Today, just an easy hour-and-a-quarter car ride from Juan Santamaria International Airport to the beach town of Jaco is the Los Suenos Resort and Marina, Costa Rica’s first and most successful luxury mega-development. At the beginning of the millennium, after 10 years of planning and building on 1,100 acres of pristine coastline, the Los Suenos Marriott Ocean and Golf Resort (www.mar
riott.com), along with hundreds of apartment units and villas, welcomed their first occupants.
The five-star hotel property comprises 201 rooms and suites, with ocean, rainforest or garden views, plush bedding, state-of-the-art entertainment systems, wired and wireless Internet access and bathtubs with spray jets. Larger units - condominiums, townhouses and spacious villas - can be rented in the residential complexes that surround the hotel. Dining options at the Marriott and adjacent Marina Village encompass 12 indoor and al fresco venues, serving a range of international cuisines; special features include a swim-up bar, and a pub selling cigars that are rolled as you watch.
Recreational opportunities abound on-site and in the vicinity, in the sea and within the 600-acre private rainforest preserve. Golfers playing the 18-hole La Iguana course are likely to be alerted by their caddies to some unusual spectators: sloths, monkeys, colorful parrots and up to 150 species of wildlife. The 300-slip (200 wet and 100 dry) marina, which can accommodate vessels up to 180 feet in length, is the only fully operational government-approved marina in Costa Rica. The Tortuga Kids Club will keep the younger set occupied, while adult diversions include the Sibo Rainforest Spa & Retreat and even a casino.
A whole different kind of resort is represented by Latitude 10 (www.latitude10resort.com, an intimate retreat in Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula. Part of the Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality Group, comprising nine upscale properties that promote responsible tourism, Latitude 10 consists of only five casitas, or luxury bungalows, interspersed in the rainforest. Designed for living in harmony with the natural surroundings, the casitas have louvered shades but no windows -- nor locks on the doors. (The gated compound is secured by watchmen, and there are safes in the rooms.) Many guests find the most outstanding feature to be the completely open-air bathrooms and showers; it’s like bathing under a waterfall in a tropical garden, but with lovely body gel and shampoo provided.
The resort’s clubhouse, which has complimentary Wi-Fi, offers a limited menu, so meals are practically cooked to order. Sunbathing and swimming are either at the pool or the secluded beach, just steps away.
Also in Santa Teresa, an emerging destination in Costa Rica, is Hotel Tropico Latino (www.hoteltropico
latino.com), one of the Enchanting Hotels collection of noteworthy properties. Like a number of other hotels in this town with an interesting mix of budget and luxury hotels, the Tropico Latino specializes in hosting yoga retreats. The hotel itself has its own mix of bungalows, casitas and guest rooms, with a new building that kicks the luxury up a notch: beachfront suites with two bedrooms each, full kitchens and a private saltwater pool.
The excellent Shambala Beachfront Restaurant serves creative fusion cuisine in a romantic setting. At the Tropico Latino, a session at the Spa Natural is an extra not to be missed: extremely professional foreign-trained therapists administer massages, aesthetic and natural healing treatments using creams and lotions blended on-site.
No trip to Costa Rica would be complete without an excursion to the lush green highlands of volcano country. Perched on the country’s continental divide, Monteverde is one of the prime gateways to cloud forest and coffee plantation country. The largest hotel in these altitudes is the chalet-style El Establo Mountain Hotel (www.elestablo.com), founded by a partnership of Quakers fleeing persecution in Alabama with local landowners.
El Establo has grown into a sprawling 156-room resort, with shuttle buses connecting the hillside residential clusters with the communal areas that contain the heated indoor pools and outdoor recreation areas; the Green Leaf Spa; the Laggus fine dining restaurant; and Las Riendas buffet restaurant, which serves a lavish breakfast spread.
Also on property is the zipline-filled Tree Top Canopy Tour; a highly recommended activity in the area is the unique Monteverde Cloud Forest Train. And for an unforgettable experience that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your room or suite’s balcony, simply sit back in one of the comfortable rocking chairs and admire the spectacular view of the Gulf of Nicoya below.
Another excellent option in the central highlands is the Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel and Nature Reserve (www.villablanca-costarica.com), one of three Costa Rican hotels in the select Greentique chain, established by American Jim Damalas. Damalas convinced the family of one of the country’s former presidents to entrust him with the Los Angeles Cloud Forest Private Biological Reserve, on which he constructed 35 cozy private casitas with handcrafted furniture and stone fireplaces.
Indulgences here include signature cocktails and a gourmet meal at El Sendero Restaurant, or a visit to the Voices of Nature Spa, which incorporates ingredients from the local surroundings in its treatments, such as a hot stone massage using lava rocks from a nearby volcano, and lotions formulated from plants grown in the hotel’s organic garden. Greentique offers special packages combining getaways to both its beach and mountain properties.