The tapas and the view at Papaya (p272), Hotel Moana's brand new restaurant, cantilevered high above the Mal Pais coast, are both magnificent.
A simply stunning boutique property etched into the wooded hillside above Mal Pais. Standard rooms are all-wood garden cottages, decked out with African art, and close to the pool and reception. The massive two-room, wood sided junior suites are magnificent. Cantilevered so high that they have 180-degree views of the coast, there are wood floors throughout, rain showers inside and outside, a wet bar, cable TV, wi-fi, and sliding glass door entry to both rooms revealing that mighty view. Their new, top-shelf tapas bar, The Papaya Lounge, shares that stunning perch.
"...The best hotel in this price bracket is the gorgeous, African-themed Moana Lodge with seven rooms, some in huge colonial-style wooden cabins, featuring four-poster beds with cowhide drapes, zebra (fake) skins, leopard-print cushions, and large well-lit bathrooms with huge showers. An open-air rancho with poured concrete sofa overlook a large whirlpool tub and free-form pool in a stone-face sundeck. Nice! And a bargain!..."
Run by a chatty Irishman and his Tica wife, this boutique hotel is one of the area's most romantic and stylish. Set in forested grounds, the rooms have been tastefully decorated with African-inspired trimmings and come with a/c, hot-water bathrooms and large beds draped with silk curtains. Try to score one of the higher rooms with balcony for nice ocean breezes.
A massive three-headed tribal sculpture--you kind of have to see it to understand--marks the entrance to Moana, and it's only the first taste of the hotel's African theme. Aidan, the hotels Irish Manager has collected angular wooden masks and shields in the Congo and Ivory Coast. They're now scattered around his property--mounted next to the reception desk, near the pool, and on the walls of the seven rooms. All of the rooms are air-conditioned and some have leopard-print pillows on the single beds. Moana is set on a hillside and has ocean views in the distance; the beach is on the other side of the road. There isn't a restaurant, but rather a well-appointed communal breakfast area and a self-serve bar. Located at the southern end of Malpais, Moana is blessedly quiet--the kind of hotel that would be fun to take over with friends.
Year-round world-class breaks, and miles of secluded white sandy beaches make Mal Pais one of Costa Rica's hottest surf spots. Just 200m from the surf, the African-themed Moana Lodge has seven bedrooms set among tropical gardens. Guests are free to bring their own boards, and there is an in-house surf instructor for the uninitiated.
Zebra hides, cow tails, masks and other relics from Africa adorn Moana Lodge in Malpais, on the southern tip of northwestern Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula. It's a quirky choice of decor, but somehow it works in this internationally flavored beach community, where Argentine, Israeli and Swedish business owners fall right in with Ticos, and it's not unusual to be stopped by a fellow beachgoer asking for a sport of sunscreen or a sip from you water bottle.
Irishman Aidan joined the eclectic Malpais mix when he took over the management of Moana Lodge from its previews owner, a Belgian Cogolese, in June 2005. It had been around for five years as a hotel by the same name. Aidan and his Costa Rica fiancé Virgina promptly set out to transform it into a higher-end option for visitor to this stretch of the peninsula.
They decided to keep the African theme while fixing what Aidan called "millions of problems" and overlooked details, such as horrendous lighting, awkwardly placed bathroom mirrors and concrete walkways that slip-and-slides in the rainy season.
Aidan pointed out the numerous improvements they've made during a recent tour of the property. Comfy queens have replaced bunk beds. Concrete has been ripped up and tasteful rock laid in its place, and the lighting now accents the grounds at night, a necessary switch from overpowering floodlights.
Another addition is Missy the cat, who reigns over the grounds, napping among plants and quick to rub against the legs of animal lovers.
Some things didn't need much tweaking, Aidan explained. The garden areas have been left to flourish, and families of howler monkeys still swing from the trees.
Moana Lodge offers a choice of three standard rooms and four deluxe rooms. All have air conditioning, a welcome luxury in Malpais' potentially sweltering temperatures, a four-poster, queen-size bed, well-equipped bathrooms and porches. Five of the seven rooms have an additional single bed, creating space for three.
In the bathroom, a stone-colored bowl atop the counter creates an unusual sink and a shower with ample room delivers instantly hot water. The toilet sits privately behind a slatted wood door.
In addition to offering more posh lodging than the slew of hostels and cabinas in Malpais and neighboring Santa Teresa, Moana Lodge is out to offer more personalized serviced.
"We had to find a niche because we're not on the beach and we don't have a restaurant," Prior said. "So that's our niche – nice, up scale environment and personalized advice, making sure people are happy, spending a lot of time talking to guests."
This comes naturally to Aidan, a globetrotting photographer who also bartended for years in Dublin's pubs. He puts his chattiness to good use by offering recommendations and helping arrange activities such a horseback riding, fishing and quad bike rentals. Each room also has an information book describing restaurants, how to get to nearby beaches and other essential.
As Aidan pointed out, Moana Lodge is not on the beach, which could deter those whose idea of a beach vacation is waking up to the sand beneath their feet. But the fabulous shoreline of Santa Teresa is a short drive away, as is Playa Carmen. Playa Malpais is across the street from Moana Lodge, but a big stretch of it is rocky.
Though not on the beach, the ocean is omnipresent on Moana's grounds, from the lull of waves to glimpses of the ocean-meets-sky north to Nosara. Building a few luxury bungalows and a bar on this lookout point are among Aidan's dreams for the future.
Breakfast is included in the room rates and is served up in the outdoor communal area between 7.30am and 10 a.m. But for java junkies cups are served from 7.30. With gallo pinto and a generous bowl of fresh fruit, they make for a well-rounded and filling breakfast. The coffee was strong, rich and satisfying.
All in all, travelers looking for comfortable lodging who appreciate personalized service and don't mind not being right on the beach will find Moana Lodge a solid choice.
Costa Rica's Pacific coast is big news for international hotel developers, but the Nicoya peninsula — stuck out in the far north of the country, at least four hours by car and ferry from San José — is simply too far from the capital to tempt Señor Sheraton and his conquistadors. This is a place of broad, deserted beaches, backed by forests thick with anteaters and armadillos, coyotes and coatis — and not a serenity spa in sight.
You could pick almost anywhere along the 75-mile west coast from Tamarindo down to Cabo Blanco: Samara offers reef snorkelling, jungle trekking, horse-riding and zip-wire canopy tours; Ostional has a magnificent, almost desolate beach where, from August to November, up to half a million turtles arrive once or sometimes twice a month to lay eggs in the sand; Santa Teresa has some of the best surfing in Costa Rica; Mal país has a beautiful beach, a couple of friendly beach bars, within earshot of the howler- monkey dawn chorus from Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve.
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