Shoba Narayan soaks in a cloud forest at this luxury eco-hotel.
IMAGE CREDIT: WWW.DESTINATIONPHOTOCOSTARICA.COM
Words by Shoba Narayan
It was raining when we drove into The Senda Monteverde, but then again, Monteverde is a stunning cloud forest, so rain is part of the package. Mist hung low over the undulating hills and valleys, vaguely reminiscent of Scotland and the air is pure enough for white lichen to grow on the trees. Some 400 species of birds sing every morning, the whole atmosphere epitomises the spirit of pure life or ‘Pura Vida’, which is the country’s slogan.
Co-owned by a German and Costa Rican, The Senda is part of a collection of luxury boutique hotels that emphasize sustainability. Plastic is almost non-existent on the property, the food is hyper-local, and the rooms are built with sustainable hardwood. Right next door is the Aguti Wildlife Reserve with complimentary access for guests, many of whom were repeat visitors. Some came for bird-watching, others for running the steep trails while a triathlon vehicle trailed after them, and some for visiting one of the remaining few cloud forests on earth before climate change caused them to disappear.
Guests are welcomed with a drink, either a guaro-sour cocktail made with local liquor or a mocktail made with sugarcane juice and ginger. Just 24 bungalow-style rooms and suites, each with a balcony, dot the property. Hummingbirds whiz through the flower-filled paths and, within an hour of arriving, I spotted an emerald touccanet, a dazzling blue motmot and several species of hummingbirds.
One of the nice things about the hotel is the gender balance, and it was positive to see a number of women working in leadership roles. The naturalist, Jessica, led me on an impromptu tour of the property after a talk on the four species of monkeys in Costa Rica. Every afternoon, the hotel offers a range of activities: bracelet making, wildlife talks, cocktail classes, medicinal tea sessions, with herbs plucked from within the property, yoga, and nature walks. The spa has the usual range of massages on offer, either in the main building or in your room. I opted for an excellent deep-tissue massage in my room.
The smiling staff accommodates every request, ranging from a packed breakfast for those who set off at dawn for nature hikes, to building a fire and roasting marshmallow s’mores in the afternoon. Most guests gravitate to the activity room in the afternoon for nature talks and conversation. When we visited, we met guests from Norway, Scotland, France, Canada and, of course, the United States. Somehow the cosy spaces in the property encourage conversation.
The basic superior rooms are spacious with a dining table, sofa, bed and balcony, and I didn’t feel crowded at all. The toiletries are high-quality and locally made, perfumed with aloe vera and citrus which reminded me of L’Occitane products. The turn-down service included a hot-water bottle and chocolates and, after a long day of hikes, we were delighted to have a hot-water bottle under our legs.
Every room has a laptop-sized safe, coffee and tea, soft robes, umbrellas (which you will need in the mist), flashlights for walking back to the room at night after dinner, and a mini-bar with fruit and local snacks. The design is contemporary and modern without much fuss or kitsch. The white linen on the bed manages to be both soft and crisp and the rainfall showerhead is good after a day out in the forest.
Private paths lead up to each room, furthering the feeling of being in your own small bungalow amidst a verdant forest. Equally attractive are the views outside; most guests confessed to lounging on the sofa with a book while listening to chirping birds outside.
Service was prompt when needed. A technician came to check up on our shower minutes after we called and unobtrusive housekeepers duck in twice a day to keep the room spotless.
Food and drink
Breakfast begins with delicious fruit, so good I almost ate my body weight in pineapples! Eggs are made in any style that you like, from huevos rancheros to scrambled to fried eggs served on a tortilla, to omelettes spiked with jalapenos should you so desire. The portions are well proportioned, neither too big nor too small and the restaurant really makes an attempt at zero waste.
The cooks and waitresses include, as is typical in the property, a good proportion of women as well. The service is spot-on and the staff speaks very good English and indulged attempts at Spanish. Like most Costa Ricans, the staff here too have a great sense of humour, which is in use when they chat with guests.
The menu is well-curated and small instead of sprawling, and dinner choices include vegetarian and vegan items along with terrific meat and seafood dishes. Don’t miss the Costa Rican items – fried plantains, for instance, are a local favourite along with ‘gallo pinto’ or rice and beans. Fresh avocados are used in several dishes and the tomato soup had fried tortilla sticks instead of bread.
The drink selection includes cocktails emphasizing local ingredients, Imperial or Pilsen beers and many wines from Chile and Argentina. Freshly made pasta and pizza also wins guests over when served with the homemade bread and garlic butter.
Tourists come to Monteverde for thrills and a retreat. We did both. We enjoyed a fantastic ziplining experience, Monteverde claims that it is the home of ziplining, and there are also ATV rides, horseback riding, and hiking in the forests. We saw triathletes bike up mountains, runners all over Monteverde town and there was a motorcycle race when we visited.
Those interested in milder pursuits can visit the butterfly and orchid gardens, take a nature trip with one of the superb resident naturalists, go bird-watching, or visit a serpentarium dedicated to local snakes.
In a nutshell
The New York Times called Monteverde a ‘Disneyland’ for ecotourists. That analogy feels wrong somehow, but the fact is that the Senda lies at the heart of one of the rarest ecosystems in the world.
It tries to preserve and contribute and, so far, the lodge has planted 5,500 native plants and trees in the property. It supports the Aguti Wildlife reserve next door, gets involved with the community by partnering with a local youth-group called Monteverde Forest Clean up, and strives to keep its footprint low without sacrificing quality, style or luxury. This is a delicate balancing act but much like the forest itself, the Senda seems to have achieved it.
Stays at The Senda Monteverde start from £200.
Address: Provincia de Puntarenas, Monteverde, 60109, Costa Rica Phone: +506 (0) 866- 380-4032 Website:sendamonteverde.com
Shoba Narayan is an author, journalist and columnist. Besides writing, she is interested in nature, wine, gadgets and Sanskrit. Her lifelong mission is to get fit without exercising and lose weight without dieting.