A guest stood at the bottom of the waterfalls with his hands on his hips. He watched as the water jumped from one rock slab to the other, seemingly dancing as it slid down a staircase-like formation.
After some time, he turned to Franco Bolívar and asked, “How long did it take you to make this?”
Bolívar shook his head.
“Oh, I didn’t make it,” said the Costa Rican, who stumbled on the waterfalls a few years ago and, with his wife, purchased the surrounding property. “Something like that can only be made by Mother Nature. And that took her a very long time.”
Hidden in the forest near Dominical, on the southern Pacific coast, the waterfall is the kind of natural wonder you usually have to crowd in with 50 other tourists to see. But the couple has sealed it off to make it a very private experience for the guests who pass through their boutique hotel, Cascadas Farallas Waterfall Villas. It’s been the backdrop for 19 weddings and at least six yoga retreats.
“We wanted to offer something other than a Disney experience,” said Fateh Kaur Bolívar, a native of the U.S. state of California. “There are plenty of public waterfalls in the country, but few that you can enjoy in private.”
Fateh always knew she wanted to open a hotel and offer guests a healing experience, but it hadn’t crossed her mind to open it in Costa Rica. She had her heart set on Byron Bay on the east coast of Australia. But a friend from California nagged her to see the property in Dominical, and with her husband being from nearby Manuel Antonio, she relented.
It didn’t take her long to change her mind.
“It took our breath away,” Fateh said. “You can’t argue with the fact it is absolutely spectacular. We knew our destiny was to save this little part of the rain forest.”
The couple bought the property in September 2005, before it hit the market.
Though the road connecting Manuel Antonio to Dominical had not been finished – it was nearly impassable when the couple first saw the property – Franco was eager to move forward with construction.
So the couple began studying design concepts and envisioning the layout of the property. They wanted to build in a way that would preserve much of the surrounding vegetation.
Fateh was inspired by what she had learned of feng shui architecture – the art of balancing manmade structures with existing surroundings – and incorporated much of her knowledge into the construction of the six rooms and lobby space. She was also taken with what she had seen during her travels throughBali, Indonesia, and felt the Balinese embraced the tropical climate much better than the styles passed down from Spanish colonists.
So, the couple bought plane tickets and spent a month visiting Balinese artists. In the end, they ended up filling two shipping crates with custom-made beds, limestone reliefs, windows and statues.
True to Franco’s hunch, the coastal highway between Manuel Antonio and Dominical progressed quickly and is expected to be completed any time now. But the couple opened the doors of Waterfall Villas a little over a year ago, in December 2008.
The rooms here are fashioned with unique personalities, each with its own color, flow and accent decorations. The beds are canopied, adding a romantic touch, and the bathrooms are open-air, with some boasting private Jacuzzis. Each room has an outdoor balcony.
But Franco and Fateh have created much more than a hotel; this is a center for healing. The couple combines yoga sessions, massages and a toxin-free diet to help guests flush out tension and stress, which tends to build up in the 24-hour environments of our modern world, they say. They force their visitors to unplug, as their hotel lacks television and direct access to the outside world.
“What we’ve seen is that more and more people are addicted to their computers and Blackberries and don’t spend quality time with each other or with themselves,” Fateh said. “The idea here is to take people away from that environment for a few days and give them something different.”
Fateh, a true Renaissance woman, manages the kitchen, handles much of the marketing, leads the yoga sessions and has decorated the rooms with her paintings. A former software company CEO, she knows better than anyone the toll a high-powered career can have on the body. As a “recovering exec,” she’s directed many of her services toward helping others in similar positions.
Her skills are complemented by those of her husband, a longtime hotel manager, who oversees the financial and operational side of the business. He also organizes day trips for guests, including horseback excursions, nature walks, bird-watching, fishing and canopy tours.
Fateh finds that many people stumble on Waterfall Villas simply for the meals. Through much experimenting on her part and from years of learning in the kitchens of families all over the world, Fateh has perfected a raw-food, vegan and vegetarian diet. Her husband is still talking about the vegan wedding cake she made for a couple in November.
“They said it was the best cake they had ever had,” he said.
“We aren’t a hotel for everyone, but if people are looking to do something for themselves and for their bodies in a beautiful setting, we have something to offer them,” he added.
Getting There, Rates, Info
Cascadas Farallas Waterfall Villas can be accessed by car from Quepos or San Isidro de El General. From San Isidro, follow signs through the center of town to Dominical. After a half-hour, you’ll pass Reptilandia nature park on the right. From there, the hotel is three miles down on the left-hand side of the road. Look for Balinese dragon banners. Driving time is approximately three hours. Call for directions from Quepos.
High season rates (January to May) range from $125 to $195 per night, depending on the suite. Prices include a welcoming glass of wine, morning yoga and a simple breakfast. A variety of packages is available for people looking to spend multiple nights, including a five-night Healing Journey that includes yoga, a romantic dinner, a massage and several tours ($1,250 for two people).
For information and reservations, call 2787-8378 or visit www.waterfallvillas.com.