Costa Rica’s Design Utopia: Sustainability on the South Pacific Coast

Costa Rica’s Design Utopia: Sustainability on the South Pacific Coast


Rica‘s Guanacaste province often wins the popular vote,
but for travellers seeking a lesser-known hideaway between jungle
and sea, the answer lies just a stone’s throw from the capital city
of San José. Drive a few hours south and you’ll reach Costa Rica’s
Central Pacific Coast and eventually the Osa Peninsula, one of the
most biodiverse areas in the country.

Marked by a series of powdery white beaches and national parks,
the region is home to jaguars, humpback whales, sloths, pumas and
monkeys. Ample opportunity to spot wildlife attracts in-the-know
travellers, but there is a strong drive to keep the region
pristine. This has led local hoteliers to ignite a movement of
sustainable yet luxurious abodes.

Establishing a model for eco-architecture in the beachside
community of Uvita, Costa Rican biologist Alejandra Umaña and
architect Martin Wells set out to create their dream boutique
hotel. The result was Kura Design Villas, a remote property that’s
since made “tropical minimalism” a design trend in the region.
Growing up in San José, the young Tico couple fell in love with the
idea of living closer to nature and eventually built their own home
out of shipping containers. They later spent three years
constructing Kura, a challenging project due to its cliff-side
location at over 1,000 feet above sea level. Today, the treacherous
uphill drive rewards travellers with a sweeping view over Marino
Ballena National Park’s “whale’s tale” sandbar and a romantic
retreat in one of the property’s handful of villa suites.

“We decided to use no more than five predominant materials in
the design to respect the minimalism concept and chose materials
that behave well in the tropics: concrete, steel, glass, wood and
bamboo”, says Umaña. “It was Martin’s first big architectural
project and since it was a personal project, we decided not to
build a traditional Costa Rican-style concept hotel. On the flip
side, my background in biology helped us to incorporate everything
we needed to reduce our environmental footprint.”

As a result, LED lighting illuminates the entire property, while
water is heated by solar power. Each villa is outfitted with eco
features such as dual flush toilets and biodegradable soaps,
without compromising the sensual aesthetic that has put Kura on the
design-lover’s map. A short drive down the hill brings travellers
to the Marino Ballena National Park, named after the humpback
whales that migrate from mid-July to October, and again in December
through to March.

More wildlife can be spotted two hours north in the Manuel
Antonio National Park, home to two- and three-toed sloths,
white-faced capuchins, toucans and red-eyed tree frogs. Outside the
park, a number of properties have pointedly mitigated their
ecological footprints in creative ways. One of the leading green
hotels in Manuel Antonio, Arenas del Mar Beachfront &
Rainforest Resort, has designed its property using a neutral colour
palette to lessen the visual pollution typically caused by large
developments. The property’s sustainable philosophy was first
conceptualised by Teri and Glenn Jampol, owners of Finca Rosa
Blanca, one of the first Five Leaf Sustainability Certified lodges
in the country. Today, the resort continues to up the ante with
advanced recycling programs, a black-water treatment system,
ionised swimming pools and farm-to-table food initiatives.

As nearby national parks continue to draw in visitors, the
accommodations options are bound to increase. Thanks to a few
hoteliers focused on low-impact development, travellers to Costa
Rica can have it all: Instagram-worthy infinity pools, cocktails
with bamboo straws and environmental peace of mind with a touch of
tropical minimalism.