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Friday, 02 May 2014 12:30

Costa Rica

Written by  Evelyn Kanter

Costa Rica is generally regarded as the first eco-tourism destination in South America. Its long history of sustainability includes setting aside an impressive 26% of its land mass for protected areas, including nearly 30 national parks.

New upscale options offer visitors the opportunity to combine “green” with luxury, especially in the Papagayo peninsula of the northwest Pacific coast, which is experiencing growth and change.

Gulf of Papagayo
The Occidental Grand Papagayo became the first adults-only operation in Costa Rica this past winter, in response to what management cites as meeting the needs of “loyal, often repeat, customers.” It remains an all-inclusive, with daily activities including kayaking, scuba lessons and birdwatching.

Designed by well-known Costa Rican architect Ronald Zurcher, the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo ( opened in December with 174 rooms and suites on 28 oceanfront acres, with open-air restaurants served by the sounds of crashing ocean waves. There’s also an 11,000 square foot spa, one of the largest in Costa Rica, and a private beach. Another guest perk is an exclusive playlist of Costa Rican inspired music to download during the stay, and take home for vacation memories long afterward.

The Paradisus Papagayo Bay (, owned and operated by Sol Melia Hotels & Resorts, opens in the fall as a five-star all-inclusive luxury resort, with 381 rooms and villas and a full-service spa.

The most luxurious is the secluded and sprawling Four Seasons Resort, with an 18-hole Arnold Palmer golf course, nearly all holes with breathtaking views over the Pacific. In keeping with Costa Rica’s mandate of eco-friendly practices, the course has earned the coveted Sanctuary status from Audobon International. The property has also partnered with a local non-profit for guests to volunteer doing arts and crafts, reading, and more at schools on the Papagayo Peninsula.

Privately-owned Parador Resort & Spa ( is set on the highest point of Punta Quepos promontory, with knock-out panoramic views of the jungle and ocean, including from the adults-only infinity pool (the two other pools are family-friendly). There are 129 rooms and suites and a private beach reached by a short hike through the jungle or via emission-free electric golf-cart shuttle.

Parador’s commitment to sustainable operation includes growing its own organic salad greens in a specially designed greenhouse hermetically sealed against pests and predators, and extensive water and energy conservation programs. This is also a 100% smoke free property, an unusual attribute in Latin America.

The location of these hotels provide an easy day-trip excursion to one of four local national parks - Guanacaste National Park, Santa Rosa National Park, Palo Verde National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park. All offer extensive hiking trails for wildlife viewing, including some 50 species of bats, and 300 bird species, along with crocodiles, monkeys and iguanas. The truly athletic can venture a bit farther, to the Orosi and Cacao volcanoes. They are not as famous as Arenal, but equally dramatic.

The Gulf of Papagayo area also includes opportunities for white water rafting, deep-sea fishing and zip-lining.

The Witch’s Rock Canopy Tour is some two dozen platforms, including one adrenalin-charged zip that’s around one-quarter mile long. ( At the Canyon at Guachipelin, guests can rappel, swing through the jungle on ropes like Tarzan, horseback ride, and cool off in a jungle waterfall. Costa Rica Dream Adventures ( offers a variety of adventure activities and eco-tourism opportunities.

Wild Planet Adventures specializes in wildlife and rainforest tours ranging from seven to 15 days, including hands-on interaction with howler monkeys, a sanctuary for sloths, and kayaking with dolphins.

A popular excursion is night kayaking in Nicoya Gulf, near the towns of Tambor and Puntarenas on the Pacific Coast. This is a bioluminescent bay, where plankton and other small sea life literally glows in the dark, like underwater fireflies. It’s one of just a few such bioluminescent bays in the world. The gulf also is dotted with uninhabited islands, which offer excellent snorkeling.

Surfer’s Paradise
With hundreds of miles of beaches along its Caribbean and Pacific coasts, Costa Rica is also a destination for surfers of all levels. On the Caribbean side, the area known as Salsa Brava produces huge breakers similar to those in Hawaii, and attracts veteran riders. Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, on the northern Pacific coast, offers instruction in a low-rise area near the super-swells.

Jaco Beach in the Central Pacific coast is popular both for its waves and its long, curved beach of grey-black sand, the color and texture of pulverized volcanic rock. Beach shoes are a necessity, since the dark sand feels hotter in the sunshine than “normal” white sand.

The Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls are nearby, a 50 acre botanical wonder of millions of plants and flowers including rare orchids, and picture postcard ocean views. Jaco is 90 minutes from San Jose via the Caldera Highway, close enough to be crowded with local “Ticos” on a daytrip or weekend getaway.

For more information, please go to

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