First, the greeter presented me with a chilled towel that smelled like a wild flower. Then a second greeter offered a glass of fresh papaya juice. Only after did the check-in process begin in the open-air, nature-inspired lobby of Nayara Hotel, Spa & Gardens, and the smiling staff conducted it with cheerful professionalism. Somehow, everyone already knew my name.
This is the kind of guest service on which Nayara has distinguished itself in Costa Rica’s Northern Zone, and the elaborate welcome is only the beginning. The five-star luxury hotel – which is actually a collection of 50 bungalows, a brand-new sushi bar, a wine bar, a swim-up bar, a restaurant and a spa, all scattered in manicured jungle gardens – provides every amenity a guest could wish for.
For example, guests who arrive after the restaurant closes are gifted complimentary sandwiches, and for those who want a snack during a day excursion, the same sandwiches are available at the hearty and also complimentary breakfast buffet. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Nayara is all about taking it slow, one treat at a time.
Upon arrival, golf carts transport visitors to their bungalows over stone pathways lined with tall tropical foliage, and oftentimes butterflies, birds and even white rabbits can be spotted on the way. To enter a bungalow and call it your own is to become jungle royalty.
Depending on whether you’ve booked a “Casita Deluxe” or a “Nayara Suite,” either 1,000 or 2,000 square feet greet you with hardwood furnishings, marble countertops and explosively colorful local artistry. Bamboo ceilings soar overhead, and sheer saffron curtains open to a view of either rain forest or the majestic Arenal Volcano. Later, you’ll be taking in this view from your private balcony’s Jacuzzi tub.
But first, some may want to settle in with a nap beneath the 300-thread-count bedding, and others will opt for an outdoor shower in the private tropical garden out back. Perhaps you are beginning to get an idea of why Internet travel site TripAdvisor recently placed Nayara in the “Top Five most Romantic Hotels in the World” and named it “The Most Romantic Hotel in South and Central America.” Since it opened in 2008, it has routinely been rated the best hotel in the Arenal and La Fortuna area by travel websites.
Once on the property, it becomes incredibly difficult to leave. The centrally located Kali-Kali wet bar is a perfect place to plunk down for a day of sunning and imbibing as wild parrots squawk from the surrounding trees. Each person who arrives at the pool is quickly handed a free bottle of water, and those who are hungry may feast on a light salad with chicken, heart of palm and broccoli, which should be paired with a salty margarita.
For those looking to really luxuriate, there are steaming wooden Jacuzzis across the property, and the Sol y Luna Spa offers just about any treatment or massage a guest might fancy, including a volcanic mud bath. Couple’s massages are performed in private, open-air rooms in the rain forest; in the evening, those rooms host private dining beneath the stars.
Nostalgia – a wine bar – offers a sophisticated indoor bar area and an outdoor terrace on which to sip and taste world-class wines, all of which are stored in a fancy wine-dispensing system imported from Italy. The same dispensing system can be found in the new sushi restaurant, Sushi Amor, but is filled with top-shelf vodkas.
The sushi spot opened in February and serves up an amalgam of Peruvian and Latin American cuisine. The appetizers include a trio of ceviches – marlin, tuna and tilapia – and the fresh sushi rolls reflect the fusion philosophy; the Nayara roll has chicken on the inside and fried plantains across the top.
Those who are misguided enough to leave the property will find plenty of activities close by: hikes, bike tours, horseback riding, rafting, ATV tours, canyoning and hot springs visitations are among the best. I have to say, though, it doesn’t get much better than sipping minibar wine in your own private Jacuzzi in the rain forest.
Take the Inter-American Highway north to San Ramón. Follow signs to La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano. Once in La Fortuna, follow signs to Nayara Hotel, Spa & Gardens, about 11 km from the town center. Drive time is about 3.5 hours. Domestic airlines Nature Air (www.natureair.com) and Sansa (www.flysansa.com) both serve the La Fortuna airport.
Rates range $230-$390 plus taxes, and include a buffet breakfast. A variety of vacation packages is also available, including spa-treatment packages. For information and reservations, call 2479-1600 or visit www.arenalnayara.com.