Sign Up for Our Daily Newsletter
As I scuffled my toes in the soft, slate-gray sand of Costa Rica’s Playa Panama in Guanacaste, it took me a moment to grasp where the rows of sun-dappled native mangroves ended and where the actual architecture of El Mangroove Hotel began. Chalk up my uncertainty to exactly what the creators of the property had intended: The hotel is so inspired by its natural environment that it appears almost camouflaged within its surroundings.
Indeed, much of the 85-room boutique Autograph Collection hotel, which spans a sprawling 17 acres, feels effortless in its thoughtful incorporation of nature. Breezy, open-air living rooms seamlessly merge indoor and outdoor spaces, and the 24-hour gym and Berth Spa feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows and are also partly alfresco. So much of what defines Costa Rica — simplicity and a laid-back ambiance — is found at the hotel.
But El Mangroove’s beauty runs more than skin deep. The property, which earned the highest rank possible in the Costa Rican Tourism Board’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism program, maintains a fully sustainable operation. This initiative can be traced back to before the hotel’s February 2014 opening, when acclaimed Costa Rican architect Ronald Zurcher pledged to cut down the minimum amount of trees necessary for construction. Under his guidance, those that had to be removed were then repurposed into the desks and benches that are found throughout the property.
Other eco-friendly design elements integrate materials such as bamboo and stone, also salvaged locally. In-room plumbing such as sinks and toilets use water-efficient systems; waste water is carefully treated on-site for irrigation purposes; and lighting utilizes energy-efficient fluorescent and LED bulbs.
This eco-conscious mindset influences El Mangroove’s dining experiences, too, as the on-site restaurants only use organic and farm-to-table or ocean-to-table ingredients. At Matiss, with a palapa-style roof overhead and sand at our feet, my partner and I scarfed down tacos stuffed with Cajun-style grilled prawns. We also substituted patacones (twice-fried plantain slices) for spoons to scoop up snapper ceviche.
Sultry indoor-outdoor restaurant Makoko comes alive at nightfall, offering decadent food and mixologist-engineered cocktails with frisky names such as “Between the Sheets.” Order yellowfin tuna tartare to start and Worcestershire-glazed short ribs with an apple-jalapeno puree to follow. And if hunger strikes again in the dead of night — as it did for us — room service is available around the clock. (You can’t go wrong with the 2 a.m. classics of pizza and burgers.)
Guests at Guanacaste’s El Mangroove Hotel can catch a stunning sunset on nearby Playa Panama beach. // © 2016 El Mangroove Hotel
El Mangroove’s open-air lobby // © 2016 El Mangroove Hotel
The 85-room, all-suite boutique hotel is outfitted with chic, natural furnishings. // © 2016 El Mangroove Hotel
Each suite features regional artwork and fun details such as in-room hammocks. // © 2016 El Mangroove Hotel
The 1,668-square-foot presidential El Mangle Suite has a private plunge pool and spacious sundeck. // © 2016 El Mangroove Hotel
Enjoy a massage at the indoor-outdoor Berth Spa. // © 2016 El Mangroove Hotel
The spectacular pool stretches some 130 feet toward the sea. // © 2016 El Mangroove Hotel
Order tacos and ceviches at the beachy Matiss restaurant. // © 2016 El Mangroove Hotel
The more formal Makoko restaurant offers decadent food and cocktails. // © 2016 El Mangroove Hotel
Seven categories of bohemian-meets-contemporary suites are available at El Mangroove, each outfitted with regional artwork. Our Root Suite showcased neatly arranged fake shark teeth as well an in-room minibar, a flat-screen television, a rain shower and free Wi-Fi access. The Bark and Nesto suites start at 485 square feet, while the biggest (and ritziest) option is the 1,668-square-foot presidential El Mangle Suite, with a private plunge pool, a large adjacent sundeck, a kitchen, dining and living areas and more.
While the beach is just steps away from the property, it’ll be nearly impossible for clients to pass up the showstopper of a pool that stretches some 130 feet toward the sea. Though we didn’t have any trouble locating a lounge chair after an early morning dip, five private cabanas also flank the pool and are available for $150 per day, from 6 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. This rate includes two five-minute massages and private waiter service, including complimentary small bites.
El Mangroove is a big hit with the stylish jet-setter crowd, especially smitten-looking couples — which might explain the tongue-in-cheek amenities such as the playfully labeled “pleasure kit” found in our suite. Though such details are certainly something to consider when booking clients with young children, I spotted plenty of blissful families milling around the hotel. Plus, with the on-site kids’ club and its Guppies Activity Program, which features activities such as Spanish classes and cooking classes ($20 per hour, with a three-hour minimum), parents can savor ample alone time with yoga classes, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, snorkeling, complimentary bicycle rentals and more.
On our last day at the hotel, we took a final swan dive into the pool and then floated on our backs, Imperial beers in hand. Can you blame me when I say checking out felt bittersweet?