A Weekend Spa Vacation in the Misty Costa Rican Mountains

A Weekend Spa Vacation in the Misty Costa Rican Mountains

Written by: Megan O’Neill


Published on: November 24, 2022

They say it takes a whole week to fully unwind on vacation, but clearly “they” have never spent a weekend at Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection, a spa hotel high in the thick-with-mist Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica. You sleep in a rustic casita—a fantasy of giant slouchy baskets, artisanal ceramics, wood accents juxtaposing flourishes of sleek marble, and enormous windows overlooking 180 acres of flowering landscape overrun with hot-pink hummingbirds and rare butterflies. You hold head-clearing Ashtanga poses in a gorgeous open-air yoga pavilion. And when you order a cocktail—I asked for something faintly smoky and negroni-ish—it arrives in what looks like a steam-shrouded jewelry box. Within an hour of touching down (the 30-minute private plane ride to the property from the airport is an exhilarating way to experience Costa Rica’s lusciously green landscape), I was firmly in vacation mode, completely untethered from my earthly worries.

Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts

  1. B Yoga The B Mat - Strong 6mm

    B Yoga
    The B Mat – Strong 6mm
    goop, $96


  2. Anissa Kermiche Jugs Jug

    Anissa Kermiche
    Jugs Jug
    goop, $460


  3. J’Jute Allora Diagonal Basket - Large

    Allora Diagonal Basket – Large
    goop, $268


yoga studio

Perhaps nothing put me right into the moment like floating in the rejuvenating waters at The Well, the property’s spa paradise perched at the top of a winding path edged with coffee plants and colorful blooms. (Just the stroll to get there from your casita is enough to make you fall in love with the place, especially at night, when there are a trillion stars glinting above you.) The supreme pampering begins when you step into Casa de Agua, the serene, sky-high-ceilinged epicenter where you can splay out on colossal slabs of heated marble in your bikini while a spa attendant slathers you head to toe in an exfoliating herbal concoction and locally sourced mineral-rich clay. I lay there like a lizard on a sun-warmed rock, getting up every now and then to sip some garden tea and pop gooseberries into my mouth; someone had stealthily placed a bowl of them near my robe.

How to Do Hydrotherapy and Exfoliate for Glow at Home

  1. Foaming Body Polish for Supple Skin

    goop Beauty GOOPGLOW Microderm Instant Glow Body Polish

    goop Beauty
    GOOPGLOW Microderm Instant Glow Body Polish
    goop, $48/$43 with subscription


  2. Psyche-Soothing Magnesium-Salt Bath

    De Mamiel Soothe Bath Soak

  3. Pink-Salt Shampoo for Shiny Hair

    goop Beauty G.Tox Himalayan Salt Scalp Scrub Shampoo

  4. (Salon-Level) Hair Mask

    Crown Affair The Renewal Mask

  5. Replenishing Face Mist

    Mary Allan Skin Care Infused Beauty Water Regenerating Mist

  6. Ultimate Skin Detox

    goop Beauty G.Tox Ultimate Dry Brush

  7. Radiance-Boosting Secret Weapon

    goop Beauty GOOPGLOW Microderm Instant Glow Exfoliator

When the herbs and clay had worked enough of their skin-smoothing magic, I rinsed off and spent the next hour before my scheduled treatment oscillating between the heated jet pool and the large, cooler tranquility pool. It turns out hydrotherapy is a powerful antidote to email-body (the stiffening of the limbs from too much time hunched over a computer). Just when I thought I couldn’t luxuriate any harder, my massage commenced: a 90-minute haze of hurts-so-good kneading and euphoric scalp massage. Afterward, I stumbled—blissed out—to the aromatherapy steam room, before heading back to get dressed for dinner. (Warning: Going to The Well at Hacienda might have forever ruined me for all other spas. Fortunately, The Well has locations in Manhattan and Washington, Connecticut.)

Megan at spa
Megan at spa

Grano—one of five on-site restaurants—is cozy and beautifully decorated with plush pillow-padded booths, giant windows, pretty wallpaper, and a practically prehistoric-size cornucopia of Costa Rican fruits that you can’t help but marvel at (and fondle) when you walk in. The vibe is sleek for sure, but there’s no need to dress to the nines—I felt vacation-chic in a swishy skirt with a touch of smudgy eyeliner and dabbed-on sheer lip color.

  1. G. Label by goop Devin Crop Top

    G. Label by goop
    Devin Crop Top
    goop, $425


  2. G. Label by goop Rigby Circle Skirt

    G. Label by goop
    Rigby Circle Skirt
    goop, $795


  3. Jillian Dempsey Khôl Eyeliner

    Jillian Dempsey
    Khôl Eyeliner
    goop, $20


  4. Westman Atelier Lip Suede

    Westman Atelier
    Lip Suede
    goop, $85


The menu itself is reason enough to return to Hacienda. South African chef Liezl Odendaal gets 90 percent of the menu’s ethically sourced ingredients from Costa Rica (certain regions are categorized as Blue Zones). Every dish that comes out of her kitchen explodes with flavors and textures yet nourishes deeply and is mostly free of refined sugar and gluten (Odendaal relies on plantain, yuca, coconut, and chickpea flours). Get the arroz con pollo—pan-fried organic chicken breast with creamy cashew-nut sauce, black beans, and rice crisps made with turmeric rice—and the seared Pacifico linefish with savory coconut choka and lemony oxalis leaves. The steamed blue-corn rolls were somehow pillowy and wholesome (for once, I didn’t miss conventional flour), and the avocado ice cream came bathed in mariola honey. (Stingless mariola honeybees are unique to Costa Rica and Central America; their honey is particularly high in antioxidants and often used medicinally.) Odendaal also makes the in-room snacks—decadent nut-and-honey bars, purple-corn bizcochos, and sunflower-seed cocoa truffles. (Note: If you want to learn how to cook like her, the hotel runs amazing culinary workshops.)

  1. goop Home 10-Piece Cookware Set

    goop Home
    10-Piece Cookware Set
    goop, $300


  2. La DoubleJ Apron

    La DoubleJ
    goop, $120


  3. Il Buco Vita Assisi Nested Oval Platters, Set of 3

    Il Buco Vita Assisi
    Nested Oval Platters, Set of 3
    goop, $300


  4. goop x Social Studies Secret Garden Dinner Plate

    goop x Social Studies
    Secret Garden Dinner Plate
    goop, $48


restaurant interior and entree
restaurant interior and entree

The cocktails are their own little masterpieces. There’s a menu, but the mixologists can really off-road, translating an incoherent request like mine (“Mmmm, something smoky, sweet but also savory, and strong but not hangover-forceful?”) into an imaginative, completely original drink you’ll want to re-create at home.

One morning we set off down a jungly trail on a bird-watching hike; the yellow-headed caracara and grey-cowled wood rail were exquisite, and the caña agria, with its ruffled magenta head, was the most showstopping blossom I’ve ever seen. On another morning, we sipped mugs of the creamiest cashew-milk hot chocolate (as thick as the chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) while steeping in a secluded, vine-tangled river bath, a carved-from-the-rocks pool filled with fire-heated, herb-infused water from Rio San Ignacio, which meanders through the property. I somehow forgot my bikini and ended up skinny-dipping (you can just tell the spa attendant to keep the area private).

My husband then went off to a serene poolside restaurant for exquisitely seasoned ceviche, while I did a coffee tasting at the gorgeous Mercado (Hacienda is also a coffee farm). Two words: tahini coffee. So silky and subtly sweet, it’s now my favorite way to make coffee at home. I make a cup of coffee (the pour-over set from Pala, below, is brilliant, and the rustic pattern lights up any kitchen), let it cool slightly, and dump it, along with a tablespoon of organic tahini—I like the one from Seed + Mill—into my blender. The resulting frothy, caramel-colored caffeinated elixir doesn’t even need oat milk.

  1. goop Fair Trade Specialty Coffee

    Fair Trade Specialty Coffee
    goop, $28


  2. Pala Ceramics Carafe & Pour Over Coffee Set

    Pala Ceramics
    Carafe & Pour Over Coffee Set
    goop, $120


  3. Richard Brendn Pinstripe Mug

    Richard Brendon
    Pinstripe Mug
    goop, $68


What other habits did I bring back with me from Costa Rica? I take longer pauses to listen to the birds outside my window. I make a batch of chef Odendaal’s honey-nut granola bars on Sundays so my household is equipped with wholesome snacks for the week. I’ve dipped further into gluten-free baking. And I remind myself daily that breaks and vacation—whether that means stopping work early to do yoga in my bedroom or simply instating a no-phone rule for my subway commute home—are a beautiful necessity.

My Spa-Vacation Packing Essentials

It’s freeing to bring just a carry-on, so I take only things that can sail right past TSA.

  1. Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum

    Vintner’s Daughter
    Active Botanical Serum
    goop, $195

    Replenishing after a jungle hike and glow-boosting. This is the only face oil I need—on vacation and beyond.


  2. Tower 28 Beauty ShineOn Milky Lip Jelly in Pistachio

    Tower 28 Beauty
    ShineOn Milky Lip Jelly in Pistachio
    goop, $15

    Sheer, moisturizing, and shiny but not too shiny, and with the cutest packaging.


  3. YINA Divine Bio-Cellulose Mask

    Divine Bio-Cellulose Mask
    goop, $85

    Delivers a surge of hydration—it’s the most soothing skin rehab after a day in the sun.


  4. Manta Pink Hairbrush

    Pink Hairbrush
    goop, $30

    The only brush that can slice through my curls and snarls. I use it on wet hair in the shower. And it’s lighter than you can believe.


  5. Makanai Hand-Crafted Face Soap

    Hand-Crafted Face Soap
    goop, $40

    This exquisite charcoal soap is incredible for oily skin types like mine. And the gorgeous wrapping can be reused if your soap isn’t too wet.


  6. goop Beauty GOOGLOW Dark Spot Exfoliating Sleep Milk

    goop Beauty
    GOOGLOW Dark Spot Exfoliating Sleep Milk
    goop, $98/$89 with subscription

    I smooth this on right before bed and—always—wake up with noticeably clearer, smoother skin.


Recommended Reading

The Dolce Detox

A Weeklong Cleanse at The Ranch in Italy

How to Go (Far, Far) Away—and What to Do There

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