When I got into my car at San Jose International Airport, the driver, Ron, warned me about two things: the Costa Rican “rollercoaster” and the boa constrictors — the former, a winding mountain pass that some passengers find unsettling, the latter, well, definitely unsettling. The two-hour drive turned out to be perfectly pleasant, with Ron excitedly pointing out local plants, trees and birds along the way. The ride was a great first taste of the famed Costa Rican “Pura Vida” hospitality to come.
Pulling up to Nayara Tented Camp in Fortuna, I spotted the breathtaking Arenal volcano in the distance. It’s frequently obscured by a thick cloud covering — the resort is in the heart of the Costa Rican rainforest, after all — so I was lucky to get such a perfectly clear panoramic view. I found out the best time to have a chance to see the volcano is during the fall rainy season when I visited. This stunning welcome was just the start of what turned out to be an unforgettable getaway.
Part of the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio, the Nayara Tented Camp, which opened in late 2019 and recently debuted its latest expansion, is divided into three distinct yet connected experiences: Tented Camp, Nayara Gardens and Nayara Springs (the resort’s adults-only section.) Guests are zipped around on golf carts so they can easily take advantage of everything the 62-acre property has to offer, from the wonderful Mi Cafecito espresso bar for a morning pick-me-up to lunch and dinner at on-site restaurants and evening drinks at the cozy bars. For wellness needs, there are spa facilities, a fitness center and an open-air yoga pavilion.
The team at Nayara Tented Camp makes sure the entire operation is run in an eco-friendly way that honors both the natural surroundings of the resort and the rich Costa Rican culture. Inspired by the luxury safaris offered in other parts of the world, the property reopened this summer with a host of new additions that includes a stunning reception tent; a lobby bar, Henry’s; Ayla, the Mediterranean-influenced eatery that’s helmed by Israeli chef Yanir Elnasi; and a relaxing swimming pool surrounded by cabanas and a fire pit.
The Tented Camp is the epitome of luxury eco-tourism, with rooms and suites all featuring a private plunge pool filled with natural thermal water, private decks (an ideal spot to enjoy room service breakfast), indoor/outdoor showers and, of course, those gorgeous unobstructed volcano views.
The two new private residences, Casa Paloma and Casa Dana, can comfortably sleep eight adults and four small children and they come equipped with a fully stocked kitchen, living area, large TV, oversized pool, fire pit, and an outdoor dining area with lounge chairs and umbrellas. There is also a personal concierge on hand to help plan activities, make reservations, and arrange special experiences.
There is no shortage of things to do at Nayara Tented Camp. The property provides daily yoga and meditation sessions and the Tented Camp’s selection of seven hot spring pools nestled in the rainforest is the perfect setting for the bartender on hand to mix up locally inspired cocktails.
Guests who want to get out and go can choose from a coffee and chocolate tour, a mixology experience, lava field walk, bird watching, horseback riding or even a frog watching night tour. During a nature walk at the nearby Mystic Hanging Bridges, I trekked for two miles over six suspension bridges stretched over the rainforest’s vibrant canopy of trees.
No trip to Costa Rica would be complete without at least a few wildlife sightings, and I was treated to plenty. I witnessed howler monkeys frolicking in the trees as well as a blue jean frog, more birds than I could count and — much to my chagrin — a fuzzy tarantula hiding in a hollow tree trunk. For a less wild way to experience the natural habitat at Nayara Tented Camp, there is an on-site armadillo sanctuary. And nature expert and “Sloth Concierge” Juan Carlos updates guests on the whereabouts of the property’s 15 resident sloths that live in its 1,000 Cecropia trees.
“We are all about luxury and sustainability, as well as the overall experience, which I didn’t find anywhere else on the Latin American continent,” owner Leo Ghitis tells GRAZIA USA. “As a kid I used to camp with my father, but that was really roughing it. I have traveled a lot through Africa and Asia and love the safari and tented camps and found it interesting that there was not really anything like this in Latin America.”
To remedy the issue, Ghitis decided to bring his vision to life despite encountering some big obstacles along the way.
“We came up with this concept based on those African and Asian experiences,” he says. “But those tents are generally built for dry climates so we needed a product that would work in a rainforest with lots of rain and wind. We needed a consistent high-end product.”
Another hurdle was the land itself, which Ghitis explains was purchased eight years ago with an eye toward future use. “That whole mountain had been decimated by cattle ranchers and there was nothing but mud,” he recalls. “I wanted to cry — no butterflies, no birds, no sloths or monkeys, not even grass.”
But Ghitis had this “crazy dream” of bringing the area’s rainforest back to life. “At first, we failed miserably. Then I found an Australian landscape artist who is one of the foremost experts in the world on reforestation. We needed green trees that grow in the rainforest and ended up having to buy another piece of property just to grow them.”
Since the project started, there have been close to 40,000 new trees and plants added to the land that lies near the Arenal Volcano National Park. “We were able to bring it back,” Ghitis says. “It’s not a mature rainforest but it’s full of wildlife which is incredibly rewarding and important.”
This focus on eco-friendliness hardly means eschewing the creature comforts of a five-star resort, however. Nayara Tented camp goes above and beyond when it comes to service, thanks to the friendly staff — many of whom come from the immediate surrounding area.
“We hire a vast majority, 99% of employees, from the local community,” Ghitis explains. “Many have been working on farms or cattle ranches and come to Nayara with limited experience in the service industry. Many have never met anyone outside the local community or any foreigners. So, we provide training, along with growth opportunities for those employees and take care of the communities where we operate.”
The hotel is always at full capacity thanks to those same employees, Ghitis boasts. “We have the best team in the world, and we are very aware of that. We treat everyone as family and in return the hotel does very well.”
In addition to Costa Rica, Nayara also has properties in Panama, Easter Island and Chile with additional locations, including Nayara Residences, to come. As Nayara Tented Camp puts the finishing touches on this phase of the expansion, it’s clear that Ghitis and his dedicated team are on to something — the union of environmental stewardship and tourism at its finest. “Nayara is a sustainability project,” says Ghitis. “If we humans make an effort, we can reverse the damage done for many years now.”