Costa Rica is a country of just 19,700 square miles, which makes it bigger than Maryland but smaller than West Virginia. Despite these modest dimensions, it has both a Caribbean and a Pacific coastline and landscapes that range from intensely cultivated pineapple fields to virgin cloud forest. National parks and reserves cover nearly a quarter of its area, and there are no fewer than 66 volcanoes, including the tallest, Irazú, which rises to an elevation of 11,260 feet. In addition to its astonishing biodiversity and abundant wildlife, Costa Rica offers stirring scenery, distinctive cuisine, hospitable people, a benign tropical climate and a surprising number of world-class resorts.
After flying from the United States to San José, the capital of Costa Rica, connect onto a 50-minute domestic flight to Puerto Jimenez. There, you will be picked up and escorted on a 45-minute road transfer to your hotel, Lapa Rios.
Popular with Harper members, Lapa Rios is located on the 35-mile-long Osa Peninsula, in the southwest of Costa Rica, close to its border with Panama. Founded by American conservationists Karen and John Lewis, the resort is set on a 1,000-acre reserve, close to the Corcovado National Park, an enclave that is, according to National Geographic, “the most biologically intense place on Earth.” The property is named for the lapa, or scarlet macaw, flocks of which can sometimes be seen streaming through the sky like rivers (ríos). Over 300 bird species have been recorded here, including the harpy eagle, the largest raptor of the Americas.
Recently, the 17 thatched Deluxe Bungalows at Lapa Rios have been augmented by four new Lapa Villas and two new Premier Villas. Sited high above the expanse of the Golfo Dulce, these set an entirely new standard and feature hardwood floors, wraparound decks, outdoor showers and plunge pools.
Spend the late afternoon relaxing on your private deck gazing at the sublime view. Later, enjoy dinner at the outdoor ocean-view Brisa Azul restaurant.
After a leisurely start to the day, embark on a guided rainforest hike with one of the resort’s naturalist guides. As well as myriad birds, numerous mammals can be seen, such as howler and spider monkeys, kinkajous, two- and three-toed sloths, bats, agoutis, peccaries, anteaters and armadillos.
In the afternoon, relax in the Pura Vida Wellness center, where massages, body treatments and yoga classes are available.
As well as rainforest activities, Lapa Rios offers numerous marine adventures. Today, you may wish to cruise the Golfo Dolce in search of dolphins and whales, or go sea kayaking along the coastal mangroves.
From Lapa Rios, it is a scenic four-hour drive by chauffeur-driven car over the mountains to the Hacienda AltaGracia (reopening in November 2021). Managed by the distinguished Auberge Resorts Collection, the private and tranquil 50-casita property has recently been comprehensively upgraded and refurbished. Set on a 180-acre estate, it is surrounded by tropical gardens and rainforest. One- and two-bedroom Casitas all come with large patios and most offer sweeping views.
After a casual lunch at Picoteco, head to the Well, the resort’s new 20,00-square-foot wellness retreat. All treatments begin with a purifying ritual at the “Casa de Agua,” which includes an herbal exfoliation and local clay treatment. One signature treatment, the Well River Bath, takes place in the Calientillo River, where guests are suspended on a submerged bed. A massage with wild bergamot is followed by an herbal bath. Therapies are augmented by a heated tepidarium, vitality and heated jet pools and an aromatherapy steam room.
In the evening, enjoy dinner at Grano, the resort’s gastronomic restaurant, which serves a menu of Costa Rican and Latin American cuisine. Fresh produce comes from the property’s own organic garden.
Enjoy a classic Costa Rican breakfast of eggs, tortillas, toasted cheese, rice and beans. Afterward, head off on a guided hike along the property’s miles of trails. The birding here is exceptional.
In the afternoon, pay a visit to the resort’s lavish stables, where a team of caballistas cares for more than 40 horses. Later, go for a trail ride through the foothills of the splendid Talamanca Mountains.
At AltaGracia, the menu of activities is so comprehensive, guests are spoiled for choice. One of Costa Rica’s chief national parks, Marino Ballena, is just 90 minutes away. Guests can also experience foraging excursions and coffee farm tours. The more adventurous can try ziplining. Personalized journeys by light aircraft from the resort’s private landing strip enable guests to enjoy day trips to both the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines.
This morning, transfer to the airport and take a 30-minute flight to San José. There, you will be met by a chauffeur-guide for the three-hour drive to Nayara Tented Camp, located in the highlands of northern Costa Rica, near the town of La Fortuna.
Set beneath the dramatic Arenal Volcano, an imposing 5,437-foot cone whose green slopes are extensively scarred by the lava from recent eruptions, this imaginative and stylish hideaway is the newest addition to the sizable Nayara resort complex. The original resort, Nayara Gardens, was later joined by adults-only Nayara Springs. At the Tented Camp, 21 lavish tented lodgings feature four-poster king beds draped with mosquito netting, hardwood floors and outdoor showers screened by bamboo walls. Spacious terraces offer plunge pools fed with hot-spring water.
After time spent relaxing by your pool, head to Amor Loco, the fine-dining restaurant at Nayara Springs, a short drive away by golf cart. Guests have signing privileges at any of the dining venues and bars in the Nayara complex. Other restaurants include Mis Amores, for Costa Rican and Latin American dishes, and Asia Luna, for pan-Asian cuisine.
After breakfast, go on a three-hour bird-watching hike with a private naturalist guide. The route features half a dozen hanging bridges, each 200 or 300 feet long, suspended high in the forest canopy.
In the afternoon, either trek through the lava fields on the slopes of the Arenal Volcano or take a kayaking trip on the nearby lake. On returning to the resort, relax in one of the property’s six natural spring-fed pools, each a different temperature, that cascade down the hillside.
After breakfast you will be collected by your chauffeur and driven to ORIGINS lodge, two hours away. Set on the northern slopes of 6,286-foot Tenorio Volcano, and surrounded by a national park, this remote and exceptionally tranquil property appeals chiefly to those who are looking for an otherworldly enclave of calm. From its open-sided main lodge building, an unforgettable panorama extends across a verdant landscape to the glinting shoreline of Lake Nicaragua.
The six cottages come with handcrafted beds, steeply pitched wooden roofs and well-appointed baths. Private hot tubs, set on scenic decks, provide glorious panoramic views. There is also a three-bedroom villa augmented by a kitchen and a private Jacuzzi.
Before dinner, take a guided night walk in the grounds to look for nocturnal mammals, lizards and insects. The open-plan dining area of El Salto has a large wine wall and extends into an open kitchen. There, French chef Jean-Luc L’Hourre presents sophisticated regional and seasonal cuisine.
Today, you may just wish to relax. However, activities at ORIGINS include horseback riding and guided hikes through the national park, which is famous for the brilliant turquoise waters of the Rio Celeste. And a two-hour drive away, the wetlands of the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, spread out in a tangled expanse of marshes, reed islands and sinuous channels. The ecosystem is fed by the Frío River, which during the rainy season (May to October) overflows its banks to form the Caño Negro Lagoon, which is located directly beneath the flyway for migrant North and South American birds. Vast flocks of waterfowl, along with storks, spoonbills, ibis, anhingas and cormorants, arrive to overwinter at the beginning of the dry season each December.
From Nayara, it is a three-hour drive to the Pacific coast of Guanacaste province, where, in contrast to the volcanic highlands, the weather is consistently dry and sunny (especially from December to May).
Kasiiya Papagayo is a true hideaway and is set on a pristine stretch of coastline backed by tropical forest, an hour west of Liberia, the provincial capital. The resort is intended to be entirely natural. It is a place that was designed to tread lightly on the land. If the simple buildings and tented accommodations were dismantled and removed, within weeks no one would be able to tell that they had ever existed. Essentially, Kasiiya is an upscale safari camp on the beach.
The accommodations comprise five tented suites nestled among trees close to the sea and two oceanview suites a short drive away on a headland. The generously sized tents come with canvas walls, hardwood floors, king-size beds and private decks.
While breakfast and lunch are served at sea level in a beach cabana, dinner is hosted on the headland in a pretty dining room or on a rattan-furnished terrace, a peerlessly dramatic location from which to watch the sunset. Set around 300 feet above the sea, the viewing deck affords a 180-degree panorama that encompasses a long stretch of untouched coastline, edged by white foam and small dark jagged islands, and an immense gilded expanse of the Pacific. Menus at Kasiiya provide little choice, and food is simple but well-prepared and sustaining, with grilled local fish, rice dishes and excellent salads being typical choices. The wine list, however, has some sophisticated bottles, as well as more-expected selections from Chile and Argentina.
Kasiiya offers an entire gamut of marine-based activities. These range from deep-sea fishing to scuba diving, snorkeling, paddle-boarding, kayaking and surfing. More-adventurous guests may wish to sign up for free-diving instruction.
In the afternoon, head to the ayurvedic spa, where yoga and meditation complement the various massages and treatments.
The 123-acre Kasiiya estate offers a variety of guided wildlife treks through the forest, as well as along deserted Pacific beaches. Longer bird-watching hikes follow trails through the untouched region surrounding the property.
Spend the afternoon relaxing on the half-mile-long stretch of pristine sand that fronts the resort. Most likely, you will have the beach to yourself.
After breakfast, you will be transferred to the international airport at Liberia, 45 minutes away. From there, regular nonstop services depart to cities in the United States.