Exuberant Jungle Lust: A glimpse of Aguas Claras’ Contemporary Caribbean Garden

Many of you have complimented us on the gardens at Hotel Aguas Claras in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.  Today, we share the behind-the-scenes story of how our gardens came to be.

Howler monkeys above you. Leafcutter ants below you. Red lipstick palm trees, and birds of paradise all around you. Your first impression might be the ordinary tropical ecosystem.

But behind the textured leaves and shades of green lies the untold story about one of its designers, Antonio Doninelli. And how he was invited by owner Elizabeth Steinvorth to help design the gardens of her new hotel, Hotel Aguas Claras.

It took Antonio almost 40 years to fulfill his lifelong dream as a landscape artist.

Born and raised in San José, Costa Rica, Antonio found an early love of nature. Behind every leaf pattern, every blooming flower or ripe fruit, he saw a work of art. His artistic nature came from his grandfather — who was a life-long ceramic artist.

After his father passed away at a young age, Antonio found himself obligated to continue his family’s wishes —  attending law school.

But once graduated, he abandoned law and chose to follow his grandfather’s artesian footsteps, and began his own company, Barro Barroco. Working with cement, he designed everything from pots, floors, fountains, gateways, and others.

Then after 30 years, Barro Barroco closed. And Antonio found himself barefoot in his garden.
This is where a new idea and new chapter in his life began.

“Antonio is a very close and dear friend, as well as a very talented artist in many ways. I have always admired his work” says Elizabeth, owner of Hotel Aguas Claras.

“He started visiting me in Puerto Viejo when I was alone building the hotel. He started helping me make important aesthetic and architectural decisions.”

“Then he offered to do the gardens but “his way”, and I was delighted to have him do it all! I relied on him because I admire everything he has done.”
Her trust in Antonio’s artistic instincts shows. As no corner of the gardens has gone unplanned.

From the Talamanca mountain forest interpretation to the Caribbean coastal forest, when you walk through the garden you find yourself immersed in multiple environments.

You discover new sources of inspiration and connection. It is a true contemporary Caribbean garden.

You can observe this contemporary sensibility while you walk past a fallen tree and notice that it has been relocated, and used to act as a host for coconut shell bromeliads to flourish.

You can feel it while you walk barefoot up the garden stairs next to one of the casitas. Stairs that have been hand-crafted and made out of coral — the same coral that is beneath the entire property.

You can smell it when you walk past one of the iron water fountains that are part of Elizabeth’s personal art collection.

This Caribbean symphony of curated plants, textiles, and fountains create a space of peaceful seclusion and continuous inspiration at Aguas Claras. Indeed, an orderly chaos.  

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Hans Pfister

Co-owner & President