While en route to Costa Rica, I envisioned the greenest of greens, miles and miles of both beaches and rainforest, and animals I’ve only seen in zoos. Not surprisingly, Costa Rica's biodiversity didn’t disappoint. The flight landed, I grabbed my bag, met up with some of my traveling companions, and stepped outside the airport. Excitement was in the air- along with the warm, humid weather I expected to find in Central America. Still, I was thrilled to experience this amazing country! My first time in Costa Rica!
A representative greeted us upon arrival and delivered us to our first hotel, Hotel Presidente. The hotel, which is in a prime location in the center of town, is only about 20 minutes from the airport. This newly renovated, family-owned property has the only rooftop deck in all of San Jose, and the lobby is adorned with antique sewing machines, alluding to the textile factory that was the previous use of the property. The quaint décor, saturated with history, represented the warmth of the people who owned the property. As I exited the building to look around, I noticed a unique and vibrant mural that spanned across the entirety of the hotel wall. The owners informed us it was a part of a public art contest, won by a local resident, years before.
Additionally, the hotel boasts Azotea, a popular rooftop restaurant and bar, for both tourists and locals, with the best craft gin and tonics I’ve ever had. The 80 rooms in the three different sections of the hotel are clean and modest in decor. Coming from Southern California, I always appreciate cultures that emphasize eco-friendly ideals, and Hotel Presidente did not disappoint. Each day I was pleased to receive a glass water bottle, filled with filtered water, which the hotel supplies to each room daily. I am a fanatic for good, clean water, and this trendy touch made my stay a little more luxurious.
The next morning, I enjoyed a perfect buffet breakfast with an omelet station and traditional Costa Rican food. We
traveled by bus to the Braulio Carrillo National Park, where we saw the beautiful canopy of the Costa Rican rain forest, a truly magnificent site to see. Right as we exited the bus we were very fortunate to see a Tapir, the largest herbivore in Costa Rica, dining on a meal of green leaves. Later, while on our tour, we saw many species of birds, butterflies, frogs, lizards and snakes. (The snakes were in the snake sanctuary - thank goodness).
Seeing these animals was just the beginning of a fun filled morning. Next, we enjoyed a 1-hour guided aerial sky tram above the forest canopy on a “Rain Forest Adventure” tour. During the tour, our guide, Fabian, educated us on the different types of trees as well as the natural and constant progression of the forest. We listened to the rain while learning about different species of plants. All aspects of the nature, including the fresh air, the scent of wet, fresh trees, the birds chirping, toucans cawing, and monkeys howling, were so relaxing.
When the treetop tour came to an end, we were all very excited for our next adventure, a zip-line voyage. Previously, I’ve zip-lined in the Caribbean and Alaska and, like both of those experiences, I enjoyed the thrill of flying over the trees. This Costa Rican adventure exceeded my expectations by featuring 13 different runs. Each of us savored our time flying through the tropical Costa Rican air, especially on the last half-mile zip over the treetop canopy.
Exhausted from the exhilarating day, we mustered enough energy to end the night with wine and a culinary delight of traditional Costa Rican fare in the hotel’s restaurant. Costa Rican food consists of an abundance of seafood, rice, beans and plantains. Imagine these items, created by talented chefs and presented in an artful manner. Truly delicious!
The next morning we were out the door for our scenic drive to Arenal to stay at the incredibly beautiful Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa. As a group, we opted to make a quick stop along the way at Chayote Lodge, in Zaracero. This property has 10 cabins, modeled and designed after coffee receiving buildings. Made with natural materials, each cabin has its own private balcony overlooking the breathtaking view of the valley below. When staying at this lodge, both breakfast and a narrated hike by a local guide are included.
About 3 hours later, after our short visit, we passed the Arenal volcano and arrived at the Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa. This sprawling property is a piece of heaven on earth, containing five main thermal springs of all sizes and temperatures, with the warmest being 104 degrees. These natural springs are the only ones in the area that are naturally heated and mineralized from the volcano. Our rooms were located in the newly renovated Orchid building, each with a view of the (now dormant) volcano. The many lush green hues in combination with the tropical flowers, birds chirping, rain falling all delighted my senses. This was heaven and I didn’t want to ever leave!
Next, we were pampered with a Swedish massage. Leading up to this, we relaxed inside the spa where we basked in a jacuzzi, enjoying the dim lights, relaxing music and delightful fresh fruit smoothies. I was then escorted through a maze of green hedges, waterfalls, and babbling brooks. I arrived at a beautiful private therapy area, with its own jacuzzi - it was pure nirvana. This might have been my first outdoor massage but will most definitely not my last, thanks to the amazing experience of listening to the elements, along with softly playing music, and enjoying the massage.
It was then time to meet for dinner. Dining at Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa was a perfect culmination to a wonderful day. Their chef masterfully combines the traditional Costa Rican cuisine with his own creative flair. Both the plated and buffet food presentations were incredible, and since we eat with all of our senses, seeing the creative displays prepares us for the tastes we know we’ll enjoy. Luckily, our long hikes, zip line tours and other outdoor activities combated the food intake. Even if it hadn’t it was well worth the culinary delights!
Waking up the next morning, and knowing we needed to transfer to our third and last part of Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio, I was a little worked up. Frankly speaking, small planes are not my favorite. I was tempted to take the 6-hour drive with the luggage. Though hesitant, I’m glad that I boarded the Aerobell Air Charter 12-seater plane. The aircraft took off, and arrived just 35 minutes later in Manuel Antonio. The flight allowed for a delightful way to see the country from a bird's eye view. Had I known how easy it would be, I might not have lost any sleep. Now I know, and I’m happy to recommend this mode of travel to anyone who is heading to Costa Rica.
In Manuel Antonio, our hotel was more like a suite! A 3-bedroom condo in a high rise building with a full kitchen awaited us, overlooking the beach. The setting was beautiful and the unique hotel was a treat. We rode the elevator to the 5th floor and when the doors opened right into our suite, we felt like we were in a fancy building in New York City. With 3 bedrooms each, the suite can sleep a total of 6+ people. It boasts a king bedded room, a queen and room with twin beds. Perfect for a family, two couples or 3 singles, the set up was ideal.
From the open air restaurant, one can not only see the beach and infinity pool, but also, in my opinion, the most exciting part – the monkeys! We watched about 20 monkeys playing in the trees across the path from the restaurant. Seeing these monkeys, while enjoying our wonderful full buffet breakfast couldn’t have been more fun! We had the opportunity to take a city tour and seek out sloths. This, too, was highlight for me, as the more animals I was able to see, the better.
All along I anticipated my favorite tour selection of the week, horseback riding for the first time in 25 years. I love animals, and after seeing monkeys, sloths, tapirs and more, I was excited and anxious to meet the horses and take the 35-minute ride along the path on horseback up to the waterfalls. It was as wonderful as it sounds. Leaning forward on the horses, our group of 10 went up the hill, through the many
streams and the rain forest to reach the top.
We then parked our horses and climbed the rest of the way up the hill. Our tour guide was thankfully leading us, watching for snakes and creatures along the way, protecting us from the elements. We reached the top, and after the workout, it felt great to take a dip in the streaming waterfall. For next time, because there will definitely be one, I plan to add a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park. There is so much to see and do in Costa Rica, it’s hard to do it all in one trip. If given one more day, that would have been first on my list. We then headed back to the hotel to shower, and meet up for our final dinner, as we were all scheduled to depart in the morning. Pura Vida!