On your next travel escape you might like to consider an adventure away from the ordinary, where you can feel the pulse of nature, rather than the roar of motor engines. We discovered Costa Rica to be an ideal destination where you can walk outside to your own cabin, instead of staying in a room … behind a door … off a hallway. In Costa Rica you can live luxuriously wild, immersed in a simple environment where you can abundantly utilize all your senses. We were always keen on seeing dramatic scenery, sunsets and eating well, but we were seeking a location that was refreshingly unique, exciting and stimulating.
We were fascinated by these serene hideaway retreats, off the main roads where everything was authentic and nothing was hyped. It was quality time with just ourselves, visiting places where daylight hours were welcomed with sweet smells, colours, sounds and sensations. There were many moments we noticed unique flowers, saw animals at close range and enjoyed varying shades of just plain green. We were pampered, inspired and intrigued to want to know more. We left our reality behind and ventured to unusual hideaways where we knew we would be safe, yet amongst extraordinary comfort. These small places are not easy to locate as they rarely market their existence to fill occupancy, it is the word of mouth stories about exceptional experiences that do it all.
Vista del Valle
The Vista del Valle, just 20 minutes from the San Jose Airport was one such paradise. We stayed here in an adorable one room, thatched roof hut, perched cliff side, to a 125 meter drop off, overlooking the Rio Grande, a valley of dense forest growth, extending below and beyond. In a Jungle creatures roam free, yet they must forage for their daily needs. Fortunately for us, we got to fly in, rent an SUV and drive ourselves to our own nest, cabin, especially outfitted for our needs, set in this leafy growth, humidly fragrant with tropical flowers.
Every aspect and amenity was thought of here, from the handmade soap, wrapped in a Banana leaf and tied with a vine, to the freshly squeezed fruit juices and thick plush towel coats. Drying off beside the waterfall after our refreshing swim in the Infinity pool, we knew we were in a paradise, surrounded by a labyrinth of jungle leaves, listening to the abundant music of tropical bird songs. The atmosphere here seemed in diverse harmony; mature Palm trees, pink Bougainvillea and a multitude of exotic flowering shrubs, which spilled over close by and into the tangled forest around us.
Guests come here for peaceful rejuvenation of their souls, though as agile and adventurous hikers we took the hour’s journey down the ravine to inspect the cascading waterfall, from down on the valley floor looking up. All our meals here were of exceptional cuisine, served on their outside covered verandah, which overlooked a vast valley of sloping forest landscape.
Further into the country’s interior, near the town of La Fortuna, we stayed at the mountain top Arenal Lodge Hotel, which overlooked the huge lake and its namesake, the 800 meter high Arenal Volcano. The view from the lodge overlooking this spectacular panorama across the valley was absolutely breath- taking. We were so impressed with the gardens here; the adorable Infinity pool, flower-edged walkways, stone spas and daily visits from the wild Macaws. The lodge’s property also had its own rain forest reserve and butterfly gardens which were a delight to explore and photograph. The Observatory Lodge, nearer to the volcano, was another great day, strolling its acres of manicured gardens, walkways, a suspension bridge and waterfalls. Through the Hotel we booked a river rafting trip along the Rio Penas Blancas, where we gently paddled and floated down the tree-lined river as our guide located many tree Monkeys, Iguanas, browsing Coatis and a two-toed Sloth for us to see. Our perfect day on the river ended with tea and homemade goodies at a local family’s personal gardens.
Up in the cloud forest mountains of Costa Rica were the secluded cabins at Tenorio Lodge. This charismatic lodge was contemporary with a European flair. It was near the Parque Nationale on the Rio Celeste, which is renowned for its hiking to the magnificent secluded turquoise blue waterfall and pool at the end of the trail. The birdlife here was prolific, as they thrive on these protected acres of jungle, among ponds and tended garden hedgerows of delicate Hibiscus and dramatic Heliconia.
Ylang Ylang Beach Resort
Another tranquil place tucked into west coast Costa Rica, was the ‘car free’ Ylang Ylang Beach Resort, near the south tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. We drove to nearby Montezuma, where the resort’s vehicle transported us to our own isolated beach front cabin, back from the rolling waves of the sea, under soaring Palms. Dining here was outside, with delightful seafood, especially the Tuna Steak, Giant Sea Scallops and Mais Mais. We were so close to nature here; one evening a Red-Eyed Tree Frog hopped out of the jungle onto our table and friendly Iguanas greeted us daily poolside. Nestled into shoreline cliffs, Ylang Ylang’s forest haven was tranquil and peaceful, ideal for couples. Venturing back from their uniquely beautiful beachfront was an elevated yoga studio, which overlooked the ocean. Then flowered pathways lured us deeper, to a tropical oasis setting, complete with palm fronds of every shape and size and a cascading waterfall which spilled into the shapely swimming pool. Finally we followed the lush trail further up the hillside, watching monkeys and birds in the trees, to their serene hidden spa. During our day hike at the nearby Cabos Blanco Reserve, we watched while dozens of white-faced Capuchin monkeys chattered at us while scurrying through the treetops. The calmer Howler monkeys, with their white furry frill around their mostly black bodies, were usually draped over branches, snoozing. From Montezuma we took a day snorkel trip, up the east coast of the Peninsula, about 45 minutes by high speed boat, to the Isla Tortuga, a group of secluded islands and beaches. Shoreline cliffs along the way overshadowed small islands, each surrounded by surging seas of turquoise waters. We did two snorkelling sessions, diving among rocky islands in with numerous species of fish swimming in friendly depths of 15 to 25 feet. Afterwards there were coolers of cold beer, followed by a hot fish and veggie meal served by the guides at a palm shaded beach cabana.
Recommendations to travellers in Costa Rica if you are going to venture off the main roads; rent the best SUV possible, carry extra food and water, have access to a GPS and plan for extra time to travel, as there may be unforeseen adventures along the way. The scenery and wildlife here is spectacularly dramatic and the people are absolutely charming. We had many great surprises at the places we took the time to get to know the locals and where we spent time exploring pathways less travelled.
By wilderness writer & photographer Cynthia Percival.