locally made marimba in the museum that’s lovingly played and cared for.
The local-first heart of the hotel comes into focus again and again. Suite numbers around the resort are made in the village. Arts and crafts always include materials from the area. And it often feels like the resort shares the space with nature, rather than cutting nature away to make room for the hotel.
This eco-conscious focus gives visitors the chance to learn from efforts to protect the animals that make Costa Rica such a beautiful paradise, so let’s talk about those activities.
Activities for every traveller
Hotel Punta Islita has so much going for it, but I think the activities set it apart from other resorts. The hotel offers a variety of free and paid activities that help you explore the area, and understand the unique diversity of this special place.
Guests can learn to cook with a chef, with a focus on local food. There’s a mixology class featuring Costa Rican flavours and spirits, or you can make a candle or keychain using sand from the beach, and seeds, twigs, and shells from nature.
You can also join locals at the museum to make Mazamorra, a staple of the community made from local purple corn that’s somewhat like porridge.
Conservation efforts in the area have also helped the Macaw Recovery Network bring parrots back from near extinction across the country, and you can visit their centre just a few kilometres away from the hotel.
The Network helps protect macaws, and raise birds to be released into the wild. Guests can visit for a chance to see the birds in the trees, understand their work, and contribute with a donation or by buying local art that helps fund valuable work in the field.
Finally, there are a number of excellent excursions that are so much fun, and they give you the chance to explore the area like nowhere else. You can go horseback riding on the beach and through the hills, zipline through the jungle, search for monkeys on a guided road trip, learn surfing, take a hike through the hills, and go kayaking in the mangroves.
And one of our favourite activities was the chance to visit a local, protected beach where sea turtles were hatching, and watch as they climbed out of the sand and made their way to the ocean. It was an incredibly moving, beautiful experience like few I’ve ever had on a trip. My family and I still talk about it as one of our favourite things ever.
And of course, on a lighter note, you can just enjoy the two pools at the resort, walk along the beach or hike around some of the large rocks on the ocean side, or cool off in your hotel suite’s plunge pool. More on that next.
The suite life
Hotel Punta Islita features stand-alone suites that look like little Costa Rican homes made from brick, ceramic, and wood. They’re natural and comforting, and each one includes a plunge pool, whirlpool, or terrace, many of which also look out over the ocean.
Regular guest rooms and villas are also available, all located down the hill, with a central staircase to go up to the main lobby, main restaurant, and adults-only pool, or down to the beach where you’ll find the lunch restaurant, the family pool, cabanas, and the ocean.
Whenever you need it you can also call for a cart to take you where you need to go, including to the village, and that’s also how you’ll be welcomed to your room and the best way to get your bags back to the lobby when you check out.
The rooms are spacious and cozy, with wonderfully comfortable beds, and living spaces. The back yards for the suites feel like a private oasis, perfect for an afternoon of quiet time, or an evening to sit and enjoy a drink.
And did I mention the hammock? I didn’t get nearly enough time to enjoy the hammock at our suite, but it was heavenly as we listened to the ocean, the birds, and the breezes.
It’s a simple thing, but I loved how the shower had a window looking out over the yard and to the ocean. It was a slice of paradise like few places I’ve visited before, and it felt like our place for those few days.
In our back yard, we even saw a Coati, an animal similar to a raccoon, and another family we met saw monkeys in the trees before breakfast. We saw birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, and so much that it felt like there was always a surprise around the corner.
The food, drinks, and restaurants
Alma Restaurant offers the classic tropical hotel views, looking out over the pool, and down to the forest and the ocean.
Open for breakfast and dinner, the menu is focused on locally inspired dishes, with ingredients sourced from the region, while still delivering international flair. Breakfast included healthy ice cream, a treat that was like a deconstructed smoothie bowl featuring frozen yogourt, peanut butter, and coconut. I also had a locally inspired breakfast burrito, and Costa Rican rice and beans with eggs.
Most of the dinner menu focuses on seafood, like grilled octopus, tuna roll, clam casserole, tuna, snapper, and smoked lobster. However there is also delicious steak on the menu, vegan options like roasted onion with goat cheese, and mushroom-goat cheese ravioli, not to mention a children’s menu and delicious desserts. Everything was delicious, served quickly, and the staff were always welcoming and kind.
The beach-front Aura restaurant serves lunch daily and has a really robust and wonderful menu that ranges from pizza, a fantastic burger, and mind-blowing beef tacos, to delicious guacamole and fish or octopus ceviche. They also have excellent salads, a poke bowl, and pecan pie for dessert.
You can choose to either have your meal inside the restaurant, or sit down on the beach, and that’s easily the best seat in the house. It’s a beautiful spot, and it’s a great walk from the rooms, giving you the chance to really see everything that the hotel has to offer.
At both restaurants, and at the hotel’s bars, you can try some fantastic cocktails too. In particular, the Coconut Lemonade, Swell, or a non-alcoholic Tropical Atoll are all great, but my favourite cocktail that I’ve had in a long time was the Bamboo. The drink features cacique, ginger, and grilled pineapple, and it was my drink of choice.
Hello, goodbye, and overall impressions
The hotel’s lobby is really built into the restaurant experience, so there is a sitting area as you arrive, and rather than meeting the concierge at a desk, the staff welcomed us at the lovely couch under the peaked roof. That first impression was really special, and included a refreshing drink made from local juices and coconut milk.
On each side of the restaurant and lobby there are also two beautiful trees, and you can sit there, enjoy a coffee or take your breakfast there if you like, and really take in the views and majesty of this place. I could have spent the day there, if there wasn’t so much else to see and do.
Overall, I loved everything about the hotel, and I really hope that I can go back one day to enjoy it all over again. That’s not something I’d say very often, but Hotel Punta Islita is unique. For many people, it’s possible that you have never experienced another hotel like it.
Above everything else, the hotel’s eco-conscious dedication, their connection to community, and their refreshingly authentic attitude will inspire you. This is a place that will change you, at least a little, once you’ve left, and that’s a really beautiful thing to appreciate.
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