About midday, an obviously pregnant deer cruises out of the jungle, past the pool and toward the restaurant and television area of La Posada Private Jungle Bungalows in Manuel Antonio, on the central Pacific coast.
In some places, this might be viewed as an intrusion, but at this hotel, Bambi, as she is called, is as much a part of the hotel as the pizza kitchen, comfortable, clean rooms and Thursday night movie sessions.
Petting the deer, which is fond of licking friendly humans, is one of the benefits of staying on a property that borders ManuelAntonioNational Park. Monkeys, sloths, basilisks and iguanas also stumble onto the grounds frequently, but amazingly the rooms are insect-free.
“We are at the park,” said Mike Auvil, owner of La Posada. “The main thing is the visits from all of the animals.”
While up-close time with animals is certainly a draw, it is the spirit of the hotel that leaves a lasting impression. Auvil, 50, from Tampa, Florida, is no lifelong hotelier, and that may be the most refreshing part of the equation.
“I’m alone,” Auvil said. “I’m not a corporation. I don’t need to make an extra $5,000 a year by serving a continental breakfast.”
That is the type of thinking that characterizes Auvil’s approach. And this reporter will vouch for the breakfast choices and quality product the kitchen team puts together. Guests choose from eggs, a variety of breakfast meats, yogurt, cereal, gallo pinto and more.
And don’t forget the aforementioned pizza. “The pizza is 90 percent for the guests. But the locals know we have good pizza,” Auvil said.
It was a strange journey for Auvil, who came to Costa Rica as a tourist following health problems and decided to stay.
“It was strictly a vacation with high school buddies,” Auvil said. “I thought, ‘This is just like middle America in the 1950s’ … the wholesomeness and the high school uniforms.”
A combination of common sense, listening and past experience are Auvil’s guides through his venture.
“I’m an American who traveled for 20 years,” Auvil said. “I know you need a comfortable bed and an air conditioner. I’ve just listened to people as they came. That’s how I got everything.”
Auvil does his best to show his guests the most flattering sides of his adopted home. For guests searching for a good night of live music, Auvil, an aficionado, definitely knows which club is hopping that night.
“How would (the guests) know that (jazz and soul artist) Fuzzy Rojas sings every Monday at El Gato Negro?” Auvil pondered. “They’ll be like, ‘Thank you, that was our best night out in the country.’”
A family with finicky kids needs a restaurant recommendation? No problem. If they like bowling, he makes sure his staff takes them out for a night of fun at the lanes. If they need a tour, he points them in the right direction and splits his commission with them. As a result, his guests return again and again.
“My goal for the guests is to give them the best deal possible,” Auvil said. “I’m not going to make any money on it … but I want to get them the best tours, the best guides, at the best price.”
One gets the sense that Auvil sees everyone as a potential friend. It starts with his employees, whom he views as part family, part staff.
“The staff is mentioned by name on Trip-Advisor,” Auvil said, referring to the popular travel Web site where, incidentally, La Posada is currently the No. 1 listed hotel for Manuel Antonio. “I’ve got two families working for me. I don’t have any family here, so they’re kind of like family.”
The guests get the same treatment. He has developed relationships far exceeding that of guest to owner with several of his regulars. He even attended one frequent visitor’s high school graduation.
“They were my first guests here, my very first week,” Auvil said. “Dave is helping me out; he’s a contractor in Indiana. He was walking around with a clipboard, telling me, ‘You need this.’
“I get e-mails all the time. (Dave’s daughter) Olivia was like, ‘You have to come to my high school graduation.’”
The beach is a five-minute walk down the road, and for those who are not looking to be knee-deep in tourists, it is a part of the beach that is more popular among locals than visitors.
The pool, though small, offers guests the option of a post-beach dip, and the lounge chairs are perfect for the tanning crowd.
The hotel offers a series of different rooms, ranging in size from the two-guest Posada Room to the six-guest Casa. In the more basic rooms, the amenities are limited to comfortable beds, air conditioning, cable television and a comfortable bathroom and hot-water shower. In the more luxurious several-bedroom house, guests have access to a living room with big-screen television, kitchen, hammock-strung balcony and personal bar.
Don’t expect this small hotel to expand; Auvil is happy with what he has. “I came down here to semi-retire,” Auvil said. “I’m perfectly content. I will put (the house) up against any room in Manuel Antonio at the same price range.”
So if you are in Manuel Antonio and are looking for an instant friend base, both within the local and expat communities and with Bambi and other fauna, La Posada may be the spot for you.
“We get people who want to do the communal thing,” Auvil said. “They make friends.”
Getting There, Rates, Info
From the port town of Quepos, take the road to Manuel Antonio all the way to the beach. Turn left at Restaurant Marlin, go 100 meters to Hotel Villabosque and then go right. La Posada is at the end of the road on the left, next to the exit of the national park.
Rooms range in price from $100 to $225 per night during high season (Dec. 16 to April 30) and from $50 to $150 during low season (May 1 to Dec. 15).
For information and reservations, call 2777-1446 or visit www.laposadajungle.com