San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Paquera jungle luxury at Vista las Islas

From the print edition

For its lack of an army and ostensible peacefulness, Costa Rica is sometimes called the Switzerland of Central America. But Swiss expat Thomas Kohli doesn’t see any similarity whatsoever. “It’s like the apple and the orange,” Kohli says.

Maybe that’s because he owns a hotel ensconced in remote jungle on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Switzerland is many things, but a wild, hot jungle it is not.

Five years ago, Kohli and his wife fell in love with the pleasant, dry heat and the magnificent Paquera views. They bought some land and dreamed up three projects – a condominium complex, a housing development and a posh hotel aptly named Hotel Vista las Islas, which has since become the grandest digs in the area – Paquera’s first luxury hotel.

Up a steep dirt road and behind a security gate just a seven-minute drive from the ferry terminal, the property perches regally on a hilltop overlooking the jungle, the gulf, the ocean, several islands and even the distant mainland. With almost no other development in sight, the view feels very old-school Costa Rica, even when you’re taking it all in from the infinity pool or its swim-up bar. Howler and white-faced monkeys, deer, frigate birds and other wild animals roam the property, and rays and fish can be observed playing in the tide.

Behind its apricot-colored walls, the hotel’s 17 rooms are spacious and adorned with teak trimmings and photographs of Costa Rican frogs. They all have their own balconies and ocean views, and even their enormous tile showers have windows overlooking the bay. Those views are particularly mind-blowing in the rainy season when the hills pop with greenery and migrating humpback whales can be spotted in the distance.

Vista Las Islas 3

Vista Las Islas owner Thomas Kohli leads extreme ATV tours.
Clayton R. Norman

The poolside restaurant serves up tasty treats from the sea, including a mouthwatering tuna sashimi, fantastic ceviche and a hearty seafood pasta. The restaurant’s terrace is also where you’ll be taking your three-course, complimentary breakfast, and that includes the traditional gallo pinto as well as Swiss pancakes and fresh fruit with oatmeal.

A relatively new Costa Rican destination, Paquera only found its place on the map several years ago, when two large ferries began transporting passengers from the port town of Puntarenas to the Nicoya Peninsula. When he bought his 53 hectares five years ago, Kohli says he didn’t realize this would happen – but he’s pretty glad it did.

His jungle getaway attracts families and couples seeking tranquility, but also outdoor  sports and adventure. Although it’s one of the least-developed areas on the peninsula, Paquera still features plenty of outdoor activities for travelers: kayaking, boating, sportfishing, scuba diving on Tortuga Island and hiking in the steamy jungle of the Curú National Wildlife Refuge are among the most popular. Visitors have also been known to golf, go horseback riding and take guided ATV tours to a remote waterfall (complete with a killer rope swing) and to an abandoned stretch of jungle beaches.

If the later outing strikes your fancy, talk to Kohli. He moved from Bern, Switzerland, to indulge his wild side, and he’s not just the owner of Vista las Islas – he’s also the ATV tour guide.

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