Tourism outlets in Costa Rica have responded to the global economic crisis in different ways. Some have offered discounts and package deals, while others have worked to establish a niche as ecotourism destinations. For Cindy Booker, the answer was simple: go au naturel.
Booker, 58, originally from the U.S. state of Florida, bought the Río Palmas Hotel and Restaurant last year and immediately faced a decision. While the restaurant was well known among travelers on the highway between San José and the Caribbean port city of Limón, the hotel was not.
“I needed to come up with a niche,” Booker said. “People came to Río Palmas over and over and didn’t know there was a hotel here. Yes, I have a beautiful hotel, but so does everyone in Costa Rica.”
So Booker stripped the hotel down to the basics and relaunched as Club Mi Amor, an “alternative lifestyle-friendly” and “clothingoptional” hotel that she said is the first and only nudist resort in Costa Rica. Despite reservations about opening such a resort in a Catholic country such as Costa Rica, the response, she said, has been “amazing.”
While Booker said several upcoming weekends are booked with “swinger parties,” no one was baring it all during a recent Tico Times visit. Booker and her 10-person staff – the rule is that all employees must wear clothes – were putting the final touches together in anticipation of a swinger party over the weekend.
“It’s not what everybody thinks,” Booker said about the groups, which she said are often made up mostly of Costa Ricans. “It’s not a sex fest. It’s very respectful. They are very nice people.”
Still, it was hard to let go of preconceptions when, after we passed a sign prohibiting the entry of minors, the first room Booker showed us was the “orgy room.” Under construction and scheduled to be complete this month, the room will feature mirrored walls, a tiki bar and sound system and a custommade, seven-by-16-foot mattress that can fit between 20 and 30 people, Booker said.
Mi Amor has 25 rooms, most of which – aside from the orgy room – have double beds and air conditioning. In a few weeks, Booker plans to have air conditioning and televisions in every room. A themed “jungle room” boasts a Jacuzzi and doubles as Mi Amor’s massage parlor, with one side opening onto a nearby creek.
“When you lie down here and hear the water, you’re just so relaxed,” Booker said.
After she insisted I hop up onto the massage bed for a minute or two, I could not help but agree.
We next passed the centrally located pool to reach the bar, complete with dance floor and stripper pole.
“Our pole isn’t just for women,” Booker said, as Joey Fernández, a member of Mi Amor’s staff, launched into a running jump and took a twirl around the pole. “The guys have just as much fun as the girls.”
Behind the bar is a second, waist-deep pool specially outfitted as a water volleyball court, as well as two outdoor beds. The resort also has a trail running through 10 acres of jungle, where visitors often spot wildlife, including sloths, armadillos and Booker’s pet parrot, Lolita.
Booker has been sure to leave the Río Palmas restaurant, which she called “an institution,” alone and separate from Mi Amor. Clothes are required at the restaurant. Both the hotel and restaurant can be rented out for groups, which, along with nudists, have included religious and yoga groups in recent weeks, as well as a gathering of government officials.
Booker, a grandmother of eight whose husband is in Florida managing the family business, seems an unlikely candidate to be overseeing orgies and swinger parties.
“My world’s a little different now,” she deadpanned.
Did she ever imagine herself in this position?
“Not in my wildest dreams,” she said. “But it’s been great.”
Though Costa Rica has no law against nudist resorts, Booker has been “careful” in spreading word about Mi Amor so far. She put the “no minors” sign up as a precaution against sex trafficking of minors and puts condoms in every room, following Costa Rican regulations.
Still, she plans to forge ahead. Within the next six months, Booker hopes to build a 60-by-120-foot clubhouse behind the volleyball court. She has longer-term aspirations as well: a series of townhouses to create the first gated nudist community in Costa Rica. But she stressed that Mi Amor is not only about swingers and nudism.
“There’s so much here that you are really at ease if you want to stay dressed,” she said.
“And if you want to get naked, it’s your own choice. You do your own thing.”
Nevertheless, nudity is helping keep Mi Amor afloat.
“It’s like the hottest thing out there right now,” Booker said. “With the economy now, if I just had a (standard) hotel, I’d be closing.”
Getting There, Rates, Info
Club Mi Amor is about two hours from San José on the highway to Limón, just past Guácimo.
Weekend room rates are $95 per room, including breakfast. An all-inclusive package with food, alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages and a massage costs $132 per person, per night. Costa Ricans and residents can enjoy a weekday special of $36 per room. Rates include taxes.
For information or reservations, call 2760-0330 or visit miamorresort.com (contains nudity).