Last week the Arenas del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort  won a rare honor. In fact, a unique honor. The boutique hotel at Manuel Antonio  was awarded five stars for luxury by the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism  (ICT).
Thus, the property becomes the first ever in Costa Rica  to earn top marks for luxury as well as top marks for sustainability.
“It’s an honor to receive this new, five-star designation,” says Hans Pfister, CEO and principle of Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality , the company that markets the resort internationally. “If you pair this luxury rating with our perfect, five-leaf score under the Certificate for Sustainable Tourism , we are demonstrating that luxury and Earth consciousness can go hand-in-hand – and that it doesn’t have to be one at the expense of the other.”
I suppose it’s logical to now name Arenas del Mar the top hotel in Costa Rica! Wow!
It’s a designation that gives me a special pleasure. A decade ago, my friend Glenn Jampol, one of the three principals of Arenas del Mar (he also manages it along with his wife Teri), excitedly gave me a tour of what was then a forested hillside with wonderful views over Playa Espadilla, Manuel Antonio’s main beach. The hillside sloped west to a pocket-size beach (Playa Dulce Vida, or Sweet Life Beach) used, at the time, almost exclusively as a rendezvous for promiscuous gays.
Glenn (who also owns the amazing and equally eco-friendly Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn , near Heredia) showed me the blueprints for his ambitious plan to build a luxury apartment-hotel that would honor the environment in every conceivable way. (His family has owned the land on which the hotel is built for decades.) I almost bought one of the pre-construction units. Instead, much to my regret, I opted to buy a home in Palm Springs. Duh!
The 38-room hotel opened in 2008 as the only hotel in the Manuel Antonio area that has a hillside perch over the beach, plus direct beach access.
In awarding Arenas Del Mar its five-star rating, ICT inspectors noted that they were impressed at how the hotel blends seamlessly into the rainforest and beachfront setting, not disturbing the nature and wildlife. In fact, the units were positioned between the trees so as to minimize disturbance of the natural forest during construction. As a result, up-close-and-personal wildlife viewing is an integral part of the experience for Arenas del Mar’s guests. I recall , for example, watching white-faced monkeys  frolicking in the trees almost within fingertip reach of my balcony during a stay in 2008.
What a pity I wasn’t there to witness the boa constrictor  catch and devour a Jesus Christ lizard  in the open-air beachfront restaurant while guests were having their breakfast. Fantastic! Check it out on the hotel’s blog .
“Since the start, we imagined Arenas Del Mar to be the perfect blend of sustainability and luxury. Today, I’m pleased to say that we’ve finally turned that dream into a reality,” says Pfister, whose company also markets Finca Rosa Blanca plus two other deluxe hotels in Costa Rica. “And because Costa Rica is already a country that leads the way in terms of sustainable and eco-tourism, earning this top distinction was no easy feat – and, ultimately, is made all the more sweet.”
What does sustainable actually mean at Arenas del Mar? Well, the hot water is heated using solar panels. The roof tiles are made from recycled polythene bags once used in banana plantations (and which in prior years were a dangerous blight, as plantations ditched the bags into rivers to be washed out to sea.) The hotel’s Las Brisas Spa uses earth-friendly products. Native trees and endemic plants are grown on site for replanting. And the hotel even offers guests sustainability tours.
Learn more about Christopher P. Baker .
For further information about travel in Costa Rica, buy Moon Costa Rica 
If you're traveling only to San José and the Caribbean, buy Moon Spotlight Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast  pocket guide.
If you're traveling only to the beaches of Nicoya, buy Moon Spotlight Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula  pocket guide.
If you're traveling only to Arenal and/or Monteverde, buy Moon Spotlight Costa Rica's Arenal & Monteverde  pocket guide.
Disclosure: I occasionally accept free or discounted travel when it coincides with my editorial goals. However, my opinion is never for sale. The opinions you see in Cuba & Costa Rica Journal are my unbiased reflection of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Copyright © Christopher P. Baker