|All photos Nolan Gawron1/4 |All photos Nolan Gawron
That secret about Costa Rica being a prime travel destination slipped out a long time ago. Now with non-stop flight service from New York or Boston (newly added) to Liberia, it just got easier to explore the country’s once hard-to-reach Pacific Coast. Bostonians can now too wake up on a frosty New England morning, take a JetBlue flight, and be basking under the sunny skies of Liberia by lunchtime.
With takeoff-to-touchdown clocking in under six hours for either city, landing in Liberia provides a perfect jump-off for exploring the Guanacaste Province and the vast and varied terrains of the Northwest region of Costa Rica.
Stay at an eco-farm
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Costa Rica prides itself on eco-tourism, and Guanacaste offers plenty of options for the environmentally minded tourist.
Start your journey with a stay at the Buena Vista Lodge, about an hour’s drive from the airport — due to safety and terrain, not sheer distance, so let a hired driver navigate the rugged dirt roads and keep you from veering off the edge of cliffs.
An eco-farm on the side of the active Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, the rustic lodge offers both a peaceful escape from crowds, as well as the added thrill of activities like horseback riding, hiking, bird watching, waterslides and the Costa Rican tourist favorite, zip-lining.
Fit for both families and nature-loving couples, the lodge also offers trips to nearby mud baths and thermal springs heated naturally from the nearby volcano.
Each meal in the hotel’s five restaurants is made with ingredients grown on-premise. One of the only things not made here is the booze, which is consumed at sunset at the hilltop El Mirador Bar, where everyone gathers to watch an explosion of color descend over the nearby prairies and into the Papagayo Gulf.
If you stay true to their ideal, the only footprint you’ll leave behind at Buena Vista are the ones with your boots on your hike through the tropical forests.
From farm to five-star resort
For those seeking a more pampered experience with a more padded price tag, the nearby Papagayo Peninsula does not disappoint. This is the place to find some of the most remote and posh five-star resort options on the island. With a guard at the entrance to this gated community of hotels and condos, you know you’re in for different experience all together.
One option is the Andaz, a Hyatt property. Only one year old, the hotel has already been recognized as one of the best new resorts in the world, and it doesn’t take long to see why. Built into the hillside, this elegant example of modern architecture is the work of Costa Rica’s own Ronald Zurcher, and features a naturalist spirit with an influence of seed and shell shapes — not all that far removed from the graceful curves of the Sydney Opera House.
Located on 28 acres of oceanfront property with just over 150 rooms, the compound boasts a spa and three restaurants, each with a different menu, all locally sourced. At Chao Pescao, you’ll find one of the best-stocked bars and most creative bartenders in Costa Rica.
Not far from the marina filled with pricey yachts, the Andaz offers access to two private beaches, both quiet and calm. Due to its location on Culebra Bay, the waters are tranquil and free from waves, making it perfect for snorkeling and extended back-float sessions.
Just around sundown, the local howler monkeys re-populate the beachfront trees, and with a powerful roar let you know you’re quickly outnumbered. It seems clear that they’re reclaiming their beach for the night.
With its many ecosystems, Costa Rica’s enchanting forests and wetlands are home to wealth of wildlife. White-eyed coatis look for their next snack while butterflies, hummingbirds, toucans and macaws fill the skies. And there’s the plenty to keep you on your toes too. Bright green snakes wrap around trees like common garden hoses, and during one lunch a waiter pointed out the tarantula near this writer’s feet.
Whether it’s eco-farm or modern resort, there is no wrong way to experience Pura Vida.
Meaning “pure life,” Pura Vida is similar to “aloha” in Hawaiian — it’s a greeting, a farewell, and more than anything a way of life.