“Your house is very big!” our driver said with a grin from ear to ear, as he unloaded our bags in the rain, and the gigantic wooden door swung open and Susan, the friendly tanned concierge came out to greet us at our first Costa Rica holiday house.
It didn’t really click. It might have been because I was groggy due to the early start to the day, waking at 4am for our early flight from Mexico City to Miami. Or an American Airlines flight that was late departing because the crew were late for the flight because they didn’t adjust their clocks — apparently. It could certainly have been having to collect our bags in Miami and receive the customary grilling from US immigration before our flight to San Jose — typical. Perhaps it was the three-hour car ride in the pouring rain, partly in the dark, from San Jose to Manuel Antonio, with a supermarket stop at Jaco for a big grocery shop along the way that made it so surreal.
Even as we spotted Carlos, the villa’s full-time caretaker-cum-security guard, waiting patiently at the entrance level with our luggage, we didn’t appreciate the size of our new Costa Rica holiday house.
“He’s waiting until you choose your bedroom,” Susan said. Okay… When she had finished her tour of the house, we finally understand why.
Casa Elsa is colossal. It’s also very special and a touch surreal. But it is mostly massive. An alfresco house with very few walls, there are three sprawling levels with different views of the jungle that it backs onto from each floor.
From the top floor, which is level with the road, there’s an enormous open kitchen, brilliantly equipped with excellent appliances and plenty of dinner settings and glasses. There’s everything you could want for entertaining, including a huge fridge with icemaker and an ingenious little door that enables you to grab a bottle of wine without actually opening the fridge.
There’s a breakfast island and a wet and dry bar on one side of the infinity pool, and adjoining the kitchen is a big patio for barbecues and sunbathing, and a table and chairs and plenty of sun beds. On the other side of the kitchen is a huge dining area with a table that seats eight.
This whole floor is completely open — the only wall that exists is that between the interior and the road — and the views stretch across the top of the luxuriant jungle canopy and out to sea and the lush rocky islands off Manuel Antonio beach.
On the next level down, which again is mostly open to the elements, there is a large terrace and living area with a big television and a massive DVD collection that we planned to test out but never got around to — the jungle views and antics of our daily visitors were entertainment enough.
There are two spacious bedrooms on this level, each with enormous bathrooms with rain showers, sofas, plenty of cupboard space, and balconies looking onto the jungle. From this level, the views take you into the tops of trees just beneath the canopy.
And on the level beneath this one are two more massive bedrooms with bathrooms, including the master bedroom, which has a sofa and table and chairs and Jacuzzi. The other bedroom has a private balcony with chairs and table looking onto the jungle. In between the two rooms is another living space and the vistas from here look deep into the heart of the vegetation and the jungle floor.
There is also a laundry, the domain of the maid, Carlo’s mother, and another floor below with an apartment where Carlos lives. Once we chose our room, on the middle level, and poor Carlos lugged our bags down the stairs, we didn’t even venture again to the floor below, except to take photos. With so much space and privacy, the villa would be wonderful for a big family or groups of friends.
An added bonus is that Susan, the villa concierge, is just a phone call away to do anything and everything for you, from make restaurant reservations to book tours — especially fabulous in a place where there is so much to see and do. And she is a treasure.
What is also fantastic for stay-at-home parents looking for a well-earned break from cleaning is the daily maid service that’s provided. If you speak Spanish, the contact also provides an opportunity to interact with locals.
What we love about holiday rentals, however, is the privacy offered compared to hotels and personally we found the presence of staff for half a day a little exasperating, as might other writers.
Big groups would probably love having the staff on hand — as they would the opportunity to hire a chef to cook, an option many groups take. However, honeymooners or couples looking for romance might not appreciate the extra company, but fortunately you can negotiate how often you want the property cleaned.
There were some other frequent callers we didn’t mind dropping by, however, and this included the sleeping sloth who lived in an adjoining tree, an array of bird life, and families of friendly squirrel monkeys and white-faced capuchin monkeys, who seemed to take turns dropping by each day, trooping from one side of the villa across to the other, through our dining area and kitchen and along the edge of the infinity pool.
We would see them coming… on a still day, the trees in the distance would start to move, and we knew they were on their way; minutes later we would see them swinging between trees, leaping from one branch down to another. Or we would simply hear that they had arrived, whether from the rustle of the trees or the noise of them clambering across our roof and climbing down onto the balcony rails.
We heard a howler monkey too a couple of times. Once he woke us in the middle of the night, his howls echoing so loudly through the house we were certain he must have been in the kitchen. Maybe he was fixing himself a banana sandwich.
The regularity of the visits by our friendly monkeys were so frequent, their timing like clockwork, that we were certain that Susan must have worked some magic to arrange them. When her husband dropped us off one day, after lunch and a visit to the fish markets, he said: “I think you might get a visit by the howler monkey today.” At the time we hadn’t had a visit from the big guy yet, but sure enough that was the afternoon he came…
While nature might provide the jungle floor show, this property has to be the most unique way to experience what nature has to offer in Manuel Antonio.