Just what does a civil war in Madagascar some nine years ago have to do with a boutique hotel on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast? The conflict prevented Thomas Coulson from taking a vacation to that turbulent African island, prompting him to change his travel plans and decide on Costa Rica instead. Captivated by the country and especially the year-round lushness and dramatic coastline near the beach community of Uvita, the Polish-born British aviation fuels engineer made a complete life and career change: He quit his job in the U.S. to build and run a small, chic forest lodge in the tropics. With no previous hotel experience, Coulson was called crazy by colleagues, but TikiVillas Rainforest Lodge opened without fanfare a year ago and has been garnering praise ever since.
Access is up a short but steep (4x4 only) drive above the Costanera Highway. From the parking area, you climb wide stone steps leading to the airy reception space and a warm welcome from Coulson and his Costa Rican partner, Cindy Naranjo. The first order of the day is a delicious complimentary banana colada made with fruit from the gardens, while the layout of the hotel and tour options are explained. But mainly Coulson comes over with an affable “mi casa es tu casa” (my house is your house) approach, and the emphasis is on informality and relaxation. Coulson’s knowledge of the area, from best restaurants and hidden beaches to how to replace a forgotten swimsuit, is praiseworthy, as is the couple’s enthusiastic commitment to helping their community and embracing low-impact environmental practices.
Creating the Balinese-style villas has been a slow and careful process, Coulson says, and it shows. There is an attention to detail and comfort you normally find in places twice the price. Working with a San José architect, Coulson and Naranjo designed five spacious, private villas perched on the steep slopes of the 13-acre property, with extensive views over jungle landscapes to the ocean and Caño Island in the distance. The open-sided, cathedral-vaulted dining and social area includes a well-stocked bar steps away from the infinity pool with its endless ocean views.
TikiVillas is an adults-only concept, offering peace, seclusion and unobtrusive service for honeymooners or couples wanting a break from the kids. Families are welcome if younger members are over 16.
The villas are alike except that two have air conditioning while the remaining three have ceiling fans, which were perfectly adequate during my stay. A wooden concertina wall panel opens out completely onto a large balcony, giving guests stunning views from the comfort of the king-size bed. An extra twin bed occupies an alcove. Linens are fresh Egyptian cotton over very comfortable mattresses, and thankfully no clichéd towel swans to clutter the elegant ruby-red bedspread. Yellow anti-insect bedside lights discourage evening bugs; however, I came across no insects during my stay and never once closed the concertina panels. The bathroom lined in honey-colored sandstone has not one but two showers: an enclosed one and a romantic outside rain-head shower offering forest views beyond the privacy of bamboo fencing. The closet is more like a large, separate dressing room with plenty of hanging space and a wall safe. A small but well-equipped kitchenette with fridge, countertop hot plates, sink and coffeemaker means you can do your own catering.
Dark-stained wood is the main building material throughout the hotel, with neutral stone floor tiling to give a clean, sophisticated look. Much of the furniture was made from sturdy guadua bamboo by local craftsmen, and the whole is softened with colorful flower arrangements and subtle lighting. The hotel has no telephone landline, but Coulson has installed a satellite dish that provides wireless Internet in the social area, and service reached my villa (No. 1) without any problems.
TikiVillas does not offer full restaurant service, so the kitchenettes are a thoughtful option; but, for non-cooks, the lodge has an arrangement with chef Marcelo Sauda of nearby Italian restaurant Mamma e Papa. Guests may choose from the menu included in each room’s welcome folder, and very reasonably priced meals are delivered within 30 minutes (salads and appetizers from $5, pasta and pizza from $7). You can eat either in your villa, or, as many do, enjoy an intimate candlelit table by the pool with wines from the bar.
In the morning, breakfast – included in the room rate – is a feast of juice, fresh fruits, full-cooked meal or pancakes and coffee or tea on tap.
TikiVillas sits lightly on its grounds. Coulson decided against cutting construction platforms into the hillside, so the three lower villas, though accessed at ground level in the back, extend out on huge pillars, with a 30-foot drop from the balcony. (Another reason to leave the babies at home!) Apart from some informal gardens with older trees left intact, the property consists of grow-back secondary forest from former horse pastures. A trail leads through thick undergrowth to the boundary river, which has places to swim, and from there it is a few minutes’ walk over the Costanera Highway to the endless brown sands at Playa Hermosa. The information-packed room folder warns guests that this is a serious surfing beach with rip currents, and provides a list of other spectacular beaches – for which the area is rightly famous – a short drive away.
The now excellent, fully paved coastal highway and the area’s uncrowded shores have led some guests to choose TikiVillas over more established tourist destinations such as Manuel Antonio, less than an hour’s drive to the north. With a beguiling mix of attentive, personal service and friendliness, tasteful and comfortable accommodations in magnificent natural surroundings, and emphasis on laid-back relaxation, TikiVillas is a real find.
TikiVillas Rainforest Lodge is about 3.5 to 4 hours’ drive from San José via Jacó on the new Caldera and Costanera highways. The hotel turnoff is just beyond the Km 155 road sign on the left, 12 km south of Dominical. Domestic airlines Nature Air (www.natureair.com) and Sansa (www.flysansa.com) offer flights to Quepos or Palmar Sur, from which you can take a 4x4 taxi. Tracopa buses from San José to Paso Canoas via Uvita pass in front of the hotel turnoff.
Rates are $124.30 or $135.60 with air conditioning, including breakfast and welcome cocktail. Payment is online through PayPal or in cash.
For information and reservations, visit www.tikivillas.com, email email@example.com or call (307) 459-0684 (U.S. IP phone as there are no landlines in the area).