Costa Rica Travel – Perched on the lush shores of Costa Rica’s Peninsula Papagayo—a pristine enclave in a country long considered to be the crown jewel of Central America—lies the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort, the esteemed brand’s first property in Latin America. A regular mention on various lists of the world’s best hotels since its debut in December 2013, the resort offers both an unforgettable immersion in the pura vida ethos that underpins Costa Rican life, and a gorgeous base from which to explore some of the myriad dazzling natural wonders that helped draw over 2.5 million international visitors to the country last year.
Located a short 20-minute drive from Liberia International Airport in the northwestern province of Guanacaste and boasting spectacular views of Culebra Bay, the hotel blends modern and organic aesthetics in a strikingly singular way, thanks to the vision of prolific Costa Rican architect Ronald Zürcher.
Its distinctive, cocoon-like public spaces seem simultaneously space-age yet indigenous and are, simply put, very groovy (as is the restored purple Volkswagen bus parked just outside the hotel entrance, which shuttles guests to local surfing beaches). The property’s laid-back vibe is obvious upon arrival at the inviting open-air lobby, where the smiling staff eschews the traditional check-in routine—no imposing counters or long lines here—for a quick, breezy, one-on-one welcome.
The Andaz’s 153 guest rooms or 21 luxury suites, all of which feature views of the sparkling bay, are an atmospheric study in low-lit “eco-chic,” with locally designed furnishings including woven textiles, solid woods and unique light fixtures. You could spend hours in the fabulous, spa-like shower; once you tear your away, grab a cold drink from the complimentary non-alcoholic minibar and don a nifty straw hat (also supplied gratis) to ward off the blazing sun.
There’s no need to leave the hotel to experience some of the tastiest cuisine in this corner of Costa Rica. Rio Bhongo, the main open-air restaurant, dishes up delectable cuisine from morning til night. At breakfast, choose from an impressive, continental-style spread teeming with fresh pastries, tropical fruits and local specialties including gallo pinto (a traditional rice-and-beans dish), or order from the a la carte menu (try the scrumptious pork belly benedict or coconut French toast). When night falls it becomes a festive gathering spot for dinner, with offerings like brick-oven empanadas and pizzas and grilled meat and seafood, as well as succulent roasted pineapple for dessert, which arrives complete with whipped cream, sprinkles and other tasty trimmings.
If you’re feeling cocktails and small plates, head down the hill to Chao Pescao, a lively cantina where mixologist extraordinaire Clark Jimenez, a global finalist in the 2013 World Class Bartender of the Year contest, uses hand-picked local fruits and spices to stir up specialties like Figs in Butter, Don Julio Reposado tequila seemingly magically infused with Grand Marnier, figs, butter, lime juice and chocolate bitters. For a more formal dining experience, Ostra serves up a wide range of sophisticated seafood dishes in an elegant, low-key setting under the stars, and offers guests the opportunity to create their own custom ceviches at a dedicated station on the restaurant floor.
The Andaz takes great pride in its ONDA Spa, and for good reason: the menu includes an indulgent array of locally inspired therapies available in either indoor or outdoor treatment rooms, which also look out on the tranquil bay (and often, on the not-so-tranquil howler monkeys that inhabit the trees surrounding the property). Two infinity-edged pools—one of which is adults-only—are prime spots for soaking up the sun and reveling in the relative (and blissful) silence. There are also two private beaches on-site and plenty of others nearby, helping to comprise Guanacaste’s 635 miles of coastline.
It’s no wonder that Costa Rica enjoys an enduring reputation as a Central American paradise, widely recognized for its stable democracy—the country hasn’t had an army since 1949—its well-educated population and, perhaps most of all, its formidable natural wonders: A staggering 26% of the country is protected natural territory, sheltering 5% of the world’s existing biodiversity. For a day trip from the resort that sublimely showcases this enviable bounty of earthly delights, head to Sensoria, a private reserve located about a 2.5-hour drive away (much of which traverses idyllic countryside on unpaved roads that will rattle your fillings at times).
Situated in the imposing shadow of the Rincón de la Vieja volcano—which means “the nook where the Old One lives,” for the legend of a native princess who became a powerful healer and lived on the crater after her lover and their child were tossed into its molten depths—the enchanting journey offer the rare chance to explore a bona fide, Jurassic Park-style rainforest and dip into five volcanic pools along the way. (Note: while the hike itself is very manageable even for non-outdoorsy types, the optional descents off the main path to the first two waterfalls, though short, are challenging, especially on the way up.) At the end of the roughly four-hour trip you’ll enjoy a well-deserved lunch back at the main lodge and have a chance to view video of the nocturnal meanderings of some of Sensoria’s more intimidating residents, including pumas, jaguars and ocelots. The reserve requires reservations in advance, which the Andaz can happily arrange; to learn lots of fascinating facts about Costa Rica’s past and present during your drive, book a day trip with Swiss Travel Service, one of the country’s top operators, and request guide extraordinaire Ronald Carranza, who will charmingly answer virtually any question you have regarding this intriguing country.
By Alexandra Kirkman, From Forbes