Where to Stay, What to Do and Where to Eat in Costa Rica

Venture off the beaten path with canyoning tours that will rappel you down waterfalls, whale-watching in the Golfe Dulce and dining options that have everything from octopus to grilled red snapper.
 

An aerial view of Golfo Dulce, photograph courtesy of Banana Bay Marina.

Bicoastal, volcanic and covered in rainforest, this Central American country was built for adventurers. From the blue Caribbean to the wild Pacific, right across the jagged spine of the continental divide, Costa Rica is an amazing place to venture off the beaten track.

Hotels

Parador Resort and Spa, photograph courtesy of Parador Resort and Spa.

If you’re adrenaline seekers: Tabacón resort

With views of the still-active Arenal Volcano, Tabacón resort offers luxury guest rooms and suites close to the many thrilling attractions in the area. Hot springs also run through the property, creating dozens of waterfalls and hot pools—the perfect place to relax after an active day.

If you’re wildlife lovers: Parador Resort and Spa

Nestled within a tropical rainforest, overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Manuel Antonio Norte, is Parador Resort and Spa. Swim in one of the three pools at this rambling resort, or watch the sun set from your own private hot tub in one of the Ocean Vista suites.

If you’re eco-warriors: Playa Cativo

Completely off the grid, Playa Cativo is surrounded by a nature preserve and a natural park, and powered by a combination of hydro and solar power. Swim in the hotel’s salt-water pool, hike to the nearby organic gardens (which feed its restaurant) or simply relax in your open-air casita.

If you’re beach bums: Planet Hollywood Beach Resort

Opened last year, the all-inclusive Planet Hollywood Beach Resort offers guests the full VIP treatment with perks such as dedicated butlers, in-room bottle service and cabanas where you can recline with a bottle of bubbly in a private plunge pool. There’s also a spa and beach activities to keep you entertained.

Things to Do

The Ultimate Waterfall Rappel included in the canyoning tours, photograph courtesy of Pure Trek.

If you’re adrenaline seekers: Pure Trek canyoning tour

For a serious thrill, sign up for a canyoning tour with Pure Trek. The Ultimate Waterfall Rappel challenges you to four rappels—three waterfalls and one rock wall—and to brave their “monkey drop,” a zipline and a controlled free fall that finishes with a cold splash.

If you’re wildlife lovers: Manuel Antonio National Park

Allowing just 300 visitors at a time, Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most protected places in the country, bringing together aquatic, airborne and terrestrial biodiversity. Even a brief visit can get you up close to a three-toed sloth, boa constrictor and morpho butterflies.

If you’re eco-warriors: Golfo Dulce Retreat

A rare tropical fjord in the southwest of the country, the Golfo Dulce (or the Sweet Gulf) brings together myriad marine mammals (and birds and reptiles). Hop on a boat for a morning of whale-watching, and along the way you might encounter dolphins, turtles and maybe even a hammerhead shark.

If you’re beach bums: Papagayo

Jutting off Costa Rica’s west coast and fringed by picturesque islands, Papagayo is a land of sunsets. Spend the afternoon snorkelling with a swirling rainbow of tropical fish, then grab a drink and settle back for the main event, watching the sky turn from orange to purple to pink.

Places to Eat

Photograph courtesy of Banana Bay Marina.

If you’re adrenaline seekers: Don Rufino

Upscale, but rustic, diminutive Don Rufino offers a long wooden bar, a wall of wine and an informal atmosphere where you can relax under a spinning ceiling fan. Plus, there’s a menu of Costa Rican favourites, from empanadas to traditional casado dishes, made from locally sourced ingredients.

If you’re wildlife lovers: Buena Vista Beach Club

Kick off your shoes and dine with your toes in the sand at Buena Vista Beach Club. At this restaurant in Playa Espadilla, the tables sit right on sprawling Manuel Antonio Beach. Enjoy the view from the shore while indulging in the fresh grilled red snapper, the restaurant’s signature dish.

If you’re eco-warriors: Banana Bay Marina

Set on stilts right over the water and at the edge of an evergreen rainforest, every table at Banana Bay Marina, offers views of the Golfo Dulce. Sail in to the marina, located in the town of Golfito, to sample the restaurant’s freshly caught seafood, including three kinds of ceviche: fish, shrimp and octopus.

If you’re beach bums: Chao Pescao

Located inside of the super-stylish Andaz hotel, Chao Pescao is a casual spot serving upscale, small-plate takes on local cuisine—think plantains paired with papaya and prosciutto. There’s also a long cocktail menu that showcases hand-picked local fruits, spices and herbs.

[This story appears in the December 2019 edition of WestJet Magazine.]

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