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Designing the Kura Villas from Drug Money in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Travel – Since the turn of the millennium, Costa Rica has developed in to one of the world’s leading destinations for ecotourism, a country rich in wildlife and diversity from mountains to rainforest and beach habitats. The construction of hotels and influx of travellers has made it the leading choice for tourists to Central America, and for now, most resorts remain staunchly independent and boutiquey ­ –few chain resorts have set foot in the country so far.

Kura Design Villas costa rica 1The Cayuga Collection of Hotels and Lodges represents like-minded ecolodges, but the Kura Design Villas, created by architect Martin Wells and biologist Alejandra Umaña stands out. For not only is it created with a concept of combining the kind of luxury you’d expect in St Barts, but it’s funded by drug money.

The good kind of drugs though.

Locals Wells and Umaña were looking to up the ante for hotels with a mind for environmental awareness and sustainability in Uvita in the middle of Costa Rica’s pacific coastline, a quiet destination famed for its Whale’s Tail beach front. Just a few kilometers back from the shoreline, visitors with a powerful 4×4 need to brave some steep and rocky roads through the jungle to reach the spectacular peaks that overlook the Marino Ballena National Park, and it’s here the duo set about creating their vision, based on the theme of a Panther (“Kura”).

Originally from San Jose, Wells and Umaña moved to the region to create their own home made out of recycled shipping containers. “We wanted to prove that being ‘eco’ does not mean we can’t offer beautiful design and elegant hospitality, even if we are deep in the heart of the rainforest on top of a mountain,” says Wells.

Kura’s owner happens to be the Costa Rican Head of Oncology Research and Large Molecule Research at the Roche Innovation Center in Zurich, Switzerland. Having made a breakthrough in engineering an anti-cancer antibody for leukemia and lymphoma treatment, his resulting medicine Gazyva was the first ever drug to be approved by the FDA’s Breakthrough Therapy regime. His idea was to invest his compensation to redefine the criteria for environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility, and with Wells created a new kind of topical architecture with six 88-square meter villas of custom-built glass.

“Each villa has been designed to encourage our guests to interact with nature in a very authentic way – we hope they want to spend as much time indoors watching the nature that surrounds them, as much as they want to be outside exploring,” says Wells.

The staff at Kura are all locals form nearby villages, while ingredients and products are all locally and naturally-sourced too. But this is no rustic retreat. Double rainshowers, large pendulant-style hammocks, and an open-floor plan ensure Kura is one of the most upscale resorts in the country, and one very hard to book – it sells out months in advance.

Decorated with iconography around its Panther theme, the design is warm and colorful, created as a place for privacy and comfort in a jungle that may seen anything but. But as a mural below the lobby states, “Happiness is only real when shared,” and there are few places with as romantic a view as the astonishing saltwater infinity pool at the heart of the complex. Perched on a ridge edge around which the jungle life – especially colorful birds of all sizes – seem to look upon with envy, the pool is the setting for Costa Rica’s famous rainforest sunsets.


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