In the old days people bought houses to live in. Now, in Costa Rica at least, they buy – or build – them overlooking the sea, a golf course or the Central Valley and leave them empty until they’re worth a bit more before selling them, or temperatures drop below zero in North America or wherever, or they get rich enough to retire and move here permanently.
The good thing, unless you are a Costa Rican priced out of the market, a conservationist worried about superfluous construction, or a hotel owner, is that Costa Rica is full of choice villas and rustic hideaways that can be rented by the week – occasionally by the day – offering escape, privacy and sometimes maid service, chefs and other cheering luxuries.
Hundreds of stand-alone villas, cabins and resort condos are available across the country at rental prices ranging from a bargain $100 per green-season week to $50,000 over Christmas at the Nicoya Peninsula’s Tango Mar, which is up there price-wise with Musha Cay and Necker Island, but I guess you save on the flight.
While many rentals are hidden gems advertised by word of mouth or on the notice board of a local pulpería, many are run by rental management companies – as at Los Sueños, on the central Pacific coast, or Hacienda Pinilla or Reserva Conchal, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste –or are listed on vacation rental mega-sites online. Try www.greatrentals.com and www.vrbo.com, where details are posted by owners; or www.unusualvillarentals.com and Manuel Antonio-based www.villascostarica.com, where bookings are handled by agents.
Here are some ideas to get you going.
Costa Rica’s boutique-hotel capital, the Central Pacific’s Manuel Antonio now offers the same amount of accommodation in the form of villas, most set on their own grounds.
Take Don’s, a three-bedroom, three-bath, air-conditioned beach house, 10 minutes on foot from the park and smack in the middle of the “monkey corridor,” embellished with arty touches, an African lodge-style master bedroom, an extra-large infinity pool and, unusual for the area, a row of Easter Island-style Moai statues. Well, why not? Cost: $4,900 a week during high season.
Contact Don at 335-5792 or visit www.greatrentals.com.
Manuel Antonio-based booking agency Escape Villas (www.villascostarica.com) might also be a good place to look. It offers a wide selection both here and elsewhere, particularly the NicoyaPeninsula, most but not all falling into the “dream house for a large, rich family” category. For inquiries, call 777-5258.
Manuel Antonio Estates is a cluster of million-dollar properties named for birds and set amongst foliage, creeks and hiking trails, on a hillside overlooking the DamasIslands and within walking distance from Quepos.
The villas have a nice, tropical feel with Jacuzzis, pools and ocean views. Visitors also benefit from established community perks such as the Asian-style Raindrop Spa offering Swedish massage and the appetizingsounding “Choco Therapy.”
Developer Richard Lemire has kept in step with changing times, moving here from Vancouver in 1991 to build and run Hotel California, then after nine years switching to create this residential project offering managed rentals and looking to add a condo project next year. There are eight villas priced at $2,100 a week to $4,900 a week (seven-bedroom, eight-bath), plus a chalet for $950 a week – the only unit without a pool. For information, call 777-3339 or visit www.manuelantoniocostarica.com.
A 600-acre property on the shores of Bahía Herradura, north of Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast, Los Sueños Resort and Marina is a pioneer in villa rentals. Self-catering does seem a lot more fun when you know you have eight decent bars and restaurants, a golf course, company for the kids and the amenities of a Marriott hotel a short golf-cart trundle away. A range of accommodations is on offer, from condo apartments grouped convivially around shared pools to private houses tucked away higher up the hill.
Personally, I’m putting my colones aside for a week or two at the newly refurbished Casa Mono Loco, with its rancho-style living space and infinity pool with sea views. Cost: $1,000-1,500 per night, depending on the season. Most rental rates at Los Sueños include 24/7 security and concierge service, daily maid service and access to a two-acre owners’ Beach Club. Helicopter transfer from San José is available on request. Formore information, call 637-7111 or visit www.stayincostarica.com/monoloco.
Though plenty of villas and estates are tucked away in the hills in the northwestern province, since the building boom Guanacaste has become the place for full-service villas inside immaculately maintained, self-contained worlds.
Rent a villa at Reserva Conchal, just south of Flamingo on the northern Pacific coast, and you get the added benefit of 930 hectares of grounds, a Robert Trent Jones golf course and the topnotch, well-established resort hotel with its record-breakingsize pool and seven restaurants, as well as access to the best stretch of beach around, which, unless you are staying here, is not particularly easy. Highly swish apartments go for green-season weekly rates ranging from $1,995 (one-bedroom) to $3,870 (three-bedroom penthouse).
Aside from the small but lovely Posada del Sol hotel, the development at Hacienda Pinilla has gone the other way, with a mushrooming of private residential properties first, and hotels (like the JW Marriott under construction) due to follow. The extraordinary 4,900-acre estate outside Tamarindo has stables, golf course, wooded bits and access to seven kilometers of white-sand beach, i.e. Playa Langosta.
Many of the houses in this chunk of big-sky cowboy country are breathtakingly opulent, but there’s something for every budget.
The well-furnished and -equipped two-story Palma Real villas close to Bonita and Mansita beaches come in clusters of six with shared pool, while on the beach there are three affordable, traditional-style houses with verandas and rockers and incomparable views, designed for lazy breaks with a bunch of friends.
The cost of these varies from $400-600 per person a week in the Matapalo to $275-375 per person a week in the Farolindo, which sleeps six at a push. For details and prices for other properties, contact 680-7060 or visit www.haciendapinilla.com.
For something more kickback-rustic, try www.malpais-beach-rentals.com, which features the kind of properties anyone who has ever had a dull desk job will recognize from their dreams.
A smattering of cabins and tree houses is offered at the budget end, in addition to some mighty tempting luxury options, such as the fully staffed Villa Montezuma Hills, perched above the sea on 18 hectares of garden and done up Mexican-style with pool and plentiful lounging areas. Cost: from $1,000 per day, up to 10 people ($100 per day for additional guests), minimum five nights.
There’s less of a love-’em-and-leave-’em attitude to houses in the Arenal area, in north-central Costa Rica, but a search on www.vrbo.com (Villa Rental by Owner) brings up a dozen or so sizeable properties close to the lake.
Over on www.greatrentals.com, Ryan Lubbers has listed his two-bedroom house, a lovely place with porches and hammocks, toucans, parrots, hummingbirds and murals.
It has the double advantage of being both remote and private, and within walking distance from Chachagua Rainforest Hotel, where renters can go for food, help, laundry services, massages or to use the pool or take a tour. Cost: from $90 per night. For info, call Ryan in the United States at (920) 912-3443.
Renting a cabin or house on stilts hidden in a lush garden behind a hibiscus hedge has always been an easy option on the southern Caribbean coast. Now a bike ride down the sandy, rutted lane from Puerto Viejo to the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge reveals more choice than ever, and, thankfully, almost all the newer additions keep the simple, rustic, totally tropical spirit of the place intact – i.e., no North American standard condos.
How about a beautifully crafted, two-bedroom, two-story wooden house surrounded by jungle with a veranda looking out onto the Río Negra and flashy-looking birds swooping in and out (unless you close the shutters)? Cost: $800 per week. For info, call Pat in the United States at (941) 383-5080 (www.greatrentals.com).
For something a little different, how about the two-bedroom Tree House, one of four arty-crafty, luxuriously odd properties spaced out on a 10-acre pocket of steamy bliss belonging to the Green Iguana Foundation, right inside the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge? It’s surprisingly well equipped for a tree, with two-stories, an air-conditioned room, kitchen, loafing space and shower room built into the buttress roots.
This is the greenest of choices; not only is it made from salvaged hardwoods dragged from the forest by oxen, but profits go to the iguanas that skitter all around it. Cost: $225 per night or $1,350 per week (two people); $385 per night or $2,310 per week (six people).
For information, call 750-0706 or visit www.costaricatreehouse.com.
Caribe Sur Real Estate (www.caribesurrealestate.com) lists a number of places in the area (with rates starting at $25 per day), including the Tree House and old favorites such as Cashew Hill Cottages.
For real hideaways around Cabo Matapalo, on the southernmost Pacific coast, start by sifting through the selection at www.soldeosa.com/matapalo.htm. Given the scarcity of AutoMercados and CIMAHospitals, some of the best rental options on the Osa sit next to a lodge.
Top of the list has to be the fully equipped rental houses at Bosque del Cabo. Noise and crowding are hardly a problem at this idyllic reserve, but the private houses make perfect retreats. There’s a two-bedroom with wrap around porch overlooking the Pacific, Casa Miramar made up of three casitas and a whole series of porches and observation decks, and more cabinas in the TropicalGarden accessed via a 300-foot suspension bridge over a rain-forest gorge. This is utter wilderness with plenty of trails and beach to explore alone, but with maid service, great company and tours and activities when required.
Casas cost $1,700 and $2,150 weekly during the green season (also available by the night); TropicalGarden cabins cost from $140 per night. Food packages available on request. For information, call 735-5206 or visit www.bosquedelcabo.com.
Villa Rentals on the Web
Literally hundreds of Web sites list vacation rentals, but start with these: www.greatrentals.com – Global, easy to search by area and special requirements such as wheelchair access, child-friendly, etc. Availability displayed.
Bookings are made directly with the owner.
www.vrbo.com – Global, slightly anarchic, good selection but not all listed with images. Bookings made directly with owners.
www.unusualvillasrentals.com – Global, easy to search. The most unusual thing about many of the villas listed is the price.
www.malpais-beach-rentals.com – Comes with comprehensive information on the Malpaís area.
www.villascostarica.com (aka Escape Villas) –Agency based in Manuel Antonio but managing properties from Flamingo to Dominical, plus a few in the Central Valley, and offering green-season discounts and tours.
www.caribesur-realestate.com – Agency for Puerto Viejo and environs.