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72 Hours In… Costa Rica with Bettina Looney

See, taste, explore and experience Hacienda AltaGracia through the lens of personal stylist, tastemaker and new mother Bettina Looneyand her husband Carlos – who chose Costa Rica as the destination for their first romantic getaway alone after the birth of their 14-month-old son. 

This series is an insider’s guide highlighting top moments from a 72-hour trip to one of Auberge’s 27 destinations.

“We wanted an authentic Costa Rican experience beyond the beach – somewhere we could fully shut off, relax and reconnect as just the two of us.”
– Bettina Looney

The Arrival

From San Jose, we flew 28 minutes to Hacienda AltaGracia, Bettina said. The view from above was incredible, seeing the highland peaks of the Talamanca Mountains through the clouds. We were immediately greeted by our Compa, who was our personal property guide during our stay. He gifted us sea-heart necklaces and we were given a ceremonial pataste drink, taking three sips to honor the place we came from, the journey and, lastly, our stay at Hacienda AltaGracia. After the welcome ritual, we were whisked off in a Land Cruiser up the mountain and to the hotel. It was a genuinely warm welcome, uniquely Costa Rican.

Coffee & Cacao

At check-in, we were shown around the Mercado, the heart of the property, which has a full coffee bar helmed by an incredibly talented barista named Tacho. Before we even made it to our room, we spent an hour and a half talking to him and trying all his specialty coffees while he explained to us the process of making the perfect cup. I loved the tahini coffee with the orange and cardamom cookie, Bettina shared.

We also learned a lot about cacao, which they harvest on property, Carlos added. The Art of Cacao class explains the stages the fruit goes through to become chocolate. It was such a unique and fun activity.

Gathering Together

We ended up becoming so friendly with other couples that we started sharing our meals family-style and doing activities together, which made the whole experience very special.

“What made our stay at Hacienda AltaGracia so special was how seamlessly they created opportunities for guests to connect. You could tell it was intentional, but it never felt forced.”
– Carlos Segovia

Wellness Experiences

The best part about THE WELL at Hacienda AltaGracia is the people. You can feel their good intentions are so sincere, Bettina said. My favorite treatment was the two-hour Hierbas y Flores experience, which uses an ancient technique of applying a clay mask over your entire body mixed with freshly picked rosemary, eucalyptus, mint and native flowers. It smells incredible! After a beautiful sound bath, you lie on a bed where shower heads cleanse your skin. Then a hot bath is prepared with more fresh herbs and flowers, followed by a 90-minute massage. I can’t remember ever feeling more relaxed.

Carlos and I also did the River Bath experience together. You can get to “El Rio” where the experience takes place by hiking 20 minutes through the forest or taking a 5-minute buggy to waterfalls hidden amongst the lush greenery. The ritual begins with a riverside cleanse in cold water and then you dip into the fire-heated river bath, going back and forth between the two waters until you don’t feel the temperature difference between – something I’d never experienced before.

We also did a crystal healing ritual with THE WELL’s visiting master, Rashia Bell, at the property’s open-air Crystal Rancho, which features a 700-pound crystal quartz at its center. Even on the hottest day, the crystal is ice-cold to the touch.

And each day, I would visit THE WELL’s Casa de Agua, a large indoor tranquility pool surrounded by stunning terracotta showers and nooks, where I would lather my skin in a handmade Costa Rican clay mask and lie flat on a heated marble stone bed until I dozed off. It was pure peace, Bettina said.

Tree Climbing

We weren’t actually planning on doing the High Canopy Tree Net experience because it starts at 4AM, Carlos said. As new parents, we have very few opportunities to sleep in – but another couple convinced us to do it. It turned out to be a highlight of the trip. At dawn, we hiked 20 minutes through the tropical forest while spotting tarantulas and nocturnal frogs, which was super cool. Then we strapped into a harness and climbed to the top of a 100-foot tree. It was just the right amount of effort to feel like making it to the top was an achievement. When we got to the canopy net atop the tree, our guide Priscilla had laid out coffee and pastries for us to nosh on while we watched the sun rise over the remote wilderness. It was a really memorable experience for us.

Memorable Meals

The Costa Rican breakfasts were outstanding, Carlos said, and you can order from anywhere on the property so you never feel rushed to get to breakfast. Don’t miss the banana bread! For lunch, the kale and avocado salad with crispy chickpeas was a staple, and we loved the beef ribs and empanadas, which were made with whole-grain flour. In the evenings, we typically dined at Grano, the resort’s signature restaurant, which offered a new dinner menu each night. We dined with other couples and shared all the dishes so we could try a little bit of everything. The hearty squash soup and the grilled corn with blue salt are both standouts. We also loved the thinly sliced pork belly served with a red pepper almond salsa that was really flavorful and citrusy.

Los Establos

I grew up riding horses and I’ve never seen more pristine stable grounds than at Hacienda AltaGracia, Bettina commented. You can tell how well the horses are cared for because of how relaxed their nature is. One of the vaqueros took us on a two-and-a-half-hour excursion through the property’s pastoral farmlands and sprawling wilderness.

"We galloped through some of Costa Rica’s scenic terrain – it was just a delight."
– Bettina Looney

What to Pack

Definitely pack a pair of cowgirl boots and denim trousers that are easy to horseback ride in, Bettina said. The resort sells handmade leather hats made by local artisans, which I definitely recommend investing in. Also, pack a range of bathing suits that are easy to get in and out of for the various pools and water activities, and high-quality activewear for excursions. For the day, casual dresses that are easy to throw on top of swimwear are key, and for the evening, throw in one or two fun dresses to wear with a pair of heels for dinner at Grano.