Where we get closer to nature in Costa Rica.
Grand Hotel Costa Rica, San José moderate
Dating back to 1930, this historic hotel has housed everyone from John F. Kennedy to Julio Iglesias. They are among the many notables who have enjoyed the hotel's magnificent neoclassic architecture and convenience to the national theater, national museum, national herbarium, and other attractions.
Lapa Rios, Playa Carbonera expensive to very expensive
Nestled in a 1,000-acre nature reserve, the lodge at Lapa Rios could be pictured in the dictionary under eco-friendly, as it employs people from the local community and everything from the bamboo furniture to the palm-thatched roof is constructed from all-natural native materials.
Bread & Chocolate, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
011-506-750-0051. Need a morning pick-me-up? Head to this delightful bakery/café for a hot cup of coffee, a heaping plate of french toast or cinnamon-oatmeal pancakes, or for another hearty breakfast bite. It's a good choice for lunch, too, and everything - right down to the mayonnaise - is made on the premises.
Playa de los Artistas, Montezuma inexpensive to moderate
Waves lap the sand as you savor Mediterranean specialties like tuna carpaccio, wood-oven pizzas, and fresh focaccia at this blissful beachfront Italian restaurant. Throw in the gentle breeze, flickering lanterns, and a couple of bottles of wine, and you might just od on romance. Note: the restaurant closes for several weeks during the year, so call first to make sure it's open.
Jesse’s Samara Beach Surf School, Nicoya
We can’t think of anywhere we’d rather learn to hang ten than on the fantastic breaks of costa rica. And we can’t think of anyone we’d rather have teach us than former Southern California surfer dude Jesse and his beautiful daughter, Sunrise, who also lead surf safaris in their Mercedes-Benz unimog all-wheel-drive cruiser.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Vara Blanca
We admit it — we’re suckers for waterfalls. That’s why we love this spectacularly scenic cascade-laden sanctuary, complete with a butterfly observatory, hummingbird garden, trout lake, and serpentarium.
Another thing we did in Arenal was take a three-hour bike ride that, when I look back on it, was so incredibly dangerous. It was pouring rain, first of all, and when you're in a place where it rains so much of the time, people don't stop their lives when it rains. They continue on with the program. And our program for that day was to take a mountain-bike ride along these sort of back roads around the Arenal Volcano National Park. We would go up and down really steep hills - rocky, steep hills - on our mountain bikes, and it was pouring rain. My youngest was 10 or 11 at the time and really small. The idea that I let her do this bike ride … and then we went on the highway for about an hour, with pouring rain and people screaming by on the highway. I was thinking, Is this dangerous? Yes, it is dangerous, but it's also that thing you get, just like the thing with the scorpion, when you're in another country, in another world: You think somehow you're untouchable in some way.
Mother Earth's Bathtub
We finally got to our ultimate destination, the Eco Termales Hot Springs. It was a very authentic place. It was so beautiful, especially after being cold and rained on for three hours while biking. We got into this hot spring, and we were all in heaven. Our hands were cold and white. We were white-knuckling it to this place. And it was cold and rainy and exhausting - the ride. When you arrive there, you just peel off your clothes and leave them in lockers. And you go in there in your bathing suit, and it's so hot and lovely, and it's all natural. So you think, There's no energy that's being wasted now. This is all just Mother Earth heating our bones. It was so beautiful, and we just sort of vegged out in there for a really long time. There were hardly any people there.
Afterward, we had this amazing meal out on the patio that they just brought out to us. It's so great not to have to order anything. I get really stressed when ordering food. It makes me crazy. So they just come out with these hot, fresh corn tortillas with delicious fish and some chicken and black beans and rice. It's just so great. It's amazing.
Back to Civilization
After that, we went to the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo. As far as I'm concerned, you might as well go to the Four Seasons in Miami. All I kept thinking was, Why aren't we back at our little lodge where we had to rough it, where not every single private school student from New York City who's come to Costa Rica for his or her family vacation is?
The drive from the Caribbean side to the Pacific side takes about four hours. It's really, really hot and wet and moist on the Caribbean side, and as you get to the Pacific side, it gets drier and drier, and you feel your skin shrivel up because there's no more moisture in the air. And then when you unpack your clothes, everything feels wet. It's not really wet, but it holds the moisture from the Caribbean side. We went to another famous surf town, Tamarindo, two hours away. We went to a restaurant that was very close to the beach. There was a real pig outside the restaurant, tied up. An expat from the United States, and there are a lot of them in Costa Rica, owns this very, very old, very, very big pig, and he is beautiful. And the Bacons took a picture with the pig. The name of the restaurant is Stella Fine Dining, and that might very well be the name of the pig.
Low Crime, High Literacy
One final story? On our way to the Four Seasons, we were stopped on the road by what are called agouti. They kind of look like a cross between a rat and a possum, and they're really prevalent in Costa Rica. We had to stop the car because there were like a hundred in the road. When we stepped out, they licked our hands and sort of halfway crawled up our legs, trying to get food. That was kind of fun. They're a little freaky looking. If you were to come to New York having never seen a pigeon before, you'd think, Oh, look at the pigeons! Aren't they beautiful? Agouti are kind of like pigeons.
The people in Costa Rica are so very nice. They love their country. There's very little crime there. In fact, they abolished the army, I think, back in 1948. And instead, the government puts all the money that they used to put toward the army into teaching people to read and into education. It is one of the most highly literate countries, I think, in the world.
My kids were totally into it - they are totally into the adventure. We went to Thailand the next year. And then this last year, we went to the Galápagos. So we do a lot of these adventure vacations. Now we're sort of trying to go for the ecotourism kind of thing. Because I don't want to go places and use twice as much water as anyone living there because I'm staying in a hotel that washes the towels and sheets every day. You know, I don't want to go to a place and mess it up. I want to go to a place and observe what's beautiful about it, and leave and not have tread too heavily on the landscape.