Fascinating Costa Rica

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A sense of calm settles in as you exit Liberia International Airport in Costa Rica. It could be the fresh air, the blue sky, or the gorgeous view. The air is sweeter, the colors more vibrant and the pace slower. With great beaches, a variety of nature to enjoy, flora and fauna galore, and a welcoming culture that embraces the Pura Vida lifestyle, it’s a challenge not to fall deeply in love with this Central American nation. And for caffeine addicts everywhere, did I mention the excellent Costa Rican coffee?

A little over five hours from either the east or west coasts and far less from the southern United States, it’s hard to argue with Costa Rica’s near-perfect location. Clear, warm waters of the Pacific and Caribbean lie to the east and west of Costa Rica, respectively, with some waters offering great surfing opportunities and others having glassy surfaces. Unlike elsewhere in the region, political stability was the national foundation of Costa Rica. In 1953, after the abolition of the military, the first democratic presidential elections were held, and there have been 15 since then. No wonder this beautiful place of around five million people is Central America’s most visited nation.

The perfection of Punta Islita


Two and a half hours’ drive or 30 minutes’ flight from Liberia Airport and situated within the Blue Zone – one of only five in the world where residents enjoy exceptionally long, healthy lives and where living to 100 is not uncommon – Hotel Punta Islita is situated on a hilltop with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and rock formations that have given the area its name.

Opened in 1994 and built by an architect clearly influenced by Robinson Crusoe, large spaces convey a sense of floating treetop animation. Of 56 accommodations, 25 have private plunge pools or hot tubs with decks, and some have hammocks. All 19 multi-bedroom villas have private pools. Privacy screens made from local stone or tropical foliage provide seclusion in this natural slice of heaven.

Staying in Suite 31, about 650 square feet with a large terrace, plunge pool, outdoor daybed, and lounge chairs, it was difficult to tear myself away from the exhilarating daytime view. At night, the starry sky mesmerized like flickering black-and-white canvases by Jonathan Pollard. The interior was equally soothing with beautiful guanacaste, pochote, and teak furniture, local art by Islita villagers, a stocked minibar, and two flat-screen TVs. The sumptuous bed had high-quality cotton linens that ensured a healthy rest, while the Britt espresso machine made mornings pleasant. The huge bathroom had dual sinks, a walk-in shower with dual shower heads, and a bathtub with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean.

This is about nature: seeing it, being in it and really experiencing it. Walks and hikes often have to be shared with healthy, prehistoric-looking iguanas, horseback riding along the property under lush green canopies and your ride may stop to drink from a freshwater stream before heading to secluded beaches where cerise and turquoise macaws fly in above us in perfect formation, as if attending the Paris Air Show, where sloths impossibly hang in the air, butterflies dart about, spiders build mammoth webs, turtles seasonally spawn nearby, and even on the gym treadmill a coati – a Maine Coon—large, long-snouted, raccoon-like mammal—stopped inches from the picture window that separated us and tilted his head at me as if to ask, “What in God’s green earth are you doing, human? Looks like some serious running but isn’t going anywhere fast.” A question I’ve asked myself many times, then I remembered the great bread pudding I enjoyed before my cream-laced breakfast burrito and key lime pie the night before after devouring a whole red snapper, deliciously prepared and so fresh it must have swum hours before.

Sitting, whether on your terrace, by one of the pools – both with swim-up bars – on the beach, at Nanku Spa or at Alma Restaurant or Aura Beach Club, while enjoying the “zero mile” cuisine with freshly made on-site or enjoy meals in the restaurant. A symphonic, ornithological sound orgy awaits you in the immediate vicinity of the hotel. It’s an ever-present chirping cacophony in varying octaves and a constant divine connection to Costa Rica’s ethereal nature.

The benefits of Nanku Spa’s Signature Experience – a blissful, two-hour affair while cicadas serenade – remain. Starting with an aromatic chocolate body scrub applied by a talented masseuse using a special glove, I almost asked for a spoon. This was followed by an outdoor shower in the lush garden. Then one of the best and most therapeutic massages I have ever experienced. A warm mixture of coconut oil and honey dripped onto my third eye, from continuous drips to a constant pour, providing multiple sensations: from an almost altered state of consciousness to heightened awareness. Then a 30 minute hot bath with green tea, chamomile and eucalyptus leaves and sparkling wine. It was all I could do to remember my name.

It’s entirely possible that a week’s stay at Hotel Punta Islita could transform you completely from a Type A person to a Type B+ person. But even if that proves impossible, life will surely be longer, healthier, and better.

Wonderful El Mangroove

The 85 all suites sits on 17 acres of mangroves just 20 minutes from Liberia Airport on Playa Panama in the Gulf of Papagayo El Mangrove with its beachfront, otherworldly sunsets. Its proximity to the airport makes it an excellent beginning or end to an overall Costa Rican experience, or a destination on its own with Papagayo’s near-endless eco-adventure opportunities.

Located in three low-rise, modernist buildings with bamboo eaves, the suites utilize local woods that create a connection to nature and exude a bohemian, casual-chic luxury. The grounds include a massive Guanacaste tree root and whimsical outdoor sculpture, tic-tac-toe, a pool table, dominoes, the well-curated GYVE boutique, and of course water sports and beach adventures.

Suite 112, a stone’s throw from the adults-only black-tiled pool (three other pools are on the property), was about 700 square feet and featured natural woods and local art. Excellent beds, a spacious bathroom with a travertine walk-in shower, and a furnished balcony with a hammock chair had a verdant, jungle-like view. A work area, a stocked minibar and a Britt espresso machine also provided every comfort.

The al fresco beachfront restaurants Matiss and Makoko serve freshly prepared, creative and colorful Costa Rican and continental dishes. Highlights: Ceviche of all kinds, especially octopus and coconut pipa with mango and yuzu, guacamole that’s spicier and spicier than Mexican-style, excellent homemade burrata salad, tuna with caviar crumble, and a flavorful ribeye.

The gulf’s glassy surface made paddling a breeze, making it easy to cover great distances. Fluttering, if somewhat shy, schools of golden rays kept me amused, while secluded coves and beaches warmed my heart. The same excursion can be done by kayak, but personally I prefer standing while channeling my inner adventurer. Paddling also allows for true presence as my normally surgically attached camera was left behind.

The mixology experience creatively and colorfully crafted by bartender extraordinaire Eylin. Here she used the freshest locally sourced ingredients, including several tropical fruits, and crafted exquisite, flavorful cocktails, most notably dragon fruit and blood orange gin and tonics, and starfruit vanilla vodka martini over ice. For coffee lovers, the Mangroove Cold Brew, served with 20-year-old local Centenario rum, Café Rica – similar to Kahlua – a spritz of orange juice, cinnamon syrup, topped with a gold biscuit, was divine. Basically all dishes and desserts in one glass!

Nestled amongst the verdant mangroves, Bearth Spa features several dreamy outdoor massage pavilions with ceiling fans in addition to indoor air-conditioned ones, a soothing relaxation terrace and steam room.

Whether you come for nature, food, relaxation, water activities or pure Vida, the gracious locals, known as Ticos, will welcome you with kindness and generosity. Maybe it’s the hum of cicadas, the scurrying of macaws, or the steady, soul-soothing pulse of the Pacific, but renewal and rebirth, yes pura vida, seem within reach here in Costa Rica. Good Trip!

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