The central Pacific beach area of Manuel Antonio breathes tourism at the gate of Costa Rica’s most visited national park of the same name. For a good fishing, spa, surf school, canopy, rain forest, jet ski, four-wheeling, jungle safari experience, Manuel Antonio is the place to be.
Around here, the signs are in English, the cars are shiny, the hotels are legion and the prices are in dollars.
Two hundred forty-five of them will get you a few kilometers away from the hippies and beach vendors on the main strip and into a little paradise at one of the newer, hillside-perched, sunset-splashed, you-gotthe-money-we’ll-take-you-anywhere hotels: Issimo Suites.
Quepos Point sits high above the ocean just west of “downtown” Manuel Antonio, decked in jungle and fancy resorts. Half a dozen cranes tower over the forest in service to three or four future hotels, whose builders stay in sheet-metal rooms at the base of the concrete fortresses.
But for the right price, you can still rent a quiet suite with a good view. On a recent Saturday afternoon, in fact, Issimo Suites was so quiet I had to wait an hour and a half for the receptionist to show up.
“I was out with a group, four-wheeling,” he said when he finally arrived. “We got a flat tire.”
It was okay; I had plenty of time to inspect the dining room, the kitchen, the indoor waterfall, the outdoor pool, the glassed-in spa and the treetop view to the Pacific.
U.S. citizen Tim Panek opened the resort last December, System Manager Diego Cerdas said. September is a hard month for area resorts, he added, but August was busy. He said guests appreciate Issimo Suites for the family atmosphere, the ocean view and the “considerable” price.
“It’s not too high,” he said, “and not too low.”
Being a novice in the world of hotel critiquing (the night before, I stayed in Quepos for $20), I had a hard time seeing past the three-digit price tag, which, after taxes and a couple of $10 bottles of Perrier, begins with a three.
The view was excellent. The cliff-side swimming pool, blue-tiled and deep on one end for scuba lessons, was cute. The open air dining room seemed a bit thematically confused: yellow steel railings with welded undulations to suggest bamboo, log-beam rafters fanned above the curved floor plan, stone and mortar floors, concrete jungle pillars a la Mayan ruins, smart wooden tables with white cloth and chairs with vinyl-covered seat cushions.
I didn’t sample anything off the restaurant’s menu, but pasta was $10, chicken $12, mahi-mahi $15, “Issimo Tenderloin” $17 or $30 with shrimp. In wines, $15 dollars will fetch a bottle of Valpolicella Terre del Sole and $70 a Malbec Reserva Altos Las Hormigas, with about 10 choices in between.
The rooms: king-size bed (with leopard-print-quilt), enormous windows facing southwest, wood floors, satellite television, two sofas or extra twin beds (also with leopard-print quilts), writing table, refrigerator and a priced-for-the-locale minibar.
The walls, especially in the bathroom, were trimmed with rock facing, which was cozy in the right light. The bathroom blended into the living area, with a shower framed in a curved half-shell with white tiles.
Swinging doors brought you to the toilet, hidden but not walled off, behind the shower.
The number of plumbing fixtures per square foot was extraordinary: you could sit on the throne, clean up in the bidet, wash hands in one sink, brush teeth in the other, cool off in the rock-floored shower and wind down in the Jacuzzi.
Being well accommodated, well fed and well bathed, what’s there to do on Quepos Point? You can get married, working with an Issimo-affiliated wedding co-ordinator; play foosball; take massage lessons at the Issimo Suites Body Life Spa; shuttle to Manuel Antonio National Park or partake in some of the 13 activities listed on the resort’s Web site, from fishing to dolphin tours to zip lines to sunset sailing to – I’m not making this up –“eco-guided wave runner safaris.” The Issimo staff will coordinate your activities, for a price, with other area tourism programs.
During our visit, we saw no other guests, spa-goers or restaurant diners – this felt strange, like we were previewing a grand opening or sneaking in after hours. The receptionist, back from fixing flat tires, did offer to cook us some food. The maintenance and cleaning staff occasionally gathered for a cafecito, and the receptionist once had some dinner with a friend of his, but otherwise we were the only ones wandering about.
The resort is constructing a direct-to-the beach trail, but for now the path is a few blocks down the gravel road, past one of Issimo’s under-construction competitors and to the right. The beach is in a westerly facing bay of mixed sand and rock, and it looked like some guys there would rent you a snorkel and some flippers.
Although one of Issimo’s rooms was called the Presidential Suite ($600), the other eight are equipped with similar amenities, minus the full kitchen and private swimming pool, and should suit any undersecretary, viceminister or ranking member of Cabinet. All nine qualify as honeymoon suites. Candles are abundant and you can order flower petals scattered about the bed. My choice next time would be the “loft suite” with its peaked ceiling and two-level comforts ($295). Prices don’t include 16.4% hotel tax and are 10-20% more during the high season (November through April).
For more information, call 777-4410 or visit www.issimosuites.com.