San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New Gaia Hotel Oozes Luxury in the Hills of Manuel Antonio

Imagine yourself a celebrity on vacation: floating in an infinity pool overlooking the jungle and Pacific Ocean, sipping martinis from the wet bar, unwinding with a massage and slipping into 500-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets at the end of the day.

For anything else you desire, a personal valet remains at your beck and call.

Like all those regular ducks who transform themselves into swans on reality TV shows, Manuel Antonio’s posh Gaia Hotel and Reserve can make an average guy or gal feel like a million bucks.

Attention to detail and overachieving standards have won this new addition to the popular Manuel Antonio area on the central Pacific coast the golden seal of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

Gaia’s owners had their eyes on membership in this elite club before they even began building, and checked in with the group throughout the construction process to make sure they got it, explained owner Boris Marchegiani.

A Venezuelan oil industry consultant who has made sure his worldly travels have landed him in as many Small Luxury Hotels as possible, Marchegiani scoffs at anything less than his definition of elegant perfection, and his hotel embodies his taste.

That means “European minimalist” décor – different from U.S. minimalist, which just means small, said Marchegiani, who together with his U.S. partner David Fleming bought the property in 2004. This style spills over from Gaia’s clean, angular architecture into each of its rooms: studios, suites, deluxe suites, two-bedroom villas and one crèmede-la-crème “Gaia suite” designed with real life celebrities in mind to guarantee total privacy.

This suite and the rest of the clubhouse level, to include a full gym and spa, are all that remain to be completed and are expected to open at the end of July, according to General Manager Kimberly Barron. Gaia has a grand opening celebration planned for that time.

In all of the hotel’s rooms, crisp white walls contrast with hardwood floors, with splashes of art from Marchegiani’s personal collection he says is worth millions.

The aura is simple and clean, but everything is top-notch, from the Sony surround sound entertainment system that promises to turn the bedroom into a private movie theater to the bathroom fixtures – boxy, modern sinks and toilets carved out of smooth Italian porcelain.

Lighting and air conditioning are equally high-tech; so high-tech, in fact, that it took us our entire day-long stay to master the lights, and we never did find a way to modify the frigid air conditioning that left me missing the simplicity of Central Valley climate control – opening a window. I realized that top-of-the-line isn’t always synonymous with comfortable. Nonetheless, my raves about Gaia far outweigh my complaints.

A highlight of the hotel is its bathrooms. In each one, a massive Jacuzzi tub beckons, and in the deluxe suite and two-bedroom villa it’s perched against full-length windows, affording views of jungle and ocean as guests soak away in bubbles created by a range of Aveda products awaiting them.

Venturing from the bathroom rewards guests in the deluxe suite – my abode for the night – with a private sundeck, complete with a cozy chaise longue and a clever fabric roof for shade. While lounging, if you get a hankering for, say, nacho cheese Doritos, another of those martinis or a cold glass of Perrier, your wish is just a phone call away:

Gaia’s guests are assigned a personal valet upon arrival – Marchegiani himself was ours – whom they may hail for all of their gastronomic and entertainment needs. Like a personal genie, the valet grants these wishes and can also arrange activities such as a must-do trip to Manuel Antonio National Park or a boat ride through mangrove swamps.

Making your way into the outside world to partake in these activities, however, may not be as tempting as lingering in Gaia’s pool. A three-level masterpiece constructed to resemble a giant waterfall, the pool offers characteristic Manuel Antonio jungle and ocean views from all corners. A wet bar in the middle serves cocktails, sodas and fresh fruit kabobs, and decks at the pool’s base offer either sun or shade as guests nap, read or use their laptops, as we saw one young aspiring novelist doing.Wireless connection is available anywhere on the property.

Formerly the Jardín Gaia, the property also houses its own nature reserve and resident guide, Josué Rosales. While you’re not as likely to see the monkeys and sloths common in the national park, a hike through the reserve nonetheless surrounds you with native plants, birds and insects, and offers a spectacular view above the treetops and out to the ocean.

For meals, you can expect to eat well at Gaia’s La Luna restaurant. Breakfast is included in the room rate; huevos rancheros, Belgian waffles and vanilla and mango pancakes were among the menu selections when I visited. Notably absent was gallo pinto, the Costa Rican rice-and-beans staple ubiquitous elsewhere in country, which I was disappointed not to be offered as I picked at a so-so Italian egg frittata. The tequila-lime scallops for dinner, however, were excellent, as was our appetizer, a sun-dried tomato and goat cheese tart. With the arrival of a new head chef, the menu is expected to receive a makeover in coming weeks (see sidebar).

So does feeling like a movie star require one’s entire paycheck? Maybe not. Gaia is not for the budget-conscious, but if you’re blessed with a bountiful cash flow or are looking to splurge on true luxury, you’ll get what you pay for.

Low-season rates (May 1 to Oct. 31) are as follows: the simplest studio room runs $250 a night; the suite is $300; the deluxe suite is $350; and the two-bedroom villa is $700. These prices increase $80-180 during the high season, Nov. 1 to April 30. Ticos and residents get a 25% discount during the low season.

For information or reservations, call 777-2239 or visit


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