She flew into Costa Rica with her partner and baby for an extended break in February 2020.
But after getting stuck in the coastal town of Nosara during the Covid-19 pandemic, Stefanie Tannenbaum, from the US, felt so at home that she decided to stay for good.
Now, nearly four years later, Tannenbaum is the proud co-founder of sustainable boutique hotel Sendero, which she describes as a “neighborhood hotel” that aims to provide its guests with “a sense of belonging.”
“People often say that as soon as they’re at the hotel, they feel part of Nosara.”
Tannenbaum had visited the town a few times before choosing to travel there for a month with her partner and their son River, who was around eight-months old at the time, and was struck by the sense of community, along with the “phenomenal” surfing and the nature.
Costa Rica is famous for its wonderful nature, and with a 90-acre biological reserve where howler monkeys and turtles, can be found, along with 270 of bird species including herons and toucans, Nosara is no exception.
When it became clear that she and her family would be unable to leave the Central American country for a while due to the travel restrictions implemented as a result of the pandemic, Tannenbaum began looking into the prospect of starting a business in Nosara.
“Everything was really stressful, but there was a peace I was finding being in Nosara,” she says.
While collaborating with a team of locals to set up a remote working space named Outpost, she saw an opportunity to create a hotel at a nearby property and “decided to take that leap.”
“I had been feeling alone and isolated back in the US,” explains Tannenbaum, who was previously based in Massachusetts. “And all of a sudden I was part of a community and the people I was building these projects with became my best friends.
“It felt like we were all pursuing our dreams together. We like to say that we’re a friend-owned hotel.”
Tannenbaum, who had previously worked for a hotel management and development company and often dreamed of owning her own hotel, met her business partner Sarah Kosterlitz while in Costa Rica.
The excited pair used their life savings to purchase the hotel property and get the project off the ground.
“It was a scary decision,” she admits.
According to Tannenbaum, it took around 14 months to create Sendero, which officially opened in February.
One of the main objectives was to ensure that the project was as sustainable as possible, which led to some interesting design decisions.
For instance, in order to avoid cutting down any trees during the construction process, they opted to “build around” a huge tree, which now sits in the middle of the hotel restaurant.
“At first I was like, “well we could fit one more table. We need to maximize the profit of the restaurant,’” she says.
“But this tree was here long before us, and it will be here long after. And then just looking at the beauty of it. It’s a beautiful attraction to the space.”
In addition, all of the materials used to construct the hotel came from Costa Rica, including reclaimed bricks and roof tiles from “old homes in San Jose,” while the hotel uses solar panels, and its water is recycled four times.
“Sustainability is non-negotiable in all of our projects,” adds Tannenbaum. “We actually want to have a bigger handprint than we do footprint.”
The restaurant, described as the “hub of the hotel” serves a mixture of “local and simple” cuisine, such as ceviche, made with fresh ingredients.
“We have a lot of tuna on the menu, because it’s locally caught less than a mile from our hotel,” says Tannenbaum.
The surf school, which was already part of the previous property, is owned by a local resident and the onsite art gallery features Costa Rican artists.
“We didn’t want to take the US and replace what was happening there,” she adds. “We just wanted to elevate and help the rest of the community really shine through at our hotel.”
Tannenbaum explains that the hotel’s three different types of accommodation are geared towards attracting “different demographics of guests.”
Its 25 rooms are made up of suites, private bedrooms with a custom-built bed and separate living area, jungle rooms, which include outdoor showers facing the neighboring nature preserve, and a king room, which has its own private balcony. Rates range from $200 to $700.
The signature jungle rooms, which Tannenbaum notes were a “risky” choice due to the outdoor showers, have proved to be a huge hit with guests.
“It does feel like all the big risks that we took ended up being the highest kind of returns,” she says.
The hotel is around two and a half hours from Liberia Airport and five hours from San Jose Airport by car.
The name Sendero comes from the Spanish word for “path” and Tannenbaum explains that the hotel has a path that extends across the 200 meters of protected land at Nosara’s coastal front.
“It’s also metaphorically how Sendero can play a role in the path or journey of one’s life also,” she adds.
When travel restrictions were eased in late 2020, Tannenbaum, briefly returned to her home in the US with her partner and son to connect with family and collect their dog, who they’d left behind many months before.
“He was not very happy with us,” she says. “But now he’s happy in Costa Rica.”
Tannenbaum has been able to build a completely new life for her and her family in Nosara over the years and is currently going through the process of officially becoming a Costa Rican resident.
“It was fast, but it just felt right,” she says. “Costa Rica is a very open country, they’re very into community and supporting one another. They’re always putting community first.”
She’s thrilled to have been able to give back to the community that embraced her and her family so fully, and is looking forward to what the future may bring.
“I’m very grateful that my partner was willing to take that leap with me,” she admits. “Because I was trying to find something. I was trying to find who I was as a mother and a family. And I found it there [in Nosara].