The rustic luxury at Latitude 10 in Costa Rica isn’t like the kind of luxury you’ll experience anywhere else…
By Chere Di Boscio
With demand for sustainable tourism growing year on year, it’s no surprise that lots of hotels greenwash their eco-creds. For example, most will place a little card on your pillow saying they’re ‘green’ because they only wash the sheets every other day or so (even though I’ve found in practice, they will wash them daily anyway).
So when I heard about the eco-policies of Latitude 10 hotel in Costa Rica, I was a little bit thrilled…and a little bit apprehensive.
The hotel is deep green. Seriously green. It functions solely on solar energy, meaning it hasn’t got capacity for indulgences like air conditioning or television. It relies on local food suppliers, provides glass jugs of water instead of plastic bottles and metal straws instead of plastic, and uses organic cleaning products throughout the property. Their pool is ionised and uses no chlorine, and the bathrooms are all open air. It sounds alright in theory. But can a lack of AC in the jungle and an absence of basics like TVs and bathrobes provide holiday makers with a truly luxurious experience?
The Definition of Luxury
The answer to that question is: it depends on what your definition of luxury is.
Reflect on it: what does it mean for you? Is it liveried waiters and formal, impeccable service? Is it wallowing in excesses of food, booze and other sensual pleasures? Does it mean the plushest of towels, carpets and slippers provided on demand? Or is it solitude, privacy and immersion in pure nature? If the latter, Latitude 10 is your ideal holiday destination.
Admittedly, it’s not for everyone. First off, it’s not easy to get to. Located in the unspoilt southern Nicoya Peninsula on a pristine strip of beach a 15 minute walk from the town of Santa Teresa, it took us around five hours in an SUV to get here from the airport. We splashed through low rivers, jiggled along potholed roads, and boarded a ferry (with the car) before finally arriving to our destination. It felt a bit like being in a commercial for Range Rover.
But you know what? It was worth it. At this rather secluded corner of Costa Rica, there are no throngs of tourists competing for the best Instagram shot, no jet skis slicing through silent waters, no beach vendors buzzing around – just a million shades of green, bordered by a vast strip of nearly-empty beach. A true rarity in our modern world.
The hotel, which was once a private home, is comprised of only five Bali-esque beachfront bungalows, all of which are open to the ocean breezes and sounds of the surrounding jungle. The alfresco restaurant has spectacular views of the crashing waves, and is the perfect place to laze the days away with a fresh drink and a book. There’s a jar of free homemade cookies that constantly tempt the appetite, and plenty of magazines and games to keep you busy – though I should mention that there’s also wifi, so you can check your emails if you so wish.
Should you tire of staying on the property, you can wander along the beach to the tiny town of Santa Teresa. Rumor has it that Mel Gibson has been seen walking barefoot here, and Robert Plant has passed through on his way to nearby Montezuma. The town is an unpolished, Boho chic hangout with surf shops, pizzarias, cafes, supermarkets, healthy restaurants and even a few clothing stores. We were surprised to discover loads of young expats living here – but not from the United States, as we’d expected. Instead, many hailed from Argentina, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Russia and Israel.
Our favourite eatery there was simply called the Bakery, and provided us with healthy vegan burgers, salads, croissants, and excellent coffee. The cafe radiates a relaxed, youthful vibe, and apparently the pizzas they serve on Mondays are good enough to draw small crowds.
The food at Latitude 10 was also pretty wonderful though, making us reluctant to leave. Every morning, we feasted on fresh fruit, juices, cereal and breakfast burritos that fast became our favourite (though other hot options can be ordered). Complimentary water, tea and coffee (and those cookies!) were available throughout the day, and we really enjoyed the company of Maria, the server. She was sweet, cheerful, and always had an interesting tale to tell, like that time a boa constrictor and iguana had a battle to the death on the roof of the cafe, as witnessed by half-fascinated, half horrified guests (she wasn’t sure who won).
Dinners here are quite an intimate event. Guests dressed up to enjoy conversation and creative cuisine at candlelit tables, and the chef truly made an effort to ensure each meal was a memorable one. Knowing I’m a vegan, she specially prepared an array of dishes for me alone, which included homemade corn tortillas filled with fresh avocado and pico de gallo, crispy yuca croquetas, savoury quinoa-stuffed tomatoes, and kale rolls packed with rice and sauteed vegetables. Desserts included banana ‘nice’ cream, avocado chocolate mousse and passionfruit pie, all washed down with that superb Costa Rican coffee.
Our room was a two room hardwood colonial plantation-style casita tucked away in the foliage. Shuttered doors opened onto a sea-facing porch, equipped with a hammock and deck chairs. As part of the turndown service, candles were lit around the entrance, porch and bed. It was beautifully romantic showering every evening beneath the stars in the roofless bathroom, using water heated by a solar powered tank.
Each casita was designed to draw in the breeze, negating the need for air conditioning, and a mosquito net covering our four-poster bed ensured no insects bothered us. But that’s not to say we didn’t get other visitors from the jungle.
After being lulled to sleep by the sound of the rain battering our roof, we were suddenly awakened by scrapes and bumps. Opening one eye, I saw three toddler-sized figures surrounding my suitcase. Without my glasses, I couldn’t quite make out what they were. One of them actually seemed to unzip my luggage and pull something out, while another discovered something of interest in a paper bag and started eating it. Then it all became clear: a family of raccoons had taken advantage of the fact that we hadn’t latched the door properly, and helped themselves to some chocolate I’d bought as gifts for friends back home, and a leftover cookie we’d stored in a bag.
While some may have been mildly terrified by this experience, we were actually endlessly amused. In fact, it’s still what we remember most about our trip!
We were here for too short a stay – only two nights. We spent our first day exploring the hotel, and the second in Santa Teresa town. We ran on the beach both evenings, and took advantage of the hotel’s eco-promise to exchange each bag of rubbish collected on the shore for a cocktail at the bar.
If only we had more time! We would have liked to have taken one of Latitude 10’s sustainability tours or eco-excursions to learn more about the region’s conservation efforts. In fact, we could have easily passed a few weeks here without getting bored. Here are just a few of the activities on offer we didn’t have time for:
- Enjoying a massages, facials or private yoga class at the Bambu spa at Florblanca (free transport can be arranged)
- Horseback riding on the shore
- Going surfing or taking surf lessons (boards are available to borrow)
- Snorkelling and turtle viewing trip to Isla Tortuga
- Visiting the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve at the very tip of the Nicoya peninsula
- Ziplining at the Malpais Canopy Tour
I guess we simply have to come back. But we mustn’t wait too long – retreats as private and pristine as this one are under threat by mass tourism. You could say that the rustic luxury of Latitude 10 is a rare luxury indeed.