Q TRAVEL – It’s a rainy night in San Jose. The lurid neon lights of the capital city’s stores, hotels and bars cast red, green and purple reflections on the glistening streets. The sidewalks are packed, and people are clustered around large-screen televisions to watch the Costa Rica football (soccer) team play Trinidad in the World Cup prelims.
San Jose is a big, sprawling modern city packed with people and endless traffic jams. But fly 45 minutes south to Puerto Jimenez on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula and you will discover a considerably less hectic — and less-visited — side of Costa Rica.
For whatever reasons, Puerto Jimenez (near the border with Panama) has never attracted the kind of crowds that flock to the more popular destination sights in the country. So when you arrive at the tiny airport with its adjacent cemetery, it’s as if the 45-minute flight has taken you back in time to a Costa Rica where the pace is slow, the houses are modest, the beaches are endless and the potholes are so big they could swallow you up.
In “downtown,” the hot spot is the central market, where the locals come to shop and linger. Time slows down. And perhaps that is one reason why many of the lodges in the area specialize in hosting yoga-meditation retreats with facilities that embrace a combination of deep inhales, lush jungle vegetation and the sound of softly pounding surf on miles and miles of pristine beaches.
After bouncing and jolting around in our van, we arrive at the Iguana Lodge complex with its lobby, check-in and breakfast area, casitas, main two-story lodge and open-air restaurant-bar. In its brochure the Iguana Lodge is pleasantly up-front about what to expect if you book: “Lots of people LOVE Iguana Lodge – and come back year after year. But it’s not for everyone. We don’t have air-conditioning, we don’t have televisions (although we do have complementary Wi-Fi – even out on the beach). At night things generally close up early – except on Friday nights, when we have a large, loud salsa dance party. If you are looking for the Marriott – this isn’t it.”
The owners are a pair of former criminal-defense lawyers from Colorado, Toby and Lauren Cleaver, who traded in their business suits and high-priced briefcases for the lifestyle of a surf bum hotelier and a budding artist (Lauren’s Georgia O’Keeffe-inspired flower paintings are a recurrent theme of the decor).
So the story goes: In the fall of 1999 Toby and Lauren were dreaming of a new life somewhere in the tropics where life was still simple and people danced the salsa. While surfing the Web one Saturday afternoon, up popped Iguana Lodge for sale. (Was it luck or fate?) They came for a quick visit and fell in love with its fantastic jungle-beach setting. They decided it was time to take a leap of faith and change their lives forever. After heavy negotiation over numerous bottles of beer, they bought the place without a lot of thought, held a magnificent yard sale, and moved to the tropics with their two younger children, Rio (11) and Lakota (9). Santiago (19) stayed in Colorado.
In fact, the American expat community in Costa Rica is substantial and has been for many years. As a result, a great number of hospitality facilities that the country offers, including Iguana Lodge, are a reflection of American investment in the country.
A typical day at the Iguana Lodge includes a nicely prepared breakfast accentuated with the freshest fruits, freshly baked pastries and steaming hot Costa Rican coffee. The day continues with a plunge in the oh-so-warm waters of the Osa Peninsula and a long walk on the beach, followed by a yoga class in one of the lodge’s two yoga studios. There’s time for a nap or just reading on the veranda or in one of the lodge’s beach cabanas. The day ends with sunset-watching and cocktails on the patio, followed by dinner and off to bed lulled by a breeze through the windows and the lulling pulse of the surf. Aah.
Another atmospheric establishment is the Encanta La Vida, which is situated within a wildlife refuge area. At Encanta La Vida it is not uncommon to wake to the sounds of the surrounding rainforest – howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, brightly billed toucans and the buzzing of cicadas.
The Encanta features a beautiful yoga center that faces a spectacular ocean cove of the Golfo Dulce. The upper floor of the two-story studio can accommodate yoga retreats for up to 25 people at a time; a full range of spa treatments are also available.
The resort emphasizes a wellness-oriented cuisine: “We understand that yoga groups enjoy a healthy and sometimes very specific diet, so we have developed a menu with something for every taste and dietary need. Our chef makes local Costa Rican dishes as well as recipes with an international flair. We often have fresh fish, and all of our fruits and vegetables are locally grown.”
If you desire activities that are more likely to raise your heart rate, there are operators that offer kayaking, horseback-riding, guided hiking to rainforest waterfalls or instruction in how to best shoot-the-curl at one the area’s renowned surf spots.
Traveling to Puerto Jimenez may not be the place to go if you are looking for the all-out pampering a five-star resort can offer. But if you want to experience a more laid-back atmosphere and a sense of real life of Costa Rica, Puerto Jimenez should be your destination of choice. Just don’t forget the insect repellent!
Article by Jim Farber first appeared at Creators.com