When they started planning Cielo Lodge more than a dozen years ago, Nicole and Keith Goldstein couldn’t have predicted how much the “eco-luxe” property would suit Covid-era travel.
Now that the six-suite lodge has opened, on 300 acres of rainforest near Golfito, Costa Rica, the Silicon Valley veterans are grateful for its open spaces, easy social distancing, and limited occupancy.
“This project has been bookended by two global crises—the Great Recession planted the seed for it, and we’re opening in the midst of a global pandemic,” Nicole Goldstein tells Penta over Zoom. “Our spaces are large. We have such small occupancy that people can stay socially distant. There’s a roof over our dining room, but no walls.”
Guest rooms, she added, are elevated in the most literal way. Each is built atop on steel columns, from four to eight feet off the ground—“not into the trees, but among the trees,” Goldstein, 57, said. Suites blend luxe amenities like top-end hotel mattresses and indoor-outdoor showers with homey touches like hand painted, jewel-toned cushions by artist Lisa Waltuch , a friend of Goldstein’s. Luz De Piedra , a “contemporary tropical” architecture studio in San Jose, Costa Rica, designed the lodge’s guest buildings.
The Goldsteins ’ Costa Rica odyssey started in 2008, when both lost tech-consulting jobs in California’s Bay Area, where they lived. “It made us think about how we wanted to spend our days,” Goldstein says. The notion of an eco-lodge took root, and the couple started mulling over locations. Costa Rica won out, and scouting trips in 2009 led to the purchase of 280 acres near Golfito, a southern port town of about 45,000 .
In 2010, as the economy perked up, “our Silicon Valley lives restarted,” says Goldstein. Keith consulted on business development for startups; Nicole managed partner programs for cloud-data company Talend, a role she still plays remotely. “But we didn’t want to let go of our vision, and our plan B became plan A in 2014. We sold the house, Keith quit his job, we bought additional land in Costa Rica, and decided to pull the trigger on Cielo Lodge.”
Then came the waiting, she says. Environmental permits took two years. Financing, from a Costa Rican bank, took time. In the interim, for research, the couple stayed at as many eco-lodges as they could find. “The whole eco-lodge ethos is fascinating,” Goldstein says. “It’s this idea of honoring nature in such a way where you can still have a livelihood, but work to have minimal impact on the environment. Being able to share that with guests is wonderful.”
Cielo Lodge opened in mid-January. With average nightly rates around $486 per person in the high season of December to April, and $410 per person the rest of the year, Goldstein expects most guests to stay about four nights. Their stay might encompass guided jungle walks, dolphin-watching tours, night hikes, or beach picnics.
“This isn’t the kind of luxury where you see manicured sidewalks, a golf course, chandeliers, or plush furniture,” Goldstein says. “But you’ll feel like you’re very well-cared-for.”
My favorite hotel in the world is… we stayed at Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana years ago. Doing a photo safari in Africa was an unforgettable experience.
The last place I traveled was… Italy. My daughter and I went to the Cinque Terre . It was so lovely.
The biggest surprise about living in the rainforest is… it’s more about living in Costa Rica. There are things that are really hard, and things that are really easy, and they have all surprised me. A lot of those came with the business. In the U.S., you don’t think you’re going to have to spend money repairing roads, creating drainage, or clearing fallen trees. Things like that became our big obstacles here.
If I had to take one book with me into the jungle, it would be… by Jung Chang . It’s an amazing story about her family, growing up, her grandmother, the binding of feet, and it ends at the time of Mao, during the Cultural Revolution. You learn so much about Chinese history through her family’s story. But it’s written beautifully, like a novel.
The most unusual food I’ve discovered in the rainforest is… there are some crazy fruits here. Grenadilla—or maracuya—is very tart and sweet, two varieties of the same type of fruit. Another, dragonfruit, has a very deep purple color. You can put it in a salad. We share these fruits with guests.
When I’m in the rainforest, I like to listen to… the sounds of the jungle are so great that I don’t use any music. The jungle has its own music. But if we’re talking music, I do love the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
My fantasy Cielo Lodge guests would be… Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart . Gandhi . Martin Luther King Jr. Michelle Obama . And any of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
A good reason to travel now is… the key is finding a place where it’s easy to social-distance. You can be in the place, and connect with people, but from six feet apart. Fortunately, we’re designed for that. I do think airplanes are pretty safe if you wear your mask.
For travel in 2021, I am predicting… my optimistic prediction is that by June, a lot of people in the U.S. will have had the vaccine. It seems companies are working around the clock, and logistics will improve under the Biden administration. My parents, who are in their 80s, just had first shots. In the second half of the year, people will feel more comfortable traveling.