Just Back: Costa Rica

Ignacio Maza, executive vice-president, Signature Travel Network, recently visited Costa Rica and was impressed by the high-quality resorts and lodges of the Central American nation.

Now is the time to visit Costa Rica. This safe, easy-to-navigate, politically stable country is a leader in sustainable tourism and open to visitors since last fall. Better yet, Costa Rica offers a wide range of quality lodges and resorts that provide exceptional service, as well as privacy and seclusion — magic words to travelers nowadays. Activities and experiences are mostly outdoor pursuits that can be easily customized with private guides.

Las Gemelas waterfalls near San Jose.

Costa Rica’s stunning landscapes will impress you, with seven active volcanoes, impenetrable forests, and Atlantic and Pacific beaches. Finally, the country is also a great destination for travelers seeking active vacations, with adventure options wherever you go. The national greeting is “Pura Vida!,” which roughly translates to “Pure Life!” More than an expression, it truly is a way of life. 

El Silencio, here and below, has freestanding suites and villas offering privacy, space, comfort, and big terraces. 

I recently visited Costa Rica. After a flight to San José, the country’s capital, my first stop was El Silencio, a secluded Relais & Châteaux mountain lodge, an hour’s drive from the airport. The property sits at about 4,500 feet over sea level in a deep valley within a vast estate. El Silencio blends beautifully within the tropical cloud forest and consists of freestanding suites and villas, offering privacy, space, comfort and big terraces. The lodge was recently renovated and looking better than ever, with refreshed guestrooms, new two- and three-bedroom villas, and options like a private deck where you can enjoy lunch overlooking the Gorrión River. At the resort, enjoy hiking, bird watching, yoga classes and many other options.

Off property, visit authentic coffee haciendas, go horseback riding or hike to Las Gemelas waterfalls. My advice is to schedule your activities in the morning, reserving time in the afternoon for a spa treatment, a siesta or a good book. What’s next? A new swimming pool and fitness center are in the works. Tip: Book El Silencio as your first or last stop when flying to/from San José.

Ignacio Maza is shown at the Arenal Rainforest.

A scenic two-and-a-half-hour drive away is the town of La Fortuna in the Arenal Rainforest region, home to some of the finest resorts in Costa Rica and the widest range of adventure options. Enjoy hiking through rainforest reserves and walking across hanging bridges; zip-lining high above the forest floor with views of Arenal volcano; rappelling next to roaring waterfalls; rafting the Sarapiquí River, and other options. Tip: Although the rainforest trails are marked, my advice is to explore with a guide to gain a richer understanding of the terrain and wildlife. After a day of adventures, return to your rainforest retreat. My two recommendations in Arenal are Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa and the Nayara Resorts

Senator Suite at Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, which has Costa Rica’s largest network of naturally flowing hot springs, seen below.

Tabacón is set in a 900-acre lush tropical reserve, and justly famous for its longevity, hospitality and for having Costa Rica’s largest network of naturally flowing hot springs. The thermal waters emerge from Arenal volcano and cascade at 100 degress Fahrenheit, forming waterfalls and pools surrounded by tropical gardens. The resort, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), offers 103 spacious guestrooms and suites starting at nearly 400 square feet, and larger for higher categories. For clients seeking more space, I recommend the new Senator Suites, with two bedrooms, over 2,500 square feet of space and large terraces. Guests at the hotel enjoy special privileges at Tabacón’s thermal springs, including early access before opening hours, and a private section called Shangri-La with a dedicated service team. Don’t miss dinner at the resort’s Los Tucanes open-air restaurant and the award-winning Spa at Tabacón, with treatments performed in outdoor bungalows surrounded by luxuriant tropical vegetation.  

A short drive away, Nayara offers three sister resorts under one brand, surrounded by tropical rainforest: Nayara Gardens, Nayara Springs and, the most recent addition — the Nayara Tented Camp. All three resorts are connected by a network of stone paths and bridges. The feeling on property is Bali by way of Costa Rica, with flowering gardens, peaceful fountains and stunning vistas. Nayara Gardens is the original resort, made up of 50 family-friendly bungalows surrounded by tropical vegetation and outfitted with terraces, jacuzzi tubs and indoor/outdoor showers. Nayara Springs came next, offering 35 adults-only villas with over 1,500 square feet of space, including private plunge pools fed by volcanic hot springs. Nayara Gardens and Springs are members of Relais & Châteaux and known for superb dining and award-winning spa. The recently opened Tented Camp has been an instant success, offering luxurious tented accommodations with private pools, outdoor showers, and spectacular views of Arenal Volcano. The tented resort, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, is without peer in the region and will remind you of the best safari camps in Africa. Tip: A number of tents can be combined to create a two-bedroom haven, perfect for families. What’s next at Nayara Tented Camp? Additional accommodations, new ‘compounds’ with up to five bedrooms, a hilltop family-style restaurant and grill, a treetop bar reached by hanging bridge, new reception area, and a swimming pool with unforgettable views of Arenal volcano. 

The Nayara Tented Camp offers luxurious tented accommodations with private pools, outdoor showers, and views of Arenal Volcano.

My next stop was the award-winning Pacuare Lodge, in the heart of the rainforest near the Caribbean coast. Guests arrive by rafting through rushing rapids until pulling up to the resort on the banks of the Pacuare River, with personal belongings packed inside a dry bag. The lodge offers spacious riverside bungalows and a very special Canopy Suite, high above the property with sweeping views, plunge pool, and a private suspension bridge to a viewing platform on a massive hardwood tree. Take time to explore the estate, experience daily adventures, swim in the new infinity pool, and don’t miss an adventuresome lunch on a platform one hundred feet above the ground, with arrival via zip-line and rappel departure. 

At Nantipa, a small oceanfront resort on the beach, the bungalows with plunge pools are the most popular guestrooms. 

My journey ended in Santa Teresa, at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. This region is famous for its beaches, relaxed atmosphere, and consistent waves. Santa Teresa has been a surfer’s paradise for years with a bohemian, informal, and barefoot vibe. I stayed at Nantipa, a small oceanfront resort on the beach and member of SLH. There are only 15 guestrooms, which gives the resort an intimate, friendly ambiance. The resort’s restaurant is a top table in Santa Teresa, known for its fresh seafood and dining with feet in the sand. During your stay, go surfing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding or snorkeling nearby. In case you need a break from active pursuits, perfect the art of relaxing as you doze off in one of the hammocks, read a book by the pool, or watch the waves from your lounge chair. Of all the guestroom options, the bungalows with plunge pools, indoor/outdoor showers, and direct beach access are the most popular and unique in Costa Rica. What’s next? Three-bedroom villas with beach access and additional guestrooms. 

Because of air schedules, you will probably spend a night or two in San José. The best option, convenient to the airport, is the Costa Rica Marriott Hacienda Belén, with a resort setting, warm service, and newly renovated guestrooms.

A great resource is Memorable Costa Rica, the destination specialist, that creates custom-tailored, high-quality itineraries & experiences throughout the country, delivered with excellent service. Contact Sergio Heinfling ([email protected]), director of sales. 

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