Ylang Ylang ( https://ylangylangbeachresort.com/ ) is a family run resort and restaurant that’s a 15 minute walk along the beach from the village of Montezuma, in the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica. The meal I had there was a highlight of my 5 day stay in Montezuma…

… but before I talk about that, I want to share a little of the story behind the resort and restaurant, as I think it’s pretty special.

The founders of Ylang Ylang, Lenny and Patricia Iacono (both raw vegans), acquired this beachfront property in the late 1970’s, at a time when the village of Montezuma was substantially quieter than it is today. It must have been the proverbial one-horse town then as today the village is still very low key, friendly, and really is only a couple of streets large! Here’s a couple of photos I took in January 2020 to give you a feel of the place.

This is the view from where the bus drops you off in the centre of town.
Restaurant signs as you walk from bus stop to the supermarket.
The main street, taken from outside the supermarket.
The village is the scattering of buildings you can see beyond the beach.

So back in the ’70’s Lenny and Patricia lived off of the land and earned a living selling dried fruit. From their earnings, they opened a health food restaurant, El Sano Banano, in the center of Montezuma, and slowly they developed the beach front property that would become Ylang Ylang. They set out to create a beautiful oasis where family, friends and partners could come to enjoy the natural surroundings of Costa Rica in a secluded yet nurturing and comfortable environment.

Their original house is now the Ylang Ylang restaurant and yoga studio, whilst the guest bungalows (there’s space for around 50 guests now) can be found dotted among the verdant gardens. Walking through the gardens it’s hard to believe that just 50 years ago this was cattle pasture and coconut grove. Things grow so quickly in Costa Rica!

Although the signs of cattle farming have gone the memory of it lives on in the restaurant, which will not serve meat as a protest against this type of farming, which has been so destructive for many areas of Costa Rica. Chicken and fish are still available, although with the pace of change as it is, I would imagine that dishes containing these will become fewer as people start to become even more environmentally aware – as well as health conscious – and demand for them drops.

The walk to the restaurant from Montezuma is beautiful. Leaving the village you come to a wide, sandy beach; half way along is the sea turtle rescue centre (during nesting season they release the babies at about 3pm most days) and a further few minutes of sand and surf will being you to the resort.

The view back along the beach from the entrance to Ylang Ylang.
The beach in front of Ylang Ylang.
The view of restaurant and yoga studio from the beach.
The entrance to the restaurant, with the blue of the Pacific Ocean beyond.

The photos can’t do justice to this dining experience. It was a typically warm, humid, January day in Montezuma, I’d been hiking up to the waterfall just out of the village for the previous few hours and was hot and tired. The restaurant was immediately cooling but I opted for an outside table in the shade of palm trees as I wanted to enjoy the full expanse of light, and be cooled slowly by the sea breeze rather than by fans. That view and multi sensory experience – the deep greens and blues, the bright pops of red flower, the bird call, the quiet talk and gentle laughter of a few other guests, and the crashing of the waves on sand – immediately refreshed me.

I started with a ‘Green Passion’. I was tempted by the ‘Coco Berry’ as the waiter said they made all their coconut milk fresh each day in house, which sounded unique and tasty, but I’m a keen athlete so when I saw ginger and pineapple in the same drink I thought ‘anti inflammatory heaven!’ and ‘Green Passion’ it was. Plus there was spirulina in it, an algae known for it’s high nutritional content but one which I’ve previously not enjoyed much in my energy shakes. I thought it’d be good to see how it tasted in this combination. I’m glad I tried it, it was a revelation. I think the sweetness of the pineapple and passion fruit helped immensely, not so much masking the taste of spirulina as enhancing it. I loved the taste.

Then I ordered lunch. There were a great many vegan choices! This was just the page I focused on, there were several other options (to see the full menu, check it out online – https://ylangylangbeachresort.com/ylang-ylang-restaurant-montezuma/

My waiter was genuinely friendly, and knowledgeable and enthusiastic about every dish available, he knew the menu inside out. This is always a good sign for me, when the business has encouraged the staff to eat and learn about everything on the menu. It shows they care for the staff, and the diner’s experience. I opted for the Blackened Tofu Steak with Mango Sauce. I’d never eaten tofu this way before, neither had I had a mango sauce, and it seemed a fresh but substantial dish, perfect for a hungry guy on a warm, tropical day.

When my plate arrived, joy arrived with it. What color, what presentation, what aroma; together with the wider scene it was a carnival and as I began to eat I just kept thinking of the Tahiti of Gauguin (different part of the world I know, but it just seemed appropriate!). And whilst his colorful paintings might well have been just a slice of his imagination, this was most certainly real. Stunning.

There were a full range of textures, which I love. Al dente carrots and green beans, sauteed onion and green pepper, and steamed squash – all in a thick mango sauce – surrounded brown rice topped with the pan-seered tofu (which had been dipped I think, in a medium spicy/hot marinade before frying). This wasn’t just a delight for the senses but also for the imagination. I was inspired to make the mango sauce at home (and since have, a sweet, thick puree that goes well over any steamed veg) and to use parsley and paprika as a decorative element as well as for taste. The tofu fell apart, the dish was light and fragrant. Perfect for location and circumstances.

For dessert I had the avocado chocolate mousse with mint and bananas. I’m used to making chocolate mousse out of avocados at home and love the creamy depth and richness that it offers, and this was an excellent representation of this vegan favourite. Not too sweet, with a good balance of flavors. The chocolate was there but it didn’t overcome the bananas, they co-existed in taste paradise.

I sat for a while after my meal, watching the pelicans and frigate birds soaring overhead, listening to the waves, enjoying the atmosphere. Then I took a look at the yoga studio. I did my yoga teacher training a few months ago and enjoy checking out potential practice spaces wherever I go.

It’s a lovely, cool space. Looking out on the palms, beach and ocean there’s room for between 20 and 30 people in there, comfortably (much more if you’re doing a New York ‘room for another one here, and here, and here, shift your mats up a little please!’ style class). It seemed a space ideally suited to meditation, too. Not a single motor engine sound (there hadn’t been for my entire meal), just the waves, and the breeze.

I am sure I’ll be back. Ylang Ylang offers great value packages that include breakfast and dinner, and the yoga space is superb, as is the location. Nearby Montezuma is a friendly, safe village that’s easily reached by bus, shuttle or taxi from San Jose, it really is an idyllic destination that’s accessible to most who would think of travelling to Costa Rica.

I urge you to stay, or dine here! And if you like this review, please share it around online, Facebook etc, so others can learn about Ylang Ylang. Thanks.

Check out their website for full details of rooms, rates, menus, etc – https://ylangylangbeachresort.com/