The Mar y Selva Ecolodge is a gem. Approximately 30 kilometers south of Dominical on the southern Pacific coast, the hotel is within relatively easy reach of civilization, but it feels isolated, nestled in pristine jungle with the Pacific just visible through the treetops. Howler monkeys screech on the hill above, cicadas chirp with reassuring constancy and the lush vegetation rustles in the cooling sea breeze.
Here, nature is king.And the brilliant thing about the hotel is that it recognizes this fact. That is not to say that the hotel is basic; it certainly is not. Television, air-conditioning, Internet access – all the services you could want are here. There is even space and equipment for conferences.
However, owner and manager Martha Desrosiers, 63, knows the beautiful setting is the main draw. As such, she has allowed the hotel to blend in with and complement the environment rather than try to force the hotel into being the center of attention. The result is a comfortable, homey, welcoming hotel that is completely unpretentious.
Born in Ecuador, Desrosiers worked as a nurse practitioner in Washington, D.C., before packing it in to open Mar y Selva. Husband Jim grew up in Costa Rica, and the pair, who have been married 31 years, hit upon the idea of moving to the country following a holiday here in 2005.
“I had never seen a happier man in all my life,” Desrosiers said. “So I was like, ‘Why are we burning ourselves out in Washington, D.C., when we are so happy here?’”
Desrosiers, who speaks French as well as English and Spanish, added jokingly that the idea of running a hotel appealed to her as the couple had never stayed in a hotel they liked.
She was, however, quite serious when she said, “I knew I could do it better.”
Her actions measure up to her words. The couple staked a lot on the move and, to ensure its success, Desrosiers even went back to college to obtain a degree in hotel and restaurant management.
Furthermore, she is now secretary to the board of the local Costa Ballena Tourism Chamber, meaning that not only is she highly knowledgeable about the area, but she is also committed to maintaining its unique charms.
Though the hotel opened just last month, it already feels quite settled and established. This is partly because, as Desrosiers said, “it was a niche that needed to be filled because there is nobody else like me in this whole area.” However, it is also to a large extent a result of the fantastic family atmosphere created by the staff.
Desrosiers’ employee handbook states that a primary requirement to work for her is “ser alegre,” or “to be a happy person.” Everyone here is very willing to help and quick to smile.
Another requirement for staff is to have a “conciencia ecológica,” or “environmental awareness,” and the lodge has some impressive green credentials.
For starters, as many trees as possible were left in place during construction, protecting the environment and adding to the feeling of an authentic jungle setting. All 10 bungalows have their own septic tank, the hotel’s water systems work on demand, meaning energy is not wasted by storing hot water, and everything is recycled. There are water-saving showers in the bathrooms and electricitysaving bulbs in the lights, and the complimentary shampoo and conditioner is organic and biodegradable. The lodge does not even use soap in the washing, but rather LaundryPure, a hi-tech alternative that sterilizes laundry. Installing solar power and joining a carbon-offset program are planned for the future.
Even the flashlights to help you get around in the dark are environmentally friendly, powered by dynamo rather than batteries.
The sustainable outlook of the hotel extends to people as well as the environment.
“I am catering to your more healthminded folks,” Desrosiers said. “People who not only don’t want to contaminate the environment but also don’t want to contaminate themselves.”
To that end, almost all the food is organic and whole-grain, and some, including the cilantro for the gallo pinto, is homegrown.
Guests can enjoy physical activities, such as walking, surfing, kayaking and mountain biking. A huge, 25-meter-long lap pool, unique in the area, is perfect for guests looking to relax while also suitable as a training venue for competitive swimmers and athletes. Visitors can also de-stress with yoga or a massage.
The rooms are spacious, airy and spotlessly clean, with plain walls setting off the attractive throws on the bed and large windows showcasing the natural surroundings.
The bathrooms are well proportioned, with large tubs to relax in. The hotel is handicapped-accessible and no smoking is permitted anywhere on the grounds.
“I want people to enjoy and relax but experience adventure at the same time,” Desrosiers said. “You have so many things to do here that are exciting, but you can be pampered as well.”
Given its location on the so-called “Costa Ballena,” or “WhaleCoast,” it is unsurprising that another attraction is whale and dolphin watching.Migrating whales from both South and North America are common in the area.
The hotel can organize boat tours to see the animals up close, or telescopes can help you spot them from the safety of the main house.
The diminutive but tireless Desrosiers said she loves her job.
“I enjoy what I do; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t do it all day,” she said. “I get people from different walks of life, different parts of the world, who are here for different reasons, and it’s nice to be able to pop into their lives to help out and know that you have made some kind of a difference.”
Though she starts each day at 6 a.m. with English classes for her staff, Desrosiers said she doesn’t mind the workload.
“I am a mother of five, so really this is nothing,” she said with a smile.
Location, Rates, Info
Mar y Selva Ecolodge is located 29 kilometers south of Dominical, just past the Kilometer 170 marker on theCostanera Highway
Bungalows are priced from $85 per night plus tax in the low season and from $95 per night plus tax in the high season. Prices include breakfast and are based on two people sharing. Interconnecting bungalows are available for families. Discounts are available for large groups and returning clients. Transport can be arranged for an additional charge.
For information and reservations, call 786-5670 or visit www.maryselva.com.