The first time I fly into a new country, I am always fascinated by the aerial view as the plane starts to land. If I don’t have a window seat, I will usually be awkwardly trying to look around the person who does, even when they have that whole “I have been here 20 times” look on their face as they somberly stare right ahead trying to finish up their magazine/work emails before the plane touches down. Vegas was amazing to land at night with the lights everywhere, but I am certainly glad we arrived in the day for this trip. The first impression was, “Wow, this place is green,” and as I would discover, that color would be a reoccurring theme for the next week.
Having touched down and reconnected with my colleagues Ellie and Pascal, we proceeded to find our lift to our first destination: Jaco. San Jose airport was actually quite modern and well organized, which wasn’t necessarily a surprise but always a welcomed sight when stepping into unfamiliar territory for the first time. We had our bags and were out the door and into our transfer very quickly. Our driver was very friendly and informative and even bought me some plantain chips from the walking supermarket because I hadn’t had the chance to make change yet. He recommended we stop off at the bridge over Tarcoles River to see the crocodiles below and take some pics of the view.
I hoped to see a wide variety of the animals Costa Rica is so famous for having and sure enough, only 2 hours off the plane we saw our first, even if they weren’t exactly the warm and fuzzy kind. First adventure completed, we got back into our car and continued to Jaco. The drive from San Jose Airport was very smooth and the roads were in great condition so we arrived soon after.
First impressions of Jaco were: sleepy surfer town with lots of mid-to-low range dining options, plenty of American tourists and the menus usually corresponded to this. Mostly, we had Mahi Mahi which was excellent in the area and there were several spots with delicious Piña Coladas. We stayed in a beach apartment just off the main road, which was nice and walking distance to all of the restaurants/bars and the beach.
The first night we were out walking and there was a blackout which is apparently not uncommon in the area. They don’t last long but can be a little jarring at first. There was a big thunder storm that evening which could have been responsible. Luckily for us (not so much for the local farmers), it was the only time it rained during the whole week we were there! We also saw lots of iguanas here (as most places in Costa Rica) and they were very bold and easy to get close to! One of the nice things about the country for an animal lover such as myself is the sheer abundance and variety which you can spot from almost anywhere!
The second day in Jaco we explored the town and of course went to look at properties. There are a wide variety of activities one can book and enjoy from the town, including ATV tours, zip lining, river tours, horseback riding, and of course, surfing itself! We saw several lovely villas including my personal favourite Casa Milagro. Milagro is a lovely beach home with a beautiful design and layout. As a special treat for our arrival, a couple of Scarlet Macaws even paid us a visit! I can imagine spending a week there would be a fantastic time.
Later that day, it was time to head down to the beach and catch a lovely sunset. The waves were a good size for beginner surfing or just splashing around as I spent my time doing. The sand on the beaches in this part of Costa Rica is dark but they are quite nice for walking on and the water was very warm.
The next morning, we scheduled a river tour and were excited to get closer to the crocs we saw on the bridge. Great tour with a very informative guide. I learned about a type of fisher bird they have there that picks up insects and drops them into the water to use as bait to attract fish to the surface! There were about 10 different species of birds we spotted (perhaps more), and then of course, there were the crocs! We booked the tour in advance so had an entire boat to five of us, which was great as we were able to move around and really see the animals up close…almost a little too close sometimes. 🙂
Later that day, we picked up our rental car and headed towards Playa Coco. Not a short drive, but again the roads were in very good condition and with our dream team – Ellie doing the driving, Pascal providing translation, and me working the GPS – we managed to get there without too much trouble. Once in town, we called the local concierge for the next villa we would be staying at, Lantana, and found ourselves being directed up a series of very steep hills which Ellie handled very well. When we got to the top, it was certainly worth the drive up as there was a magnificent view from the pool and deck area.
We had a blended fruit cocktail (with rum added on request – yes please!) and a bowl of guacamole and salsa with chips, which was nice after the long drive. Luckily, we also made it just in time for the sunset which would be the first of many beautiful ones we got to see during our week. Lantana is a duplex with two 2 bedroom apartments on top of each other. Both have a kitchen and each bedroom has en-suite bathrooms; a great fit for two small families to share but I could see all group types enjoying it here. We had a slight delay the next morning so we decided to stop by the Monkey Farm, which was a non-profit organization set up to help rehabilitate inquired animals. They had some baby howler monkeys in the hope that they could form a troop and head back to the wild one day. They depend on volunteers and donations and also offer a horseback ride tour either through the jungle or along the beach (or both).
The next day we met with our local rep and saw the rest of the villas in this area. The highlight for me was certainly Villa Vista Preciosa, which certainly lived up to its name. The view of the bay from the gorgeous infinity pool, for me, was why it is worth it to stay up here as opposed to being on the beach. There was a group there when we went to visit and they told us they never stay anywhere else when they come to Costa Rica. After seeing this place, it was easy to understand why.
The other villas were nice but not quite the same level in terms of the layout and interiors. Villa Allamanda was lovely and also has an infinity edge pool. Puesta del Sol, would be great for hosting a large event and the villas can all be rented together to accommodate a pretty large group. After spending most of the morning and afternoon touring those homes, we headed into the town of Playa Coco to visit Villa Buena Onda. This is a luxury boutique hotel a short drive from Playa Coco and can be rented either by bedroom or in its entirety. It is a very beautiful and tranquil, environmentally aware atmosphere they created and the rooms are very spacious and luxurious. There is soon to be an 8th bedroom built so it will be able to accommodate up to 16 guests. It is closer to the beach than the collection in the hills, but a car to drive into town and the water would still be advisable. Later that day, we went back to town grab a bite and a “coco loco” (very sweet and strong) as recommended by the staff at Allamanda. We also went to the beach quickly which was nice but a little crowded.
The next day, we had a long drive ahead to Nosara so we left quite early in the morning. We had a lunch meeting with the owner of Tierra Magnifica and the drive to get there was definitely a bit of an adventure; lots of dirt roads and minimal signage. However, the dream navigation team prevailed and Ellie once again got us to our destination safely! If Costa Rica had seemed green before, this was the part where that color really made its dominance known. As we got close to Tierra Magnfica, there were signs for it in the road about 5 KM away which really helped in finding it. When we did arrive, we were greeted with a blueberry margarita and another absolutely stunning view! The feeling here was very much like being on the top of a giant (and very luxurious) tree house.
Over a delicious seafood paella lunch, the owner explained that they have had lots of success with families and corporate retreat groups due to their private location and the customizable tours/activities offered. A large and dedicated staff, luxurious and relaxing environment, and beautiful natural surrounding are combined to offer a home that is both away from it all, yet close enough to a host of activities to keep everyone entertained. We were just at the point of discussing what type of animals one might see from the villa, when a troop of howler monkeys came passing through the nearby trees as if to answer the question for themselves. It was tempting to go find a hammock and spend a view hours taking in the view (and another blueberry margarita), and the owner did offer it, but the dream team pressed on and we were soon en-route to our next stop, Tamarindo. The drive was slow and there were a few water clogged bridge areas we had to pass. During a heavy rain period this would be a very different type of drive, but luckily enough for us it was relatively dry and easy to get through. Ellie and I kept Pascal entertained throughout with an a capella Leonard Cohen concert, which I am sure is one of his trip highlights. First thoughts getting into Tamarindo was that it was a very pretty little surf town like Jaco but it seemed nicer and a bit more high-end. We drove through the main town area where there was a collection of beach bars, restaurants, and surfing equipment stores. Our mission here was to check the town out and the head to Don Vito.
This was a very beautiful and interesting house. Previously an old nightclub, the architect and artist couple from France who own it completely re-designed it to offer a unique and stunning rental. It has a huge deck and lovely garden which would be ideal for large groups to hang out after a day of touring. The bedrooms were all beautiful and individually-themed, giving this place a really special feel. We all wished we had more time in Tamarindo but night was coming and driving in the dark was a feat that not even the dream team wanted to handle. So it was back into the car and more Cohen for Pascal and soon enough, we were back at Lantana where there was an amazing red snapper dinner waiting for us.
The next morning, we met with a local contact who runs a tour company all over Guanacaste. We spent an hour or so discussing all the possible activities, including private horseback and picnic tours, horse + zip line tours where you take the horse up and the zip line down! We also learned a popular day trip was to visit Nicaragua and from the sounds of it, very, very worthwhile! So after the very informative breakfast meeting, we packed our bags, said a tearful goodbye to the wonderful Myriam and her fruit cocktails and headed to our final stay, Peninsula Papagayo and Villa Cielomar.
From the moment you approach the Four Seasons entrance, you know you are entering another level with the carefully manicured lawn and garden which was quite a contrast to the wild of Nosara! A winding path through the resort’s golf course and we arrived at the villa. It really is beyond impressive once you walk inside. The long pier out over the top of the house provides phenomenal views (the best of the trip). When people talk about million dollar views, this is literally what they mean.
Sleek and modern design, including control panels in the rooms for… well… just about everything. I discovered after some delighted tinkering that you could set the blinds to open (giving you an amazing view of the trees and water) at a specific time, along with whatever music/song you wanted. You could also program the exact temperature and humidity levels on a timer too. The potential for creating the perfect morning wake-up scenario was very large. I was in the middle of planning exactly that, but was called away by my colleagues to go and explore the resort and marina a bit. We headed down to the Four Seasons pool/beach area. They have a beautiful beach with private access and a very nice pool/restaurant area. We then headed down to the marina for some lunch and saw a yacht that had the 2nd tallest mast in the world!
Later that evening, we hung out by the pool at Cielomar and I saw one of the best sunsets ever anywhere! The location of the infinity pool is absolutely perfect to catch the sun as it goes all the way down. When the sun goes down, the salt water infinity pool lights up blue and at one point, we could see bats fluttering along the surface to grab the odd insect that fell in.
The next day was our last so we decided to try out a few amenities at the Four Seasons. First off was jet skiing and they brought the jet skis to an enclave of beach only accessible via the Cielomar property. We had a whole area to ourselves to explore and it was so much fun to get up to 90 KMPH, zipping along the coast from bay to bay! Later, we had lunch at the Four Seasons restaurant which was excellent and ended the afternoon with some massages. It was a very pampered and relaxing day to say the least!
Another evening with another beautiful sunset at Cielomar (this one a bit pinker) and another wonderful night’s sleep. The next morning we briefly toyed with the idea of simply refusing to leave the villa but in the end, we packed and headed to Liberia airport. We had a bit of time to stop along the way and see an art gallery featuring local artists using a variety of methods and colors. It would make a great stop on the way out for those looking for nicer and more unique souvenirs to take home than the fairly generic wood carvings found everywhere. Reminiscing in the airport as we waited for our flight, we agreed this was one of the most beautiful places we have ever been and can’t wait to go back! As the plane took off, I again took a peek out the window and in fitting with the theme of the trip, was struck by the greenness of it all.