The Interview

Meet the First-Time Hotelier Behind Nosara's Hottest New Beachfront Hotel

by California Chaney
Silvestre's Silvestre's rooftop pool. All photos courtesy of Silvestre.

NOSARA, COSTA RICA — The surfer's paradise of Costa Rica, Nosara's Playa Guiones, has welcomed a newcomer this year with the opening of Silvestre. Tucked within the lush jungle and steps from the beach, the boutique hotel hosts nine resident rooms, including a four-bedroom penthouse suite, each designed to embrace the ultimate pura vida lifestyle. Days begin with an early-morning private surf lesson on a custom board shaped by pro-surfer Jim Banks, followed by a nourishing breakfast of local produce back on the hotel's tropical rooftop. Afternoons are meant for exploring boho-chic Nosara town or practicing yoga and listening to the resident wellness speaker. (Dan Buettner, bestselling author of Blue Zones, was one of the first visitors and resident speaker guests so far.) The property is not only a guest's dream, but the actual dream-come-true for Chris Ingham Brooke and Ilya Korolev, best friends and passionate surfers who packed up their London lives and families and sailed south for the beaches of Costa Rica. Intent on building a renewable-first, sustainable property that protected the beautiful ecosystem of Nosara, the pair enlisted local NGOs and nonprofits to guide the building of the hotel and hired a local team to design programming that gives back to the community. The hotel opened its doors in January and is already making waves among Nosarans as well as travelers who follow the pura vida siren call.

I sat down with Chris Ingham Brooke days before the property opened, diving into his story as a first-time hotelier and learning how every right turn in life happens at a party and how to spend the perfect day in Nosara.

What inspired you to build this hotel here?

It started from this desire to channel everything I love — surfing, working out, my family, community — and try and put it into a single building. There's this sense of freedom that we didn't have in the U.K., and I needed a solution to stay and live out our jungle dreams. Silvestre became that reason. I wanted to push myself to build something I would be proud of.

A double queen residence.
Entrance from the beach to the hotel.
Rooftop pool.
Left: The coastline of Nosara; Right: Ilya and Chris, the founders of Silvestre.

How did you find the property?

As with every good story, it starts with a party. Ilya and I were at a party, and the music was so terrible, we had to leave. As we were walking down to the beach, we asked each other: What is it that makes this town really, really special? It's being right down by the ocean. It’s the ability to pick up your board and walk barefoot all the way to the surf. That’s one of the most special things about being in Nosara. You have this amazing nature reserve right on the beach, and all you see when you look back is the lush jungle.

We wanted to cater to families. We wanted to do things that helped us expand our horizons and mindsets. The first step was having that kind of clarity in terms of what we wanted to build. The process of acquiring the lot required time and (a lot of) asking around and speaking to locals, until we finally got lucky and stumbled around what I believe to be one of the best, if not the best location for a property like ours. It is steps away from the best part of the break in Nosara and the closest you can possibly get to the beach. At the same time, it's really close to all the best restaurants, workout classes, and lively Nosara community.

The hotel's bar.
The communal lobby.
Each guest receives custom boards shaped by pro surfer Jim Banks to use during their stay.
The yoga studio.
Rooftop lounge.

Can you describe the design aspects of Silvestre?

Once we bought the lot, the second step was designing what the best amenities and services for the hotel. We were dreamscaping how every space would be used. We knew that we wanted the hotel to be for surfers, families, and personal growth journeys. How do we build something that ticks all of those boxes? We believed the best solution is residence-style accommodations. 

As a family, you’re either always ordering room service or going out to eat. With young kids, that gets old very quickly. If you’re staying in an Airbnb while on a vacation, you’re missing out on the sense of community, the serendipity, and random collisions that happen when you're within a hotel environment. We knew we needed a space for people to connect, so we designed a community rooftop. We also knew we needed a space for people to work out, so we created a studio with a full program of exercise classes and workshops.

After dreaming our ideal design, it was all about building the team. We knew we wanted to do everything at the best possible level: the best architects, interior designers, and construction team. That was a lengthy process. I’m so grateful to be working with our team. In particular, we were so proud of our general contractor who helped us achieve our vision. Everyone comments on how close the property is to our renderings, and that’s really a testament to how great the team is. As you’re building out this vision, it's about refining every detail.

Chris with members of the Totem construction team who helped build the property.

How did you engage the local community into the hotel?

When you’re building a property next to a natural reserve, there’s a ton of responsibility. The name silvestre means "wild" — a nod to the local reserve Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional. One of the things that was really important to us was preserving the trees and wildlife surrounding the property. We consulted with Costas Verdes, a local nonprofit that has been restoring coastal ecosystems devastated from past human impact and leading reforestation projects since 2009. We also engaged with Sphera Sostenible to create the best possible architectural design for the building so that it is situated properly among the land. We landscaped with native Costa Rican plants to help extend the nature reserve.

Another big issue is water. Nosara is mostly dirt roads, and there isn’t much water infrastructure in this very remote part of Costa Rica. We used the gold standard for waste-water treatment, Bionest, which enables us to have the best possible treatment for our water. This is really important not only for wildlife, but also for surfers. You don’t want to be surfing in contaminated waters. For us, it was important to set a good example for the rest of the community.

We're also working with biologists to help build one of the longest, continuous monkey paths in Nosara to connect the reserve at the front with the wildlife refuge at the back. At the beginning of the project, we received a lot of feedback about what would be good for the community and what the community needed from us. We’re building a number of different things that the community will benefit from, including the studio — which will be open to locals. If you’re building a project like this, it shouldn't be an isolated building. It needs to have connection.

We’re also working with 25 different providers for our food and beverage program. Most properties or restaurants work with one or two, because it's easier, right? We don’t believe in doing things that are easy, and we want a story behind each drink or dish we serve. Take our honey, for example. A former fireman, a bombero, upset that all the bees were getting fumigated and losing their homes during fire rescues, saved an entire colony of bees and started producing local honey. There are plenty of stories like this about our providers: Tthe point being to be hyper local and support the community in that way. The vast majority of our staff are Costa Rican and from Nosara. There is very much a dialogue in support of the wider community.

Chris and Ilya with their families.

What lessons have you learned as a first-time hotelier?

It’s important to make time for balance. To have a life that on the one side is filled with meaning and on the other side isn’t meant to tip you over the edge. My day-to-day is leading the team, the vision, helping troubleshoot issues, and making sure that we're achieving our goal to build an incredible property and create an amazing experience for our guests. If you’re building a new property, there’s a lot of stress from various people. One of my responsibilities as a leader is to hold the collective energy of the team. I want to make sure our actions are aligned with our promises. If the team feels good, so will our guests.

Nosara's coastline.

Describe your perfect day in Nosara

I love to wake up at sunrise and go for a surf. It’s the most amazing feeling to get up in the morning, grab your board, and head straight to the beach and watch the sunrise. The waves are super clean and there are few people in the surf. When you surf that wave, it’s like gliding on impermanence. You feel invincible, and it’s an amazing way to start the day. I love journaling, so I spend a lot of time in the morning organizing my thoughts, processing certain emotions or visualizing the next thing. 

You never know how a day in Nosara is going to go, as you have this serendipity of meeting one person and bumping into someone else. Even on a perfect day, I like getting some work done. Stress is the discrepancy of what you want to achieve and where you are now. If you take action and get some of it done, it’s a great feeling. I'd wind down the day with dinner, connecting with friends, and laughing. I think the world is so much better when you get to share stories and laugh and not be too serious.

How do guests arrive to the property?

We can arrange private air travel or commercial flights. In terms of international airports, Liberia Guanacaste Airport is the closest. Nosara Airport is 15 to 20 minutes away from the property with connections from Liberia or San Jose. No matter the airport you fly into, a private transfer is included in a guests' stay.

Jump right in.

Speed Round! Fathom Questionnaire!

Favorite destinations: Obviously Nosara. Vahine in French Polynesia, a beautiful island that is very remote and has some of the most fantastic scenery. It’s an untouched gem. I love the Amalfi Coast: It's completely different, kind of chaotic but beautiful as well.

Best part of Nosara: You can’t build directly on the beach. When you look back from the shore, all you see is lush jungle.

Dying to visit: Japan. I’m obsessed with Japanese food.

Bizarre travel rituals: I love to make sure I do some physical activity and always pack my vitamins and supplements.

In-flight relaxation regime: For redeyes, I always pack an eye mask, melatonin, ear plugs, a neck pillow, and a pair of sweatpants.

Always in carry-on: A good book, my laptop, and a notebook for journaling. It’s nice to do that on the plane as it’s a good excuse to be totally disconnected.

Concierge or DIY: DIY. (I have very high standards.)

See it all or take it easy? Take it easy. If you’re on vacation, it can sometimes be stressful to have a full itinerary. You’re also there to relax and unwind.

Drive or be driven? Drive.

I dream about my meal at: ABC Cocina in New York. The steak with the chimichurri is one of my favorite meals.

Best hotel amenity: The gym.

Everywhere I go, I check out the fixtures and fittings of a hotel room.

When I arrive in a new place, I learn the lay of the land by talking to locals. Whether it’s the concierge, a coffee shop, or a bar, I always ask what I shouldn’t miss. I always get an incredible amount of recommendations.

I always bring home an experience. No souvenirs, just memories.

I travel for the joy of experiencing new places and feeling alive.

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