Combining serious eco cred with beautiful design and personal service, Playa Cativo on the Gulfo Dulce of Costa Rica manages the rare feat of being a nature lodge that feels naturally luxurious.
Being a “green” hotel is no big deal in Costa Rica, where even the Four Seasons is lauded for its strong environmental policies. Normally though, the higher you go up the luxury scale, the less green the hotels get. When it’s all about pampering and indulgence, it gets difficult for properties to also do the right thing in protecting the environment and limiting the use of resources.
Playa Cativo gets the balance just right and combines it with an abundance of wildlife and killer views. Located on the deep Gulfo Dulce, this lodge is on the mainland, a short boat ride from the former banana port town of Golfito, where there’s a small airport. While it doesn’t take all that long to get here, however, it feels like you’re a million miles away from other tourists. Across the gulf the mountains of the Osa Peninsula rise up. To the back and sides of the property are protected jungle areas teeming with tropical birds and lots of four-legged creatures. You’ve got the sea in front (where it’s not uncommon to see sea turtles or porpoises) and though part of the beach is rocky, it’s a sublime place to kayak or go paddleboarding on the often placid waters.
The lodge really shines though when it comes to thoughtful design and its many artistic touches. The whole place is made from sustainably forested hardwood and filled with custom hand-crafted furniture. Colorful tiles in the bathrooms play off the colorful accent fabrics in the rooms. The rooms are open to the breeze since there’s no air-conditioning here—it’s too much of a power drain. By day the sea breeze flows through uninhibited, then as it gets closer to dusk a staffer visits and closes all the screens. Several ceiling fans in each room keep things cool.
Take a video tour here to see arrival by prop plane and boat then the inside and outside of the lodge:
The best rooms are the two suites on the top floor, for their panoramic views coupled with very large bathrooms for two to enjoy together. These also have extra furniture for lounging and a nice writing desk. All rooms, however, have robes, quality natural toiletries, a refillable metal water bottle to keep, and extremely comfortable beds. Nightly turndown service is another nice touch and despite the remote location, you can log in via complimentary Wi-Fi.
You choose one excursion that’s included in the rates and there are a variety of nature activities, guided walks, and kayak trips. For one of the latter you go upriver in the morning nearby via a motorboat, then drift back down in a kayak checking out scampering monkeys and maybe a scarlet macaw if you’re lucky. On my flat nature trail walk I saw a group of collared peccaries (wild pigs), howler monkeys, agoutis, an osprey, and a whole range of tropical birds.
One trail takes in a visit to Playa Cativo’s own organic garden, where many of the items served in the restaurant are served. What’s not grown there is fresh from the water or comes from elsewhere in bountiful Costa Rica. Apart from the wine, there’s not a lot that needs to be imported. The menu is limited to a few items each meal as a result of this and the small scale of the resort, but meals are included in the rates and the chef is happy to accommodate special requests when possible.
Besides the nature activities, open-air yoga, massage options, and going out on the water, there’s also a nice swimming pool on site where you can lounge around and have a staffer deliver drinks. Fronting the sea and with few sounds that aren’t natural, this is a great place to unwind and let the stress melt away.
Playa Cativo Lodge should be commended for its environmental standards, using hydro and solar for all electricity and shunning throwaway items. You can get a tour of the facilities and find out more about how it all works, but the beauty here is that it’s all going on in the background if you want it to. This is travel with a conscious, but very comfortable travel to a high standard of service nevertheless.
Rates at this Gulfo Dulce hotel start at $190 per person including meals, non-alcoholic drinks, transfers, and one excursion. Book direct at the lodge’s website or check availability online at Priceline.
Review and photos by Tim Leffel, who was a guest at Playa Cativo while traveling through Costa Rica doing research for an online luxury travel magazine.