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Any self-respecting surfer heading to Costa Rica will find his or her way to Santa Teresa, where Pacific waves roll in at the southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula (a 2011 TripAdvisor Traveler's Choice Winner in Best Beaches). But while Santa Teresa may be the place to go for your banking needs and the joy of watching supernaturally tanned surfers juggle their boards while riding ATVs down Main Street, my advice to those with small kids? Stay ten minutes north of here and enjoy the serene beauty of Playa Hermosa instead (see the sunset here).
The lesser-known Hermosa Beach is vast and wide with several shade trees along the edge, making it an obvious favorite for families with young children who want plenty of room to run before reaching the water's edge. The sand stretches on through beautiful waves that, while strong enough to carry surfers to shore, are also suitable for young surfers-in-training, boogie boarders, and as I was quick to test for myself: simple body surfing. Even when the beach at Hermosa is busy, there is still plenty of room for another family to find a shady patch to camp out at and even create its own shelter of palm fronds and driftwood—a favorite creative pastime here for many.
From your prime spot at this beach, just walk a few minutes along a foot path passing through palms and a mango grove—where each evening we had the good fortune to see howler monkeys and once a tribe of white-faced capuchins—and you'll arrive at the Batik Retreat vacation villas. Yes, you can and most likely will arrive for the first time by road rather than by foot path. But once you settle in to your family’s open-air villa on the pedestrian-only lane, time spent behind the wheel will be a fleeting memory.
Our family stayed at "Blue Batik," a three-bedroom / two-bath villa centered on its own private swimming pool. Most of the villa is open-air, with a large dining area and living room open to the outdoors on three sides, with high ceilings of split bamboo creating ample shade and providing coverage from tropical rains. Even the kitchen, which opens up behind two sliding doors (shown left), is open above its walls. Temporary walls (like giant blinds) can be lowered around dining and living areas if desired. Happily, we felt no need for these.
The focal point of the outdoor living section is the saltwater swimming pool, which goes from a depth of about four feet to five feet and proved to be the perfect depth for us spending time standing in the water visiting and assisting little swimmers. While I was concerned how my 2-year-old would react to having a fully accessible pool beside our living room, we were very glad when he embraced the idea of an "invisible fence" we declared where the wooden pool deck meets the cement floors of the living space. Still, it requires an added measure of vigilance for anyone staying at this particular villa with a toddler. If you think this may pose a constant frustration for your toddler (and yourself), know that other villas at Batik Retreat (like this) have different styles of pools, and while there are no "pool fences" here, not all are in the center of the living space.
The bedrooms at Blue Batik are completely enclosed with screened windows and ceiling fans, plus individual AC. The master suite is positioned off to the west across a small wooden bridge, and features a king bed with mosquito net canopy and its own covered patio facing out into trees and greenery. A hammock and chair help you fully enjoy the scene. We quickly realized we had no need of the sheer drapes on that side of the room and opened them up to fully enjoy the view of an impressive spiky tree, greenery and an occasional horse. The bi-folded glass doors lining the wall also open up either singly, doubly, or entirely to suit your mood. A sliding door leads from this bedroom to an open-air bathroom that was lovely by day, but proved to be even prettier by night with its accent lighting.
The two other bedrooms are located across a second small bridge at the opposite end of the villa. Each of these bedrooms sleeps three people with both a queen-size and twin bed. Between these two rooms, with its own entrance, is a slightly larger open-air bathroom. The second of these bedrooms has a TV with DVD player and a small collection of DVDs for guests' use (a few are kid-friendly).
The sprawling arrangement of bedrooms with the communal core at the center would be ideal for family reunions or vacations with friends. After the group congregates at the center, they can slip off to their own private sleeping quarters. However, with the bedroom doors between them opening onto the outdoor living area and swimming pool, this arrangement would not be suitable for parents staying here alone with only very young children. If that's the case for you, take a look at some of the other villas at Batik Retreat, which offer different floor plans that may better suit. With a grandmother (as we had), vacation babysitter or nanny along for the trip, the arrangement of Blue Batik may work well and give you and your partner some great privacy when you want it (happy anniversary?).
While each of the villas I toured at Batik Retreat had its own unique appeal, I’d say ours had the prime position, being the last at the end of the lane and closest to the beach trail, with a private view out the master suite and from its patio hammock. As you can see, it's the ideal place for "Mommy's Time Out."
Daily housekeeping and pool service is included for guests staying at Blue Batik.
Babysitting is available for $5 US / hour from either of two lovely ladies (I met both) and can be arranged by Dahlia of Costa Rican Vacation, the manager of the Batik Retreat villas. Book your babysitter ASAP as they are very popular with the families here, whether sitting in during naptime while the parents hit the beach or helping supervise the children at the beach while Mom or Dad catch a surf lesson (see more in Activities below).
A Pack 'N Play crib for your villa is available on request.
The kitchen at Blue Batik is equipped with a full-size refrigerator, startlingly powerful gas range, microwave, electric coffee maker and four stove top espresso makers to keep all your breakfast guests happy.
There is also a shared outdoor BBQ area that guests of the villas can use.
A private chef can also be arranged, whether for one special meal at your villa, one daily meal, or for all meals during your stay (click here to read about the Dinner with Our Private Chef at the very table you see pictured here).
As mentioned, the saltwater swimming pool is a definite highlight of the villa, and in spite of being so near a great beach, we made very good use of it, whether allowing the kids a good swim to burn off energy in the morning before setting out on a rugged drive for sightseeing, or while mom prepared dinner for all in the open air kitchen.
The villa has WiFi throughout, a sound system in the main living area for your iPod or laptop, and as mentioned above there is a TV with DVD player in one of the guest bedrooms.
Laundry is available for $5 per load.
While you could easily spend all of your time here between the villa and the beach, it may be hard to do so without developing a yen to surf. Fortunately, surf lessons can be easily arranged by the manager of the Batik Retreats, along with surfboard and boogie board rentals for your whole family.
Private yoga lessons are given on request right at Batik Retreat in the yoga shala, and other yoga classes are available at the Florblanca Spa in Santa Teresa.
Zip-lining is available a short drive away at Mal Pais, and while we didn't try it ourselves, I've been told they'll allow children as young as 5 years to zip at this location.
Day trips to Tortuga Island and some other popular destinations can be arranged through Costa Rican Vacation.
Cabo Blanco National Park and Rainsong Wildlife Sanctuary are approximately one hour's drive from here.
As mentioned earlier, dinner with your own private chef is available and can be a highly enjoyable "activity" in itself (more on this to come in the Travels with Baby blog). Ask the Costa Rican Vacation property manager for details, including their new torch-lit barbecue evening option (also available at Casa Vista).
For more ideas of family-friendly activities in this part of Costa Rica, see the 5 Best with Children Under 5: Nicoya Peninsula.
To get to this southern portion of the Nicoya Pensinsula from central Costa Rica, you will either take the car ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera (read my tips here), and drive crossing the Rio Negro as we did, or fly into the small airport at Tambor on Nature Air. You can arrange for a rental car from Tambor or get a ride with a hired driver arranged by Costa Rican Vacation.
As you might imagine, getting to Hermosa can be a family adventure in itself, and be prepared that Google Maps and your GPS won't be of much help on the Pacific side of Cobano. The same advice I give in my Casa Vista review applies here: Roads are rough, but few, making it easy to guess the right one, and people are friendly. Keep your Spanish phrasebook handy and remember what the caballero told us as we drove through his herd: "Turn left at the big mango tree."
A small market is located just two doors up from the entrance to the Batik Retreat villas.
Larger supermarkets offering all kinds of groceries, diapers (including swim diapers), infant formula, baby food, sun block, repellent, and more are just 10 to 15 minutes away in Santa Teresa.
If you prefer, you may arrange to have your groceries meet you at your villa through Costa Rican Vacation's grocery service, which was very helpful for us during our earlier stay at Casa Vista.
Bring extra family-friendly insect repellent and incense to use during your evenings in the outdoor living room. While the mosquitoes did not bother everyone in the family so much as they did me (I am famous for drawing them even in the least likely places, let alone in the tropics), I think some incense would have been helpful in the evenings (and I did find some incense holders in drawers at the villa—I just forgot to pick some up at the market).
Did we enjoy our stay at Blue Batik? Yes. Would we recommend it to a friend? Yes. Would we stay there again? Absolutely.