CLOAKED IN RICH EMERALD
Costa Rica booms with life. Every fruit, flower and blade of grass appears supercharged. Lemon, crimson and fuchsia blossoms explode across the landscape. Birds and butterflies look like they’ve flown out of a paint factory. Neat little village squares are daubed in technicolour. Howler monkeys roar as the sun rises and sets. Cicadas tear through the heat of the day. Crickets and geckos click and chirp by night.
CONSERVATION IN COSTA RICA
By any measure, Costa Rica is a remarkably clean and healthy country. Its residents enjoy one of the world’s highest life expectancies. Over a quarter of its landmass is under active conservation. ‘No tiremos basura’ proudly state the road signs – ‘We don’t throw rubbish’. Wherever you are, ‘pura vida’ (‘pure life’) is always the right thing to say, deployed in thanks, greeting and farewell. The mantra resonates in a part of the world where healthy living and the natural world are highly prized. Since the 1980s, Costa Rica has been helping write the book on conservation and sustainable tourism.
SELF-DRIVE IN COSTA RICA
We organise all manner of luxury journeys to Costa Rica, whether led by one of our superstar guides, or travelling under your own steam. Those looking to self-drive will need a 4×4. There are narrow bridges to cross, rivers to ford and dusty gravel tracks to navigate. Drive carefully. Horses, livestock, wildlife and human traffic regularly wander into the road.
Depending on your route, driving days are typically 3-6 hours, with regular sea swims and stops for pipas (coconuts), cold beers, and zingy ceviche along the way. The fruit and fish throughout Costa Rica is stunningly fresh.
WHERE TO STAY IN COSTA RICA
We have researched a broad range of places to stay, from owner-run b&bs to working farms and world-class adventure lodges. We have the keys to four of Costa Rica’s most sybaritic private estates and have recced dozens of ecolodges and boutiques that are easier on the pocket.
This thriving natural paradise incorporates a range of habitats, including cloud forests, mangroves, coastlines and coral reefs. Unless you’ve got 6-8 weeks to explore, you’ll need to decide which parts of the country to major on. We’re focusing here on just four key areas, but there are plenty of gems to discover in between.
In the south, approaching the border with Panama, the Osa Peninsula is remote and pristine. Home to the Corcovado National Park and breath-taking biological diversity, Osa represents perhaps the rawest and wildest face of Costa Rica. You’ll need 3-5 days here to make the most of it. You can base yourself in Drake Bay, close to the national park, or further south, around Playa Matapalo, where we’d recommend staying at either Lapa Rios or El Remanso.
WHAT TO DO IN OSA PENINSULA
Swim with bioluminescence; fish for marlin, tuna, dorado and sailfish; take a boat to visit the Sirena ranger station in the heart of Corcovado; kayak through mangroves; hike to hidden waterfalls in the insanely beautiful Piedras Blancas national park; swim with dolphins and sea-turtles; look out for humpback whales, giant anteater, tapir, monkeys and, if you’re lucky, jaguar, puma and ocelot. We have a guide – our secret weapon in Costa Rica – who knows this region like nobody else.
THE BEACHES OF GUANACASTE
Guanacaste, in northwest Costa Rica, is drier than the south and east, with a strong culture of surf and yoga, and some of the world’s finest beaches. Santa Teresa is one of our favourite stops, particularly around playas Hermosa and Malpais. This is where you’ll find the best parties and restaurants, and some of the coolest beach properties. Batik, Mint and Florblanca are out top picks. The vibe is young and most foreign visitors are European and here to surf. Heading up the coast road, you’ll pass Samara and Nosara, a little more polished, popular with expats putting down roots and enjoying the pura vida. Hacienda Barrigona is a sensational estate on one of our favourite beaches, and perfect for private groups and families. Playa Negra, just south of Tamarindo, is laidback and unpretentious, with glorious sunsets, a strong surf culture and rhythms that are entirely it’s own. Pushing towards the Nicaraguan border, Kasiiya Papagayo is a highly sustainable luxury camp that we’ve earmarked for honeymooners.
HORSEBACK RIDING IN COSTA RICA
Cattle ranching is big business in Costa Rica, and central Guanacaste is one of its most productive regions. This is where we show our clients a very different flavour, staying at Hacienda Montezuma, a 1,500-hectare working cattle farm, in the shadow of the Tenorio Volcano. Guests can enjoy a dip in the freshwater lake or go cattle rustling on horseback. There are spoiling picnics by day and barbecues by night. A local cacao farm produces some of the best chocolate in the region. Rafting and fishing along the Tenorio River are easily arranged. There are also conservation programmes to join, whether liberating ocelot, puma or jaguarundi onto the hacienda, or setting up trap cameras to track the movement of local species.
RAFTING IN RIO PACUARE
Next, we’re heading west to the province of Limón, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean slope. It’s a 5-hour drive or a 40min flight to the precipitous canyons and waterfalls, rickety wooden bridges and lush rainforest of Rio Pacuare. The 108km stretch of foaming water is considered one of the best places in the world for white-water rafting and kayaking. Along its course sits Pacuare Lodge, the ultimate jungle hideaway and a finely tuned example of sustainable luxury.
CARIBBEAN RHYTHM OF PUERTO VIEJO
Most visitors to Costa Rica bypass its Caribbean coast, put off by unpredictable weather and a lack of infrastructure. The first road to Puerto Viejo only came in 2001, not long after electricity was piped in. The vibe here is nothing but easy going. Reggae and Calypso hang on the breeze. Sloths occasionally slope along the beach at dusk. Check out Monli for one of the best dinners we had over 7 weeks in Costa Rica and don’t miss lunch at La Sirena for beachfront caipirinas and ceviche. Aguas Claras, Victoria-plantation-house-come-tropical-Wes-Anderson-set, is the place to rest your head.