TUCKED away in the hills outside the little town ofUvita, on the southern Pacific coast, a gravel road winds itsway up to the elegant, four-star Whales and DolphinsEcolodge. Surrounded by rain forest with fantastic ocean-views, the hotel is an oasis of tranquility.Overlooking Ballena Marine National Park, this luxuryresort focuses on one of Costa Rica’s natural wonders – itsmarine life. Resident dolphins abound, and humpbackwhales from North and South America come to this area tobreed and give birth, arriving in late July and August, andDecember through April.“We didn’t want this to be just another rain-forestlodge,” said Milagros Gómez de la Fuente, joint managerof the hotel with her husband Marcelo Beccaceci. “Wewanted to focus on the marine wildlife, which is veryimportant here,” she said.The Argentinean couple has created an atmosphere ofpeace and serenity. Classical music drifts out from therestaurant, amid the occasional squawk of toucans andbirds or the early-morning chatter of white-faced capuchinmonkeys.GUESTS can relax in the infinity pool or sip cocktailsby the bar while the breathtaking sunsets reflect their crimsoncolors on the calm ocean.“The focus is on wildlife and relaxation,” Beccacecisaid. “It’s a great place to stop onyour way to or from CorcovadoNational Park.” Whales and Dolphinsoffers tours to Corcovado NationalPark on the Osa Peninsula, one ofCosta Rica’s southernmost points,famous for its untouched naturalbeauty.The hotel also offers dolphin- andwhale-watching tours led by knowledgeableguides. Beccaceci himselfhas a wealth of knowledge, havingstudied whales in South America formany years.Ballena Island, 20 minutes awayby boat, is surrounded by clear waterfor snorkeling or kayaking. Visitors can also dive off CañoIsland Biological Reserve, or explore its mangrove swampsto spot monkeys, crocodiles and snakes.The area is a birdwatcher’s paradise, and the nearbyOro Verde private nature reserve offers hundreds of acresof primary and secondary tropical lowland rain forest forbirdwatching, hiking and horseback riding. The hotel canalso arrange tree-climbing, zip-line and canopy tours forthose seeking more adrenaline-fueled activities. In addition,a surf school is available in Uvita.All surrounding beaches have been awarded the CostaRican Tourism Institute’s Blue Flag for environmentalquality, guaranteeing cleanliness, clean water and goodconditions. The beaches stretch for miles; though they arepopular with Costa Rican families, it isn’t hard to find personalspace to languidly watch low-flying pelicans whilefloating in the sea or soaking up the sun’s rays. The beacheswithin Ballena National Park are also important nestinggrounds for olive ridley and hawksbill sea turtles.ALL 20 of the hotel’s rooms have ocean views and balconies– perfect for relaxing with a book and taking in theview. The airy, pleasant rooms come equipped with privatebathrooms including biodegradable toiletries, satellite television,mini-bar and air-conditioning. Sixteen standardrooms and four suites are available, some with facilities forthe handicapped.The restaurant serves international cuisine with anemphasis on Italian and Argentineanfood, such as typical Argentineanstylebeef, fresh fish and seafood, andrich desserts, including a mouthwateringchocolate tart with cognac perfumeand bitter orange jam.The hotel also has a children’spool and a gift shop selling handmadeitems from the Boruca Indians.“Travelers are searching for newdestinations,” Beccaceci said. “Thisarea is wonderful because it’s undevelopedand off the beaten track.Guests come here to explore, and wecan offer the infrastructure for themto do so.”Getting to the hotel is simple; the nearest airport isPalmar Sur, served by both Nature Air and Sansa airways,an hour’s flight from San José. Alternatively, the hotel is afour-hour drive from the capital. Prices for this secludedgetaway and naturalist’s paradise start at $120 for a doubleroom, including taxes and buffet breakfast. Rates vary duringhigh and low seasons. For more info, call 743-8150.