Costa Rica is perfect for an tropical and easy holiday — nonstops at 5 hours from NYC to either Liberia or San Jose airports — with plenty of options for both the adventureous and those more inclined to sit on beach, drink in hand. Accomodation runs the gamut: upscale resorts, all-inclusives, budget hotels, condo rentals, even several treehouse hotels… or, perhaps you’d fancy a hotel suite built into the fuselage of a vintage Boeing 727?
My family spent 10 days here a couple (or perhaps five) years back — I’ve been kicked into gear to write down our itinerary for a friend beginning to plan her own trip — starting at Xandari Resort 20 minutes from San Jose airport. This place was even better than expected with lots of surrounding trails and small waterfalls. Our room was a brightly colored modern large bungalow with an enormous deck and a fantastic view over a valley. Excellent restaurant. We could not have been happier with our choice as it had such lovely grounds and was super convenient to the airport.
La Paz Waterfalls
Next up… Peace Lodge at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, about 40 minutes north of San Jose. This is a comfortable and highly unique lodge with gorgeous views of the surrounding rainforest. Our room had a lovely balcony with an AMAZING view, ensuite fireplace — perfect because we were chillers here — and a crazy indoor garden bathroom complete with a waterfall shower.
The many surrounding waterfalls on the grounds and hiking trails are absolutely stunning. There is also a rather large wildlife sanctuary on the property — we especially enjoyed feeding the humingbirds by hand. The resort includes many complimentary activities for the guests, perfect for children. No town in the immediate vicinity so all guests dine at the restaurant or get room service — the food was very good. I highly recommend the resort, especially with younger kids.
Within a 20 minute drive is the Poas volcano — an easy walk from the parking area. It was too foggy on the day we visited to actually see anything inside the crater, but the kids still thought it was cool to be at a volcano. Surrounding the area are hills and coffee plantations.
For our next leg, we debated whether to head to the Arenal volcano area or down south to Manual Antonio National Park. They both looked very cool. We had already decided to conclude the trip at the Four Seasons near Liberia airport on the west coast. So… Volcanos and ziplines OR sloths, monkeys, and beach?
MA won out once we found out about the airplane hotel suite located there. Note… one of us is a DIE-HARD airline
geek enthusiast. Oh, and either choice will be a longish drive from San Jose — thus, we opted to fly. Best flight EVER for all three boys, and yet one of the most frightening experiences of my life: prop plane, SUPER bumpy especially over the mountains, duct tape on much of the windshield, radar basically ALL RED, and the final kicker: a landing on a dirt “runway” cut into the jungle with a open-air shed for an airport… I couldn’t stop clutching the seat in front of me, unable to speak but inwardly begging my kids including the big one to STOP TELLING ME HOW AWESOME THIS ALL IS. The good news, however, is the airport is currently being renovated to accomodate larger planes with a wider, longer, and PAVED airstrip, set to open in July 2018.
Hotels in MA:
Before we checked into the airplane hotel, we spent a few days at Tulemar Resort renting a luxurious 2-story, 2-bedroom condo (premium villa category) with a HUGE covered deck with hot tub (eww…) with fantastic sunset views over the jungle and ocean. This place is fantastic — private beach, monkeys everywhere, several pools, spa, restaurant, charming rustic beach bar, plenty of watersports and tours, easy access to town and the nature preserve… we would be very happy to stay here again on a future trip. Especially now that I can take a legitimate flight.
Tulemar Resort: https://www.tulemarresort.com
Costa Verde Hotel (aka home of the 727 fuselage suite)
We chose to only stay one night here as the hotel itself is nothing special (bordering on sad — 1960’s, aqua-colored, rectangular pool-with-chainlink-fence sad) — we just really wanted the awesome experience of sleeping inside a transformed airplane. I will admit, it was pretty cool. And we made up a game that we were actors in a movie about a plane crash SO that was fun, too. The suite will sleep 6 in 2 bedrooms with 2 bathrooms and a kitchen. Great views from the wing.
Costa Verde Hotel fuselage suite: https://costaverde.com/accommodations/727-fuselage-home/
The town of Manuel Antonio is also quite nice — lively, plenty of excellent restaurants, evening music and entertainment, lovely beaches, and wildlife everywhere. Activities in the area include canyoning, atv tours, zip-lining, surfing, jet-skiing, hiking, rafting, wildlife tours, kayaking through mangroves, catamaran tours to see dolphins and snorkel, horseback tour through the jungle, cheese tour on the moon… just kidding — I suddenly realized I was starting to sound like a travel brochure.
Manuel Antonio National Park
We opted for a private tour for the park which worked well for us as we could go at our own pace. We chose to go early, in hopes of beating the heat and crowds but we still experienced both… to the extreme! Remember to bring cold drinks with you. Note — the park is easily walkable and accessible even with a stroller or wheelchair, not that we had either but just thought I’d throw that in if you were wondering. We saw some pretty amazing wildlife — sloths, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, toucans, iguanas… even some killer bees which especially alarmed one of us.
We hired a driver to take us north for our final leg at the Four Seasons Resort. It was a much longer drive than we expected, but it allowed us to see more of the countryside.
The FS resort only recently reopened after an extensive $35 million renovation. It was beautiful when we were there prior facelift, so it must be truly spectacular now. We all loved this resort — how could one NOT enjoy a Four Seasons? — but I wasn’t as enthralled with the area as our previous locations. It is drier with no rainforest jungles. There is still wildlife — plenty of monkeys, birds, and other interesting creatures such as the coati (looks like a cross between a cat and raccoon.) To just relax and enjoy the resort to it’s fullest, this place is the bomb. AND, it is only about 40 minutes to Liberia airport so an EXCELLENT location for a weekend trip from NY on Jet Blue.
I think we stayed in one of the cheapest garden view rooms, but it was plenty roomy with a huge covered deck. AND, the deck had this cool remote screening system so one could sit out there without worry of mosquitos and creepy-crawlies. Leave the sliders open with the screens down on the deck, and suddenly the room is a huge, awesome, open-air suite!
The pools were great — 2 family pools, 1 adult pool, and 1 children’s pool for the littlest ones. Some nights they showed family movies on a big screen by the main pool with dinner for the kids… we viewed this as an opportunity for some grown-up time and grabbed a table outside at the closest restaurant. And just like other FS resorts, there are activities scheduled pretty much every hour of the daylight hours for adults and children alike. Our boys especially enjoyed the game room.
There are several restaurants — all excellent. And one evening dinner is set up on the beach with live music and tiki torches.
We did find some activities off-campus that were fun — zip-lining (quite tame) within a 20 minute drive. Another day, we took a boat across the Gulf of Papagayo to a nearby town and rented jet skis.
Four Seasons Costa Rica: https://www.fourseasons.com/costarica/
If you are just dying for MORE of our Costa Rica adventure, here is the riveting video of our trip.