I wish I had a dollar for every time someone says to me “Is anyone traveling?” or “Whenever we can travel again, I want to go to…”.
Because, guess what, YOU CAN TRAVEL RIGHT NOW! People are traveling, and traveling safely to many places around the world. Right now!
I was one of them.
This past week, I was an honored guest on an amazingly bespoke Costa Rican itinerary that was meticulously designed for a small group of elite travel advisors in our network. Costa Rican Trails created a true 1st Class experience where our health and safety was a priority.
There were 15 of us that traveled in a “travel bubble”. Though Costa Rica does not require a Covid-19 test to enter the country, we opted to take tests within 72 hours of arrival to ensure our small group was 100% Covid-free. We actually met with the Costa Rican Minister of Tourism who told us that their entry prodigal is so effective that since they began welcoming tourists back in August, only 12 (thats right – 12!) tourists have tested positive for Covid-19. And, of those 12 people, none of them needed hospitalization. Costa Rica is a natural Social Distancing environment. Everyone is spread out. The resorts we stayed at all offered private villa and casita rooms where you could easily go days without encountering another person if you were seeking privacy. Everything was very clean, and masks are worn by all without diminishing the authentic experience that is Pura Vida.
Allow me to share my highlights of my week in Costa Rica. I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica for my one night stay at Hotel Grano de Oro. This quaint Victorian-style luxury hotel featured classic dark woods and lush plants in the lobby that blended classic old world with a modern twist. The courtyard featured a beautiful open air dining environment with a stunning wood carved bar and an abundance of greenery to create a warm and inviting place to enjoy a glass of wine before dinner. My room featured a peaceful courtyard with it’s own water feature. A perfect place to enjoy my 1st cup of Costa Rican coffee.
En route to the hotel I asked the driver where he recommended to grab an authentic quick bite for lunch. He recommended a local diner called Soda Tapia. I learned that all the local casual dining restaurants are called “sodas”. This name came from back in the 70’s when tourists from the US started to visit for hiking, they would come to local eateries thirsty and asking for a soda. The locals didn’t realize that a soda was a beverage. They thought the word soda was English for a diner. Thus, all local “mom and pop” restaurants were called Soda, and then followed by the name of the family or a loved one (ex. Soda Tapia). I had the most deliciously greasy tacos ever. I am still thinking about that messy goodness! The food was cheap and super tasty. Our bill came to about $12 for a couple of tacos, a bean and bacon panini and two soft drinks. Not too shabby.
That evening the group was hosted by the owners of Costa Rican Trails, our guide Jose, and the Costa Rican Minister of Tourism. We enjoyed a lovely multi course meal with local wines in the courtyard I mentioned above. It was the perfect way to kick off our week together.
The following day we boarded our chariot for the week. A tour bus was driven by Hermon and guided by Jose. We because very close with these two men throughout the week, as they traveled around the country with us. Hermon (pronounced Er-mon) spoke very little English, but still seemed to communicate with us via Jose’s translations. I almost forgot he didn’t speak our language as he communicated so well with us. Jose was a wealth of information, and as we discovered through the week, he had a hidden passion for bird watching. This was evident on the first day when he excitedly stopped the bus and pulled out his tri-pod and telescope to show us a bird he noticed. I still can not believe he saw it with his naked eye, as I needed my telephoto lens to see it. His bird knowledge was very impressive. Our first stop on this journey was to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. We toured the gardens and saw various birds, monkeys, sloths, butterflies, snakes, pumas, and stunning waterfalls.
After our visit we ventured on to our next resort – El Silencio Lodge & Spa. The name says it all. The best way to describe this property is PEACE. The resort is tucked into a canyon in the cloud forest. Everything is so lush and green. My room felt like a tree house perched high up on the hill overlooking the lodge. With a wrap around porch and comfy porch swing outfitted with fleece blankets, and a hot tub waiting for me to slip into, I found immediate peace. The lodge itself felt like a mountain hideaway with several fireplaces and wood details. Cozy was the theme for sure. We were welcomed with a rum tasting in the bar which certainly added to the coziness (Lol!). The next day, the staff at El Silencio gave us a walking tour of the property which included a visit to several riverside villas, a butterfly garden, the spa facilities, and the resort greenhouse, chicken coup and trout farm. It was evident that this truly was a farm-to-table eco-focused sustainable property. After the tour we had a guided tour to the waterfalls on the property. You can either hike or bike the many trails that run several miles to the waterfalls. Other offerings that the lodge offers guests are ox cart painting classes, cooking classes, horse back riding, zip lining and rappelling. I opted for the zip lining, which was an exhilarating and wet experience! It was nice knowing that guests can stay here and literally not have to leave the property. El Silencio offered onsite dining with a Michelin rated chef crafting farm to table meals, active and authentic activities, and a renowned spa experience. The rooms ranged from one bedroom suites (like my “treehouse”) to multi-bedroom villas with full kitchens and fireplaces that are perfect for families traveling together.
After a two night stay at El Silencio, we boarded our bus again with our trusty driver Hermon, and headed to La Fortuna near the Arenal Volcano. Our next stop… Nayara Resorts. This one had been on my bucket list for quite some time. The resort is made up of 3 hotels in one. There is Nayara Gardens, which is family friendly, Nayara Springs, which is adult only, and the brand new Nayara Tented Camp. All three blend seamlessly into a tropical medley. Each room is a self contained villa or casita set in the jungle completely surrounded by foliage, and creating a truly private environment. My room was a Rain Forest Villa located in the Nayara Gardens section of the resort. It featured a four poster king size bed, a large shower situated in the center of the bathroom, and open air outdoor shower, and a wraparound deck with a Jacuzzi tub and hammock. The deck was completely surrounded by lush foliage, creating a very private environment. It was not uncommon to look into the trees and see King Turkey’s nibbling at the fruits of the trees, or sloths hanging around bathing themselves. Each morning some sort of critter enjoyed running across the roof of my villa around 5:30 am. I believe it was a Costa Rican version of a rooster wake-up call! Believe me, the first time it happened I was completely convinced this critter was in my room! But, it turned out it was on the roof – thank goodness.
Nayara Resorts offered such natural beauty. You could spend days wandering the property and watching the wildlife. They had several koi ponds, a sloth trail and an armadillo trail. I walked both of these trails and did encounter sloths and armadillos. We even enjoyed a night walk guided by a local guide. We saw the most neon green tree frogs I have ever seen in person.
On our one full day at Nayara, a good portion of the group went off to the nearby Arenal Adventure Park and enjoyed ziplining and the many suspension bridges that offered amazing views of the Arenal Volcano. I opted to immerse myself into the local culture, and instead I went into the local town of La Fortuna via an Uber. I explored the local shops and ate lunch at a local “soda” called Soda Sabor Tico. At lunch I spoke with locals who were excited to hear that I was a travel advisor. They so desperately rely on tourism to survive. It has been such a hard year for this area because of the lack of tourists coming to support the area. I could almost see the glimmer of hope in their eyes when they found out that we were there to experience and share with our clients all that Costa Rica has to offer. The locals were lovely people. So friendly and willing to speak with us. English is very well spoken in CR, as it is a requirement to learn Spanish, English and Mandarin in the schools there. Very impressive.
After my visit to town, I returned to the resort just in time for my ultimate spa experience. I treated myself to a 2 hour massage and facial in one of the open air treatment rooms overlooking the rain forest. Hearing the trees sway in the breeze and the birds calling nearby lulled me to the brink of sleep about 5 times. It was my second spa treatment on this trip (I also treated myself at El Silencio) and certainly the most relaxing experience.
The following day, we again boarded our bus to head to our fourth and final destination. We were headed on a full days journey to the beach region of Manuel Antonio. I will note that I do not travel well by car/bus, and this drive was quite windy. On a positive note, I discovered that when I do this trip again, I will next time fly between La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio. So, if you come to me to design your Costa Rican dream trip, don’t be surprised if I recommend a flight versus a transfer. It is always up to you, but take this as my warning 😉 On this journey, we stopped to experience a river boat trip where we saw crocodiles and various birds. The crocs were impressively large and we got up close and personal with them on our boat. See my photo below of Madonna. She was not the largest one on the river. His name is Mike Tyson (gotta love their humor there). We unfortunately did not get to see Mike on our trip. But, I am okay with only meeting the Material Girl (err-uh Material Croc)!
We arrived at our next resort after dark. The final resort was Arenas Del Mar. When arriving here, you are brought in by a resort shuttle bus that takes you from the main road in Manuel Antonio and drops you off at a small open air lobby. This is where were were asked to walk across a padded foam door mat to sanitize our shoes, and our temperatures were taken. (This precaution was at all the resorts we visited as well). Then we were put into a golf cart and taken up a dark windy path through the property, where we arrived at a stunning open air lobby, bar, and restaurant. There was a beautiful infinity pool over looking the ocean. A guide took me to my room, which was an Ocean Breeze Suite. It featured a living area with a stocked mini bar (complimentary) and a bedroom and bathroom with a large open shower. The patio featured a large day bed and a built in tiled hot tub that over looked the ocean. The guide told me to be sure to lock the doors when they are closed because the monkey’s would come in and take our stuff (What!!!).
We had one full day in Manuel Antonio, and we were blessed with a perfect sunny day to enjoy the pool and beach area. The ocean was warm, which surprised me since it is the Pacific Ocean. Growing up in California I always knew the Pacific to be quite cold. That was not the case here in Manuel Antonio. The day slipped away from us quickly, as I enjoyed the infinity pool in the morning, then ventured to the beach for a few hours and for lunch. In the afternoon, I soaked in my tub on my deck and watched the monkeys ransack the room above me. Seriously, those little buggers would open up the minibar and fridge and steal the sugar jars. It was truly an unbelievable sight! Watch the video below my friend took…
On our final night, we went into town for an amazing sunset dinner at Raphaels Las Terrazas. This is a family owned restaurant with the most amazing sunset views over the Pacific. The owner was a good friend of our guide Jose. He told us that they had been closed for the last 10 months due to Covid killing his business. They only had reopened 13 days before we arrived, and he was so overjoyed to host such a large group. They had a live band playing and many other tourists enjoying the authentic local cuisine. Manuel Antonio was a lively town with a lot of boutique shops and outdoor dining options. I plan to return to this area again to enjoy more time here.
Our farewell dinner was such a special way to end our travels. Eating together, laughing, drinking, and supporting the locals. To me, that is what travel is all about. Immersive eco-friendly exploration that supports the locals. We left Costa Rica the next day, knowing that it will always be in our hearts. It was a beautiful week spent with beautiful people.
It was Pura Vida.
*Note: This was a trip designed for us to be able to experience all that Costa Rica has to offer. When I design your travels to Costa Rica, I would not recommend 4 destinations in 7 days. I would give you more time in each destination and likely select just 2 or 3 locations for you to visit based on your timeframe.