Where the Wild Things Are
The bellman hasn’t quite gotten our bags into the hotel room before my 7-year-old, Zachary, starts hollering “monkeys!” and bolting through the room, almost knocking everyone over in his unadulterated euphoria. Sure enough, a family of white-faced capuchin monkeys, small creatures who glide like lithe Siamese cats, are negotiating their way across tree branches right outside our room. By using their furry pipe cleaner-like tails as a fifth limb, they move with mesmerizing fluidity. Once on the terrace, besides the monkeys, we are arrested by a vista which includes forest, ocean and mountains all at once. You almost can't believe this is real; it’s sensory overload…but in a good way.
Such are the pura vida (literally translated as “pure life”) moments you experience at The Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo on the western coast of the country. Like the country itself, the property sits on a ridge on a peninsula, a piece of land surrounded by water on three sides. To the west, a beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean. To the east, another beach overlooking the vast Culebra Bay. Because of the angle which Peninsula Papagayo juts out from the mainland, almost like a curled-back finger, the view of the Pacific is framed by hulking mountains which rise before you as if they were Photoshopped on a computer. Essentially you experience non-stop jaw-dropping vistas and an excellent chance of gazing upon cerulean water whichever way you swivel your head.
The newly renovated Four Seasons creates an experience of man-made paradise-- chic luxury dropped smack dab in the midst of mother nature. From sunrise to sunset, the soundtrack of your stay features a delightful cacophony of tweets, squeaks, howls, caws, chirps, guffaws, flutters and grunts. Howler monkeys, hummingbirds, iguanas, lime green parakeets (which look like flying unripe bananas), blue magpies, white-faced coatis, and lemur-like squirrels are among the many species that become your constant companions. At sunset, the sands of the beach literally come alive with millions of hermit crabs. Were it not for the immaculate grounds and creature comforts at the Four Seasons you would almost swear you were on safari.
While the property opened just ten years ago, it recently experienced a dramatic multimillion-dollar makeover to keep up with the demands of this type of travel. All the guest rooms, the open-air lobby, the spa and three of the main restaurant concepts all experienced a glorious rejuvenation. Basically this was an exercise of how to delicately integrate 5-star flourishes into a setting where any distraction from the natural beauty would be a disaster. But through the use of indigenous woods, bamboo, rattan, sugarcane, rope and stones, the design elicits a feeling of living in an exclusive, cozy, yet primitive village (with, of course, high thread-count sheets, satellite TV, WI-FI and all the other state-of-the-art touches). Throughout the property colorful artwork from local painters and wood sculptors also lend to the exotic-yet-right-at-home feel.
Beyond the resort, Costa Rica’s myriad of ecotourism treasures await. Costa Rica comprises less than 1% of the earth’s landmass but contains roughly 5% of its wildlife. On top of its embarrassment of wildlife riches, rainforest tours, canopy tours, volcano exploration, bird watching, surfing, zip-lining, and whitewater rafting are often just a day-trip away. And while the Four Seasons concierge will happily arrange these excursions, we contentedly confine ourselves to the pura vida at the resort. We enjoy the beaches, changing each day from the ocean side to the bay side as well as hiking the trails around the resort. We swim in the resorts’ four pools. At day’s end we hike up a near-vertical staircase to the top of the hill overlooking the resort and watch one of the most dramatic sunsets on earth.
We ravish the 5-star dining at the resort’s restaurants—fresh fish, ceviches, wood-fired octopus and other delights from the sea as well as homemade pastas, USDA steaks and more, all in casual elegant concepts prepared by decorated chefs who surprisingly do not source locally. When asked where the incredibly fresh vegetables come from, I am told from a farm in Cartago which is six hours away. The fresh fish in my fish tacos? From Puntarenas, a village two hours south. Despite its relative isolation from the mainland, the Four Seasons never compromises on quality and will go to great distances to get it. And the service, as you would expect from a Four Seasons, is impeccable; the multi-lingual staff connect with the guests on a level where you want to hug most of them goodbye at the end of the trip.
It’s the last night our vacation and we’ve almost become jaded to the wonderment of the setting. Monkeys howling in the distance. Pterodactyl-like birds sweeping by. Pelicans dive-bombing for fish in the surf. By now we have assimilated to the natural bounty and, as such, have become “one” with the environment. The only downside: surprises are not as plentiful—my son now hardly glances up when we spy monkeys in the trees.
But there are still surprises to be had!
Enjoying the final sunset in paradise, we walk along the soft sand on the Pacific-side beach trying to get a vantage point for the great red orb’s drop below the horizon. A little ways up ahead, a small object (possibly a leaf?) flutters across the beach towards the surf. We draw closer and within moments it comes into focus--a tiny sea turtle has decided to make a jailbreak for the water! We watch the brave little guy awkwardly flap across the sand, struggling until he reaches the imaginary line where the surf stretches out at high tide. And then all of a sudden—whoosh!—a wave washes in and seizes him, pulling him into the foam and water where he moves on to the next risky part of his adventure back to his mother. My son names him “Cutie Sweet” and we wave and wish him luck on the rest of his journey. Right at the moment that the sun dips below the earth. What we witnessed was pure magic—or better said, a textbook pura vida moment.
Know Before You Go
The Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo (www.fourseasons.com/costarica) boasts 182 guest rooms, including multi-bedroom suites and private hilltop residences with features like private infinity plunge pools and outdoor showers. It has a championship 18-hole golf course designed by Arnold Palmer, a world- class spa with 18 treatment rooms and four restaurants.
Delta Airlines (www.delta.com) flies directly into Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) and from there the drive is a smooth 45 minutes arranged by the property. Rates start at $399. You will need a passport.