When you look at the numbers, Costa Rica is small in that the entire region takes up only 0.03 percent of the earth’s surface. But don’t underestimate this country; Costa Rica is one of the richest in biodiversity when it comes to species density. My recent trip to this Central American paradise opened my eyes to that.
From the monkeys freely roaming the trees to the resident coati (a member of the raccoon family) at my hotel, there was no shortage of wildlife to take in. And let’s not forget the natural beauty of the land, or flavors and freshness of the food. Talk about sensory overload!
Costa Rica might already be on your bucket list of places to visit (or revisit!), but in case you needed some convincing, here are five reasons to book your ticket today.
About a 30-minute ride from Liberia International Airport, this resort offers a truly all-encompassing retreat. Iconic Costa Rican architect Ronald Zürcher designed the property, which captures the country’s essence—that “Pura Vida”—in everything, even something as simple as the lighting found in each room. Seriously. The nest of a native bird, the Oropendola, is the inspiration behind the lamps, which bear the same shape.
The hospitality was first-class. And don’t worry about getting nickel-and-dimed here. Not only are dining prices and activities like cooking classes reasonable, but all non-alcoholic beverages and snacks in the mini-bar are complimentary. Yes, you read that right.
The resort is also nicely set up for both families and those on a romantic vacation for two.
2. The wildlife
You can catch a glimpse of the monkeys in their natural habitat during a morning run or hike. As for the coati, I saw him wondering about just outside my room. You can also organize a trip to Palo Verde National Park. It’s about a 60-minute drive from Andaz Papagayo. This wetland sanctuary (it’s also a tropical dry forest) is one of the best for bird watching, with over 300 species of neo-tropical birds and wildlife. Keep your eyes out for peccaries (they closely resemble wild pigs) and jaguarundis (small, wild cats) to name a few!
3. The food
Bring your appetite, because you’re going to want to try everything and then go back for seconds (maybe even thirds). The Andaz has three themed restaurants, and every dish I sampled was a true culinary delight:
Rio Bhongo. This opened-aired restaurant overlooks the resort’s infinity pool and offers a delicious Latin-inspired breakfast, complete with sweet plantains and freshly squeezed juice (think pineapple and papaya). Their lunch menu is equally as tasty, with homemade empanadas (with a choice of chicken, beef and veggie), yucca fries, and a traditional casado dish of rice, black beans, plantains, and freshly caught sea bass.
Ostra. The seafood-inspired dining at this romantic eatery can’t be beat. I had the best ceviche of my life here, no exaggeration. I was able to make my own, and ingredients run the gamut of mango and jalapeños to fresh coconut milk and a homemade pepper sauce. The resort offers a ceviche-making class, so don’t worry: you too can dream up your own concoction. Go ahead, let your taste buds run wild.
Chao Pescao. This casual dining restaurant offers a menu with an array of small plate choices. I thoroughly enjoyed the patacon, a dish of shredded beef and fried plantain. Let’s not forget the arepas (yum!). Also, as someone with quite the sweet tooth, the dessert menu didn’t disappoint at all. If you’re going to have only one treat, have the apple tart. This is no ordinary apple tart. From the flakey crust, to the finger-lickin’ apple center, to the crystalized sugar topping… you really can’t go wrong.
4. The surf
I came to Costa Rica and left a pro-surfer. Well, sort of. As a surf newbie, I have to say this is one of the best places to learn. Our guides from Swiss Travel took my group on a short 10-minute boat ride to a beach directly across from the sandy shores of the Andaz Papagayo. (The water there offered more waves.) They were patient and thorough in their explanation of the mechanics behind surfing. After our beach lesson on how to “pop-up” on the boards, we were in the water, paddling out to catch our first waves. This was an incredible experience—even more so because I caught a wave (several in fact!).
Some other notable places to surf include:
· Witches Rock, Guanacaste: Professionals
· Tamarindo, Guanacaste: Beginners to Professionals
· Playa Negra & Avellanas, Guanacaste: Mid-Level to Professionals
5. The coffee
Most Americans see coffee as fuel to work through that all-nighter or a means to keep you alert the next day. For me, it never did much when it came to keeping me awake, so I drink it mostly for the taste, with milk and sugar. But in Costa Rica, coffee is a work of art. The act of making coffee is an experience in and of itself. According to the resident barista at the Andaz, a great cup of coffee doesn’t need any of the extra fixings. You drink it black, so as not to distort the true flavor of the beans.
Every day a different coffee is served at Andaz, allowing guests to not only sample the variety of tastes, but also to see that, like wine, each coffee bean reflects its origin.
Ravelle Worthington is a writer living in New York. Follow her on Twitter @ravmo.