Tucked in the folds of Tenorio Volcano in the northwestern province of Guanacaste lies a hidden gem of Costa Rica: the impossibly blue Río Celeste, an as yet little-known attraction that belongs on Central America’s list of natural wonders.
And the new boutique hotel Río Celeste Hideaway gives visitors a chance to experience it in style.
The brainchild of Angelo Zaragovia, an associate at Arenal Volcano’s celebrated Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, the 26-room Hideaway sits in a lush 34-hectare property abutting Tenorio Volcano National Park, home to the Río Celeste.
“With this hotel, we open the river as a tourist destination,” said Frazer Blanco, the hotel’s reception manager, who, like most of the staff, came from top hotels in the tourism-rich Arenal Volcano area to work at the Hideaway. “But there was a risk in investing here. There was no tourism market. We have to create it.”
Directed more at couples than at families, the hotel’s decor and layout is meant to create an environment of romance, Blanco explained.
“We hope people will see this as a place to come and relax,” he said.
Each room is its own private casita, with an outdoor shower and an expansive deck from which you may spot monkeys, sloths and dozens of bird species. In one half-day, biologists spotted 70 animal species around the Hideaway property, Blanco said.
The rooms are done in warm, tropical colors, with masks and mirrors adorning the walls and Guatemalan fabrics decorating the beds.
The casitas surround a central pool lined with a series of small stones in all shades of blue and rimmed with an ergonomic bench, with a pool bar to one side serving a variety of drinks. Three cedar hot tubs are arranged around the pool; at night, they are lit by a soothing red light that contrasts against the cool blue of the pool.
The impressive dining hall, which seats 80 guests, is housed in the same open-air complex as the lounge and reception area. In the center of the vast room lies a small garden of fern-like plants with a moat containing fish of all sizes and colors. Indeed, colors play a big part in the room’s ambience: The floor is a medley of browns, with wood imported from Brazil, the furniture is constructed with dark brown woods from China and Indonesia, and the chairs are adorned with cushions of Río Celeste blue. Red, yellow, blue and green lights encased in conical-shaped baskets dangle from the ceiling. The overall result is a delightfully aesthetic dining area, especially at night, when the lights cast color and reflections about the restaurant.
The Kantala Restaurant serves three excellent meals a day. Breakfast, included in the room rate, is served as a buffet when the hotel is near capacity, but otherwise is à la carte, with choices including traditional Costa Rican gallo pinto, French toast, crepes and pancakes, complemented by fruit and mouthwatering cinnamon rolls.
The dinners are carefully presented and fairly priced, considering the long trek to bring in fresh food. We began our meal with the salmon carpaccio ($10), a bit on the salty side but well textured with shaved Parmesan and capers. Main plates are decidedly international, with creative combinations including jalapeño tenderloin, tenderloin served in coffee sauce, chicken fillet in tropical fruit dressing and Caribbean rice (all $16). We chose the tilapia dressed in a lightly whipped passion fruit sauce over a medley of tender vegetables, and the Kantala special, meat fajitas seasoned with onion, red peppers and tomatoes. Artfully prepared strawberry crepes sprinkled with shaved almonds topped off our meal ($5).
While the great food, inviting gardens and exceedingly comfortable rooms may make it difficult to leave the hotel, the real draw to the area is the 12,800-hectare Tenorio Volcano National Park and its blue jewel, the Río Celeste. It’s worth devoting a whole morning or day to take in the picture-perfect cerulean waterfall, watch the Buena Vista and Robles rivers converge and mix to form
the Río Celeste’s ethereal blue, and soak in the natural hot spring pool alongside the flora-fringed river. Though the park has plenty of signage, it can be empty during parts of the year and the trails are long, making a guide a good idea for those worried about getting lost. Tours cost about $40 for foreigners and $30 for nationals.
A suggested stay at the Hideaway is two nights, leaving enough time to enjoy the park, relax by the pool and perhaps indulge in a massage offered on-site. Request a room with a balcony facing the rain forest for a more private experience.
Our advice? Visit the Hideaway and the Río Celeste before the whole world discovers them.