Some stays are about cocooning yourself away but, from the Auberge Resorts Collection, Hacienda AltaGracia is a transformative wellness retreat amid the thickly forested Talamanca mountains, which encourages you to emerge in a new resplendent form after spa spoiling that might well be life-changing. Do some serious self work with massages with adaptogenic herbs from the organic kitchen garden, trad healing such as wood therapy and psyche soothing via healing circles and river bathing. Then conquer the wild landscape, dine abundantly on farm-fresh fare and gallop into the sunset on an indigenous horse from the onsite stables. Check-out will undoubtedly see you changed for the better.
Get this when you book through us:
US$100 resort credit to use towards adventure and dining experiences
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £1312.72 ($1,752), including tax at 13 per cent.
Rates include all meals and soft drinks, daily adventure and wellness activities (could be yoga, meditation, qi gong and more) and return transfers to the Pérez Zeledón airstrip. There’s a minimum stay of five nights over the festive period.
The large light-filled reception instills the sense of indoor-outdoor living with its central art installation of an upside-down tree. And there’s more to draw your attention: a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ filled with natural scents from the surroundings and a boutique selling Costa Rican delicacies and handicrafts.
Masks should be worn in enclosed public areas and dining is socially distanced.
The hotel will close from 15 September to 31 October in 2022.
At the hotel
Spa with tepidarium, jetted pool, steam room, sauna, infrared cabins and juice bar; gym; coffee plantation; stables; kitchen garden; mercado coffee shop and deli; lobby boutique; laundry service (charged); free WiFi. In rooms: private terrace, a dedicated ‘compa’ (short for compadre) to look after you throughout your stay, TV, minibar with free soft drinks and snacks, Bluetooth speaker, air-conditioning and ceiling fan, bathrobes, black-out blinds.
Our favourite rooms
All of the casitas, casonas and casas are set in a tropical paradise and have a terrace, romantically canopied bed and picturesque views crafted by Pachamama’s fair hand, so you’re unlikely to be disappointed. But, given the choice, we’d go ‘con piscina’ for an extra-large terrace, swinging day-bed and heated plunge pool.
There are three. A semi-circular adults-only pool – with two in-built Jacuzzis – by Las Brisas restaurant, surrounded by cabanas and loungers, which has a view worthy of a National Geographic cover. A palapa bar serves up cervezas, cocktails packed with local fruits and more, plus plates you can pick at while prone on a lounger. A second, set by Picoteo restaurant is open to swim-confident kids too. The third is in the spa’s Casa de Agua, a greenhouse-style building with elaborate hanging baskets and primed for views. It plays an important part in the ‘purification’ ritual that kicks off all treatments; float blissfully as its jets tackle hard-to-reach knots.
In the 20,000 square feet of wellness-dedicated space, where treatments demonstrate ancient wisdom and a deep love of the land, come to Pachamama (AKA Mother Earth) for some serious pampering. The hotel has collaborated with New York-based health and fitness experts the Well for a truly unique spa offering, and they do indeed go deep. Treatments are kicked off with a ‘purification’ ceremony involving Costa Rican clays, loofahs and oils and a spin through experience showers, a lavender-scented steam room, sauna and a gentle pummelling with jets in the tranquility pool. From there you might get massaged with adaptogenic herbs or batons of local wood, have a craniosacral facial, or bask in the good vibes of a lunar gong bath. There are weekly intention-setting and burning ceremonies, light-touch reiki, mindful silent breakfasts, energy-healing circles and forward-thinking tech to give you a boost: amethyst bio-mats, Celluma light therapy, infrared cabins and specialised soundtracks to set the mood in the sauna. And, a range of yoga practises, guided meditation and qi gong are carried out in open-air ranchos (gazebos). It’s a lot to consider, but the hotel has health coaches and even a chief medical officer to map out a path for you. Oh, and there’s a gym too, where the view from the treadmills is all the motivation you’ll need.
Arrive with all your frustrations, anxieties, aches and stresses – trust us, you’ll have a lot less baggage by the time you leave.
Most of the hotel’s private areas are accessible, special transportation can be arranged on request, ramps can be provided as needed and the casas have plenty of space. Plus, staff will happily read out info for visually impaired guests.
Children are very welcome, and the hotel holds an equally holistic Adventurers’ Club for a fee. Babysitting can be arranged one day in advance for US$25 an hour.
The kids’ club is for over-6s and under-12s can stay for kids’ rates, so any ages in-between will fare well here.
Most of the casas or casitas have two bedrooms.
The Adventurers’ Club (held in season), has a range of culinary, wellness and outdoorsy activities that matches the adult programme for innovation and creativity. It’s for over-6s (although supervised five-year-olds can also attend) for an extra charge.
One of the pools, by Picoteo restaurant, is child-friendly.
Some of the hotel’s small plates and dishes at the more casual eateries may suit smalls’ palettes more.
Babysitting must be arranged at least a day in advance (US$25 an hour).
The hotel collaborates with Los Jilgueros, a local coffee cooperative in the neighboring village of Cedral and they work with local Nery’s farm to give guests an authentic experience and boost local business. Onsite, they lean into Costa Rica’s impressive eco-friendliness with seasonal ingredients, mostly homegrown in the restaurant’s organic gardens and their ethically run coffee plantation. The hotel is plastic-free, they compost for the gardens and casitas are heated with solar panels.
The terrace has a truly astounding view that plays out like a tracking shot of an epic jungle adventure, where cloud-swathed mountains soar above and valleys are pooled with greenery.
Dress for a higher plane.
The best way to dine at Hacienda AltaGracia is to orbit their six eateries throughout your stay – all meals and soft drinks are included, so get stuck in. Grano, billed as the ‘chef’s laboratory’ is the main restaurant. In the warmly rustic dining room banquettes double up as planters, natural wood and wicker abounds and floor-to-ceiling windows – and tables on the jutting-out terrace – overlook the natural drama playing out over the Valle de El General. Cuisine is Central American, dictated by tradition and history, with a dash of the chef’s chutzpah for good measure. Picoteo is the more casual poolside eatery with sharing and small plates and Las Brisas will keep the peckish sated throughout the afternoon. Cienfuegos offers a dining experience inspired by gatherings at barbecues and rodeos, where a simple land and sea menu (plus some Korean influence, with grains, beans, salads and fermented delicacies) is cooked over a dried-coconut-husk fire. And, the Mercado offers fresh fruit, rich flavourful coffee and pastries, plus a range of treats to buy. Want to see the chef work his magic up close? After a tour of the organic gardens and farm, take an intimate dinner laced with medicinal plants and foraging finds at El Cultivo.
The palapa bar at Las Brisas serves up simple fruity cocktails, cervezas, wines and juices by the main pool. Picoteo also has a selection of fresh juices and harder drinks served poolside, with healthy small plates, and Grano is all set for more sophisticated drinks, with a side of view.
Mercado is open from 6am to 6pm; Grano from 6am to 10am and 6pm to 10pm; and Las Brisas serves from 10am to 6pm.
Contiguo al Escuela de Santa Teresa de Cajon Santa Teresa
Hacienda AltaGracia’s 180-acre estate is spread out like a leafy tablecloth over the Talamanca foothills to the south of Costa Rica’s San José Province. Its casas and casitas sit between pockets of rainforest, a working coffee farm and craggy peaks.
The best way to reach the Hacienda is to fly into Juan Santamaría International Airport in capital San José or Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia. There are direct flights from some cities in mainland Europe, but most flights arrive from North America, and if you’re travelling from the UK you’ll need to stopover. From either you can charter a flight to Pérez Zeledón airstrip in San Isidro in a Cessna Grand Caravan or Kodiak; flights carry up to 10 passengers and tickets range from $900 to $2,600 a flight, depending on the route and numbers onboard. From the airstrip the hotel’s a 45-minute drive away and these transfers are included in your room rate. Alternatively, take the scenic route – there’s a choice of mountain roads or coastal cruising – with land transfers from San José (a four-hour drive) or Liberia (a six-hour drive), from $375 a journey for up to five guests.
Driving in Costa Rica will give you a little more flexibility and hiring a car is easy enough at both main airports; however, it may unravel the sense of calm this wellness-focused stay fosters. The Hacienda’s vast estate will keep you occupied from check-in to check-out, so take the path of least resistance and rely on transfers and letting resort drivers chauffeur you as needed on excursions, giving you all the more time to bathe in rivers, commune in a healing circle or gently trot through the jungle on horseback. If you take the plunge, there’s valet parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
A Blue Zone might not sound the most positive of things, but it's an area of the world where people tend to live longer, healthier, happier lives – and the hotel just so happens to be smack bang in the middle of one. The pura vida is indeed strong here: after all, everywhere you look there’s the entrancing forested topography of the Talamanca mountains where adventure waits from the depths of the valleys to the tips of the peaks. Go wild in El Rio, the hotel’s expanse of au naturel playground, where you can follow five kilometres of jungly hikes, climb 30 metres up into the tree canopy then zipline through it, or get settled in a quiet stretch for forest bathing. Or take a more literal bath in the Calientillo River, where you’ll meditate on a massage bed as the water washes over you, followed by a wild-bergamot massage and herbal soak in leafy surrounds. Alternatively, set out with a caballista on one of the fine indigenous fillies from the hotel’s stables (the less experienced can trot round the picadero or riding ring). They’ve been specially trained for equine therapy sessions too. Other mood-lifting distractions include plant-ruffling walks where you’ll learn about the healing properties of the lush greenery surrounding you, qi gong or meditation in a secluded rancho and yoga that ranges from blanket-wrapped poses to a full vinyasa flow. The Hacienda has tamed some of the terrain to plant 7,000 coffee plants, and they’ve teamed up with local co-op Los Jilgueros to harvest and roast the beans for tasting sessions. The co-op also give talks about the bean-to-brew journey, and you can learn more about local agriculture with a visit to Don Nery’s Trapiche & Farm, where you’ll be given a homemade breakfast or lunch, explore the fields and gardens, learn how to cook tortillas and extract sugar cane and see this remarkable region authentically through the eyes of Don Nery and his wife Doña Yamilette. The hotel also runs cooking classes too, passing on recipes that have been handed down for generations and imparting local culinary knowhow. After dark, spend a few hours gazing up into the cosmos on a stargazing tour – the skies are crystal clear here and your guides are skilled in planet-spotting. And, while the hotel has many unique traits, perhaps one of its most incredible is that it’s ideally placed for exploring both of Costa Rica’s coasts on a day trip – the Atlantic to Pacific experience flies you cross-country, and the hotel can whisk you off north and south too on request.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this endlessly uplifting wellness retreat in the Talamanca range and imparted their newfound New Age wisdom and tortilla-making tips, a full account of their headspace-healing break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Hacienda AltaGracia in the San José Province…
Hacienda AltaGracia looks like it’s set in The Land Before Time: candyfloss tufts of mist float between green-velvet peaks, jungle runs amok and life champs at the bit. It’s a place where Pachamama’s (the Earth mother) compassion is keenly felt, making it the all-natural choice for this luxurious wellness retreat. But revitalisation isn’t merely cosmetic here – no, this is elbow-deep soul searching that leaves you glowy inside and out; you’ll meditate on a massage bed set in the flowing Calientillo River, partake in healing circles and intention-setting ceremonies, learn how to move mindfully, or have the hotel’s chief medical officer (yes, they have one) guide you on a sharp life turn with a multi-day retreat of behavioral therapy, body work, cooking classes and, um, journalling. If that’s all a little intense for you, scented sauna sessions, blanket-swaddled R ‘n’ R yoga and massages with kitchen-garden picks will give you a gentler nudge in a healthier direction.
So, your chakras are aligned, negative energy is dispelled and you smell amazing – what now? Let your personal ‘compa’ (short for ‘compadre’) be your guide when it comes to experiences as diverse as the biology here. They’ll map out natural playground El Rio for you, which is criss-crossed with hiking trails and ziplines and has gigantic trees to climb; hook you up with a highly trained horse and caballista for a ride through the Talamanca range; send you to a local farm to harvest sugar cane, make Costa Rican dishes and dine with the family owners; or book you the most view-blessed tables for meals that give the land and locality its due through tasty indigenous feasts. By the time you leave you’ll feel at one with the landscape and the world at large.