What we learned: when it's the only or last place with availability for travel over the peak holiday week, there's a reason.
We liked the remote location, wild life (monkeys, birds, butterflies), the view and the quality of the food we had; both the fresh fruit for breakfast and the vegetarian Indian food at dinner.
What we didn't like were the contradictions, thin towels, thin walls, no electricity twice, incongruent information, excessively chlorinated pool, demanding requests for cash for dinners and excursions after arrival, and our experience of passive-aggressive behavior from the guy in charge.
If you go, I recommend taking your own 4WD transportation. We had no vehicle and it was regrettable. Our taxi to the place literally could not make it up the steep hill... well, it would have since he got as far as he did, but there is this one place in the road that made it impossible for a regular Toyota yaris to conquer. The hotel staff came half way down to meet us, do the bag swap and drive us up the rest of the way backwards on the narrow road.
Deepak (Not the owner of the hotel, but self-described as the owner of the Restaurant) was very helpful via multiple emails in setting up our stay, organizing our tours & the driver back to the airport. During the planning time, we knew we would need to switch rooms due to their holiday schedule as we got the last room available. However, since I know that people and plans change, when we arrived, and since it affects how we unpack, I specifically asked him if we would still need to relocate or not. He said we would not. Two nights later, a friend of theirs who was staying at the property and "helping them out" came to our room at bedtime to tell us we needed to have all our things out in the morning as we would have to go another place... it was not just another room on the property, it was to an entirely different property. It would have been nice to have phones in the room to communicate this instead of having someone show up at our door unexpectedly, when we were in pjs or less.
When I made an effort to understand Deepaks's incongruency the next morning, I was met with a very argumentative spirit, ignoring his own error in telling me upon arrival that we would not have to move, simply & angrily citing the emails telling us we'd have to relocate. We didn't care about having to move, we booked late and are flexible. We simply want accurate & congruent communication and don't like being told one thing one day, planning accordingly, then being argued with as a person dances around their error when I seek to understand what happened. He could have simply said, "oops, I made a mistake." Trying to make sense out of non-sense was my mistake.
So that day, since we were going on an excursion, we very reluctantly left our belongings in his office which I observed was often left unsecured, and with no safe for our few valuables (wallets/passports). We were left with no other choice because the other place wasn't ready as early as we needed to leave. Deepak was clearly disturbed and demonstrated this by bringing us half the amount of fruit for breakfast as he did the previous morning. He argued about this too and when we asked for papaya, seeing it left over as trash from other people's plates, he told us they didn't have any that day.
We should have figured this place was going to warrant a story since our first night there struck us odd as the contradiction regarding the term "Ecolodge" emerged . We came with grander ideas as Raw food was mentioned and other than fruit, only one soup was offered as raw. If you want to be Eco-friendly, why are you serving carcass? ($ is always the answer ) And using paper napkins?
We enjoyed our delicious vegetarian/vegan Indian food surrounded by the curious Christmas lights (eco-friendly?) and music which drowned out the sounds of nature; the monkeys and birds.
The pool was so chlorinated-smelling, we had no desire to swim, even at the hottest time of day. The heavy use of a highly toxic chemical, chlorine, at an "eco lodge" is also a big contradiction to us. Clearly we had no idea what "Eco lodge" really meant. It seems the requirement to be an eco lodge is to recycle and to put notices out about washing your towels if they're on the floor or hang them up if you wish to reuse... same as anywhere. The towels were well used, paper thin and rough as I recalled from a desperate one-time stay in a Motel 6 over 20 years ago.
Both mornings we were up for breakfast, there was someone smoking. One went "outside the gate" and the smell still drifted in to the eating area and the other person was just outside the open-air eating area. The No Smoking on premises advertised on the web site was one of the primary draws for us so this was quite disappointing. Yes, the helping friend told the 2nd person to move or stop smoking after we pointed it out, but that misses the point. Just another contradiction.
In fact, the girl who was staying there and helping, was the person who was the most friendly and helpful in our experience. We didn't use any of the massage or spa services mainly because we want to pay Costa Rican prices when in Costa Rica. I can get my $90-$120+ massage in the US anywhere, anytime.
The electric going out isn't their fault, of course... it made for a nice candle lit dinner with limited options and melted ice cream, just the way we like it! Being able to easily hear the conversations through the walls of our room, as if we're in the living room with the couple and their small and vocal child, was not ideal either so we were quite glad to move. (And we liked Many's House much better.)
One excursion day, we were apparently on our own to get to the location but didn't know it. There was a French family that had their own 4WD and going to a very nearby location. Deepak asked them if we could join them. They were very kind and took us, 2 of us sitting half on laps of others. (And no one was over weight!) It just wasn't right or fair to the French folks... or us that the transportation wasn't organized or that we weren't told that this was an issue before.
Another thing that came up that was not mentioned before arriving is regarding cash. Deepak was no less than demanding, arguing and insistent the 3rd day into our trip that we bring him cash to pay for the excursions, 2 dinners and transportation to the airport. He offered to take us to an ATM and described in detail how the hotel business charges and the complications with charging these other items although they have a completely separate business and charge machine for doing so. On the morning we returned from the other property to settle our bill for the 4 nights, we agreed to pay cash for the driver and stood our ground for charging meals and excursions, not trusting his motives for some reason.
The morning of departure, Deepak also told us of another incident with a group of travelers who didn't want to pay their dinner bill, thinking the food was part of their deal. So he described the event and told us that all those people ended up leaving and that because they didn't stay, we could have ended up staying there the whole time after all... (but we were SO grateful that didn't happen as we wouldn't have wanted to.) To us, his experience with the group is no surprise given the communication skill set that needs much improvement, both on the web site and in person.
There was clearly tension between Deepak, Irma, the spa gal and their helping friend; all this going on in front of a couple who said they are friends with the owner who lives in VA/D.C. area. The tension was such that even the helping friend wanted to leave and nearly did so, on the spot, as we offered her a ride back to San Jose with us as we had plenty of room and understanding of her plight.
The place definitely has potential... but that's not what we look for when choosing a place. A peaceful, tranquil Eco Lodge, it was not., a Drama Lodge or Contradiction Lodge, yes. After this experience, we even joked about forgetting about the environment altogether and sticking to the comfort and kindness at the big chains!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Eco-style elegance! Mar y Selva Ecolodge is immersion in the jungle with all the comforts of home. Close to pristine beaches including Punta Uvita - famous Moses Pass and Whale’s Tail; Semi-Olympic pool, and personalized service. We overlook the Ballena Marine National Park; near Corcovado National Park; Caño Island Biological Reserve; the mangroves of the Sierpe and Terraba Rivers, Manuel Antonio National Park and several waterfalls, including Nauyaca Falls. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Mar y Selva Ecolodge Hotel Ballena
- Mar y Selva Ecolodge Costa Rica/Ballena