RUNNER-UP: THE ECO AWARD – SMITH HOTEL AWARDS 2015
Cross the Indiana Jones-style bridge to El Silencio Lodge and Spa hotel in Costa Rica and you’ll find living the way nature intended, only better. Surrounded by the tranquility of a 500-acre jungle, you’ll salute the sun from the yoga deck, dine on delicious organic cuisine and soak in postcard-perfect panoramic views from all around the resort.
Get this when you book through us:
A choice of a half-hour couple’s massage or horse-riding tour for two.
11am, but flexible and free, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from $259.35, excluding tax at 13 per cent.
Rates include daily breakfast and a guided nature walk, and have a two-night minimum stay requirement.
Sit back and let the wildlife come to you. The groundskeepers planted purple verbena flowers around each cabin’s viewing deck to lure hummingbirds. Keen eyes can also spot wild pheasants, sparrows, blue tanagers and, possibly, the iridescent, long-tailed quetzal.
At the hotel
Gardens, spa, private nature reserve, library of books and DVDS, free WiFi in the restaurant and TV room. In rooms: iPod dock, outdoor whirlpool tub, minibar, viewing deck with rocking chairs, and bath products by Costa Rican line Aromas para el Alma. Villas have LCD TVs too.
Our favourite rooms
All rooms have the same floor plan and feel very private, with dramatic views from the floor-to-ceiling windows, as well as from the hot tub on each deck. The Suites higher up the hill feel more like they are situated in a cloud forest. Opt for 11, which attracts hummingbirds to the plants around its porch.
Pack light on bath products: El Silencio’s biodegradable potions are packed with natural goodies such as lavender and peppermint, (which handily double as all-natural bug repellents). Bring clothes for all temperatures (preferably in shades of green, naturally).
Each Suite is assigned an Eco Concierge, who leads your courtesy hike, coordinates activities, can arrange tree-plantings and can point out flora and fauna.
Children aged eight and older are welcome at El Silencio. They can sleep on day-beds (two children in suites, four in villas) for an extra charge (US$50). Babysitting can be arranged for US$15, with 48 hours’ notice.
Sustainability is the watchword. Ninety per cent of El Silencio’s grounds is designated as a private forest reserve. The cabins were built on repurposed grazing grounds to avoid clearing additional trees, and are made with eco-friendly materials (bamboo features heavily). The staff compost food remnants, provide reusable water bottles, and clean with low-impact products. Much of the food comes from local farmers or the hotel garden.
The glass-walled dining makes it easy to watch the world go by from any table. If the weather is warm, take a table on the terrace, where the babbling river sets the soundtrack.
Jungle-casual rules the resort. Closed-toed shoes will keep you safe on impromptu after-dinner walks.
Los Ventanas focuses on farm-to-table fare, using produce from the hotel garden to create a menu of international dishes. The kitchen promotes healthier cuisine and vegetables, ie no red meat and all dietary requirements are cheerfully met. Local fishermen hand over their catches for several dishes, including trout au gratin.
The lodge has a bar serving tropical cocktails, wine, beer and an espresso selection.
Las Ventanas serves dinner from 7pm¬ to 9:30pm (breakfast is 7am–10am; lunch, noon–3pm). The bar’s open until 10pm.
Bajos del Toro, Alajuela, PO. Box 242-1225 Pavas, San Jose
Bajos del Toro
El Silencio Lodge & Spa occupies 500 acres of Costa Rica’s Central Volcanic Valley, sandwiched between the Juan Castro Blanco National Park and the Poas Volcano National Park.
San Jose’s Juan Santamaría International (SJO) is the closest airport at 70km away. The airport is served by United Airlines (www.united.com), British Airways (www.britishairways.com) and TACA (www.taca.com). Flights operate from New York, Madrid, Miami, Toronto and other international cities. There's a departure tax of about US$26. You can also charter flights for up to 19 people through Nature Air (www.natureair.com).
Driving from San Jose takes about 90 minutes. The nearest city, Sarchi, is a 30-minute drive. Parking at El Silencio is free and easy.
Helicopters can land on the nearby soccer field in clear weather. Aerobell Air Charter has private planes and helicopters to hire (www.aerobell.com).
Worth getting out of bed for
Your personal Eco Concierge can arrange for a tree-planting in the cloud forest surrounding the hotel. Your seedling will be tagged with a commemorate card marking your efforts, and El Silencio will send you periodic updates on the your addition to the preserve.
The 2,000-acre Hacienda Pozo Azul (www.pozoazul.com) is an eco park and working ranch in the tropical rain forest. The park is packed with more natural adventures than any theme park could build. Try white-water rafting on the Sarapiqui River, sail over the trees and river on a canopy zipline, rappel down the canyon or try a free-fall from a platform built high on a tree trunk. The park also includes horse-riding tours on the Hacienda trails.
Arrange a day trip to hike the nearby Poas, an active volcano with two crater lakes and numerous geysers. Visit early in the day for the clearest views of the top.
Stock up on souvenirs from nearby Sarchí. The town is renowned for its arts and crafts, including colourful, decorative ox carts, which were once used to haul coffee from plantations to markets. Woodworkers in the town also produce decorative kitchenware, furniture and masks.
Bajos del Toro Amarillo is a small town just outside the gates to the property. There are several casual cafes, called ‘sodas,’ serving typical local food, fresh fruit smoothies and soft drinks. Seafood is a good bet: much of it comes from local fisheries.
Of all the adventure sports one might attempt in Costa Rica – canyoneering, rappelling, white-water rafting – nothing gets the adrenaline pumping quite like… driving. Required equipment: 4WD capability, ample insurance and unshakable resolve.
En route to El Silencio Lodge & Spa, a mountainside retreat in Costa Rica’s central volcanic valley, you may need to brave the following: roads shouldered by sheer cliffs, one-lane bridges on two-lane roads, bridges constructed from three wobbly wooden planks and crossings preceded by the ominous sign PUENTE EN MAL ESTADO (you do the translation).
Other obstacles may also include: packs of children running around blind corners, whiteout-causing clouds and chickens crossing the road (you supply the punchline).
All this stunt-driving excitement makes arriving at this secluded resort high in the misty cloud forest, all the more gratifying. Like that first frosty beer after a long run, you've earned it.
And, from the moment Mr Smith and I drove onto the 500-acre jungle property we felt embraced. Anticipating our arrival, a uniformed manager stood waiting for us (always nice to feel like a guest of honor) with a reviving pineapple-mint-arugula concoction.
Tropical drinks in hand, we were shown to our private cabina – one of just 16 eco-luxury tree houses hidden in the mountainside. Rich, chocolate-brown wood floors and furniture were softened by cream walls, the cool marble and bamboo accented ensuite and the floor-to-ceiling windows that glowed with lush jungle greens. There was a problematically comfortable king-size bed, handcrafted rocking chairs on one porch and a private Jacuzzi on the other.
Said Jacuzzi takes two hours to heat, but that's exactly the time needed to hike the place (we like to think they designed it that way). And a little walk was certainly in order after our adventures in driving.
Trekking the over six miles of trails winding up and down the property thick with exotic butterflies and hummingbirds to the triad of hidden waterfalls, we didn't see another soul – except for a black bird nearly my size. It's the right exertion for occasional outdoorsfolk like Mr Smith and me. Sure, we're up for a bit of a climb, but prefer it with the promise of rum and a Jacuzzi at the end.
Both are promises that El Silencio, which feels like a luxurious summer camp, more than delivers on with thoughtful, personalized service. Just-baked cookies and hot chocolate are brought to your cabin each afternoon. Muddy hiking shoes are whisked away and returned cleaner-than-new.
Fires continually crackle in the hearth of the main lodge. And, once I recovered from the initial shock an unexpected warm and squishy surprise at the foot of our bed, I looked forward to the hot water bottle tucked in at nightly turn-down. A welcome perk in this tropical rainforest where the cloud cover can quickly make you reach for a sweater.
Like any good summer camp, there are enthusiastic counselors, too. Each cabin is assigned an eco concierge who coordinates hikes and activities and pushes you just enough. Venicio, a local, was our fearless guide, leading us on the ‘Hidden Treasure’ hike.
This mud-trekking, rock-scrambling, stream-leaping climb progressed toward a towering waterfall, tinged electric blue by the minerals of the Poas Volcano. During our hour-long ramble, Venicio pointed out the metallic-green tiger beetles scurrying under our feet. They mate once, he told us, and afterwards the female eats the male's head (I felt scandalized when I later saw an intact beetle running away from a headless one).
Inching our way up to a precipice, perhaps a 20-meter drop to the swirling waters below, Venicio reminisced, ‘We used to jump off this cliff, straight into the water, when we were teenagers.’ Not wanting to spend our holiday on crutches, we opted to walk down.
Following our waterfall hike, we may or may not have enjoyed a few rounds of cane sugar liquor… that may or may not have been fully licensed. (I do want to tell you more, truly, but I'm not the kind of girl who betrays confidences.)
Despite being quite relaxed already, I had a hot-stone massage scheduled at the tranquil Esencia Spa (why quit when you’re ahead?). Remarking that I loved the spa's essential oils, my attendant sent me away with a fragrant vial of oil as a souvenir.
Generosity was catchy among the staff. Upon learning that Mr Smith has a way with the cocktails, the bartender lent him a shaker and handed us a bottle of raw sugar simple syrup. This led to us sipping afternoon daiquiris while lolling about our secluded hot tub as we soaked up our last views of paradise – our idea of a jungle adventure.
We’ll be sure to have Venicio add this to the activity list for next time…
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in El Silencio Lodge & Spa’s Guestbook below.
Incredible service from the entire staff. The fireplaces on a chilly evening in the cloud forest. Peace and quiet!