6 Things We Loved About Punta Islita in Costa Rica
So many beach resorts around the world follow the same general playbook that when you visit a truly unique one facing the ocean, it makes you want to linger a while and soak it all in. I definitely felt that way after waking up at Punta Islita, a luxury hillside and beach hotel in a secluded part of the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica that is celebrating its 30th birthday this year.
Getting there was not half the fun, I have to admit, especially since I had to do a fair bit of driving in the dark, some of it on winding mountain roads and some on roads with potholes and gravel. (We suggest renting a car through our local partner Vamos Rent-a-car and picking a sport utility vehicle, not a sedan. Get a 5% discount and a rate that includes the required liability insurance through our link here.)
The ride back through the Nicoya Peninsula was gorgeous though when I got to do that in the morning, on my way to San Jose. Punta Islita’s location is a big part of its draw, however. It shares the bay it is on with some private homes and a village, but there’s not a whole lot else around to spoil the view and the long beach is never crowded.
Check out this video tour to get a look around, then are a few things we loved about this resort, now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.
Large Suites With an Outdoor Area
There are several categories of rooms at Punta Islita and two different decorating styles as the old ones gradually get renovated, but apart from the “deluxe king” category, all of them are spacious suites or at least junior suites. All of the and all have some kind of outdoor lounging area. Mine had a big hammock and a plunge pool, with a view of mountains and the water from either one.
The Honeymoon Suite has a larger pool on a deck, an outdoor shower, and a free-standing tub with a view in the spacious bathroom. Then there are villas available from the rental pool if you’re coming with a family.
A Large Permaculture Organic Garden
Many resorts that boast of having a garden on site are really just growing a few herbs and greens, not nearly enough to serve the needs of the restaurant(s) they are running. The permaculture garden at Punta Islita is a whole different story however, with the resort making up for its far-flung location by growing most of its own greens, vegetables, legumes, chilies, and root plants like ginger and tumeric.
As this organic garden continues to grow, some of the fruit trees in the orchard area that are not mature enough to bear fruit yet will supply those needs as well, though there are already banana, mango, and papaya trees on the grounds that staffers can pull from. Coffee and cacao are also in the mix among the 65 plants in the garden and there’s a chicken coop that supplies fresh eggs.
The result of all this is that I had some of the best meals I’ve experienced in Costa Rica at this resort–not because they were fancy, but because they were so flavorful and fresh. It makes a difference when your food comes from an organic garden in walking distance rather than having to be shipped from hours or more away.
Close Involvement With the Punta Islita Community
Many resorts in secluded locations contribute a lot to the community through solid employment and that’s certainly the case with this one. “Most of the year, 90 to 95% of the employees at our resort are from the local village,” says Lenner Garrido, General Manager at this Autograph Collection hotel.
“We really want to empower the local women though,” he adds, “so even the ones who don’t work here directly are involved. All the artwork in the rooms and many of the textiles are from local female artisans and we sell their work in the gift shop. We have them lead classes in bracelet or keychain making that the guests can sign up for.”
While I was there, I walked to the village and did two short workshops: I hand-patted some tortillas we cooked on a wood-fired comal and learned how they make the candles that are used around the resort. While I was there I got to see a few murals plus a gallery area with local paintings.
Unique Guest Experiences and Excursions
I was supposed to arrive earlier than I did, in time for a turtle release night, but it ended up getting canceled because the tide was too low. The baby turtles would have too far to travel before getting to the surf. The experts are not just doing an activity for the tourists: they’re trying to do what’s right for the native wildlife.
The next morning I got up for a nature hike though and we made our way downhill toward the beach, checking out some birds and learning a little about local plants. A few dedicated birdwatchers were on a different walk with a birding expert, armed with their scopes and binoculars. They didn’t have to go very far to get started: a dozen hummingbirds were flitting around a flowering tree right outside of the reception area.
Punta Islita has a few ATVs and trucks with benches to get guests out and about. I got in one of the latter and experienced something for the first time in my life: ziplining at night. This was a completely different sensation that riding a zipline during the day, a bit scarier and feeling faster since there are fewer visual cues.
Other activities include more strenuous guides hikes in the mountains as well as sunset activities where microphones are planted in the trees and guests can listen to the sounds coming from there with connected headphones. There are plant medicine workshops, yoga classes by the ocean, cooking classes, and more. A chef’s table class in the garden is in the works and a kids’ club is on the way.
A View Up High or Oceanfront
Punta Islita provides the best of both worlds because you have two restaurants, two bars, two pools, and two lounging areas, one of each up and one down. The principal palapa area, the infinity pool, and the sleeping quarters are high upon a hill, with a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.
Down below though, there’s the Aura Beach Club, with another restaurant open for lunch and a swim-up bar in the large swimming pool. Walking back from the beach club can be a tough climb in the tropical heat, so there are shuttles on demand going back and forth between the two areas. See that video earlier in this article to get a look at both areas.
A Secluded Spa With a Sense of Place
I’ve been to my share of hotel spas over the years and most of them could be interchanged with another and nobody but the workers would notice. The Nanku Spa really makes you feel like you’re near nature in Costa Rica though, with its playful decorations, outdoor pool area surrounded by plants, and windows that allow in plenty of natural light.
I wasn’t on site long enough to squeeze a treatment in between all of the other activities and some beach time, but I felt like my heart rate immediately dropped a few notches when I entered this relaxing space.
Nanku Spa offers the usual manicures, pedicures, and traditional massages, but also facials, exfoliations, energy treatments, and “olfactory awakenings,” many of these usual local plant ingredients.
See our detailed review of Hotel Punta Islita here.