San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hotel Makanda: A romantic seaside retreat

Each jungle villa features a view from an expansive balcony that faces west to miles of Pacific coastline and beyond, where whale season has begun. So it should be no surprise that Hotel Makanda By the Sea specializes in couples’ retreats and honeymoons. The staff works hard to make romantic getaways feel private, and serves up an excellent hot breakfast, with room service included.

Consisting of just 11 rooms, this Manuel Antonio boutique hotel was established 30 years ago, when only a handful of hotels existed in the area. Founders Jules and Joe McNichols purchased 12 acres of hillside that had been largely deforested for cattle and bean plants. Through a government initiative to reclaim land cleared for agriculture, the McNichols rooted more than 10,000 plants and trees on the property. Today it’s difficult to imagine the place was ever devoid of flora.

“Though it’s taken time, the animals and butterflies have really returned in the past five years,” Joe said.

One rare delight at Makanda is the population of squirrel monkeys that use the property as habitat and corridor to the nearby Manuel Antonio National Park. The Central American squirrel monkey population is considered “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and has largely disappeared from many regions of the country. The small, orange-backed creature, known locally as mono titi, eats insects, fruit, leaves and flowers in the middle levels of the trees. A group of community and business leaders called Titi Conservation Group, of which Joe is a founding board member, works to protect these critters.

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Pool at Hotel Makanda. Courtesy of Hotel Makanda

“We’ve seen a resurgence of monkey life here,” Jules said. “The howler monkeys have come back in force. Most mornings you hear them going, and each night is a concert of amphibians.”

Between the jungle and the ocean, the property isn’t exactly easy to maintain, she said, but it’s important to her and Joe that the grounds continue returning to their natural state.

“Mother Nature knows best,” Jules said.

Each of the villas is uniquely designed by Joe to invite nature into the rooms, from the walled-in Japanese garden to the fresh flowers atop most surfaces, the wood panel ceilings to the French doors that open up to a majestic seascape. The hotel’s name is Sanskrit for essence, nectar or mango buds, and it is also the name of a small town in Illinois, where the owners lived on an old farmstead in their college days.

Most of the rooms come with complete kitchenettes, and the dining table chairs, sofas, hammocks and lounge seats summon comfort and relaxation throughout the spaces. Bathrobe kimonos are provided.

The Makanda property also includes a larger house just feet from the private beach, which hosts larger groups like wedding parties. Called Casa Las Ventanas, the house contains a pool, Jacuzzi and room for up to 10. It’s rented out by the week.

After settling in, guests are invited to a complimentary welcome cocktail beside the infinity pool. The Sunspot Bar & Grill specialty drink is a guanabana and guaro delight, and the chef is particularly proud of her prosciutto, olive and feta-stuffed chicken and her marinated and grilled calamari.

Breakfasts are included, and after selecting a dish from the in-room menu, a quick call to the kitchen has the food delivered within 20 minutes.

Going there

Hotel Makanda is situated directly between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. Take a five-minute taxi there from Quepos or ask the bus driver to let you off at the restaurant Barba Roja and walk 600 meters downhill to Makanda’s entrance. The villas run from $200 to $300 in the low season. Visit for weekly low season specials. Makanda will be closed Sept. 23 to Oct. 7 for annual maintenance.

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