Situated at the entrance to Cahuita National Park and its golden-sand beaches, Kelly Creek Hotel receives its share of unusual visitors on the southern Caribbean coast.
Roberto, a caiman that lives in the mangrove swamp next to the hotel, swims to shore early most mornings to receive his “treat” of chicken feet from the hotel owners. In the afternoons, troops of white-faced capuchin monkeys descend from the trees and try to steal bananas from the hotel’s kitchen. Howler monkeys roar as they snatch fruit off the ylang-ylang trees in the backyard. Occasionally, a sloth can be spotted crawling slowly through the yard in search of a new tree to climb.
Life at Kelly Creek Hotel is anything but ordinary.
“We are so close to the national park that guests can enjoy the life of the jungle while they are still eating breakfast,” says Marie-Claude Imbaud, one of the hotel’s owners.
Imbaud, from France, and partner Andrés Alcalá of Spain came to Costa Rica in 1996 from Madrid, where Alcalá worked as a creative director at an advertising agency and Imbaud worked at the Canadian Embassy. Stressed out from 80-hour workweeks and the bad economy, the couple quit their jobs and moved to Costa Rica with the intention of buying a small hotel. After looking at many properties that “just didn’t feel right,” they took a bus to Cahuita and happened to get off in front of Kelly Creek Hotel, which was for sale at the time.
“We immediately knew we had arrived home,” Imbaud says.
Constructed in Caribbean style with wood from almond, medlar, cachá and laurel trees, the hotel blends into its environment. Red-flowered hibiscus plants fill the property, and a wraparound veranda with chairs affords guests an outdoor area to relax and spot animals. The four rustic, spacious guest rooms have private bathrooms with hot water, ceiling fans and beds with mosquito nets.
The hotel’s restaurant serves breakfast and dinner, with both indoor and outdoor seating. The menu features French- and Spanish-inspired cuisine. Imbaud’s paella, a Spanish dish of chicken, seafood, rice, vegetables and seasonings, is the specialty of the house. Other dinner options include grilled meats and fresh seafood.
A visit to Cahuita National Park is obviously a must while staying at Kelly Creek Hotel. The park is home to plenty of wildlife, including roaring howler and fearless white-faced capuchin monkeys, which can be spotted along the pleasant beachside trail that runs parallel to the long expanse of beach. Although visitors can walk the trail independently, a guide is recommended to point out hard-to-spot animals like slow-moving sloths, iguanas lounging high in the trees and bats sleeping underneath branches. And there is even more to see in the ocean, where visitors can take snorkelling tours of the park’s abundant reef. Cahuita is the only national park in Costa Rica that does not charge a set admission price, relying instead on voluntary donations from visitors.
Other area highlights include horseback riding on Black Beach, waterfall hikes, cacao tours, a trip to the nearby sloth sanctuary and visits to indigenous reserves. Alcalá and Imbaud are happy to help guests arrange trips. And when guests need a rest, they can head back to Kelly Creek and let the wildlife come to them.
Alcalá and Imbaud have adapted well to the laid-back Caribbean lifestyle. They have acquired three friendly dogs, Gypsy, Ruby and Dora, and a talkative parrot named Verdi, who is quite the ladies’ man. The couple says they enjoy not having to be at anyone’s beck and call – except for when Roberto swims up for his daily snack.
Kelly Creek is in Cahuita, at the footbridge before the entrance to the national park. From San José, take Route 32 east through Guápiles and Siquirres to Limón. From here, head south on the coastal road, following signs to Cahuita. Transportes Mepe (2257-8129) out of the Caribbean bus terminal in San José offers service to Cahuita several times a day.