LUSH COSTA RICA BOASTS OF A SPECTACULAR RANGE IN TERRAIN, CLIMATE AND BIODIVERSITY. WITH ITS SANDY HOT BEACHES, LIVE VOLCANOS TO JUNGLE RAIN FORESTS, IT’S DEFINITELY EXOTIC. ITS RUGGED TERRAIN IS COMPLEMENTED WITH AN ARRAY OF FIVE STAR LUXURY RESORT HOTELS ALL APPOINTED WITH IMPECCABLE INTERIOR DESIGN, INCREDIBLE RESTAURANTS, AND LAVISH SPAS. THE BEST WAY TO TRULY EXPERIENCE COSTA RICA IS TO HIT THE ROAD AND DRIVE THROUGH ITS WINDING RURAL ROADS AND WATCH THE TREES, WEATHER AND LANDSCAPE CHANGE BEFORE YOUR EYES.
When traveling I prefer to get a feel for the entire region I’m visiting. Often that means I spend a lot of time planning my travels between places. But with Costa Rica, it was pure indecision that inspired my multi-faceted journey. I was torn between it’s lively cities, lush rain forests, and tranquil beaches. So I decided not to decide, and instead, to sample a little bit of each.
I began in San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, lured by its old city charm, and by the promise of an exceptional Spanish colonial-style hotel by Marriott with sweeping mountains views. Built on a 30-acre coffee plantation, the yellow and terracotta trimmed hacienda, boasted several restaurants, two courtyard pools, a state of the art fitness centre, tennis courts and full service spa. While my plan was only to stay one night, to get my grounding in Costa Rica, I could have stayed a few more.
From San Jose, I set out on a three-hour drive to the fivestar Nayara Springs in La Fortuna de San Carlos Resort and Spa, located in the heart of the rainforest. On route is the Parque Nacional Volcán Poás, an active 2,708-metre stratovolcano that has erupted 39 times since 1839, and also Parque Nac. Juan Castro Blanco—a rugged rainforest park with three volcanoes of its own, and covered in dense vegetation brimming with a variety of wildlife including monkeys, armadillos, coyotes and countless reptiles and amphibians.
Short on time, (and short on courage to face active volcanoes), I quickly drove past the park entrances as the sunny cityscape view morphed into a winding two lane rural road through ever-increasing altitudes of greenery. Before long, the sky had filled with clouds and a light-mist gave way to rain. Wooden bridges, connecting one high point to the next led deeper into the rainforest. Everywhere was overgrown greenery, dotted with the occasional encouraging road signs informing me I was going in the right direction. Once I arrived at Nayara Springs, it was as if I had been transported to a different country entirely. Not only was the region significantly cooler, it was also dripping with
moisture and an overflowing jungle. The lush dark green surroundings were accompanied by a choir of wildlife— monkeys, birds, and cicadas—all singing at once. If ever there was a resort whose website doesn’t do itself justice, it’s Nayara Springs. It’s quite lovelier, more private and more secluded in person. The resort is deeply nestled amongst trees and joins a sister resort by way of a 240 foot raised bridge that allows you to see deep into the jungle. Each day there were bright birds like macaws and cockatoos, and occasionally something less beautiful, even ominous, but fascinating in its own right. On my second day I watched a huge brown-grey thatchy feathered bird, over two-feet tall with strange yellow beak, sit for hours watching his prey before he swooped down to claim it.
The rooms are more like mini-villas, constructed in a selfcontained circular structure, all colourfully appointed, with wrap-around verandas that offered endless opportunities for me to enjoy my own little slice of the rainforest. The long list of outdoor activities I had planned—hiking, zip-lining, and cycling, melted away as I bundled up in a sweater and settled in the rainbow coloured hammock on my veranda, reading—with deep contemplation—the sumptuous list of
spa menu options.
Huge drops of rain pelted to the roof of the veranda, drumming like a marching band. Just when I thought it couldn’t get louder, it did. The pounding rain did not let up for three days straight at a pace that no rain garment could protect me from. I left the Nayara Springs, waterlogged but well rested and set off on the next phase of my journey.
Driving through Nuevo Arenal, I noticed a hand written sign nailed to a post that read: ‘German Bakery’. Despite the unlikely invitation, I followed the signs. Finding the bakery was not difficult. Under an awning that read ‘Tom’s Pan German Bakery’ there was a lineup that extended out the door. I couldn’t help but notice that everyone was ordering the apple strudel—a German specialty I normally associate with cold winter evenings. It was clearly not my place to go against the instincts of the multitudes in front of me. Tom’s strudel did not disappoint. Rather than have lunch, I ate the entire massive, delicious helping and got back on the road.
As I descended the mountain, the overhanging greenery of the rainforest was soon replaced by curly trees and fields strewn with grazing cows. Somewhere along the way the rain had stopped, I hadn’t even noticed. Just around 4pm I arrived at the entrance of a long driveway and was ushered into the manicured compound and ultra-chic modern designed Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort. The Andaz is touted by some as the ultimate luxury getaway in Costa Rica and I soon began to understand why.
Stepping from my car I was met with the searing sun and 30 degree heat coastal Costa Rica is known for. The hotel lobby was designed to be modern, pre-colonial and contemporary all at once. Stone walls and curved woodbeams, create an open air tubular structure with a stunning view of the water. At a distance the hotel facilities resemble a modern interpretation of a yurt. The property was inspired by the native spirit of Costa Rica—the ‘pura vida’ (pure life) philosophy—well manicured grounds, two infinity pools, and modern hotel suites, stocked with free treats, including take home hats, that make it feel like you have your own apartment in ‘pure life’ paradise.
Of the three excellent fine dining restaurants on the property, I was invariably drawn to Chao Pescao, an indoor outdoor tapas restaurant and casual dining option with the most inventive tapas selection that is not to be missed. Luckily there was an incredible gym facility to work off those meals.
The Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort is a self sufficient property you needn’t leave. But for those wanting to touch the ocean waters there is a path—one that I often shared with several moderate-sized iguanas – that led down to the calm waters of the lagoon’s bare-bones beach area.
The Onda spa, with a focus on physiology restoration, and wellbeing, was my favourite. Located through double doors and down a backlit circular staircase, a mix of bamboo wall dividers, floor to ceiling glass windows, loose stone terrariums inspire within a modern feng shui sense of calm. One would think, after using the spa several times in the rainforest that I would have had my fill. But this spa was special, and the services, ranging from massages to facials were, in a word, exquisite.
On my last night in Costa Rica I sat at Chao Pescao and reflected on my trip. It was difficult to process such different experiences with the same small country. The terrain, the weather was so uniquely different. The lovely Costa Rican people however, were a happy constant —generous and kind everywhere. I headed off to the airport, in the early hours of the morning, the sky still dark, without a proper goodbye to Costa Rica. That’s ok, I thought, I will be back.
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