More and more countries are reopening to international travelers, and Costa Rica is one of them. This Central American gem between Nicaragua and Panama has constantly been a top destination for ecotourism because of its natural and well-preserved wonders. Besides those, it’s the friendliest smiles and the Pura Vida way of life that will make you fall in love.
Flying from the Netherlands to Costa Rica seemed like an impossible mission during a pandemic. But it felt worth it as soon as the summer night air touched my skin when we landed in San Jose. The city was quiet, but the lights were bright as we drove to the country’s capital. As much as we wanted to experience the nightlife, we willed ourselves to rest and prepare for our upcoming adventure to the north in the morning.
After getting our rental car the next day, we started driving to Upala. This inconspicuous city won’t usually be on any traveler’s Costa Rica itinerary, and that’s the main reason why you should definitely go. Just imagine how relaxing it would be to breathe in the fresh air in an unspoiled rainforest without other people distracting you—it’s like having your own piece of paradise. If that weren’t enough, let the ORIGINS Lodge change your mind.
The ORIGINS Lodge is a boutique hotel in Costa Rica perfectly tucked in the Upala mountainside—away from the crowded city and enveloped in well-preserved rainforests. Hotel owner Thierry Le Goascoz envisioned creating “a new definition of luxury that will renew how one sees the world.” And through the talented architect Mario Aviles and creative interior designers Patrick Rey and Hugues Blanchere, what used to be a massive chunk of land transformed into a hotel with sustainability at its core.
The building exteriors were designed to merge with nature. The 45-hectare property only has six one-bedroom lodges and a three-bedroom villa strategically located to provide privacy to all guests. Each lodge has vegetation atop its roof to help it blend with the colors of neighboring trees and flora. Meanwhile, the interiors are primarily designed with handcrafted furniture, open-air tropical en suite bathrooms, and a private hot plunge pool on the terrace that uses heat generated from the fireplace.
The kitchen also emphasizes how sustainable ORIGINS Lodge is. Its culinary element is rooted in Michelin-starred chef Jean-Luc L’Hourre’s belief in “capturing the spirit of a region” with each dish. He designed the exquisite French fusion restaurant El Salto’s territorial cuisine using local Latin ingredients collected from the onsite organic garden and bought from the local farmers in the area.
Costa Rican Chef Manuel Marroquin, who specializes in Asian and Peruvian cuisine, also helps to combine the French and Latin elements with organic herbs, edible flowers, and an array of vegetables into ORIGINS Lodge’ signature cuisine.
The best part? Their menus change every three to four months and depending on what’s growing in the garden. Innovative vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free menus are available upon request, too.
Although located in the middle of a rainforest, boredom will never be an issue. Apart from the accommodations, the sustainable hotel also has a yoga pavilion, stable, wellness spa, fishing lagoons, and hiking trails. The staff can also happily arrange itineraries for you to experience all activities the hotel has to offer.
The hotel is managed by experienced hotelier Claudia Silva. With more than twenty years of experience in hospitality, she was surely equipped to turn the previous private residence into a boutique hotel and train a team of 40 people who are now experts in the art of hospitality.
From the moment I stepped inside ORIGINS Lodge, I felt a sense of belonging. Not because we speak the same language and share the same color, but because we were treated like family from day one.
The night we arrived, several members of their staff warmly welcomed us and asked about our trip. We were also given wet towels to refresh before bringing us to our seats at the El Salto Restaurant. While waiting for dinner, Alvaro Morales from reception showed us an itinerary they prepared for our stay, and I must say I was very impressed. The dinner was also satisfying, especially because I know that the ingredients are all organic. As part of their commitment to sustainability, most of the dishes are cooked over a wood-burning stove instead of gas. Plus, waste is turned into compost that they use as fertilizer in the garden.
After dinner, Alvaro and their intern Uri took us to the Mandarin lodge, our home for the next four days, and gave us a room tour. We were also given some welcome gifts, including flowers, a box of fruits, natural insect repellants, and water tumblers. All the rooms in the hotel do not have air conditioning, but the elevation of the place and its green roof significantly contribute to its chilly temperature. To warm us up, they lit the fireplace on our terrace before we arrived. There wasn’t a view to see at night, but the warm ambiance instantly made us feel at home and relaxed. The symphony of crickets and cicadas also created a nostalgic vibe that made me reminisce about my childhood.
In the morning, I woke up to the sound of birds instead of my usual phone alarm. It seemed like my body clock had been reset overnight. And truth be told, I just really wanted to see what our terrace looked like in the morning—and I wasn’t disappointed. My eyes feasted on the magnificent view of trees in their beautiful emerald and amber hues that stretch up to Nicaragua Lake.
The room looked even better. The four-poster wooden bed is topped with comfortable mattresses and pillows. On top of it is a ceiling fan that helps in regulating the room temperature. My appreciation for our bathroom grew even more, too! However, the most unbelievable part is the fact that the room is almost plastic-free. The hotel toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, and body soap are inside ceramic containers. Even the waste bags are made of paper.
The restaurant staff welcomed us with smiles and polite greetings when we arrived at El Salto. Johebeth Hernandez, who assisted us the previous night, was there, too. She is very attentive and already knows our drink preference which I thought was a lovely gesture. Breakfast always started with freshly-cut fruits, a selection of bread, and different spreads like butter and jams. Then, it was followed by a dish of our choice—a traditional Costa Rican breakfast or something more American like pancakes, bacon, and eggs. I loved having their pancakes because of their Melipona honey, collected from the fifteen bee hives around this hotel in Costa Rica. This honey is considered the country’s best and retails for $100 per kilogram.
ORIGINS Lodge offers plenty of activities for their guests, and they were very generous in letting us try it all. In the mornings, we went to the yoga pavilion for a relaxing meditation class with Argentine yoga instructor Ana Gracey. I haven’t gone to any meditation class, but this session convinced me that I should. Staying still wasn’t a challenge, but fighting sleepiness was. Once I got the hang of it, though, it was a calming experience that emphasized the importance of being present in the moment and helped me improve the clarity of my thoughts.
There were also guided hiking trails around the property that tripled the amount of adventures one can try. During our stay, tour guide Eduardo Arguello joined us on an afternoon hike to Catarata de Oro, one of the waterfalls inside the property. Eduardo made the hike very educational by telling us more about the ORIGINS Lodge’s flora and fauna. He taught us how to survive in the wild, how to mimic howler monkey sounds, and why it is important to take care of every single living thing inside a forest. After the hike, we rode some Costa Rican horses and trotted to the neighboring places of the property.
The night tour was equally exciting! Before we started, we were reminded to be observant and calm to avoid being bitten by insects and not harm any of them during the tour. It was pitch dark, but we felt comfortable around Eduardo, who took us to the laguna across the yoga pavilion for our first stop. Upon pointing my flashlight to the ground, I saw plenty of frogs hopping on the grass, but that wasn’t the big surprise—it’s the fact that a caiman (a close relative of alligators) lives in the pond. “It’s been here from the start,” he says.
With Eduardo’s sharp eyes and instinct, we were also able to locate a couple of Costa Rica’s infamous red-eyed tree frogs, bullet ants, coati, and bats. The howler monkeys were loud but we did not see any of them. He also brought us to a laguna, where one can fish for sardines, tilapia, and the popular Gaspar fish. The Gaspar fish is considered a living fossil in the country because its appearance has hardly changed in 150 million years.
The next day, we had a sensorial and medicinal plant tour with ORIGINS Lodge’s Experiences Manager Pablo Potoy. He is a passionate naturalist, and in charge of studying the plants they could grow on the property to increase the number of birds, beads, and butterflies that help promote natural pollination. Pablo showed us their organic garden, where they grow over 150 different local plants and medicinal herbs. It’s no wonder why, given that this sustainable hotel is aligned with five volcanoes that made its soil rich. Besides that, Pablo also enlightened us about Costa Rica’s indigenous tribes and how they are keeping their culture alive.
After spending so much time in the forest, who would have thought we hadn’t even explored half of it? This is why Pablo gave us another wonderful tour on horseback in the afternoon. It is mostly focused on wildlife, especially the animals who live in the trees. We learned that 25% of the national birds in the entire country could be found here. The trail will also be enjoyed by more experienced riders because of the steep slopes we had to climb and descend from.
I think this is one of the unique experiences only ORIGINS Lodge can offer. It’s also one of the biggest reasons why I love this hotel in Costa Rica. They genuinely care for the entire property, including the whole forest and all the animals living there.
After the physically challenging adventures we’ve had, we head to Laka-Tii spa, where we met masseur Manuel Guevara and masseuse Andrea Calderón. They treated us with a relaxing aromatherapy session before giving us a fantastic Swedish massage. We were handed some refreshments and fresh towels after the massage, but the spa day wasn’t over. They also showed us to the sauna and whirlpool filled with flower petals located at the terrace that we could use to destress further.
When we got back to our lodge to change for dinner, Uri already lit up the fireplace—this is what I meant when describing ORIGINS Lodge’s hospitality. The entire staff already knows your preference by the second day and tries to do it automatically. We also asked them the most random questions and got the most thoughtful replies. The quality of service they offer is unparalleled to other luxury hotels we’ve been to—it really is a family.
Afterwards, we were welcomed by F&B Manager Alex Carballo At El Salto. Since we were early for dinner, he let us enjoy some wonderful cocktails crafted by our favorite Rodrigo Rojas. He is a waiter at the restaurant but also a pure genius when it comes to mixing cocktails. His Tamarind Gin Tonic is phenomenal! The flavors gracefully dance on your tastebuds. As if that’s not enough, Alex even let us go to the bar with Rodrigo to learn the secret behind his magical recipe.
Before leaving this sustainable hotel, we were able to spend some time with Claudia. My conversation with her blew away because I learned more about the history of the place, how it would evolve, and her motivations. So far, her leadership has made such a significant impact on the lives of her employees. It certainly reflects on the way they treat each other and their guests. Additionally, the amount of teamwork they exert to make each guest experience remarkable is beyond expectations.
The ORIGINS Lodge kept its promise to redefine luxury. There are no golden bathtubs, but there are golden sunrises. There are no gigantic chandeliers on the ceiling, but there are millions of stars shining above you. There are no expensive paintings on the walls, but there’s a masterpiece when you look out the window. I became aware that all the little things I pay less attention to were emphasized during my stay.
Because I spent less time on my phone, I spent more time living in the monet and had many realizations. I realized that I forgot what it was like to stop and appreciate a view. I forgot how fun it was to dance in the rain. I forgot how fulfilling climbing a mountain felt like. I forgot how to enjoy a conversation with a nice stranger. But most importantly, I forgot what it feels like to take good care of myself. And ORIGINS Lodge reminded me of the beauty in all of this—it made me understand how the simplest things in life can make you feel rich inside and out.
They may be a small boutique hotel, but its big heart for the environment, its employees, and guests magnifies its impact tenfold. More than the experience, the wisdom and peace of mind you will get when you visit makes this undoubtedly priceless. If I were you, I’d start making a reservation now.
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Pámela Piedad is a journalist, author, designer, and the Editor-in-Chief of POLO LADY Magazine.