The Lush Life

Thanks to its pura vida (pure life) attitude and eco-friendly philosophy, Costa Rica has proven itself to be an ideal setting for today’s healthy retreats. Home to a number of noteworthy spas, it continues to cement its reputation as a popular wellness destination with the recent debut of Onda Spa at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort, Costa Rica (Guanacaste). “The location, architecture, and thoughtful menu of treatment experiences position Onda Spa as unique,” says spa manager Patricia Fuertes Bolaños. “The spa is elevated into the trees of Costa Rica’s lush tropical forest with each treatment suite overlooking beautiful Culebra Bay.”

 Wanting to capture a taste of the country’s historic roots, each of the nine treatment suites, three of which are open to the outdoors, was named after a Chorotega term. The Chorotega was an American Indian tribe in Costa Rica at the time of the Spanish conquest. Inspired by nature, the suites’ names translate to tree, sun, water, and more. The spa’s name itself comes from the Spanish word for waves.

The Costa Rican setting also played a role in Onda’s various stages of development. “The spa’s location is the inspiration behind each element used to create the Onda experience, including design, treatment menu, music, and other spa amenities that are indigenous to the area,” says Bolaños. Before each treatment, guests are asked to choose their preferred musical genre, such as classical, Latin, or sounds of nature. Jared Dietch, a New York City-based music curator, producer, and DJ, put together the musical stylings.

As for the treatment menu, the idea was to offer thoughtful experiences that reflect the country’s culture and traditions and help guests connect with Mother Nature. The goal was to provide treatments that help activate the senses, provide an escape from everyday life, and rely on exotic and native ingredients. For example, the spa uses powdered organic purple corn that grows only in the Guanacaste region. Organic black beans and rice, sand from nearby Sombrero Beach, and local volcanic mud also lend an original and authentic feel to the treatments.

On the menu, guests will find a host of enticing body treatments, such as the Awaken Gallo Pinto Scrub ($160, 60 minutes), which uses powdered rice and beans to polish and hydrate the skin; the Detoxify Costa Rican Mud Clay Wrap ($160, 60 minutes), which blends local muds with seawater to infuse the skin with minerals and vitamins; and the Relieve Aloe Vera and Fruits Wrap ($160, 60 minutes), which combines aloe vera with fresh tropical fruits to nourish skin. The spa also offers a variety of massages, including the popular Sugar Cane Massage ($160, 60 minutes; $225, 1 hour 45 minutes) in which experienced therapists incorporate sugarcane sticks, bamboo, and aromatic oils with indigenous manual techniques. Guests also have a selection of facials, such as the Cambio Facial ($160, 60 minutes; $225, 1 hour 45 minutes), which combines natural ingredients, including aloe vera, guava, and soursop with Comfort Zone products.

Chosen for its organic focus, Comfort Zone serves as the spa’s skincare line. Biosfera, a Costa Rican bodycare company created by spa therapist Maria Laura Quesada Castro, fulfilled the spa’s desire for a local line. According to Bolaños, it allows the spa to work closely with the lab in investigating the benefits of indigenous ingredients and developing new products. Soursop fruit, hailed for its cancer-fighting properties, is one ingredient Bolaños was excited to see incorporated into the menu. The spa is considering launching its own signature brand with Biosfera. “These products were chosen because we were looking for real Costa Rican experiences, something different from other spas, and for a focus on the local senses and ingredients,” says Bolaños. They were also chosen, in part, because they were more accessible than other product lines. “From an operations perspective, it is somewhat more expensive and time-consuming to get things shipped in,” says Bolaños.

Despite the operational challenges, the country more than makes up for it with the other advantages it provides. “Costa Rica’s culture is one of our greatest assets,” says Bolaños. “We were able to create a spa team of professional and service-oriented individuals who were raised on the pura vida mentality, which transcends into their good natured and genuine approach to hospitality.” The staff of 17 full-time employees not only makes guests feel welcome and at home but is also able to perform 84 treatments per day.

Although the spa has only recently opened, Bolaños and her team are already busy thinking of ways to improve the guest experience. Next on the agenda is introducing a healthy food menu. From developing a Costa Rican-style massage to offering a scoop of green tea or ginger ice cream, there is no shortage of ideas. Says Bolaños, “Our guests covet experiences rather than things and are constantly on the prowl for that spark that alters their perspective or gives them an insight.” Onda Spa certainly sets fire to their wellness imaginations and gives them an authentic experience to remember.

Owner: Hotelera Playa Sombrero

Spa Manager: Patricia Fuertes Bolaños

Opened: December 2013



65% female

45% male



U.S.; Canada; Costa Rica



11,000 square feet;

9 treatment rooms



aromatherapy, body treatments, couples’ treatments, facials, fitness, guided meditation, hair and scalp treatments, hand and foot treatments, hydrotherapy, makeup application, massage, nailcare, outdoor treatments, Pilates, prenatal services, reflexology, salon services, waxing, yoga



Onda Cambio ($225, 90 minutes), a customized experience involving two treatments, such as a facial, scrub, wrap, or massage, and incorporating fresh ocean water and locally grown botanicals



Full Onda Cambio ($480, 3 hours), a customized experience incorporating a body scrub, wrap, and 60-minute massage



Biosfera, Comfort Zone, Davines, Ecotools, OPI



Book4Time, SpaEquip



Ronald Zurcher (San José, Costa Rica)



DAS Concepts (Long Beach, CA)



April Francis (Chicago)