Along Costa Rica’s western coast, the beach town of Manuel Antonio shares its name with the national park in the area. Manuel Antonio National Park, while it’s one of the smallest parks in the country, captivates visitors with the sheer number of species that call it home. Indeed, during our half-day in the park, we spotted three types of monkeys (howlers, white-faced capuchin and squirrel), all up close; both types of sloths (three-toed and two-toed); basilisk lizards; dazzling hummingbirds; crabs; vibrant blue morpho butterflies; and an eerily mesmerizing golden orb weaver spider.
Our base during our three days in the region was Arenas del Mar, which sits on a ridge steps from the beach and has a decade-plus track record when it comes to sustainability — long before the term became a buzzword in the tourism industry. Part of the Cayuga Collection, Arenas del Mar is one of eight sustainable luxury properties in the Central American portfolio. (My family had just stayed at Senda Monteverde, a sister hotel in the cloud forest, before arriving at Arenas del Mar.) The hotel sits on 11 acres, 75 percent of which comprise an untouched and protected nature reserve that acts as an ecological corridor to expand the area surrounding Manuel Antonio National Park.
Arenas del Mar is the only property in the area to boast its own private beach, and this easy access makes it perfect for combining morning excursions with downtime by the sea or pool, an ideal combo for families looking for both exploration and relaxation. From seeing fearless white-faced capuchin monkeys scamper across our outdoor patio to spotting half a dozen sloths during a night walk onsite, it was clear that animals are as much at home on the property grounds as guests.
Nearly all of the hotel’s 37 rooms boast patios or balconies with partial or full ocean views, and some include private hot tubs. Suites are especially well configured for families, with one king bed and two twin beds in the living area. The property also offers several connecting rooms, which worked well for us since we were traveling with grandparents. Our kids loved the complimentary mini-bar with plantain chips, cacao-sprinkled nuts, local juices and beer (all in glass bottles in keeping with the property’s plastic-free practices).
For meals, there are two restaurants onsite, one at the lobby level overlooking the beach below and another adjacent to the pool area with beach access. Breakfast is included in the rates; along with fresh coconut water and an a la carte menu of avocado toast, eggs, pancakes, tamales and more, an employee makes piping hot tortillas to order (a hit with kids and adults!).
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The property offers access to two beaches, Playitas Beach and Espadilla Beach. Given the strong waves and warm water, the conditions make for excellent surfing. The hotel has surfboards and boogie boards and can also arrange surf lessons for all abilities. Families may also borrow a plethora of toys for sand play. Additionally, there are two onsite pools: one tucked between rooms near the beach, and an infinity pool near the main restaurant and bar area.
Our 2-hour private evening walk on the property opened our eyes to all the creatures — snakes, frogs, crabs, sloths — that come out during the cover of night. The hotel is the only property in the area that employs on-staff naturalist guides, and our half-day guided hike in Manuel Antonio National Park with Mauricio was a major highlight for our family, with the most wildlife sightings (and close encounters with monkeys!) of our entire week in Costa Rica. We were certain we wouldn’t have seen as much without Mauricio’s expert knowledge of the region’s plants, birds and animals.
It’s also very easy to book other offsite activities, such as waterfall hikes, ziplining, hanging bridges, mangrove kayaking and more, through the front desk. Our visit to a local cacao farm — where we learned how cacao pods grow and how chocolate is made from start to finish, including fermenting the cacao beans, drying and roasting them, and extracting cacao butter and later adding it back in — was exceptionally personal and memorable. No doubt sampling the end product is a sweet reward.
Arenas del Mar was recently inducted into Preferred Hotels and Resorts’ newly launched Beyond Green portfolio, which spotlights hotels throughout the world that truly go above and beyond with their eco-practices and community support. Furniture in rooms and public spaces is built at the hotel’s own workshop, from reclaimed wood. Solar panels are used to heat water, while wastewater is treated and purified and then used to irrigate the surrounding rainforest. An onsite garden provides some of the greens and produce used in the restaurant, along with a Dock to Dish program that works directly with local fisherman. Organic food waste is composted. All cleaning products used, as well as those for laundering linens, are organic and biodegradable. And employees receive healthcare assistance as well as early childhood education support for their children. Given these and other initiatives, Arenas del Mar more than proves what a force for good travel can be.
Editor’s note: Tanvi received a media package to review Arenas del Mar for families. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Tanvi Chheda and Arenas del Mar.
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