It may sound old-fashioned, even quaint, for a spa director in the time of collagen, but Ruth López of Harmony Spa continues to believe that true beauty comes from within. While spas around Costa Rica turn toward Botox and other semi-invasive measures hoping to ride the rising wave of the medical tourism industry here, López insists, “If you are beautiful inside, you are beautiful outside.”
López, who claims to be 47 but could pass for much younger, radiates this idea of beauty in everything from her genuine warmth and gentle manner to her gorgeous silk Chinese-print dress. She exudes grace as she welcomes visitors to taste a bubbly fruit drink at Harmony Spa, on the grounds of Corteza Amarilla Art Lodge and Spa (TT, July 14, 2006), between Santa Ana and Ciudad Colón, southwest of San José.
The spa has been open to hotel guests for more than a year, but opened to the public just a few months ago. Tucked away in a corner of the property near a large aviary full of colorful cockatiels and parakeets that chirp and twitter cheerfully, the area seems ideal for relaxation.
Harmony Spa is the newest endeavor for López, founder of the HarmonyCenter, which also includes a location in the western San José suburb of Escazú and a consultancy service for new spas opening throughout Latin America. Over the years, she has run numerous spas in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, but gave them up to quiet down and focus on her personal practice. But when friend and longtime hotel manager Jorge Salgado decided to open Corteza Amarilla, López agreed to oversee the spa.
A vibrant mural painted by area artist Rodolfo Vicente adorns the outside walls of the massage rooms. Inside, delicate Asianstyle paintings in black and white adorn the walls of the rooms that are otherwise minimally decorated.
Treatments offered include 10 types of massage, from basic relaxation to Indian head massage, facials, body wraps and scrubs. The focus is on holistic treatments with all natural products. López even designs her own essential oil blends, each with a unique and delicate scent.
Special offers include spa parties that can be arranged for groups of two to 10 people. The party includes fruit beverages, gourmet appetizers, a dip in the Jacuzzi and a choice of massage or other treatment. Spa parties can be customized to clients’ preferences, though López says the most popular is the 60-minute anti-stress massage.
Spa holiday programs can be arranged for tourists, including eight nights of lodging, six spa services and five tours of popular Costa Rican attractions.
But beyond the personalized service and holistic philosophy, what makes Harmony Spa stand out from the plethora of other spas in the country is López and her deep commitment to her clients’ well-being.
López’s career began more than 20 years ago with a medical degree in her native Ecuador. Personal interest drew her into studying alternative medicines and eventually to China, where she studied traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. She furthered her studies at institutes in the United States and France.
López founded the Harmony Center 13 years ago, and today her two daughters, Daniela, 25, and Victoria, 20, both help out with the business.
At first, her interest in alternative medicine was simply personal, and she resisted working with patients. But now, she says, “I’ve had a realization that this is the best thing I do. And the patients tell me, ‘You’re so good,’ and now I accept it.”
In addition to the typical spa treatments mentioned above, López also offers holistic consultations, acupuncture, energetic balancing and color-puncture (acupuncture with colored crystals for deep relaxation).
Energetic balancing is a combination of massage, acupuncture and qi gong, a type of exercise that balances the energy of the body.
The goal is to treat the patient as a whole and to help teach him or her about energy channels and how to keep them in balance.
The one concession López has made to the youth-obsessed spa culture is a “non-surgical face lift.” The one-hour facial is designed to naturally firm the skin and reduce fine lines without any drastic measures. But, she stresses, “We try to feel and look better, but the most important thing is that you’re happy – to maintain harmony in all the senses, both internal and external.”
Between her two locations and the consultancy business, López often finds herself in demand.When asked about time off for herself, she explains that she gets to go to Argentina, Guatemala and Chile to oversee the openings of other spas. But she says she always misses Costa Rica, especially the lush greenness of the country.
“Costa Rica is a place where I can be who I am, develop who I want to be. I’m a lucky person here,” she says.
Perhaps, with a little help from López, others will find their luck here, too.
Rates and Information
Harmony Spa at Corteza Amarilla Art Lodge and Spa is five kilometers west of the Forum in Santa Ana, on the right-hand side of the road.
Spa services include anti-stress massage, $65; Indian head massage, $40; and holistic consultation, $60, for one hour. Call for consultations regarding acupuncture and energetic balancing.
Spa parties cost $60 per hour, per person; large group rates and specialized packages are also available.
For information, call 288-4658 or check out www.harmonycenters.com.