I had my first taste of traveling abroad when Matt and I took a trip to Costa Rica recently.
Before we left, I didn’t know what to expect. I know a few people who have visited the country and they were my best sources of information. Matt visited Costa Rica 20 years ago when it was much less developed than it is today. He stayed in youth hostels and came home with a sickness that doctors couldn’t identify. My brother visited four years ago and stayed at the base of the Arenal Volcano which was actively erupting at the time. He described night hikes where all he could see was the light from his flashlight bouncing off the eyeballs of hundreds of spiders and insects in the forest.
These descriptions, paired with my tendency to expect the worst of any new situation, had me imagining lodging in grimy hotels in a country full of spiders the size of my house that would wrap me up in their webs and suck the life out of me… if the exploding volcanos, scorpions and rabid dogs didn’t get me first.
Needless to say, I was not full of the usual excitement most people have before going on vacation.
Now that I’ve returned, I’m happy to report that Costa Rica is not completely covered in spiders, only some of the volcanoes are active and all of the resorts we stayed in were extraordinary.
As we planned our trip, we quickly became overwhelmed by the choices in lodging. Luckily we had the help of a travel agent who provided recommendations in all of the regions we wanted to visit. If you’re planning a first, second–or thirtieth–trip to Costa Rica, I thought I’d share my top three resort recommendations.
Located in La Fortuna de San Carlos, Alajuela, Costa Rica, this hotel sits at the base of the Arenal Volcano. Luckily the volcano was not actively erupting while we were there.
Hot springs surrounding the volcano are abundant. Many resorts, like Hotel Royal Corin, take advantage of this natural resource. We were treated to three large hot spring pools and four smaller jacuzzis, each a different temperature. And because the main tourist season hadn’t started yet (we were there in November), we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
The Basalto Bar sits right in the middle of the pools and they served tasty beverages, including my new best friend: the mojito.
The grounds are surrounded by lush gardens that are visited frequently by hummingbirds and butterflies. The rooms are large and each one has a roomy balcony to relax on after a busy day. Breakfasts at the Emperador Restaurant are served buffet style and in three days, I managed to create three completely different breakfasts from all of the choices available. From fresh fruit, to rice and beans, to traditional eggs and potatoes, this is not your typical continental breakfast. For lunch and diner, the restaurant boasts a varied menu to cater to any taste.
This small and rustic lodge is located just 15 minutes from the entrance to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. It has only 24 rooms and a staff so friendly that you feel like you are staying in someone’s home. The rooms are beautiful and you have an option of having a balcony or a bay window. For the amount of time we planned on being in our room, the less expensive ground floor bay window option was perfect. It looked out over the surrounding cloud forest and we had perfect views of hummingbirds during the day, the amazing sunset in the evening and the bats at night.
The hotel is located on several acres and boasts amazing gardens and well maintained walking paths through the forest.
Because it’s located in a cloud forest, rainbows are a common sight.
There is even an indoor butterfly garden. I was thrilled to have a chance to watch the head gardener help some of the newly emerged butterflies find their way to nectar. I was even able to help one myself!
Meals at the restaurant, El Jardin, were always a delight, especially with a staff of friendly waiters that we came to know by name. Drinks at the bar were made extra special by the gregarious bartender, Jeffrey, who talked to us about life and work in Costa Rica, his love of bullfighting (the bulls get to live) and places that he likes to go in his downtime. We felt as if we were talking to an old friend. I hesitate to call this great service because it didn’t feel like we were being served. It felt like we were being welcomed into the home of a friend. My only regret is that we only stayed two nights.
This was by far the biggest splurge of the trip. Arenas del Mar is a secluded, 5 star eco-resort located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean near Manual Antonio. Because the resort and its amenities are spread out over 11 hilly acres, the best way to get around is via the complimentary golf carts driven by the staff.
The resort has two secluded beaches and a restaurant and bar serving lunch is located on the smallest beach. Our first order of business after arriving was to hop in a golf cart and get some lunch. We sat down at a table under a tree. And not just any tree. A tree that had a resting two-toed sloth nestled in the top branches! I couldn’t tell you what I ate for lunch, but it was the best lunch ever.
Despite it’s size, Arenas del Mar has only 36 rooms, each with a covered patio or balcony. Our room was on the first floor and overlooked the ocean. The patio had a wet bar and a mini refrigerator stocked with complimentary snacks and drinks. Leaf cutter ants worked on a trail just outside the patio wall and geckos hung out on the roof. We were surrounded by nature. We also had a great video of people doing something that I’ve added to my bucket list, parasailing!
I’ve never seen an ocean and this was the best first experience I could have hoped for. The private beach was beautiful, the water was warm, and because of the timing of our trip, we didn’t have to share it with many people. Is there anything more relaxing than lounging on a beach, sipping a fruity adult beverage and listening to the sound of the waves moving in and out?
Arenas del Mar is located in one of the most biodiverse regions in the country. On our last day in Costa Rica, we woke to the sounds of a troupe of howler monkeys in the trees right outside our door. We decided to make the most of the morning so we took a walk around the property and in less than an hour, we saw howler monkeys, white-faced Capuchins, a three-toed sloth, an agouti, a Jesus Christ lizard and several species of birds. There were an amazing number of animals crammed into this small area. And for me, that made Arenas del Mar worth every penny.
As we were escorted down the hill to meet the driver who would take us to the airport, we were surprised to see a troupe of about 30 squirrel monkeys hanging out and having breakfast in the palm trees. They were the first and only squirrel monkeys we saw in Costa Rica and their antics made leaving very, very difficult.
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