I recently had the pleasure of doing a self-drive tour…
Costa Rica has been a really popular destination for many years, so when I finally decided to go I thought it would be just another good vacation. Check it off my list and move on…but, I was wrong, what a great country, amazing food and some of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting…..
Aside from a great place to experience, it’s a place you can get to and get home from very easily. We left on a red-eye Friday night, non-stop to San Jose, Costa Rica, and then an early evening non-stop from Liberia, Costa Rica, the following Sunday. That means for just 5 days out of the office I got to enjoy a 9 day vacation!
Our first stop was the Arenal Volcano area, which is where most people begin their trip. The Arenal area is definitely the adventure side of Costa Rica and is about a 3 hour drive from San Jose. White-water rafting, hiking around the volcano, ATV rides, zip-lining, wildlife boat trips are among the many action-adventures available to hike up your adrenaline.
We stayed at Nayara Springs, just outside La Fortuna, one of Travel + Leisure magazine’s top rated hotels. As expected at such a highly rated hotel, the service, rooms and food were fantastic. But what wasn’t expected was the genuine service delivery of the staff. Each staff member couldn’t be nicer and it seemed each one wanted to make sure we enjoyed our stay…..
With just 50 rooms there were 4 dining venues, all different, and all the food was great. Each restaurant only seats 20-30 people, so we made reservations to ensure we could dine at each since we only stayed four nights.
We used the hotel as a base, had morning excursions each day and enjoyed the pool every afternoon, as well as throwing in a few spa appointments. We didn’t see many small children here, but many honeymoon and anniversary couples, as well as a few families with older kids.
From Nayara we headed to the beach in the Guanacaste area, another 3 hour drive. We spent the last 4 nights of our trip at El Mangroove, an Autograph Collection property. Slightly larger than Nayara, at about 85 rooms, they, too, had such an amazing staff. So we realized it’s not just the staff of these properties, but the people of Costa Rica that are so nice!
With only one dining venue at El Mangroove we thought we should look for some other places outside of the resort to eat. But after one meal we realized the food was so good we would love to explore 4 nights of the menu. There are a few places in town you could visit, but they are about 20-30 minutes away.
While on the “beach” part of our vacation we did explore the area a little. We spent a morning on the Palo Verde River looking for crocodiles, monkeys and birds, enjoyed a local lunch, then headed to the Llanos de Cortes Waterfall for a quick dip before heading back to El Mangroove.
(On a side note, the only challenge we had during our trip was the “red tide” in the Papagayo bay. This is the bay El Mangroove sits on, as well as a handful of other resorts. It was best to not swim or go into the water, and it did smell if you were downwind. Some people found beaches with no red tide, but there were only pockets of fresh water. It usually lasts just a week or so, but this one was 3 weeks so far. The pool at El Mangroove was great, so we really didn’t miss the beach, so it wasn’t a big thing.
A few more afternoons enjoying the pool and of course some more time in the spa, an evening sunset sail excursion, including exploring one of the local Mangrooves and our trip was coming to an end. This time just a short 20 minute ride to Liberia airport and a 5:45 hour non-stop flight back to LAX. 9 days’ vacation, 5 days out of the office, and a great time exploring two parts of Costa Rica. There are a number of other areas in Costa Rica to explore, but we’ll catch some of those on our next trip!
Both resorts were fantastic, and I would definitely go back to both. There are some great things to enjoy on all the menus from both resorts, as well. But the thing I’ll really miss are the people. 4 days in each property enabled us to become familiar with staff at both resorts…..they knew us, knew what room we were in and were looking forward to hearing about our last excursion. They really loved the fact that we were really enjoying their country….that makes a difference!