The Pacific coast region of Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio is easily one of the most luxurious of all destinations in the country, and should absolutely be a stop on everyone’s Costa Rica itinerary. Hugged by lush tropical forests, white sand and warm, clear-blue water line the town as boutique hotels hang off the cliffs above. Masses of tourists are drawn every year to Manuel Antonio to visit Costa Rica’s most famous ecological preserve, Manuel Antonio National Park; where pristine beaches and plentiful wildlife looming in the canopy jungle can be found. With so many seemingly great options for luxury accommodations in Manuel Antonio, the decision as to which hotel to book can seem daunting. Furthermore, selecting a Manuel Antonio National Park tour can also be a tireless task of its own. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to stay at the exclusive Issimo Suites Boutique Hotel and Spa during the peak of high season, and could not have been happier with both my stay and the tour they provide of the National Park. The entire experience from the tour itself, to Issimo’s rooms, food, and location all exuded five-star excellence, and made me truly experience what the “pura vida” lifestyle is all about.
What is Pura Vida?
Pura vida is as much of a way of life as it is a greeting. It translates to “pure life” or “simple life” and can be used in place of hello, goodbye, or any other salutation. To live the pura vida life is to be happy and stress free. It is a life of optimism despite circumstance, and it is exactly how I felt during my stay in Manuel Antonio’s Issimo Suites. It is a practice I’ve since taken with me through the rest of my travels.
Why Issimo Suites?
From the moment you step foot on the beautiful, adults-only Issimo property, you are made to feel like royalty. The warm staff welcome you with a cold tropical drink, and graciously tend to your every need from check in, to check out. It is a friendliness you don’t always encounter at luxury resorts, and sets the tone for a real pura vida vacation.
Of the most remarkable features about Issimo Suites is that the boutique hotel only offers 12 rooms. Each room is a spacious suite complete with a jacuzzi hot tub, large balcony, and floor-to-ceiling views of both the jungle and the Pacific. Moreover, with the limited amount of guests on the premises, individualized attention to each patron is easily achieved by the staff which aids in a truly VIP experience. The complimentary daily breakfasts can even be served in the privacy of your room at no additional cost. The suite’s balcony is the perfect place to enjoy this meal as the early morning peacefulness sets in, and songs of the birds that echo through the jungle set the pace for the day. It is the perfect hotel for a honeymoon, romantic getaway, or a luxurious girls’ trip; and with so much privacy, often times the only others you encounter while relaxing by the pool or enjoying a drink on the restaurant deck are the playful monkeys that inhabit the area. After all, this is their home first and foremost, and we are simply guests in their habitat.
Issimo’s location is also incredibly ideal. The hotel is located just up the street from Biesanz beach, one of Manuel Antonio’s best beaches. A short walk will take you there, or you can opt for the complimentary golf cart rides to and from the beach. This white sand playa has everything you need to enjoy a perfect beach day: from calm waters to swim in, to water activity rentals such as snorkels and paddle boards. You can even purchase snacks, alcoholic beverages, or get yourself a massage right on the sand. At the end of the day, walk or take the golf cart back to Issimo to catch the sunset and enjoy happy hour with two-for-one specials by the pool or the beautiful outdoor restaurant. There is no better place to catch the sunset, where you will be joined by wild monkeys, iguanas, and other wildlife that inhabit Issimo’s surroundings.
Set against the backdrop of the expansive Pacific Ocean and lush foliage of the jungle, the restaurant at Issimo is put simply, exquisite. The menu features a repertoire of gourmet fusion with influences of Mediterranean, Italian, and local Costa Rican cuisine. Best of all, the restaurant is committed to supporting the local community, where 100% of the ingredients are sourced daily from local farmers, fisherman, and butchers. I made it my personal mission to try the ceviche in nearly every restaurant I visited across Costa Rica and Issimo’s was by far the best (I’m serious.) Flavors of both sweet and tart citrus mingled with each bite of fresh sea bass — a unique and delightful twist to the traditional preparation. Seafood is really the star of Issimo’s restaurant. You will be delighted by the variety of local sea-to-table fish and seafood, which is caught daily and prepared with seasonal, locally-sourced produce.
The food and the view aren’t the only note-worthy aspects of the restaurant. The wine selection, too, deserves so much praise in its own right. With an impressive collection of private reserve bottles which have been hand-curated by Issimo’s owner, the wine collection takes you on a journey through Italy; from the northern region of Verona, to central Florence, and all the way down to the southern tip of Palermo. Each wine has been individually selected based on the unique properties of the bottle, whether it is the characteristic vineyards, or rare grape harvesting, barreling, and everything in between. Each bottle deserves to be celebrated for the unique story it tells.
Just as the restaurant uses local and organic ingredients so too does the spa in all their treatments. At Issimo’s spa, all your senses will be indulged from head to toe in scrubs, creams, and oils made from the plants, flowers, and fruit found in the jungle that surrounds you. A massage before a dip in your suite’s private hot tub is the perfect way to end your day in paradise.
Commitment to Sustainability
If you aren’t sold yet, you may be happy to learn that Issimo’s commitment to sustainability and eco-tourism are of the highest standard. In addition to both the restaurant and spa’s strict use of organic ingredients, everything from the bed sheets and towels, to soaps and bath products are made from organic ingredients as well. What is most important however, is Issimo’s relationship with the natural environment that houses them. Manuel Antonio is one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world, and the property itself lies on acres of conserved tropical jungle that stretches all the way to the ocean. Although the property line extends far beyond the hotel, Issimo is commited to leaving the jungle that encompasses the hotel untouched by man, so that it is able to thrive naturally. Because of this effort, it is not uncommon to find many wild animals and birds in all areas of the hotel.
Who is Issimo not for?
Solo travelers looking to meet others, people looking to party, families, and backpackers would probably be best off staying at a different hotel. Issimo’s tranquil and private atmosphere is best suited for those in search of peacefulness and eco-luxury in a romantic and natural atmosphere.
Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park
Issimo offers a fantastic tour of Manuel Antonio’s most popular attraction, the Manuel Antonio National Park. For $50.00 (USD) a person, a certified guide will take you on a tour through the tropical forest. Park entrance fee, transportation both ways, and fruit, snacks, and water are also included in the fee.
Why You Should Take the Guided Tour
For one, a certified guide will be able to point out the wildlife that you will otherwise not see due to camouflage or distance. They also will have a telescope to help you better view the various sloths, monkeys, and reptiles throughout the trail. Furthermore, the guides are highly knowledgeable about the habitat making for an extremely interesting educational experience.
Going with the hotel tour operator also guarantees entry into the park, and allows you to skip the long ticket and entry line. The park opens at 7:00am and only allows 800 people per day, making for a huge rush in the morning. With the guide provided through Issimo, you will be able to breeze by the line with very little wait-time. If you were to show up at the park yourself and try to negotiate a guide there, there is no guarantee of entry. Moreover, when considering the cost of transportation and/or parking, plus the park entry fee and the price for the guide, the total amount comes close to what the hotel tour offers. All things in consideration, taking Issimo’s tour is a great deal and will save you lots of stress and time.
The time spent walking through the park with the guide is about 2 hours. After the tour, you will have the option to visit the 3 stunning beaches inside Manuel Antonio National Park. Beach #3 is listed as the 15th best beach in the world, and makes for a great place to spend the afternoon swimming and sunbathing. Just keep in mind that there is no food or drinks here, so come prepared with snacks or lunch. Issimo conveniently offers a packed picnic lunch for $35.00 should you wish to purchase one before you go on your tour. The Manuel Atonio National Park may very well be your favorite stop in Costa Rica, so take your time and enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds you from every turn.
After a day spent at the National Park, return to Issimo for a soak in the en-suite jacuzzi tub as you witness the aw-inspring sunset from the privacy of your room. With breath-taking scenery of both the ocean and jungle; private, friendly, and upscale hospitality; incredible food and wine; and a commitment to sustainability, the local community, and preserving the ecosystem, there is no better place to stay in Manuel Antonio than Issimo Suites Boutique Hotel and Spa: Manuel Antonio’s premier eco-luxury paradise.