Central America Articles & Reviews
5 Costa Rica Itineraries
Planning a trip to Costa Rica—where your choices are virtually endless—can be overwhelming. Here, five takes on Central America's jungle-and-beach paradise, whatever your interest.
By Rich Beattie
1 ADVENTURE Costa Rica Expeditions (011-506/257-0766; www.costaricaexpeditions.com; 10-day packages from $1,808 per person) pioneered active travel in the country in 1978; founder Michael Kaye was the first outfitter to raft some of Costa Rica's rivers, and in the process helped turn the area's compact collection of seas, rivers, and jungles into the ultimate escape for adrenaline junkies. The company's multisport packages are still the best way to get your fix: you can fly through the canopy on a zip-line 98 feet above the forest floor, raft Class Four rapids on the Pacuare River, and mountain bike around Arenal volcano. Or request a bespoke itinerary, customized to your most heart-racing extreme.
2 ECO Twelve years ago, with the opening of 16-room Lapa Rios (011-506/735-5130; www.laparios.com; doubles from $484) beside Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica became a haven for eco-travelers. Built around the rain forest (instead of the other way around), using indigenous natural materials and supporting local businesses whenever possible, the palm-thatched bungalows and bamboo furniture remain the standard of eco-friendly luxury. • Newer Aguila de Osa Inn (866/924-8452; www.aguiladeosa.com; doubles from $878, two-night minimum) is even more remote than Lapa Rios—you have to access it by boat, and it's barely visible from the waters of Drake Bay. Hidden behind a thick forest are 13 oversize rooms with cathedral ceilings and Italian- tiled baths. • On the other side of the country in Tortuguero, Costa Rica's own mini-Amazon, guests help scientists tag leatherback turtles for the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (800/678-7853; www.cccturtle.org; doubles $2,798 for nine days, all-inclusive) while living in the research facility's basic (but beachside) accommodations.
3 LUXURY The Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo (011-506/696-0000; www.fourseasons.com; doubles from $395) brought the private-jet set to Costa Rica when it opened two years ago; now hotels with Frette linens and 24-hour room service are strung like pearls along the country's western coast. Go from one to the next, starting just below the Nicaraguan border at the Four Seasons, whose earth-tone buildings cascade down from the cliffs to two gold-sand beaches. • Some 60 miles south, the 10-villa Florblanca (011-506/640-0232;www.florblanca.com; doubles from $375) combines surprisingly sophisticated cuisine (think: foie gras with cherry compote) with decadent outdoor bathrooms and stucco porches—perfect for watching the spectacular sunsets. Rest easy with the knowledge that the teak in your canopy bed (and everywhere else) wasn't harvested: it's driftwood. • Swim up to the bar in the mushroom-shaped pool at Hotel Punta Islita (011-506/231-6122;www.hotelpuntaislita.com; doubles from $280) for a tangy mojito. Then treat yourself to a hot-volcanic-stone massage before retiring to one of the 17 thatched-roof villas. • Gaia Hotel & Reserve (011-506/777-2239;www.gaiahr.com; doubles from $240), near Manuel Antonio, is Costa Rica's latest luxe addition. Guests are given a private butler for laundry, room service, and arranging tours—though many are content to simply drink in the view of the Pacific from the dark-wood, clean-lined rooms.
4 CULINARY With rice and beans as the national dish, Costa Rica has hardly garnered prestige as a gourmand's getaway. But a handful of inventive chefs are changing that reputation. Not far from the Monteverde Cloud Forest, the Creole Cooking School at the Inn at Coyote Mountain (011-506/383-0544; www.cerrocoyote.com; three nights with classes, from $1,500, double) teaches you to make dishes such as empanadas and tamales, using organic produce—heirloom tomatoes, mangoes, vanilla—from the inn's gardens. • At the San Ramon Angel Valley Farm Bed & Breakfast (011-506/447-4684; www.angelvalleyfarmbandb.com; four nights with classes from $800, double), Beth Frischberg—of Washington, D.C.'s Tabard Inn—demonstrates healthful, modern fare like coconut-rice-watermelon gazpacho. • No time for a cooking class?Right near the San José airport is Finca Rosa Blanca (011-506/ 269-9392; www.fincarosablanca.com; doubles from $185), where you can spend your last day riding through a coffee plantation on horseback, then sit down to a family-style feast of roasted loin of pork, stuffed with macerated prunes, in port-wine sauce.
5 FAMILY Spider monkeys by day and spa treatments by night—Costa Rica's got your crew covered. All the family itineraries from Backroads (800/462-2848; www.backroads.com; six-day packages from $7,674 for a family of four) come with a dedicated Kid Coordinator who organizes activities such as scavenger hunts and art contests so that parents can get some time alone. Their new Home Base trip is ideal for groups with lots of small kids and gear in tow who are looking to stay put. The company sets you up in bungalows in the jungle near Corcovado National Park, where you can pack in mountain biking and kayaking. • For the super-active family with older kids, Thomson Family Adventures (800/262-6255; www.familyadventures.com; nine-day packages from $10,160 for a family of four) has introduced teen-focused itineraries that include surfing, photography, and salsa dancing.