Costa Rica Travel News – Located just four kilometers up the mountain roads north of Alajuela, Costa Rica’s second-largest city after neighboring San José, is a small corner of paradise that both provides a compelling example of pura vida – or pure life.
It’s the country’s slogan of sorts, referring to the importance placed on nature and its health benefits – and a handy jumping-off point for further explorations into the country, or at the end of a longer visit, thanks to its proximity to Juan Santamaría International Airport, Costa Rica’s main air hub.
We used the Xandari Resort and Spa’s unbelievably beautiful grounds as both landing pad and, at the end of our trip, as a fitting good-bye to a country that takes its sustainability and locally-sourced food supply very seriously.
Arriving at the head of a two-week summertime drive around western Costa Rica, we planned on spending our first two nights at Xandari while we plotted the rest of our trip. Summertime in Costa Rica is thought of as the low season, because of its relatively higher precipitation levels, so it’s easier to plan a more leisurely trip, calling ahead of time a couple of days ahead when you’ve decided where and when you want to move. You don’t have to be trapped by pre-planning.
Whether you’re arriving by car (in Costa Rica, an adventure worth its own post), or via shuttle provided by the resort, Xandari’s perch above the Central Valley, on a converted old finca – farming estates and coffee plantations – is something that needs to be seen to be believed.
In addition to the five waterfalls that are scattered on the resort’s grounds, far below the main buildings on a moss-covered stairway and trail that was carved into the mountainside over the course of a couple of years, using mostly machetes, axes, and recovered wood to make the steps, there are a couple of dozen villas – some attached, others separate, but all spacious, with private patios and unbelievable views – three pools, including an almost-infinity pool that approaches magic at sunset, a spa, and a restaurant that is undoubtedly one of the best in town.
The most difficult decision you’ll make at this tropical mountain retreat is whether to venture into town to sample some of the best local restaurants, or just stay at the resort and let their in-house staff cook any one of their multiple and constantly-changing dishes that remain rooted in Costa Rican culinary traditions while venturing into modern territory where warranted.
Finish off a bottle of Chilean wine while you and your partner – this spot is a favorite for honeymooners for a reason – watch the clouds collect over the Central Valley, where the strings of street and house lights in Alajuela cluster below constant influx and outflow of aircraft through Costa Rica’s busiest airport is visible in the far distance. One moment it’s this unbelievably lush landscape, full of color, large leaves, and miles patchwork lights visible, then next moment, the clouds roll in and you’re in Brigadoon.
There’s no air conditioning, because there’s no air conditioning needed. The cottages and villas are painted in a vibrant yet soothing variety of reds, purples, oranges, and blues, and artwork by one of the resort’s owners is everywhere. An on-site art gallery showcases the owner’s considerable skills and body of work, as well of those of a few well-chosen locals.
The staff couldn’t be more helpful, and were indispensable in helping us find the place on our first night, when our unreliable rented GPS brought us two hours off course, and later at the end of our trip, when we wanted to schedule a whitewater rafting excursion to cap off our visit.
And when we told the manager that we enjoyed our initial first couple of days so much that we wanted to return at the end of our trip to enjoy more of the resort’s offerings, they gave us a free upgrade to one of the larger villas, with more patio, bedroom, living room, dining room, and kitchen than we knew what to do with.
But it certainly convinced us that on any subsequent visits to Costa Rica, there’s really no reason to begin and end one’s visit anywhere else than that unassuming little finca perched high above Costa Rica’s most densely-populated valley. One visit and you’ll feel the same way.
Xandari is located in Alajuela, and while not easy to find without GPS in a country that eschews almost all street signage, it’s closer than San Juan, and offers more of what you went to Costa Rica to see. Rates run from $195 per night for a small villa during the summer, also known as the “green” season or the low season, to $600 during high season and the holidays for the larger villas. Call ahead for directions or shuttle transport, and for the love of everything that is good, know what you’re getting into when you rent a four-wheel drive intending to brave the soggy wilds of Costa Rica.
Extra insurance is mandatory, and it doesn’t cover water damage. Don’t learn that the hard way.
By John Giuffo, www.forbes.com