To Your Health

A Costa Rican Getaway Elevates the Senses

by California Chaney
The The Well's Casa de Agua in the hotel spa. All photos courtesy of Hacienda AltaGracia.

SAN ISIDRO VALLEY, Costa Rica — It didn't take long for my entire body to relax when I arrived at Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection in the misty and verdant Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica. Perched above the cloud line of the San Isidro Valley, the property blends into its ecosystem, 80-birdsong-filled acres of untamed forests, coffee farms, organic gardens, and horse stables, with the Calientillo River flowing through. When the property opened in November 2021, its mystical appeal was in its remote mountainous location — guests are flown directly to the property on a private chartered plane — along with its promise of adventure and pampering, thanks to an on-site partnership with leading NYC spa The Well. Sought after for its marriage of modern science and ancient wisdom, The Well's 20,000 square-foot wellness center offers Eastern and Western therapies and movement classes with healing experts in residence.

I knew this was the big leagues when it came to wellness destinations, and I expected a healthy flow of detox juices, strenuous yoga classes, lengthy meditations, and early nights. What transpired, however, was a sense of play and indulgence that I hadn't experienced before. I took long nature hikes (geeking out over a cool species of ants), climbed trees, jumped (with no reservations) into frigid waterfalls, rode horseback up a mountain, and sipped mezcal under the stars. 

Don't get me wrong, the spa is absolutely unbelievable and I felt spoiled rotten. But while destination spas are often about going inward and cocooning yourself to emerge anew, Hacienda AltaGracia shows guests that immersing themselves in nature is the purest form of healing. Costa Ricans live by the expression pura vida, a way of experiencing life in the purest of forms, and I felt it to be true.

Here's what a five-day itinerary in Costa Rican paradise looks like, from a barefoot nature walk to drinking a perfect cocktail.

The Pacific coastline en route to the property.
The hotel's private airstrip.
An aerial view.
One of the hotel's 50 casitas.

Day 1: Descending Into Paradise

Hacienda AltaGracia looks after your well-being before you even step onto the property. After a direct flight to Costa Rica's capital San José via Juan Santamaría International Airport, I was greeted at the plane and escorted to a private terminal and lounge to clear customs. For each guest, the hotel arranges complimentary 30-minute flights to the resort own airstrip in the mountains. As soon as I took off, I noticed a kaleidoscope of green as we floated above the city and into the fluffy clouds. Along the Pacific coastline, the jungle cascades into the sea. It was springtime, and the blooms were bursting with color. As we got closer to the Talamanca Mountains, miles of coffee farms came into view, as did the hotel's "airport" — a grassy strip where wild horses and cattle run free.

At the end of the runway, I was greeted by the compa (friend in Spanish) who would be my lovely personal concierge during the stay. We drove to the lobby in a baby-blue Land Rover for a welcome ritual at El Mercado, the hotel's central hub with a juice bar that serves fresh rehydrating juice and endless varietals of coffee. (It wouldn't be a true Costa Rican welcome without a strong brew.) The smells and sounds hit my senses powerfully: I could immediately tell this would be a place to write home about. After check in, we made our way up the hillside to my casita, one of 50 on the property, a jaw-dropping indoor-outdoor oasis with a spacious living room filled with artisanal ceramics, woven baskets, sunbaked textiles, and a sun terrace with a private plunge pool and swinging day bed for naps among hummingbirds and butterflies.

I made my way down to Grano, the "chef's laboratory" and Latin-American restaurant focused on local farm-to-table dining. The daily rotating menu of colorful dishes bursting with flavor— predominately free of processed oils, refined sugar, and gluten — are made from local plantain, yuca, coconut, chickpea flours, and organic vegetables from the onsite garden and locally sourced meats and fish. While it's clear wellness is a focus around here, indulging in a carefree vacation vibe is not discouraged. By dinnertime, the cocktail shakers were doing their thing. I savored a colorful spread of seared Pacific line fish, turmeric-roasted sweet potato, and corn. Avocado ice cream capped it off, bathed in a creamy drizzle of mariola honey from native honeybees, naturally high in antioxidants and often used medicinally. After dinner, I strolled back to my casita, my path illuminated by the galaxy of stars overhead. My room had transformed into a dimly lit sanctuary with a yoga mat, reflexology foot bar, and suggested flow for winding down (a routine definitely more mindful than the Instagram scrolling that typically takes place before bed). My entire body melted into the incredibly comfortable bed, soothed by gentle rainfall outside my window.

The Well's Casa de Agua.
Forest exploring with on-site naturalist, Jose. Photos by California Chaney.
The hotel's on-site butterfly garden.
Cienfuegos dinner at the horse stables.

Day 2: Pura Vida Parade

I awoke to the sun rising gently over the mountains, revealing a cotton-candy parade of colors in the misty sky. I followed the rainbow to a bowl of the freshest tropical fruit (so this is what mango is supposed to taste like) along with a pot of coffee delivered to my sundeck. With my daybed swinging, I took into the scenery. 

On a hike on the property's river trail with on-site naturalist, José Porras, we slowly wound through the jungle pathway, stopping to learn about the valley's native flora and fauna, insects, fungi, and a special species of ants that carry small leaves on their backs to build a home for their colony. He passionately shared the Costa Rican philosophy of the ecosystem of life and how the definition of happiness involves living in tandem with the natural world.

After the hike, I took a dip in the pool near Las Brisas, the casual poolside eatery, and snacked on a bowl of ceviche and a watermelon-mint lemonade. In the afternoon, I couldn't wait to make my way to The Well. I arrived an hour before my massage to experience Casa de Agua, built as a greenhouse with cascading ferns beneath a massive swimming pool. Giant heated marble beds are stationed throughout the space, and spa attendants create homemade herb and clay body masks for slathering head-to-toe as I warmed my body on the stone, like a blissful lizard. Just when I thought I couldn't sink deeper into bliss, it was time for my treatment, the signature Hierbas y Flores experience. The treatment began with an aura and chakra cleanse using a giant song bowl that I stepped into — vibrating dings of the copper pot felt like jolts of healing energy. My body was buzzing as I was slathered in more mineral-rich clay and a rainfall of herbs and flowers. I looked like I was on my way home from Woodstock in 1969. While I soaked, the therapist provided a scalp massage and reiki — touch-free energy work to continue to illuminate my chakras — and I drifted into a fairy-like state. Once the clay worked its wonders, I rinsed off and continued my luxuriating journey with a hurts-so-good 60-minute massage — the cherry on top of a dreamy afternoon. I floated back to my casita as the rain began to fall, beckoning a nap on the outdoor swing.

As tempting as it was to stay in post-spa bliss, I made my way to the Cienfuegos event, a special immersive community dinner at the horse stables with cooking over an open fire. During dinner, several skilled caballistas danced to the beat of the drum in tandem with their stallions in choreographed horse shows. While the spaciousness of the property can often make it feel like you're the only guest, this special dinner with all the guests provided a lively sense of community.

Horseback riding across the river.
Evening sound bath at The Well. Photo by California Chaney.

Day 3: Taking the Scenic Route

I had only been on a horse all of two times in my life before this trip, but seeing the majestic animals trot and gallop the night before inspired me to challenge myself and sign up for an off-property horseback ride. I started the morning with a hip-opening, low-impact Pilates class in the beautiful movement palapa before making my way to the stables. My gentle, 12-year-old mare, Melonga, greeted me as I saddled up and began trotting up the mountainside. The perspective of the San Isidro Valley completely shifted as we strolled along rustic pathways and flowing streams. We slowly made our way to the higher-altitude valley, the property growing smaller in the distance. Wild cows paused to greet us, as did colorful birds flying above. It was thrilling, serene, and another reminder of nature's ability to bring you into the present moment.

After the adventurous morning, I took the afternoon to check in with the real world and catch up on a few emails by the pool. While I was worried I would get a side-eye from the other blissful guests ignoring their earthly worries, some gentle computer time with a refreshing kombucha at my side didn't disturb the vibe.

That evening, I treated myself to a dinner for one in my casita, delivered from Grano. I was craving the steamed and pillow-y blue corn rolls that arrived on the table every night and found them even more delicious when snacked from my outdoor porch overlooking the sunset. My room was mere steps from The Well, and after dinner I strolled over for an evening sound bath. Casa de Agua was even more beautiful lit up at night. The song of the crystal bowls vibrated throughout the entire glassed sanctuary, lulling me into what would be another amazing night's sleep.

Mina Escondida waterfall. Photo by California Chaney.
Journey to Mina Escondida. Photo by California Chaney.
The river bath. Photo by California Chaney.

Day 4: Dipping into the Blue Zone

Costa Rica is known to be the epicenter of Earth's Blue Zones, a handful of regions around of the world whose inhabitants live exceptionally long and healthy lives (into the triple digits). I was on the property during Earth Day, and I couldn't think of a more magical place to celebrate the Pachamama spirit. The morning began with an energizing yoga session focused on grounding and soaking up the Earth's energy, from its deepest valleys to its highest peaks. I hopped in the Land Rover for an adventure to Mina Escondida waterfalls, a hidden secret that only AltaGracia has the keys to. A 20-minute hike with adventure guides led to the most magical fairy forest I had ever seen. Wild monkeys and toucans greeted from above, as the misty forest led to a series of natural waterfalls, cascading powerfully down the mountain. When we reached the last one, I ran and dove into its clear blue pool. Shocked from its frigid temperature, I felt a sense of adventurous joy, thinking to myself: This truly is pura vida.

After my swim, I was surprised with a picnic — fresh corn breakfast tacos and hot coffee. It took everything in my willpower to leave such a magical spot, but my water adventures continued with a river-bathing experience along the Calientillo River. A mix of The Well's energy-focused healing and Mother Earth's raw element, this was the ultimate grand finale of my journey at AltaGracia. After focusing so intently on energy healing during the stay, it seemed only fitting to release everything that no longer served me before going home. The healer, Julia, prepared a smoking sage bundle — known for its energy-clearing properties — and led me to a spot near the river where we would set intentions of what I wanted to call into my life. I focused on these thoughts while I scooped river water into a bowl. Julia wafted the sage around my body and I tossed the water — along with my worries — back into the river. I exfoliated with a coffee scrub and took one more healing dip in the river. My mind was sharp and clear, and at peace. I could have laid beneath the trees all afternoon, but a warm thermal bath was waiting for me in a natural pool just down the path, along with a hot cup of cacao. I floated, unbothered and in utter bliss.

Day 5: Refilled to Return to Reality

On my last morning, I refueled for the return to reality with a Costa Rican coffee tasting at El Mercado, learning about the powerful bean and its meaning in Costa Rica. I was sad to leave the beautiful atmosphere and incredible experiences, but the kind, open-hearted staff were the hardest to say my goodbyes to. I really connected with the team who looked after me and were so passionate about their slice of heaven.

What to Know Before You Go

The price of a stay at Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection is all inclusive of the chartered flight to and from the property, all meals and non-alcoholic beverages, daily adventure and wellness programming (nature hikes, coffee tastings, and movement classes), and a personal concierge to oversee your stay and suggest the perfect balance of relaxation and adventure.

Keep Exploring Costa Rica

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