San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Casa Viva: Alive With Beauty in Punta Uva

There is something about the Caribbean side of Costa Rica that evokes a feeling of serenity: the gentle lapping of the sea on pristine beaches, the dense forest vegetation laden with howler monkeys only meters inland, all semblance of city life miles away.

Emblematic of all that is idyllic about the Caribbean is Casa Viva, a small refuge of cabinas in Punta Uva, between the town of Puerto Viejo and the end-of-the-road Manzanillo. Here, all things hurried are permitted to slow, and anything planned on an itinerary loses priority to relaxation.

“We wanted to create a place that would give guests a place to relax in the beauty of nature,” said Casa Viva owner Jean Waller, who bought the property with her husband, David, in 1993. “We looked up and down the Pacific side and then came to the Caribbean side, looking for a place we thought would provide a sort of tranquil getaway. When we found this land, we knew it was the spot we were looking for.”

The tranquility of Casa Viva is created by its layout on a 9.5-acre plot of land. Each cabina is its own inland island, separated from the other cabinas and surrounded by lush, manicured jungle and garden vegetation.

Each cabina offers a sea view from its front door, which Waller said was done strategically so that all guests would have their own private “vista al mar.”

Constructed by David and crew, the cabinas made of glossy finished wood each feature a covered wraparound porch with two hammocks swaying at opposite ends. A central table outside the front door provides the ideal setting for an outdoor meal or communal mingling.

The beauty of the cabinas’ exterior is matched on the inside, with a large, fully furnished kitchen and a central wooden counter that begs conversation or a shared meal. Opposite the kitchen is a large living room, decorated with local art and stocked with books and magazines. In the rear are the large bedrooms and bathroom.

The one-bedroom cabina offers a master bedroom and bath, while the three two-bedroom homes feature a master bedroom and a second bedroom with two twin beds. The duplex offers two separate bed-and bath units.

With the limited number of cabinas, there is never a feeling of being at a hotel among dozens of guests. On Casa Viva’s gorgeous, colorful and wooded property, you have your own private residence with a private pathway and entrance to the beach, far from anything that might deter you from relaxation.

“Casa Viva is one of the most perfect places I have stayed. It is everything I look for in a destination in that it provides privacy, beauty and peace,” said Bob Bosslet from New York City, who visited Casa Viva twice on a recent vacation. “There are also so many activities in the area. You can lie on the beach, surf, bike, take a canopy tour, practice yoga or fish. It has everything.”

Other area attractions are within walking distance or a short bike ride away. The renowned Selvyn’s, which serves savory Caribbean cuisine, is about a three-minute walk north of Casa Viva. Open Friday through Sunday, the restaurant offers an authentic Caribbean experience, with delectable food taking its sweet time to be prepared.

The Caribbean chicken served with rice and beans – a regional specialty made with coconut milk – is among the best in the region here.

South of Casa Viva, development thins and the jungle thickens. At the end of the road is the small town of Manzanillo, where another celebrated Caribbean restaurant, Maxi’s, anchors the town just 50 meters or so from the sea. While the music here can be on the loud side, the view is soothing, and the Caribbean food is rich and reasonably priced. Try the grilled red snapper, served on a long wooden platter with rice and beans, grilled vegetables and salad, or the lobster in Caribbean sauce.

Despite the array of excellent restaurants in the area, one of the most appealing options at Casa Viva is to cook and dine in the serenity of your own cabina, where you can eat outside on the porch or inside with the doors open wide, letting the sounds of nature and the sea provide the soundtrack for the night.

“It was my husband’s dream to build a place where people could find a peaceful place and get away from it all,” Waller said of David, who passed away in 2008.

Glancing over her shoulder at the sea and scanning the towering trees and colorful landscape, she added, “I think he accomplished that dream.”

Getting There, Rates, Info

Casa Viva is in Punta Uva, seven kilometers south of Puerto Viejo on the southern Caribbean coast. From San José, take the

Braulio Carrillo Highway

to the Caribbean port of Limón, then head southeast toward Puerto Viejo (about four hours). Transportes Mepe offers bus service several times a day from the Caribbean bus terminal in San José (2257-8129, Ca. Ctrl., Av. 11, ¢4,545/$8.70, 4.5 hours).

Rates start at $130 per night for a two-bedroom house, $100 per night for the one-bedroom house and $50 per night in the duplex. Weekly rates are also offered.

For information, call 2750-0089, e-mail or visit


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