The erstwhile fishing community of Montezuma, on the southern tip of the NicoyaPeninsula, is reached by a steep, coiled snake of a road from the area’s main town, Cóbano. It, in turn, sits rather smugly, if dustily, at the upland crossroads linking several area beach communities and the Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve at the peninsula’s tip. From Cóbano, the nearby airstrip at Tambor and ferry service at Paquera are an easy drive.
Ah, Montezuma! This beachside town positively hums with cool, bohemian vibes and youth. Dreads are the coiffure du jour, and the street boutiques proffer batiks, beads, reggae and organic ice cream.
On a recent visit, I was part of the Birding Club of Costa Rica’s monthly outing. Apart from the young set doing its thing, and some awesome waterfalls – one with an iffy reputation for annihilating reckless divers – the area is famed for its excellent birding opportunities and fabulous beaches backed by dense forest. But as our group’s bus ground its gears down the drop into the cramped main street, where the beach sand sweeps into the shore-side restaurants and stores, it seemed we upped the average age of the population by a decade at least.
Don’t be put off, though. It’s a friendly, vibrant place, and a cone of organic ginger and coconut ice cream is almost worth a visit in itself. The community boasts some commendable eateries, especially for seafood lovers, and a wide range of places to stay, from the inevitable cold-water cabins to high-end luxury.
Our choice was Nature Lodge Finca Los Caballos, recommended by our guide, Robert Dean, acclaimed illustrator of the recently released “Birds of Costa Rica” (TT, June 22, 2007).
The lodge lies four kilometers south of Cóbano, just as the tarmac road turns to gravel, but stops short of the nail-biting drop into Montezuma. Its clever placing means guests are near the bustle and beat of town, yet cocooned in lush, quiet serenity.
The ocean glistens invitingly over the trees to remind you it’s not so far to reach the waves, and at about 200 meters elevation, cooling onshore breezes keep temperatures comfortable.
The arrival of 16 binocular-toting birders with a tendency to wander off did not phase lodge owner Christian Klein, who, along with hotel mutts Yassko and Roxie, greeted us warmly and had us quickly and efficiently installed in the 12 jungle- or garden-view units that make up the lodge’s accommodations.
These are split into three standard garden- view rooms near the reception area, five jungle-view rooms with private terrace, and four superior Pacific suites, the lower two enjoying a huge private deck area and additional outside shower.
All rooms are simply but tastefully decorated with warm coral-stone floors in the grotto-like bathrooms, exotic wood finishes, fridge and compelling stone-based, snakeneck bedside lights that invite lots of twisting to achieve the best light mood. And – thank you – the connecting walls are thick enough to avoid eavesdropping on neighbors’ conversations.
With so much rampant surrounding vegetation, it would be easy to feel closed in. The open restaurant and social area solve that, however, along with an adjoining, spacious teak deck overlooking an open valley, perfect for alfresco dining and armchair birding, while the view from the small, free-form pool stretches down toward the Pacific and some resplendent sunsets.
The original raison d’être of Finca Los Caballos (Horse Ranch) lies in its name. The priority here used to be the stables, a venture started years back by champion horsewoman Barbara McGregor of Canada, who built a reputation for quality mounts and tours to suit all levels of competence. Her death left Finca Los Caballos up for sale, and it was taken on by German-born Christian Klein, who, unimpressed with San José when he landed in Costa Rica on New Year’s Eve three years ago, decided to look for a small hotel project farther afield.
Klein, 47, left Munich and a career in social work with an idea to open a quality boutique hotel. Finca Los Caballos had the potential he sought, though he freely admits he knew little then about horses or equestrian tours.
With a keen Teutonic eye for detail and quality, Klein completely refurbished the rooms and kitchen, and in three years has become quite an expert in things equine.
“I rely on my stable hand Minor Céspedes,” Klein acknowledges. “But the vet comes in regularly, and we have some of the best horses in the area. My tours are not the cheapest, but our mounts are well cared for and we can cater to all levels of experience.”
Klein’s commitment can be seen in the brand-new stable block – which, by the way, enjoys even better views than the hotel – for eight horses. The tack is immaculate, and both horse and rider benefit from the lightweight, synthetic Western trail saddles.
Without touting the cliché-ridden “eco” theme, Klein is quietly creating environmentally friendly and sustainable infrastructure.
The newly completed black-water treatment plant is a three-chamber filter system that can produce water clean enough to irrigate the gardens or return to the river. Air conditioning does not feature in the rooms.
“It’s not what I’m trying to promote here,” Klein says. “It’s unnatural, and anyway, most of the time, you just don’t need it here.”
Fresh air and exercise make appetites keen, and the kitchen at Finca Los Caballos does not disappoint. Buffet-style breakfasts, included in the room rates, are served on an impressive antique Indian door-turned-table with fresh fruit, juice, cheese and tasty home-baked bread, as well as a daily special that might be typical gallo pinto or sinful chocolate sauce-draped pancakes. Because most guests are out during the day, the lunch menu is small, but, as with the dinner choices, the emphasis is on what’s fresh and available locally, so the menu can change daily.
Being a sizeable group, we were asked the previous day to choose from a couple of options for lunch and dinner. The consensus was a definite thumbs up for the seafood rice, marlin en papillote with olives and spices, and the chicken in orange sauce.
Non-guests can dine at the restaurant with reservations.
The service and atmosphere here are relaxed and relaxing. You can hike, bird and ride all you want; many don’t venture farther than the poolside deck or a ramble through the grounds. It may be warm here, but it’s a great place to chill out.
Getting There, Rates, Info
Montezuma can be reached via car/bus and ferry from the Pacific port city of Puntarenas to Paquera (Naviera Tambor, 661-2084, or Ferry Peninsular, 641-0515, foot passenger $1, car $11, one-way).
Buses meet the ferry in Paquera for Cóbano and
Montezuma ($2), or there is a daily direct bus service from San José (Transportes Rodríguez, 642-0219, $10 including ferry).
By air, fly into Tambor with Nature Air (299-6000) or Sansa (223-4179); the 30-minute flight costs about $75 one-way. The lodge can arrange a taxi for about $30 one-way for the 20-kilometer drive.
Access to Montezuma from Finca Los Caballos is a 40-minute walk, a flexibly timetabled local bus, or taxi arranged through the lodge.
Rates for double occupancy range from $100 for a standard room to $160 for a superior Pacific suite, including taxes and breakfast. Guided horseback tours cost $20 per hour.
For information, call 642-0124, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.naturelodge.net.