Imagine that the Jungle Book’s Mowgli grew up, cashed out some crypto at the right time, married a supermodel, then felt a nostalgic pang… that Mowgli might live in one of Ocio Villas’ two lavish residences. These Costa Rican mansions – with private pools, a helipad and many decks from which to admire your kingdom – are tucked away in the sort of rampant jungle-to-coast-scenery you’d need several viewmaster reels to contain. And, they balance ‘pura vida’ joys (nature’s wonders, time to share and socialise, peaceful seclusion), with unabashed ‘look at my riches’ luxury. An altogether more elegant and decadent way to get reacquainted with the wild.
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A welcome drink each. Stays of five nights or more also get two free massages
Two tricked-out villas in the jungle: Villa Numu has two bedrooms, Villa Nimbu has five.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £2009.87 ($2,426), including tax at 13 per cent.
Rates don’t include breakfast, but you can order in using the house 'grocery list', consisting of decadent meals and cocktails staff can whip up.
Ruminate on your heavenly surroundings with meditation sessions on sun-warmed rocks, yoga stretching on your deck or knot-untying alfresco massages. And, you’ll have spinning bikes, weights, balls and resistance bands for gentle work-outs.
At the hotel
Concierge, personal chefs (for an extra charge), round-the-clock security, charged laundry service, free WiFi.
Our favourite rooms
Villa Numu is more intimate for couples or small families, with just two bedrooms, but there’s no skimping on spectacular views or luxuriant living. While Villa Nimbu is all set for party posses or multi-generation getaways, with its many lounging terraces, large pools, alfresco bath tubs and showers made of local tree trunks, vast dining deck and enough space to sleep 10.
No need to share with strangers, each villa has an infinity pool with a shallow end for little ones to play in and a hot tub. And, placed prominently on a jungle-bound deck which pans down to the Pacific, you get served serious looks as you swim.
Gear that can get a little roughed up: shorts and t-shirts for jungle capers, wetsuits for surfing, and sturdy boots for self-guided safaris.
The wild terrain and varying villa levels make this unsuitable for guests with mobility issues.
For an intimate meal with 19 of your closest friends, there’s Villa Nimbu’s Arthurian-esque round table on the deck with tropical views and a bar. But, if you didn’t bring the whole horde, get cosy on carved Moroccan benches tucked into alfresco nooks.
As au naturel as you like – there’s only the howler monkeys to judge here.
Each of the two villas has its own fully equipped kitchen – but, it’s not for you to use; no, you’re on holiday. So, sit down and let the resident chef Jose Lopez take the load (for a fee). He knows his stuff, particularly when it comes to European, African and Meso-American cuisine. In his repertoire there’s blackened mahi-mahi in a basil-lime butter, shrimp and mango ceviche, papillote of whichever fish has been caught that day in coconut milk and ginger, and an array of desserts from coconut custard to chocolate volcano cake – a cute nod to Costa Rica’s natural charms. For more sociable affairs, or a change of scene, head 10 minutes up the coast to Brasas Del Mar restaurant at sister property Casa Chameleon. Menus run all day – for breakfast, choose either the Tico (tortillas with eggs, gallo pinto and plantain) or the Gringo (with eggs and toast with spreads), or tuck into tropical pancakes with grilled pineapple, mango and coconut shavings; huevos rancheros and avo on toast. For lunch, there’s sandwiches packed with pulled pork and cheese, quesadillas, ceviche and more; and dinners amp up the elegance with dishes such as yellowfin tuna with a honey-lime ponzu sauce, shrimp salad with aji-pepper aioli, and fish spiced with jalapeño in a cashew crust.
In the interests of getting the party started and keeping it fuelled, ask for your villa to be pre-stocked with a range of global wines, spirits and mixers, local cervezas and pre-mixed cocktails. Perhaps a potent Guaro Sour (made using the local sugar-cane liqueur), Tequila Sunrise, fresh-fruit colada, jug of sangria or a round of Bloody Marys for morning revivals. Brasas Del Mar also has a cocktail list to celebrate – starting with the Pineapple Collins with a dash of tangerine and honey, continuing with the curaçao- and cantaloupe-laced Blue Chameleon, breezing through the blackberry G&T, and ending with a couple of – not all that intimidating – Scary Lemonades with rum or vodka, lemongrass, mint and lime.
There’s a grocery list (of meals and pre-mixed drinks) guests can choose from before and during their stay, and chef Jose works to your whims.
The two Ocio Private Villas emerge from the Nicoya Peninsula’s jungle with more swagger and style than Tarzan, perched high above peaceful fishing hamlet Mal Pais and close to surf haven Santa Teresa.
If you’re flying into San José, the hotel’s around a five-hour drive from Juan Santamaria International (so it's best to try to land before 5pm local time). This includes the ferry crossing over the Gulf of Nicoya – which, with its aquamarine waters and potential whale sightings, is no hardship. Or you can fly into Daniel Oduber International in Liberia, around a four-hour drive away. The journeys might be long but they’ll give you a preview of the riotous greenery to come. If, however, you want to skip to the good part, hop on a flight from San José to ‘local’ airport Tambor, a more reasonable hour’s drive away; from here the hotel can pick you up for $90 one-way (for up to four).
Buses don’t really run through the jungle that frequently – or indeed at all – so a car will be useful for reaching the remoter parts of the peninsula. Main roads are fairly easy to navigate here, but some of the less-established routes get muddy in winter and cracked and dry in summer, so you’ll need to drive cautiously. And keep some cash on hand for toll roads. There’s free private parking onsite.
If you have a helipad, you may as well use it – would be rude not to. The one beside your villa has spotlights and can be readied on request.
Worth getting out of bed for
Sleepy fishing hamlet Mal País’ story could have followed that of many places too pretty to remain incognito. Surfers came for the waves and beachy ‘pura vida’, then the celebs took notice and turned tracts into eye-popping estates, then luxury hotels moved in, and…well, it stops there, because eco-tourism hero Costa Rica doesn’t give up its beauty spots so easily. Boats still bring in their hauls daily, locals tend to whizz about by bike or quad, beaches don’t care who you are (and stay fairly off-radar), and Ticos still barrel down mud roads to ride the breaks that crash onto shore. And these two villas are so thoroughly concealed in jungle, that only your helipad shatters the illusion that time has passed since prehistory. And so, you’ll swoop through the hundreds of trees that form the canopy on a zipline like a troop of howler monkeys, stalk through the trees on an ATV with the stealth of the local pumas, swim with a megapod of spinner dolphins in Drake’s Bay off the Pacific coast (whales pass this way too, come late autumn), before succumbing to the ways of the sloth, taking leisurely drinks and lingering dinners on your deck. Those with steely nerves can ride the bucking Rio Negro on a raft, bungee jump in the Cabo Blanco nature reserve – looking out for tree-dwelling parrots, capuchins, lizards and snakes as they descend – or look straight into the bubbling eyes of the region’s volcanoes (Arenal, Tenorio, Miravelles, Rincón de la Vieja) in a helicopter. While gentler souls can trot along on a sunset horse ride, bathe in fairy-glen waterfalls and hop from playa to playa. Surfers, suit up and head to Santa Teresa for world-class boarding or tuition for the less-confident.
While the wilder parts of Mal País has more of an eat-or-be-eaten attitude, downtown Santa Teresa is more formally foodie. We like El Carmen, set on its namesake beach, where rustic-style pizzas are paddled in and out of a stone oven – try the meaty gordita topping. Or dine lightly on fresh fish with rice and beans and ceviche; vegans and veggies will be well-catered for here too. Koji’s takes coastal bounty and crafts it into flowery sushi and sashimi plates, and Osa is your go to for racks of overflowing tacos, margarita shrimp and yuquitas with tropical dips.
Conceptually, the Bakery is all over the place – serving not just baked goods, but pastas, kebabs, mezze, burritos and schnitzel – but the almond-chocolate croissant will call you back as much as the Greek-inspired Yamas sandwich with spinach fritters, labneh, preserved lemon, zhug, feta and zucchini.
If you like your drinks flamboyant – say, a margarita garnished with a cerveza, a colada in a hollowed-out pineapple, a banana split deconstructed for drinking – then Banana Beach will suit you fine. Live music, frequent party nights and surf-competition celebrations keep guests on a high here. Drift Bar gives you sights for sore eyes and drinks for sore heads, with a gallery space and a 30-strong cocktail list. We like the Smoked Pineapple with a dash of chipotle and slugs of tequila, Bourbon Mint Lemonade and the lists dedicated to mules and sangrias – try the tropical style with red wine, mango, uchuva and rum.
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 these not-so-humble abodes in Costa Rica’s serene, green Nicoya Peninsula and unpacked their surfboards and fully quenched their thirst for adventure, a full account of their spirited and slothful break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Ocio Villas…
To understand the feeling that Costa Rican hideaways Ocio Villas inspire in those lucky few who get to stay for a while, imagine Scrooge McDuck had a thing for emeralds rather than gold coins. Because when you’re surveying your newly acquired Nicoya Peninsula empire from one of the many decks of your airport-sized mansion – which, in fact, has its own heliport – you’ll feel as if you could dive right in to the near-ludicrous wealth of greenery pooled out all around, down to the deep blue waters of the Pacific coast. In some ways, you can – you could careen through the forest canopy on a zipwire, bomb through the hundreds of tree species on an ATV, and seek out the monkeys, big cats, tropical birds and sloths – among many other creatures great and small – that have thrived in the lush habitats here. Not to mention swimming with dolphins, surfing with the best, and holding staring matches with volcano craters while swooping around in a helicopter. Make of it what you will, because you live here now – at your nod, the concierge makes things happen, a chef comes round to cook up Meso-American feasts, a yogi comes to put you through your paces… And, with alfresco stone bath tubs, Moroccan-style open-air lounges, a private pool and hot tub, and, yes, views that make invasive plants seem like a wonderful idea, it won’t take you long to get used to this, not exactly ‘pura vida’ but a rather wonderful way to live nonetheless. Covetousness might be a somewhat ungraceful trait, but like old McD, we can fully understand wanting to keep all this bounty to yourself.
You’ll also find Ocio Villas by Casa Chameleon in: