How Costa Rican Spas Rate in Global Standards and Quality

11 04 2008


With tourism being a large attraction and vital currency source of Central American countries, including Costa Rica, it is no surprise there is also a surge in North American influences and foreign investments. When it comes to amenities and bringing our creature comforts, as they say, to less developed countries, there is definetly a demographic that appreciates luxury living. There are already a variety of destination retreats, spas and training centers in operation with more “spa communities” with on site spas, currently in development. While some have gained recognition, and are backed by a management company that ensures quality standards, there are still quite a few who have yet to receive recognition in the industry, or provide key quality standards. With healthy living, on the rise, it is almost a pre-requisite for any medium to large hotel or destination spot to include their spin on the benefits and uses of the local indigenous flora and fauna, and entice you with promises of tropical spa delights. Whatever the location you find yourself in, I encourage you to be aware of the level of spa standards and the training of the staff, after all you are paying good money your experience.


I have reviewed 10 popular spas in Costa Rica, and will leave it up to you to make the final decision. Since I have been based in one of the most popular destination spots, on the Central Pacific coast of Manuel Antonio for the past four years, I took an in depth look at our local community spas, and how they have followed trends, or not, and where they fall in global standards ratings. I have also reviewed some major players in the Central Valley, and north to Playa Herradura, Papagayo, and Playa Grande. With the International Spa Association, and Spa Quality LLC, who both provide assessment and monitor compliance with internationally recognized standards, as my guide, I will be looking at the following main points. Experience of the therapists, number of treatments offered, customer care, quality of environment, extent of facilities, health and safety, nutritional or medical consultations, water based therapies, along with display of trade association memberships, and accreditation logos. Accreditations are usually displayed quite openly, since it is a way for spas to differentiate themselves from other non-accredited spas, and boast high standards, that is a perceived added value for clientele, which is always good for business.


During my reviews I always keep in mind the current and past trends in the industry. As stated in Massage Magazine; some of the top trends to watch in 2008 include;

Feng Shui’ed gyms;Spas’ décor will inform gyms, and waterfalls and fine art will share space with swimming pools and weight benches.

Luxury Detox and Bootcamps;Many spas are beginning to treat weight loss and detox less as punishments and more as celebrations. Dovetailing with this trend is the “spa-ification” of drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation centers, which are incorporating massage, fitness, nutrition and meditation into their programs.

Spa Condo and Spa Community Living;There are now more than 250 residential communities with a spa/healthy living component in the United States. Including one on our Costa Rica list; Serenitas Medical Spa Community, is not in development of luxury tropical villas for $30,000.00 each with a spa membership.

Hydro and thermal super experiences: An increased appreciation for the benefits of water therapies combined with spas’ desire to offer staff-free treatments is leading to a renaissance in taking the waters. Whirlpools, waterfalls and specialized showers are increasingly popular at spas. *find out more at

Sleep Health; spa and resort packaged offered to elicit much needed sleep in key environments. 2008 trends will continue with other insights, according to Susie Ellis of Spa Finder. “This morning, I received a press release with this headline: “NEW YORK STATE HOTELS AND INNS HELP GUESTS GET A RESTFUL NIGHT DURING NATIONAL BETTER SLEEP MONTH” It seems there are a variety of hotels offering packages and products to guests in May for Better Sleep Month. These are “designed to celebrate the healthy quality of life difference that only a good night’s sleep can provide.” Susie Ellis, April 2008

These trends sound pretty familiar, and alright with me. One luxury we have in the spa industry is the ever evolving treatments, spas, styles, training, and leaders to better provide for a growing clientele. For more trends check Spa Finder or Massage Magazine, and check back here.


With my visit to Bath, England last October, I saw for myself the impressive lengths the people of our past went to, to enjoy the traditional taking of waters for health, and the history behind it. At Agua Sulis the ancient natural hot baths, water provided social and physical health benefits, and the aesthetics that surrounded it, suggest the first ingenious influences that create the serenity of spas today. Spas today still turn to tradition with hydrotherapy treatments, such as thalassotherapy, watsu, and water therapies, and continues to be a rating standard for global affiliation.. The renovation of the ancient Bath Spa, projected to open this year is eagerly awaited.

As a spa image advisor, who has also put my time in as a body worker, spa manager, trainer, speaker, and sports clinic owner, I am able to asses a wider scope of key points that can qualify a location as a major world class spa. In my personal experience, there are key things that suggest a caring and knowledgeable staff, which are consistency, cleanliness, certifications and the experience level of staff. In other words, a back room, or one massage table under a “toldo”, does not a spa make.

Industry trends for past years and our current 2008 have a growing list of treatment offerings, and spa concepts. This also contribute to the changing face of spa tourism and spa travel. According to Spa Finder, and Massage Magazine, arising trends and evolving demand include some of the top 10 listed above and highlights from past year’s, such as, acutonics, spa culinary schools, peptides, skin brightening, manaka tapping, idebedone, indigenous ingredients, eco-spa, detox, and other exceptional and less known treatments.


I have provided the spas and their locations from my review below, and given them a rating on the amount of points it met in my experience and the where they stand in trends and quality. Five points being they met the most standards of treatments, therapists, amenities and property, with one & two needing some work.

Spa Uno, Manuel Antonio: Overall rating 4

Serenitas Medical Spa, Guachepelin Overall rating 4

Serenity Spa, Manuel Antonio: Overall rating 2

Pacifica Spa, El Parador, Manuel Antonio: Overall rating 3 ½

Raindrop Spa, Manuel Antonio: Overall rating 2

Los Suenos Fitness & Spa, Marriot, Playa Herradura: Overall rating 4

Pura Vida, Alejuela: Overall rating 4 ½

Martino Resort & Spa, Alejuela: 4

Nosara Retreat, Guanacaste: 3

Four Seasons Spa, Papagayo Peninsula: 5


Overall not many of the reviewed spas, provided many of the rising, trendy treatments on our list, or had the training support for it, though many provided great treatments of their own. More innovative spas have jumped on board for more training and new treatment design. Fours Seasons Hotel and spa is one of the leaders here, having launched a key training program for it’s Spa Director’s that includes international internships, training and support for a year to return with new outlooks for increased spa benefit. Spa Uno is also a leader here, having opened a local massage and spa training center to ensure a minimum level of training before working on clientele and strict protocols.

There were some spas on our list who had a form of hydrotherapy or water therapy, detox, anti aging, and indigenous ingredients, but they didn’t provide a separation within the global standards, or boasted many accreditations. That is not to say they are not working towards meeting more of those standards, and we can agree that the spa arena is an ever developing industry that demands keeping up on development. One thing that seemed to be repetitious was the type of treatments offered on spa menus, too many of the same thing, more focused on the indigenous product than accrued benefit or creativity. Though I agree if something works, don’t fix it, it is also sometimes nice to distinguish yourself, and if you are a spa adventurer looking to try several Costa Rica spas, you may find yourself choosing from very similar versions of the same thing. This is most likely due to the remote areas of some, and the lack of resources to provide training or product, and in some cases a lack of knowledge. I would suggest that where needed, spas should invest in follow up training or certifications to keep staff knowledgeable and consult a professional when necessary. With a more remote location, it is sometimes difficult to entice qualified therapists, which makes the overall quality less. It also shows at a larger volume facility, when they are not able to get staff up to date on the variety of menu services they offer, or keep up with staff turn over, they may not be ready for the investment of training, or upgrading.


Each experience is your own, and I encourage people to try whatever is within their reach. You may enjoy your experience at a lower rated spa, but I would recommend looking for some of the points listed above, and don’t be afraid to ask questions, your therapist or the director should welcome it. One thing you may not be aware of, is you will be paying prices comparable to the U.S., so you want to be sure to get the best value and your money’s worth. To be fair, staff, standards, treatment, and overall experience may have changed. Though at the time of publishing, everything was up to date.

If you would like further information on spa suggestions, including the destination details of the spas reviewed in this article, my favorites, or locating and researching a spa or retreat for your next vacation, please feel free to contact me with your questions. I am also happy to provide information for other types of retreats, and medi- spa treatments.

If you’d like to share your own spa experience in Costa Rica or anywhere, please post it here, or contact me personally. My best to you in your travels, and happy tropical spa adventuring!




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