We arrived at dusk, happy to see Villa Buena Onda on the hill above the road. VBO, as locals call it, is an adults-only boutique hotel with eight spacious, well-appointed guest rooms. The hotel is ideal for couples who want a quiet get away in a low key setting or for families and friends who want a house where they can be together for an extended stay.
After a long drive, we had dinner, unpacked, settled into our room and called it an early night. We pulled the curtains shut, set the air conditioning to a comfortable temperature, climbed into bed and quickly fell asleep.
We slept through the night and awakened much later than we usually do. First thing we did when we got out of the comfortable bed was to pull back the curtains so we could see if there was a view.
We walked onto the balcony outside our room. It might have rained last night because the air smelled fresh and clean. We leaned against the railing and looked down at the salt water infinity pool, manicured lawn and chaise lounge area below. Beyond the hotel property a thickly forested landscape sloped down to the busy town of Playas del Coco and the bright blue waters of the Pacific Ocean two miles away.
The view was simultaneously spectacular and relaxing.
A luxury villa rental
Originally built as a luxury private villa rental, VBO was intended to be as comfortable as home with amenities guests would expect from a 5-Star boutique hotel.
VBO can still be rented out entirely, as it often is for weddings and during the holiday season, but more often than not, visitors reserve individual rooms as they would in any hotel.
Seven of the eight guest rooms have ocean facing patios or balconies outfitted with comfortable chairs. On the covered patio just outside the main lounge there are eight tables for meals, one for each guest room. Just below the main patio there is a lap pool and a lower patio with chaise lounges.
Most of the time, the staff outnumbers the guests. We discovered some staff members wear many hats.
When we arrived, Carlos, the bellman offered to take our luggage upstairs to our room. When we were relaxing in the infinity pool, we ordered an evening cocktail from the barman at the swim up bar. That was Carlos. And when we sat down for dinner, as we enjoyed the colors of the setting sun, the waiter who took our order was Carlos.
Wet and dry seasons
When we were researching Costa Rica before our trip, we read a lot about the difference between the rainy and dry seasons. Guanacaste Provence, where VBO is located, is on Costa Rica’s north-west Pacific coast, sharing a border with Nicaragua.
Unlike the Caribbean coast and the inland mountainous regions, Guanacaste Provence receives much less rain. Lower rainfall and warmer temperatures make the warm, dry region one of Costa Rica’s most popular travel destinations especially during the winter for anyone who wants a break from cold, inclement weather.
While the area along the Pacific coast receives less rain than elsewhere in Costa Rica, there is still a wet and a dry season. Generally speaking, the dry season is the period from late November to late April, the most popular time to visit the area.
In either season, the temperature is pretty much the same, in the 70s. The difference is in the humidity and how frequently it rains. During the wet season there is definitely more rain. But even in the dry months expect there to be a rainstorm now and again.
Enjoying the lovely view that first morning, we stood on the balcony a long time. We watched a flock of birds overhead as they headed toward the ocean. We wished we could fly with them and swoop down to the beach at Playas del Coco in the distance. But for us two-legged, non-winged types, there was a complimentary shuttle leaving in an hour so we could get there without flying. That gave us time to have breakfast.
Meals are included in the price of a room. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served on the first floor covered patio adjacent to the infinity pool and the swim up bar. At some all-inclusive resorts, the quality of the food suffers. But not at VBO. Guests order from an a la carte menu and every dish is prepared to order.
For my first breakfast I chose the gallo pinto, a traditional Costa Rican breakfast. Two sunny side up eggs accompanied by a timbale of rice and black beans. On the side were a fried plantain, fresh flour tortillas and a white cheese that was similar to mozzarella with a good texture and flavor. As befits a quality hotel in the tropics, there was a plate of locally grown fresh mango, pineapple and papaya with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. And because this was Costa Rica, on the table along with Tabasco, salt and pepper, there was a green and red bottle of Lizano Salsa, a tart condiment with citrus notes. Lizano Salsa is as ubiquitous in Costa Rica as ketchup is in the U.S.
Preparing the meals at VBO are Rosa Balmaceda who makes the breakfasts and head chef Gabrielle Navarette and his cousin chef Diego Chavarria who make the lunches and dinners. Their food is as comforting as home cooked meals and as well-plated as dishes served in a 5-Star hotel.
What’s in a name
Loosely translated, Villa Buena Onda means “house of good vibes.” When the boutique hotel was built, the intent was to create a destination that would give guests a sense of well-being, of being cared for in the best possible way.
Every detail on the property has been carefully designed. Enter the lap pool and notice the way the rounded half steps hug the curved wall of the pool as naturally as an arm draped around a shoulder. Or, in the lounge facing the patio and infinity pool, the furniture has been chosen so that the shape and color of each piece adds to a visually pleasing whole.
The attention to details extends to the food served at the hotel. Before arriving, guests are emailed a questionnaire about their preferences. If guests have allergies and specialized diets, the kitchen will accommodate. My wife prefers not to eat wheat. When she ordered the fried calamari, a popular dish on the a la carte menu, Shelley, the concierge advised her that normally the calamari was breaded but the chef could make an adjustment and use a non-wheat breading.
Each dish we enjoyed during our stay was artfully composed—the omelets, fish ceviche, coconut curry chicken, grilled tuna with spinach and avocado, gazpacho, crispy whole red snapper, white and red quinoa salad, roast beef sandwich, roasted vegetable sandwich and tuna tacos with mango. The chefs buy their ingredients locally. The fish are caught that morning. The produce is bought from farmers in the area.
Eco-friendly, VBO prides itself on being a good steward of the earth. The hotel has been designed to create a sustainable, small carbon foot print. When we arrived, our welcoming fruit smoothies came with bamboo straws manufactured by Don Tino, a local craftsman who left his gardening business to manufacture his handmade biodegradable straws.
Relax and be happy
The narrow switchback road that leads up the hill to Villa Buena Onda cuts through rich, dark red earth. If you didn’t see the beautiful villa above, you might think you had taken the wrong turn at the fork in the road, at the house with the chicken coop. Part of the charm of the villa is its location. Close enough to Playas del Coco that you could walk, there are so many reasons to stay on the property and enjoy some quiet time.
Have a massage on the second floor open air terrace facing the ocean where music floats in the air. Just above the ceiling fans, hidden speakers broadcast an eclectic play list that includes music as different as easy-listening spa tunes and Amy Winehouse.
Spend a day sitting on your balcony or around the pool watching the sun and clouds move across the sky, take a leisurely swim in the lap pool, read a book or play one of half a dozen board games supplied by VBO. To break the routine of resting, reading and eating, swim up to the 5-stool outdoor bar and order drinks from the menu or ask the bartender, who might be the friendly Carlos to make you something local. One night he crafted a Brazilian caipirinha using the Costa Rican sugarcane liquor called Cacique, a mellow version of cachaça.
After your drink at the swim up bar, shower and change because it is time for dinner on the terrace with a view of a magnificent sunset.
Come for the luxury, visit the beaches
Guanacaste Provence is well-known for its natural beauty. From the beaches on the coast to the volcanoes and cloud forests inland, the area has a rich bio-diversity.
Located fifteen minutes from the coast, VBO is close to popular beaches. Complimentary shuttles bring guests back and forth to the beaches. Some of the beaches are busy, noisy party magnets like Playas del Coco. Others are secluded with only one or two restaurants set back on wide, expansive beaches that line protected coves like Playa Hermosa.
At Ocotal Beach, VBO is affiliated with the Coco Beach Club, which has a fresh water swimming pool, tennis courts, work out gym, restaurant and changing rooms. Spend the day at the club or on the beach. Decide you want to have lunch on the beach and a cooler will be filled with beverages and food.
The concierge desk can arrange action adventures or guided tours of the area. Some excursions are easy like a boat ride to a secluded beach like Playa Huevos where you can spend the day exploring, fishing, swimming and snorkeling. When you are hungry, the boat’s crew will prepare a gourmet barbecue.
On the coast there is surfing, ATV riding, sport fishing, kayaking, scuba diving and sailing. Inland, VBO can arrange for guests to go canopy zip lining, rappelling down a waterfall or white water rafting.
Since this was our first visit, we kept close to VBO and the beaches. We swam in the warm waters of Playa Hermosa and had lunch at Aquasport Bar & Restaurant, an open air restaurant with tables on the sand. We ate a plate of fried sea bass with French fries, a salad and a bottle of Imperial, one of Costa Rica’s most popular beers. At Playas del Coco my wife had a guided kayaking tour of the bay while I explored the waterfront, taking photographs and checking out the dozen open air restaurants near the beach. Called sodas, the cafés serve salads, sandwiches, fresh fruit smoothies and casado, the delicious national dish made with fried fish, pork, chicken or beef and served with black beans, white rice, cabbage salad and fried plantain.
At VBO the chefs give cooking demonstrations. They taught us how to make fried plantains—easier than I expected—and whole crispy fried red snapper—more difficult than I expected. We spent several days reading, swimming in the pool, playing board games, eating and talking with the other guests, a side benefit of staying in a small hotel.
We appreciated the comforts and pleasures of VBO and we quickly learned to use a popular Costa Rican expression, “Pura Vida.” Roughly translated, the phrase means enjoy life, it’s all good. And so it was at VBO.
When you go, Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia is twenty minutes from VBO. All the major United States airlines fly to Liberia. For a nominal fee, the hotel will pick up guests from the airport.
Villa Buena Onda (Playas del Coco, Guanacaste, Costa Rica http://www.villabuenaonda.com). Reservations can be made online or by calling the U.S. toll free number: 1-800-414-0159 or if inside Costa Rica 4031-7707. vacationscostarica.com