The Central Pacific beach town of Jacó was once a sleepy little village and surfer’s paradise. Although surfboards still abound, the town is sleepy no more. With the new Caldera Highway cutting the journey from San José to just over an hour, this nearest beach destination to the capital has become a booming tourist playground, rife with development, restaurants, bars, retirees, surfers and fun-loving partygoers.
But a short walk down a quiet lane, away from the hullabaloo of town, is a peaceful beachfront haven: the Dutch-owned and -operated Canciones del Mar Boutique Hotel, where, true to the name, you can indeed hear the songs of the sea.
Charming, outgoing owner Peter van Hussen came to Costa Rica in 1981 and bought the hotel 11 years ago. Although high-rise condominiums now dominate the Jacó shoreline, none are visible from this small hotel nestled among palms and lush tropical vegetation.
“We are an eco-friendly contrast to what is happening around us and pride ourselves on being the smallest hotel on the beach, with reasonable rates and excellent, friendly service,” van Hussen says.
Once upon a time, the hotel was an old, run-down establishment, but van Hussen has renovated and redesigned most of it, and added on a totally new section. The four-story building’s cream-colored facade and artificial thatched-palm roof give it an attractive, tropical look. The hotel’s lush, tropical garden is beautifully maintained with an abundance of foliage and colorful flowers, many sporting informative name tags. The large, free-form pool is an inviting place to lead a sloth-like existence, bask in the sun on a lounger, take a nap in the shade or relax with a book.
Accommodations include 11 one-bedroom suites, a pair of two-bedroom suites, one honeymoon suite and a handicapped-accessible room. All rooms have air conditioning, ceiling fans, cable TV, free wireless Internet, safes, fully equipped kitchens, living areas, tiled bathrooms and private patios. The rooms are spacious and tastefully furnished with beautiful dark wood in Spanish tropical colonial style. The ones overlooking the pool and garden area tend to be on the dark side; however, those with balconies and ocean views do not have this problem.
The shady rancho-style restaurant, built with Colombian bamboo, is a welcoming, cool sanctuary from the blazing sun outside. You can also choose to sit at tables under the tall palms that act as natural fans. A full buffet breakfast is included in the rates, and a small lunch menu is offered with a choice of soup and a couple of salads, including the excellent pejibaye, made with nutty peach-palm fruit. The hamburgers and traditional Costa Rican casado, a combination of rice and beans with beef, chicken or fish, plus mixed chopped veggies, fried ripe plantain and a small salad, were tasty and attractively presented. The Costa Rican cook, René Gómez, also makes a very good gallo pinto, the Tico breakfast standby made with leftover rice and beans.
“There is a plethora of restaurants in town serving a huge variety of food from all over the world, so we don’t try to compete with them, but provide a small selection of appetizing, basic food,” van Hussen says.
For energetic types, the hotel can arrange many different tours. Two national parks with hiking trails and an amazing variety of flora and fauna are within easy reach. Surfing lessons and board rentals are available for those who want to ride the waves. Those who prefer horses can gallop along the edge of the surf instead. Canopy rides are another alternative, and bungee jumping is a popular option for the really adventurous.
In the evening, climb the circular staircase that leads to the fourth-floor Sacagomas Bar and sip on a tropical libation while you sit in the Jacuzzi, or take in a spectacular sunset over the ocean. The bar offers a daily two-for-one happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m., and serves a selection of tapas to nibble on. Other weekly activities include live music, an open-mike night, barbecue on Fridays and paella all day Saturdays.
A small stage has recently been added as the temporary venue of Teatro Jacó, a new theater company that is expanding Jacó’s cultural offerings with international performers and shows (TT, Feb. 4).
From San José, take the Caldera Highway west and exit at the sign for Jacó. Follow the Coastal Highway south and take the first turnoff into town. Turn left on the main street, then right on Calle Bribrí, just after The Beatle Bar.
Rates range from $115 to $225 in high season and from $95 to $190 in low season.
For reservations and information, call 2643-3273 or visit www.cancionesdelmar.com