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Grettel Calderon, Costa Rica

El Silencio Lodge and Spa

As a native Costa Rica travel agent based in San Jose, Costa Rica, I have the opportunity to travel frequently, even on the weekends, to virtually any area of my small and diverse country. It's important and fun for me to explore new nature reserves, local Costa Rica eco tours, nature lodges, and of course our eco-spas! Last week I took Friday off and headed to El Silencio Lodge and Spa to spend a long weekend. I can only describe my visit with three letters... W-O-W!!

I dont think I've ever experienced more personalized service in all my past Costa Rica travel, not even at the 5 star hotels I've stayed. This is in part because they assign an Eco-concierge to each room to help guests with basically anything you might need: from booking half or full day trips in the nearby area (including horseback riding, rafting, zip line tours, hiking, rappelling, etc), Spa treatments, or to explore the trails and waterfalls of the property with you while they share interesting stories. Over 80% of the hotel staff are local people from the communities of Bajos del Toro and Sarchi trained in a variety of positions so your experience is as much about local culture as it is about nature and spa treatments!

Travel in Costa Rica isn't just about nature and adventure; traveling in my beautiful country is restorative of your health and promotes wellness. El Silencio takes advantage of the peacefulness and surrounding natural environment, including use of fresh, organic tropical ingredients in their recipes. Meals are included as a complete Costa Rica tour package and the wine list features good quality Argentinean, South African, Chilean and Spanish choices. The three course gourmet meals are served in a restaurant with indoor and al fresco dining areas. I loved taking my breakfast and lunch outside, and since it gets quite chilly at night the inside dining area is very cozy with three fireplaces warming the air). Marco, the chef, fuses Costa Rican dishes with Asian and Indian influences creating fresh, organic dishes decorated with edible flowers from their garden. He actively interacts with guests at your table to inform you about the dishes, organic ingredients, and readily shares some culinary secrets with those interested. The restaurant serves fresh fish (from the local community) and free range chicken, but don't expect red meat or pork. He also enjoys incorporating elements of traditional dishes that local employees from the village share with him. He told me that this supports community involvement, to develop their creativity and self-esteem simply by asking for their contribution to the menu. The wait staff Martin, Alonso and William were all incredibly friendly and enthusiastic, and they enjoy talking to guests about whats happening in the community and in their own lives which is always interesting.

You can pick you own salad from the vegetable garden, and here you can practice some Spanish with Don Digno, the master gardener. He will offer to taste and guess some of the most famous medicinal plants and herbs in the garden including peppermint, rosemary, basil, oregano, etc.

One of the most important things when you travel to Costa Rica, or anywhere for that matter, is to have a good night's rest. I don't think I've slept more comfortably than my two nights at El Silencio. The rooms are very cozy, featuring luxurious bedding, pillows and linens (450 thread count) with great views of the surrounding mountains from your own bed. The wood floors add warmth and make the room warmer with help from the gas fireplace.

The spacious bathroom has beautiful marble floors and walls with a fluffy bathrobe and slippers to keep your feet warm, also featuring a big shower with French Loccitane personal care products. The tap water is fresh and potable, they have an ultraviolet system that purifies it. There is also a big outdoor Jacuzzi surrounded by coffee tree sticks walls to give it privacy.

I enjoyed sitting for hours on the deck snuggled in a throw blanket in the rocking chairs, just listening to the river and watching the rain fall. They brought me hot chocolate with oatmeal cookies at coffee time, since we Ticos are accustomed to drinking coffee around 3:00 p.m. with a little something that we call gallito, which is a snack such as a tortilla with cheese or bread with sour cream.

The Spa offers to-die-for treatments--you get pampered from the moment you change, surrounded by torches and candles. Here they have a big bowl filled with stones and warm water to dip your feet while you flavor fresh herbal tea (from their garden) until everything is ready for you to experience the organic treatments. The sound of the river or the rain is the perfect music to enjoy your treatment or you can request soft music. They also have El Silencio's Conical Room, a singular design structure that channels the energy of the surrounding forest. I took my Spa treatments at 6:00 p.m.; when I returned by 8:00 p.m., they had turned the sheets and started the fire. Outside was chilly and slipping into the warmth of my room was heaven.

Silencio Lodge and Spa is an excellent way to finish an active Costa Rica vacation, honeymoon or romantic escapade immersed in nature and luxury. This property is only 1.2 hours away from the International airport and therefore it is also a great start to our Costa Rica family tours where all members can get acclimatized, relax after a long flight and get ready to start the most active part of their Costa Rica adventure tours. Only children 9 and older are allowed and those I saw at the hotel seemed to be having a great time on their walks to the waterfalls, there are three inside the property. The most beautiful is La Promesa, a 165 feet high waterfall. There is also the Juan Castro Blanco National Park nearby where you can take walks and hikes and the eco-concierges are always ready for those interested in signing up on some additional Costa Rica eco tours to stay active.

This hotel is one of the most environmentally friendly properties in all my experiences with Costa Rica eco travel. They encourage the guests to recycle and support an excellent internal recycle program, use biodegradable plastic bags, have great water and waste disposal systems, encourage light and energy saving by not washing the linens and/or towels everyday, and turning off lights when not needed. The most important thing is the impact on the community, similar to hotel Punta Islita (which belongs to the same group)--this is a property that blessed locals feel opened its doors for their benefit. Local purchasing and hiring policies, environmental stewardship, and social development programs have created a healthy, welcoming, and authentic setting for caring visitors to support sustainable travel practices.

No wonder, in only 8 months after opening, El Silencio has been selected by the editors of both Conde Nast Travel and Travel + Leisure as one of 2008's most exciting new hotels in the world.

The hotel spells peaceful relaxation in all senses. Here you will get literally unplugged from the world as there are no TVs, phones, internet or even newspapers available. I highly recommend to add a stay in this sanctuary when you book your next Costa Rica travel package to get in touch with your inner self. Embrace all the gifts nature has at your service.