I have been captivated by Costa Rica since my first visit over a decade ago. That backpacking trip was filled with so many firsts: seeing my first monkey and toucan, hiking to a jungle waterfall, and my first (and likely last) rum-and-coke in a can. I’ve returned to the Central American country since, but my stay at Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection in Costa Rica’s Talamanca Mountains was my best vacation in Costa Rica to date: four days of glorious encounters with the natural world; fascinating cultural conversations; inventive food with local, farm-fresh ingredients; and luxury beyond my wildest dreams. After three nights at the resort—where Reese Witherspoon and Shaun White have recently been spotted—I felt rested, pampered, and inspired.
From Texas to Heaven
You can reach San Jose, Costa Rica from Texas easily: there are direct flights from Houston and Dallas. But getting from San Jose to the Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection requires a four-to-five hour drive (or car hire) or a glamorous flight on a private plane. We were thrilled (and a bit nervous) to board a Cessna 206. The pilot, Everardo Carmona, owner of Costa Rica Green Airways, calmed me immediately, handing us kale-spiced pecans, leather headphones, and cold water. Lifting off the runway mas magical and not terrifying, and as we flew toward the resort over volcanoes and impossibly green mountains, Carmona pointed out the splendor of coffee farms and pineapple, banana, mango, and sugar cane fields below.
We landed on the resort’s private airstrip and were greeted by our personal “Compa,” short for “companion,” who would be available if we needed anything over the course of our stay. We were driven via a vintage Landcruiser to the center of the resort, the Mercado, where we were given a warm welcome and tropical drink.
Hacienda AltaGracia Overview
Fifty large casitas, with modern rustic interior design by New York-based designer, Nina Gotlieb, are housed at Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection, which opened in November of 2021. Ours had an extra-large terrace with a jaw-dropping view of the mountains, a private plunge pool, and a hanging day-bed that is just perfect for a husband who snores and doesn’t mind open-air sleeping (just saying).
The property is made up of 180 acres of untamed rainforest, a burgeoning coffee farm, organic vegetable garden, and equine stables. Golf carts whisk guests from casitas to myriad activities, five dining destinations, three miles of hiking trails, two pools, and THE WELL at Hacienda AltaGracia, which delivers unique, holistic, healing experiences.
Dining at Hacienda AltaGracia
Husband and wife Arno Janse van Rensburg and Liezl Odendaal are the resort’s gifted Executive Chefs. From sumptuous fruit platters, local yogurt, granola, and honey delivered to our casita (to be savored with coffee grown in a local collective and fresh juices) to a three-course “Chef’s Laboratory” dinner with a menu that changes every night, the cuisine at Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection is delectable. It’s not fussy, but it is complex, fresh, and interesting—every meal had us discussing a surprising sauce or preparation technique with our server, and serious foodies can explore the resort’s culinary offerings through guided workshops highlighting everything from coffee and kombucha to tortillas and tamales.
The resort’s signature restaurant is Grano, a design-centric space that also offers outdoor tables with a swoony moon view. Other options include Picoteo, located beside the resort’s family pool, and Las Brisas, a laid-back rancho café and bar where I ordered many mocktails and ceviches.
One evening, we sat with other guests at Cienfuegos, set alongside Los Establos, the resort’s stables and riding ring. A family-style, barbecue-and-rodeo-inspired menu was cooked over a traditional coconut husk fire and served family-style while we enjoyed a traditional Costa Rican horse show between courses. We cheered on the riders and my husband was even chosen to hand champagne to the winners.
Chefs Janse van Rensburg and Odendaal have immersed themselves in the food and culture of Pérez Zeledón. Wanting to know more about the local purveyors and culture, my husband and I took a private tour in the resort Land Cruiser to the nearby mountain village, Cedral, where we met the family behind the Los Jilgueros coffee cooperative and visited family-run Lácteos de Don Aurelio, who supply the resort with cheeses and yogurt and allowed us to hang out for a while snacking on cheese and watching the World Cup.
We were welcomed into local homes and had a wonderful day thanks to our guide (and fluent translator), Matute Loria. (Check out his naturalist photographs at _matute_loria_ on Instagram!).
Exploring Nature in Costa Rica
Despite five-star amenities, I was constantly inspired by the resort’s wild location. My husband spent mornings birdwatching on our terrace and hiking, even climbing to a bird-watching platform. (I read a novel from start to finish, swinging with the breeze and sipping local kombucha on the day-bed.) From the resort, guests can visit the Pacific coast and many national parks for more wildlife watching. Our deck was dreamy for stargazing and each morning brought us birdsong.
The Well x Hacienda AltaGracia
New York-based brand THE WELL has opened its third location at Hacienda AltaGracia, 20,000 square feet of wellness space. The glorious spa experience begins with choosing a plush robe and relaxing in the breathtaking Casa de Agua, soaking in the hot tub or applying a Costa Rican clay body treatment and meditating on a heated stone lounger. My massage with hot stones was wonderful.
I also enjoyed a signature offering called the River Bath. Starting with a golf cart ride into the jungle, I experienced an in-river cleansing of my aura, immersed in the sounds of nature. My skin was exfoliated with a local coffee scrub, followed by a dip in a jungle river and a long soak in a hot pool built deep in the wild to warm my muscles and purify my body. When I climbed out, I was given a warm mug of hot cocoa.
The people I met at Hacienda AltaGracia elevated the experience from amazing to unforgettable. I feel as if I truly learned about Costa Rican culture through lively conversations with staff members I now consider friends. It’s hard to put into words how glorious our time at Hacienda AltaGracia was, but somehow, my husband and I arrived as exhausted parents and left giggling like love-struck teenagers.
For well-traveled adventurers looking for a truly special experience, there is nothing like Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection. Word on the hiking trails is that they will be building residences on the property someday, so don’t be surprised if I head to Costa Rica on my next trip and stay for good!