Clockwise, from bottom left: Dining patio at the Hotel Grano de Oro; a capuchin monkey keeps watch; view of Arenal Volcano from hot springs; a pool with a view, at the Four Seasons; the green basilisk “Jesus Christ” lizard.
Photos by DLILLC/Corbis; Buddy Mays/Alamy; Joe McDonald/Corbis
All too soon, it was time to depart this urban oasis in exchange for more natural wonders. While it’s certainly possible to make your way through Costa Rica without a driver, the flow of traffic is fairly loose in Central America, often involving livestock and signage with unusual iconography. Knowing this, we hitched a ride out of the city with VIP Costa Travel, which offers a fleet of luxury SUVs manned by friendly, informative, bilingual drivers.
We shuttled an hour to El Silencio Lodge & Spa in Bajos del Toro. Billed as “a symphony of natural wellness,” the lodge offers 16 premium suites and is located in Costa Rica’s Central Volcanic Valley, ensconced in 500 acres of private forest reserve. El Silencio connects its guests with a personal eco-concierge, who serves as a private guide to the facilities and amenities. Ours, Ronald, was as accommodating as he was knowledgeable. His guided tour of El Silencio’s rain forests, which led us to several spectacular waterfalls, was informative and uplifting. If there were something to know about the country’s plant life or winged creatures that Ronald did not know, I’d be amazed.
The grounds at El Silencio were breathtaking, while the all-inclusive meals — a wide range of traditional Costa Rican dishes with an international touch — were delectable. The morning of our departure, Ronald led me and my wife on a short walk, and we planted a tree tagged with our names in honor of our marriage. It is common for El Silencio’s guests to plant a tree upon their departure, a step, both symbolic and practical, toward being eco-friendly. We look forward to returning to see how it grows.
Our next stop was the Springs Resort & Spa, a family-friendly, high-end resort very close to the perpetually active Arenal Volcano. Stationed high in the Costa Rican cloud forest, the Springs and its neighboring scenery play a fascinating, ongoing game of peekaboo. Though all the rooms at the Springs face the volcano, the lava-spewing mountain was visible for a grand total of only about 20 minutes of our stay. The rest of the time, it was hidden behind layers of fast-moving clouds. Believe me, I spent a lot of time watching — and waiting.
The Springs has a Disney-esque burnish, flush as it is with iPod docks, DVD players, flat-screen HDTVs, waterslides and 18 pools, which range in temperature from 76 to 103 degrees. Though its atmosphere is a stark contrast to the rustic charm of El Silencio, the state-of-the-art facility provided a delightful resort experience where we could enjoy some creature comforts — a few episodes of Arrested Development
, for instance — and delight in a waterslide or two. There’s something about being in love that brings out the kid in us both.
At the midpoint of our holiday, we shot to the country’s Pacific coast — warmer, a little drier, still exquisitely beautiful — for a soul-stirring stop at Four Seasons Resort at Peninsula Papagayo. Certainly, there are plenty of options for those who want to experience Costa Rica in its more pristine state — the Pacuare Lodge, an electricity-free bungalow hotel that is most easily accessible by river raft, is just one example — but the Four Seasons is the place for luxury seekers. Predictably, it is nothing short of a miracle in design, luxury, comfort and service.
After checking in, we immediately went for a swim on one of the resort’s two private beaches. Before long, a storm blew in, and we enjoyed the near-bathtub-temperature warmth of the sea against a cool, driving rain. As we held on to each other tightly in the surf, I said, “This is one of those moments that I want to last forever.” My wife silenced me with a kiss. In love, sometimes actions are more powerful than words.
Our one-bedroom suite, which overlooked the ocean, was sublime: expansive yet cozy, intricately designed yet fully honoring the country’s lighthearted, surf-and-sand attitude. We dined that evening at the resort’s Caracol restaurant, located on the Arnold Palmer–designed golf course. The prawn bisque and mahimahi were perfection. The resort continued to earn its five-star rating with an otherworldly bamboo massage. We could have stayed another week — or 10 — and been quite content.
If the Four Seasons represents the beautiful face of Costa Rica, our next destination, the Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation & Inn, represents its spirit. Located amid 30 acres of arabica hard-bean coffee plants and 10 acres of fruit trees and other tropical flora, the enchanting Finca Rosa, which was formerly a private residence, is now operated as a hotel by Glenn and Teri Jampol. This husband-and-wife pair have breathed their passion into the conversion and management of this property for nearly two decades. Its two master suites and 11 junior suites are gems of intimacy and creativity — and provide a heartwarming reflection of its owners.