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Experiencing the Flora & Fuana of Costa Rica in Luxury

Costa Rica Travel – There’s a buzz around Costa Rican adventures, and for good reason.

J.W. Marriott Guanacaste Resort Spa 1When you think of Costa Rica, you think rugged. You think zip lines through thick forests and hikes up volcanoes and past roaring waterfalls. Or laid-back surfer towns where beers are two bucks and everyone wears flip-flops, nary a fast food chain in sight. And you’re right — Costa Rica’s wild side is not just what calls to us, it’s what captivates us.

But let’s be honest, many of us love the idea of all that nature and ruggedness — to a point. We want to go deep into a rain forest and see monkeys swinging over our heads. And we’re willing to spend hours cut off from the world (and even the Wi-Fi!) to go way out on the Pacific Ocean and find amazing waves. But, some of us want to spread the rugged out in portions, between linen table service and other trademarks of posh comfort.

Welcome then to Costa Rica’s J.W. Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa, an oasis of luxury tucked discreetly into the woodsy, Pacific Ocean-lined edge of Helipuerto Hacienda Pinilla. The hotel, its beach, winding and expansive pool, restaurants, spa and setting serve as the perfect home base for the discrimin­ating traveler looking to dive into beautiful and rugged Costa Rican nature.

I chose the perfect long weekend to visit. Back home, winter storm Jonas was bearing down, but after a direct flight to Liberia, Costa Rica, and a 40-minute shuttle ride to the resort, I was sitting on the balcony of my room and watching the crashing waves.

The resort arches out in a “U” shape around a large pool, complete with little inlets and an infinity edge. The pool is open 24 hours, and it’s a guest favorite to head out under the moon, take a midnight swim and order room service to your lounge chair. Rooms have either ocean or garden views, and a magnificent presidential suite opens directly to the beach (and like the junior suites, has its own small plunging pool as well). There are plenty of outdoor gathering spaces, most lined with cotton hammocks.

There’s a steakhouse, where I savored delicious locally grown beef, an Asian-infused spot where the sushi was wonderful and a buffet area for all meals, with interesting fare. On special nights, the resort serves a buffet beach barbecue. While there are linens and beautiful table settings, the chairs are plastic and your feet get sandy. “That,” one manager explained to me, “is simply who we are.”

I ventured away from the resort for some fun. One day I rode horseback through Hacienda Pinilla, going deep into a thick forest where monkeys peered down on us, cresting a hill and looking down over the lush green (and noting that the resort, even with its 310 rooms and other buildings, blends right into the landscape) and beyond that the ocean, then heading to a beach to gallop along. Along the way we saw giant iguanas and a wild cow giving birth.

It was hard work riding for hours, so I headed to the resort spa for a sublime massage.

The following day, I headed into the surf town of Tamarindo Beach, where I could have set up camp and stayed forever. Populated by a mix of locals and ex-pats, the town is all about the surf. It has its share of beach shops that sell silly shot glasses and beads, J.W. Marriott Guanacaste Resort Spa 2but the vibe is absolutely chill. I drank local beer in the middle of the day and watched surfers ride amazing waves. Next time, I’m planning to learn to ride with them.

My journey back was a quick one, and the resort offers shuttles to the town day and night.

I was happy to get back in time for the sunset. Seeing it descend over the Pacific is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (though it happens daily, of course). The entire resort community comes out. Some linger in the pool with a cocktail in their hand. Others sit or stand on the beach. Some dive into the ocean to take it in. I did it each way, one day even sitting on a roof-top cocktail lounge deck to watch it. The beauty never gets boring. In fact, each time you love it a little more.

There was more to do around the resort, and its concierges are masters at setting it up: rain forest jaunts, daylong hikes, visits to spots to see more nature and more wildlife.

My last day, guests one after another announced their flights home had been canceled due to the storm. And yet, they were smiling. Me? My direct flight to Boston on JetBlue (yes! You can fly direct to Costa Rica!) missed the storm and was on time. For the first time in my life I wished my travel plans were disrupted. Leaving was hard. (;

By Moira McCarthy, The Boston Herald

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