Costa Rica is as hot right now as its palm tree-clad beaches. Known for its bio-diversity (25 per cent of the country is protected), the country has earned major cred as an eco-tourism destination. Well-developed and safe, it’s a place where timid tourists can pretend they’re hardcore travellers.
Trouble is, with so much variety from rain forests to cloud forests to the Pacific to the Caribbean, it can be hard to find the best spot to base your travels. Here’s a look at four very different resorts worth considering for your next vacation.
Here’s a look at four very different resorts worth considering for your next vacation.
For Spa Aficionados
It’s a short drive to Asclepios Wellness & Healing Retreat from the airport in San Jose, which makes it an appealing destination when you’re either arriving or departing the country. But folks don’t come here for the location. This is a full-on wellness centre, AKA health spa, that’s much easier on the wallet than what you can find in the States.
What are guest rooms like? Simple, almost all start with dark wood furnishings and whitewashed walls bare of art. There’s no wifi (except in the common areas) no TV, no bathtub and no AC – though the ceiling fan does the trick. It’s a quiet and peaceful hotel, but does feel a tad like you’re staying in a monastery.
Why here? If you’re in desperate need to reset and don’t have the strongest willpower, this is the place for you. From wifi to chocolate to cocktails, pretty much all temptations are removed. The weird thing is that in this stunning setting, it doesn’t seem like such a sacrifice.
rectangular outdoor pool
Days are spent wandering around the lush property, slipping into one of the many pools or sweating it out in the hamam. There’s yoga, pilates, aquafit and meditation classes, in addition to the fitness centre. The spa offers serious treatments that go beyond your basic massage. Pummel sore muscles into oblivion with a Vichy shower, soothe tired tooties with podo-reflexology or work on emotional issues through a floral remedy. The big draws, however, are the programs bundled with customized meals to tackle detox, stress and weight management. Here, you don’t have to think. You just have to be.
How’s the food? There’s no sugar, milk nor alcohol on the premises. Food is organic and bioenergetic. (No, I don’t know what that means either, but I can attest it’s very good.) You didn’t come here to scarf down pasta and roast beef, nor would you want to. The resort takes advantage of all the abundant fish, fruits and vegetables available in the region and rounds them out with hearty homemade breads, granola and other healthy grains.
For Nature Lovers
Your bolthole for eco-experiences, Villa Blanca is set in a nature reserve in the Central Valley San Ramon region. It’s a bumpy ride down a single lane dirt road to get to this hotel, but once you take in the misty views of the cloud forest, you’ll be glad you made the effort. Once owned by Costa Rican President Rodrigo Carazo Odio, the property is a re-creation of a 19th-century mountain village. Many of the original buildings are still intact such as the chapel laid with 800 hand-painted ceiling tiles.
What are guest rooms like? You’ll feel right at home in your own private casita with its vaulted cane ceilings, wood burning fireplace, and outdoor seating area overlooking the jungle. It feels quite cosy and colonial with ornate, handcrafted furniture and wooden plantation style blinds. Beds are kitted out with luxury linens. Sadly, wifi isn’t reliable in guest rooms.
Why here? This is the spot for wildlife lovers and photographers. The webcam reveals the presence of ocelots, pumas, juargarandi, coati, wild pigs, toucans and howler monkeys. Guests can visit their research station to get a closer look at hercules beetles and blue morpho butterflies. Best bet is taking advantage of their guided tours through the cloud forest. You’ll likely spot a few critters, while naturalists give you a natural history lesson of the area.
How’s the food? When a resort makes cheese and ice cream from their own cows hand-milked each morning, you know they care about what they’re producing. Dinner at El Sendero does not disappoint. Begin with a tasting plate of their own cheese, aged four, five and six months. Then move onto a main such as steak, which is thick and juicy and equally as favourable as what you’d find in Alberta. Salads are ridiculously fresh and crammed with more varieties of produce than you ever thought possible.
For Coffee Lovers
When you’re in one of the world’s top coffee growing regions, it would be a shame not to get beyond throwing back a morning cup at your hotel. Fortunately, Finca Rosa Blanca is both a coffee estate and a luxury eco-lodge. Despite being situated minutes from both San Jose and the airport, it’s perched on the edge of a valley, and feels miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
What are guest rooms like? In a word: unique. Some look like a jungle room straight out of the Playboy Mansion, with ample lounge seating for 20 of your closest friends. Others are more restrained with sitting lounges, large terraces and sunken bedrooms. Windows are fitted with screens and allow you to turn off the AC without fear of creepy crawlies invading. Like most resorts in the country, there is no TV, but the wifi here is reliable.
Finca Rosa Blanca bathroom
Why here? The coffee, of course! Harvesting occurs from November to January but you can take guided tours all year round. At 42-acres, the estate is considered small, but tours only walk through about a kilometre of the property. The estate produces 15-18 thousand pounds a year, and all beans are organic, shade grown and hand picked.
Packages such as Behind the Beans take guests even further behind the scenes during the inn’s annual harvest. You’ll cultivate, roast, taste, brew and discern the many qualities of fine coffee.
How’s the food? As you would expect, breakfasts are excellent with freshly roasted coffee grown mere steps away from where you’re sitting. Egg dishes are simple yet perfect with homemade bread, salsas and savoury chorizo. Coffee is used as an ingredient in many dishes at the inn’s restaurant, El Tigre Vestido. Going beyond the usual coffee spice rub, your taste buds will thank you for sampling more inventive dishes such as coffee spiked hummus.
Can’t decide between the rainforest or the beach? At Si Como No Resort & Wildlife Refuge, you don’t have to. Set smack dab in the central coast region, between the Pacific Ocean and the mountain wet forest, guests can alternate between hitting the beach and sloth-spotting in the nearby national park. And, if you subscribe to the notion there’s more to a hotel than a room and a great view, you’ll appreciate their environmental ethos – recycling 80 per cent of hotel waste and using only organic laundry detergent.
What are guest rooms like? Though the resort isn’t directly on the beach, most rooms offer killer views of the Pacific. While the design is nothing special, rooms are clean, and are much more spacious than what you’d find at your typical all-inclusive resort. There are no TVs in guest rooms, but all have private balconies.
Why here? Despite the property’s environmental cred, the best thing about staying here is its location. Take advantage of complimentary shuttles to Manuel Antonio National Park. There you can strike out on your own along well trod trails to spot three toed sloths, endangered white-faced capuchin monkeys and if you’re lucky, scarlet macaws. One of the shortest paths (less than a 30-minute easy walk) takes you to the ocean, so be sure to pack your swimsuit.
Nearby Playa Manuel Antonio has been rated as one of the best beaches in the world. Flanked by powdery white sand, it’s an excellent swimming and snorkelling beach. Kids love poking through the tidal pools, but it gets busy here, so try to arrive before mid-morning to snag a prime spot of sand.
On those lazy days when you just want to lap up the resort’s amenities, there are free poolside massages three times a week in the late afternoon. The kid’s pool sports a waterslide and the adult-only pool boasts a two-for-one happy hour and two hot tubs.
How’s the food? While the entire country is proficient in making a mean mango smoothy, it has to be noted the fruity concoctions served up here are a cut above. For an upscale meal, you’ll want to dine at Claro Que Seafood Grill. Portions are American-sized and easily shareable.
Though the Rico Tico Jungle Grill is more casual, it does a fine job of catering to both adult and kiddie tastes. With the amount of veg accompanying main courses, you won’t feel guilty about eating restaurant food every night. But go ahead and splurge on banana foster for dessert. It’s as much about the entertaining fire show as it is a sweet ending to your evening.
Article by Jody Robbins, an award-winning travel and lifestyles writer based in Calgary. Follow her adventures on www.TravelswithBaggage.com, cited as one of the top Canadian Travel Blogs and Influential Mom Blogs.
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