San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Mega Tourism Is Here: Large-Scale Projects Sprout up along Pacific Coast

In a shift from Costa Rica’s traditionally small-scale tourism offerings – the beachfront cabina, the family-run hotel, the jungle or mountain ecolodge – for good or for ill, mega tourism is on the rise in the country. Massive, all-in-one tourism projects are beginning to sprout up all along the Pacific coast, encompassing golf courses, spas, luxury villas, high-rises, shops and even movie theaters. Here’s an overview of some of the most noteworthy, working from north to south:

In the northwestern province of Guanacaste, in Playa Hermosa, the HermosaHeights project is nearing the end of construction.

The 47-acre resort began construction two years ago under construction company Constructora Zárate, and owner Richard Levy says he plans to open his doors to clients and businesses in the next few months.

When completed, the project will house a mini mall, sports bar, restaurant, supermarket and 100-seat movie theater with a private restaurant, as well as a spa, medical clinic, gym and a few stores, including a boutique clothing store and gallery.

“It’s like Terramall, but nicer,” Levy said, comparing the resort to the mall in Tres Ríos, east of San José.

The resort will also have a mini golf course, Internet access and tour arranging upon request, said Levy, a former U.S. orthodontist who is personally financing the project.

A 10-minute walk from the beach, inside patrolled gates, sit the resort’s 20 single-family villas, along with 50 open lots for sale. All the villas have ocean views, with building size ranging from 2,500-3,500 square feet.

Though the area has been experiencing a drastic water shortage that recently spurred residents of Playa Panamá, Playa Hermosa and Playas del Coco to file a lawsuit requesting a moratorium on development to reduce the strain on the water supply (TT, March 30), Levy says he doesn’t believe his resort will be affected by the shortages, claiming he is prepared with a few Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) approved wells inside his property.

“The thing that sets this project apart is that it’s like a resort – it’s got everything you want in one area. It’s self-contained,” Levy said, commenting that while many developments offer only cut lots, his offers commercial areas inside the resort.

As for environmental concerns, Levy stressed, “We saved as many trees as we could possibly save, and everything here is natural. It’s stone construction and wood.”

Twenty acres of the development is marked as a zona verde (green area) where construction is banned to maintain a natural habitat for wildlife. Hiking trails and footpaths are planned for this area.

For more information about the project, visit

Farther south, on BrasilitoBay, the developing AzuleraResortVillage is welcoming the Hyatt Regency Azulera, now under construction, to its 556-acre site.

An open-air reception area opens onto a group of low buildings that will house a total of 214 rooms and suites. Each adjoining building will have its own patio and pool surrounded by gardens. A full-service spa, gym, ocean-side saltwater pool and a variety of freshwater pools will cover the grounds, as well as a banquet hall and conference rooms. One of the many bars and dining areas throughout the resort will be located at the highest point of the property, offering a view of the ocean and nearby Isla Loros. Approximately 20% of the 47 acres of property will be developed, with rooms scattered throughout, each with its own private terrace, and each group of rooms will have its own patio, gardens and pool (TT,May 26, 2006).

The hotel will serve as the center of the resort village, which will also feature an 18-hole golf course designed by U.S. golf legend Greg Norman. The entire resort will house 800-1,000 apartments, duplex houses, villas and other private residences.

U.S.-based Global Financial Group is managing the resort village, which is projected to cost $300 million, according to the resort’s Web site, The project is slated to open at the end of 2008.

Continuing down the coast, Marriott International is developing a JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort and Spa on Playa Mansita, near the town of Pinilla, south of Tamarindo.

The JW Marriott, the franchise’s luxury brand, will be the seventh to open in Latin America and is being developed by Grupo Roble and managed by Grupo Real, both

divisions of developer Grupo Poma of El Salvador.

The 310-room, three-floor resort will include an all-day restaurant with terrace seating, two specialty restaurants, a pool bar and grill, a café kiosk and a lobby lounge and bar. A 13,500-square-foot health club and spa will house 18 treatment rooms, including a steam room and beauty salon.

Zurcher Arquitectos of Costa Rica is responsible for the hotel’s exterior Spanishcolonial design, while Paul Duesing Partners is working on the interior design.

The hotel is being built within Hacienda Pinilla Beach Resort and Residential Community (, which spreads over 4,000 acres and also includes the Posada del Sol hotel, Casa Golf Suites, beach houses and other property rentals, an 18-hole golf course and an equestrian center.

A Marriott representative could not be reached for comment by press time, but Hacienda Pinilla’s Web site states the new hotel is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

For more information about Marriott properties, visit

On the central Pacific coast in Playa Herradura, just north of Jacó, Central America’s

first St.

Regis Resort – the luxury brand of the U.S.-based Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide – recently began construction and is slated for completion in early 2008, according to Starwood’s Web site, The project is being developed by U.S.-based luxury hotel developer Lionstone Development and designed by Zurcher Arquitectos of Costa Rica.

Neighboring the Los Sueños Resort and Marina, which offers a 201-room Marriott hotel, condominiums, 18-hole golf course, marina and adjoining village, the 250-acre St. Regis will offer three pool areas, a restaurant, several bars, a beach club and an 11,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, including nine treatment rooms. It will also have 3,750 square feet of meeting and function space.

A St. Regis

representative could not be reached for comment by press time.

The already heavily developed beach town of Jacó will soon see a high-rise mega-tourism development: the $45 million Ramada Resort and ResidencesJacóBeach, which broke ground in March. Developer Grupo Zeta has laid the foundation and begun construction on one of six 10-story towers, according to Ramada sales representative Juan Velázquez.

The resort will include a four-star, 72-room resort and 228 fully furnished apartments.

Included in the first phase of construction are two pools, a game room, spa and fitness center, wireless Internet, a conference room, business center, bar and restaurant, and two of the 10-story towers, which will have 38 apartments each (TT, Aug. 25, 2006).

The second phase will raise four more towers, with construction scheduled to be complete in November 2008, Velázquez said.

For more info, visit South of Jacó, in Esterillos Este, the Del Pacífico Golf and Surf Community is nearing completion after breaking ground in 2004. The development spans 700 acres, from a half-mile of beachfront inland over both sides of the

Coastal Highway


Co-owner Barry Strudwick says the “heart of the project” is known as La Prada, a town center “styled like a Spanish colonial center” that will have three restaurants and 38 retail shops, with 35 condominiums above the shops.

“All communities need a place where they can mix and mingle and exchange experiences,” Strudwick said, adding that he wanted to construct a town center open not just to visitors, but also to the local community. “We are not a gated Gringo enclave.”

A collaboration between Strudwick and Costa Rican William Ramírez, the project was designed by internationally acclaimed architect Dhiru Thadani of architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross, who Strudwick says gave a “new urbanism” style to the town center,which will feature a town hall and clock tower.

The site will also include an 18-hole golf course designed by U.S. golfer Billy Casper, with some holes to be situated ocean-side. Strudwick expects the course to be finished in the next few months.

The beach area will be open to the community and will feature two beach clubs, a hotel and condominiums. Farther inland, seven single-family “luxury villas” and 10 two-bedroom condominiums are also under construction.

Forty acres of the development is designated a zona verde and will offer riding trails, biking and hiking, Strudwick said.

For more info, visit


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