How do hummingbirds manage to stay in place? The answer is they hover in mid-air by flapping their wings at a rate of 50 to 80 beats per second. They also visit between 2000 and 5000 flowers a day. All this I now know from being immersed in Costa Rica’s nature.
I arrived late at night at my first place to stay at Arenas Del Mar. It’s perfect for nature lovers and very eco aware and is a resort on a cliff top, set in eleven acres of jungle. I split my time between the beach and the hotel’s upper section, where the airy reception has by its side an infinity pool with a shape designed to blend with the length of the beach below.
I took a boat with Tres Ninas Tours. It was a day trip of six hours and I loved getting up close to whole tracts of land inaccessible by foot, those nooks and crannies where the rainbow of oceanic life, the crabs and corals, the crustaceans and molluscs, go about their business uninterrupted. Long may it last as it brings out the explorer and the Man Friday in us all. I was also accompanied by a charming skipper, a local expert of the land and the animals, only too keen to share his knowledge in pointing to things far out to sea.
The locals are known as ‘ticos’ after their habit of using diminutives in their lingo and I sensed their open humility that doubtless comes with belonging to this wondrous kingdom of animals. Across history, they tamed the land, hacked forests, planted coffee and bred cattle. They settled and, in their solitude, created a tiny model for living, a miniature democracy with no pecking order, no extremes of wealth and poverty, each assisting their neighbour in order to subsist. And thus this unique Costa Rican mentality was forged and the country now ranks as one of the happiest places on the planet.
Very close by, I stayed next at Villa Punto de Vista. From my room came a wake-up call in stereo. A dawn chorus from a convocation of birds that went about their duties sending out their morning tweets. I got to look through the index of the definitive book on Costa Rican birds to find exquisite and exotic names like, speckled mourner, dusky nightjar, brown noddy, rufous-browed peppershrike, ocellated poorwill, Andean pygmy-owl, ruff, yellow-bellied siskin, snowcap, wandering tattler, wimbrel, willet and American wigeon.
David Konwiser, the architect has audaciously broken the rules of doors and windows with spacious, airy gaps and blinds. The design makes optimum use of the dream views with angular windows jutting out like ships’ prows over the ocean beyond.
The villa likes to quote “Costa Rica. Lots of Monkeys. No Hurricanes” and it’s fun to get one’s own back on the monkeys by teasing, but not feeding, them with bananas as they approach on their rope through the jungle canopy put up like a zip line in the very country where the sport was invented.
Beside these fast monkeys are slow-moving sloths who feed on ‘secropia’, liking the alkaline in the high leaves of this hollow tree. They only come down once a week to do their business which they bury to stop predators and to fertilise the tree. They sleep for 18 hours a day and live for 30 to 50 years. And they’re even excellent swimmers I was to learn.
Further up the Pacific coast I came next to Guanacaste, which was incorporated into mainstream Costa Rica when the Inter-American Highway was built in 1954. And when Liberia Airport was built in the mid 1970s, bringing with it an 80% influx of Americans, this remote and once poor province, formerly owned by farming families from Cordoba in Spain, had turned into the next luxury hotspot as it moved away from fishing and agriculture to tourism and hospitality.
It’s the home of the Papagayo Peninsula which has exquisite beaches as well as a good number of trails both leisurely and exacting along the coast and inland. The one from Playa Blanca to the top has 800 steps and the one going between Playa Virador and Playa Prieta as many as 1000. The first I found challenging and the second fully bracing.
I stayed next at Vista Hermosa, Papagayo Luxury which has a curated selection of twelve luxury villas and condos (with 3-6 bedroom options) within the same resort. It sleeps six adults and is most commonly used by families who come back time and again typically for a week. The décor is stunning and eclectic. The large square spacious room, the hub for the ancillary rooms, has a low ceiling and a horizontal feel replicating the landscape.
I enjoyed a wonderfully calm boat trip across the bay with Elvision Adventure Tours. My obliging and non-invasive skipper guided me with great serenity across the flat water towards the magical beaches of Playa Panama, Playa Hermosa and the renowned Playa del Coco. Here there’s a fishing community of boats with black bags and plastic containers acting as commercial equipment, avidly watched by groups of pelicans that swooped, skimmed and perched at will.
Situated at the end of the peninsula and being in itself a jutting out peninsula, was my final place to stay, Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica. The roofs are designed to resemble the interior architecture of the conch shell and blend into the background like the backs of the armadillos, turtles and butterflies that inspired them.
Breakfast boasted inventive mixes of juices and smoothies, but the real treat was the avocado flatbread with egg white scrambled bites, chipotle aioli and mixed salad leaving an aftertaste with a lovely contest between the differing herbs and spices. A real explosion of flavours.
I enjoyed the live music of an upbeat local trio at the hotel’s Bahia Grill that overlooks the Playa Blanca and, along with succulent steaks and fish, offers interestingly charred eggplant dip, wood-fired roasted cabbage, roasted cauliflower, grilled avocado and asparagus. And for my last night, at Pesce an Italian and Costa Rican fusion offering pastas and risottos, I chose the delicious local produce ‘lattuga del giardino’ salad to go with my lemon-crusted red snapper. Pure bliss, absolute heaven, total paradise. What a sensational country.
The Holiday Place, an ABTA and ATOL tour-operator, (Tel: +44 (0)20 7644 1770, Website: https://holidayplace.co.uk) offers tailor-made holidays and tours to Costa Rica including flights from London and other UK airports plus accommodation and transfers from £999 per person.
Adam Jacot de Boinod was a researcher for the first BBC television series QI, hosted by Stephen Fry. He wrote The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World, published by Penguin Books.
Photographs courtesy of Arenas Del Mar, Villa Punto de Vista, Vista Hermosa, Papagayo Luxury, Four Seasons Costa Rica Resort and Costa Rica Tourist Board