Costa Rica resort Balances Luxury and Nature

Gaia Hotel & Reserve, a five-star luxury hotel in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, is off to a stunning start. Gaia, which is one of only two Costa Rican members of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, celebrated its official grand opening last August. When Condé Nast Johansens, the international luxury travel guide, announced the nominations for its 2007 Awards for Excellence, Gaia was one of three hotels nominated for the Most Excellent Hotel award in the Mexico/Central America category. To give you an idea of the kind of competition newcomer Gaia was facing, Casa Natalia in San Josedel Cabo, Mexico, and Villa del Sol in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, were the other two nominated hotels. On February 6, Gaia was announced as the winner.

Two perspectives of the Gaia Hotel & Reserve in Costa Rica

"What really makes Gaia distinctive is the quality of its ownership and service," says John Clifford, president of San Diego-based International Travel . Clifford was a guest at Gaia shortly after its opening. "The owners, Boris Marchegiani and David Fleming, live on property and participate in the day-to-day operation of the hotel. Their warmth and friendliness is transferred to their staff, which I've been informed is paid twice over any other hotel staff in Costa Rica."

Clifford compliments the hotel's design, noting that it has all the Western amenities perfectly blended with the environment, so guests can absorb the beauty of the setting.

"Gaia can be recommended to discerning couples and singles," he says. "It's very much for the affluent thirty-something or baby boomer couple—this includes same-sex couples."

Gaia Hotel & Reserve has a distinctly modern edge to its architecture, combining stark angles reminiscent of Bauhaus design with tropical materials such as teak and rattan.

The hotel, which is set on a 12-acre private nature preserve, has a three-tiered infinity-edge pool, alfresco dining room with cliff-top horizon views and a full-service spa. Spa treatments can be booked in advance of arrival, along with consultations with the hotel's spa staff. Melany Martinez serves as the hotel's spa manager, and can be contacted at [email protected], 506-777-9797, ext. 550.

Accommodation choices at Gaia consist of 20 two bedroom villas, suites and studios. All accommodations feature Italian fittings, bathrooms rendered in slate, Balinese screens and a private Jacuzzi with jungle views. Rooms are equipped with cable TV, portable telephones and Internet access. A personal valet is assigned to each room at check-in. Rooms are priced from $250 to $330, while suites are $350-$880.

"All of the rooms at Gaia Hotel offer a lovely combination of ocean and rainforest views," says Kimberly Barron, general manager of Gaia Hotel & Reserve. "Our Gaia Suite offers its own private pool and enclosed garden area with expansive ocean views. Our four deluxe suites and our pair of two bedroom villas are located highest in our two main buildings, meaning they offer wider ocean views, along with their private rooftop terraces that include their own reflection pools." The 1,100-square-foot Gaia Suite comprises a bedroom, 1.5 bathrooms, living room and dining room for four persons. Nice touches in the Gaia Suite include 500 thread count linens, two LCD flat-screen TVs, Jacuzzi for four persons, sofa bed and 24-hour room service.

"Since our market is quite targeted already, it is easier for us to reach our key customers," says Baron. "We definitely reach out to upscale, adults-only clientele, which naturally includes honeymoons, destination weddings, spa getaways and romantic escapes." At present, 75 percent of Gaia's guests come from North America.

Baron notes that the time of year impacts how far in advance an agency should book. She recommends at least 30 days for off-season dates and six months for the high season. "More and more, travelers are waiting longer to book to determine the state of the economy, for personal reasons, or for security concerns, so last-minute openings are not unheard of," adds Baron.

Gaia hosts agent fam trips throughout the year. The property also gives complimentary nights on an agent-to-agent basis. "We strongly feel that there is no better way to promote a property than to have been a guest yourself," says Baron. "For those agents that have used their complimentary nights, we offer deeply discounted rates for their own personal use."

Travel agents can liaise with the hotel's reservation manager, Cesar Vargas. He can be contacted at [email protected] or 506-777-9797. Gaia Hotel & Reserve's toll-free number is 800-226-2515.