Adam Jacot de Boinod enjoys the exotic wildlife, luxurious hotels and pristine beaches in Costa Rica
How do howler monkeys generate so much noise? They are actually the second loudest animal in the world after the blue whale and release their voluminous, plangent magic by using the wind?
The tropical exuberance of animal life was utterly enchanting with new species offering up a daily surprise. From the fishy, to the furry and the feathered. I felt immersed in the natural wonder of the many birds and animals.
I even looked through the index of the definitive book on Costa Rican birds to find exquisite and exotic names like dickcissel, marbled godwit, Nicaraguan grackle, yellow-faced grassquit, Bonaparte’s gull, semiplumbeous hawk, red-legged honeycreeper, killdeer, red knot, scaly-throated leaftosser, limpkin, lanceolated monklet, rufous motmot.
I arrived late at night at my first place to stay at Arenas Del Mar www.arenasdelmar.com to sleep to the sounds of the pounding Pacific to then awaken to witness from my balcony the long strand of Manuel Antonio beach. The hotel’s architecture is respectful and harmonious with the environment. The décor is subdued. There are wooden floors, cream and green tiles in the bathroom and white linen on my king-sized bed. My ‘ocean view’ room had an indoor, outdoor feel with no pictures needed as it’s all on the outside, it’s all about the view.
I took a boat with Tres Ninas Tours www.tresninastours.com all the way from Quepos as far as Uvita which was at high tide when I got there but interestingly right above its famous whale-shaped beach is the favoured spot to which whales come and mate. It was wonderful to be able to stop where and when I wanted as the 27 foot boat was owned by the charismatic, enterprising, young Mikey Erickson, my host for the day, and this scuba diving, surfing seafarer provided me with a bespoke champagne and gourmet service.
Very close by, down a discreet gravel lane, is a one-of-a-kind Villa Punto de Vista www.villapuntodevista.com where I was next to stay. Every room has its own colour. The passion room is red and the blue bedroom on the fourth floor has a very special James Bond- like feel with a stunning prospect through glass over the coast. The interior has teak wood, there are triangular doors and roofing made from rattan and bamboo. All six storeys demonstrate David Konwiser, the architect’s, passionate attention to detail and love of travel. There are floral displays of the hanging lobster clawed heliconia, stylish wooden artefacts and vivid paintings, Buddha statues and shrines, napkin rings resembling watermelons and even the respective number of contemporary artefacts to tell me which floor I was on.
Up on the sixth floor I could have done either Ashtanga or ‘Surfer’ yoga. After all the latter makes sense given the combined disciplines of extreme balance, endurance, stamina and fluidity. Instead I had a rooftop massage urging ‘total body awareness’. Here’s where the hammocks are and the dance floor of this ultimate multi-purpose chill-out area, equipped with the latest mechanical devices.
Eight years old, this building is home to up to 30 people and, with a high season from November to May, the villa’s guests come from around the globe as far as Russia, America and Brazil. A new villa, a sister property, is under construction to sleep from late 2019 onwards a further 20 to house the extra wedding guests that come in increasing numbers to the villa typically for a five day celebration with the ceremony held on the majestic beach below, a five minutes walk away down a shaded track. Rented together, this dual villa private resort will be linked via a comfortable staircase to keep the party in full flow.
Two miles north, at Quepos, the nearest airport, I took a domestic flight from the most informal of places consisting of a football field for an airstrip and where the open air ticket office was surrounded by stray chickens. Luckily my plane took off as many had been grounded due to the weather and I got to Liberia Airport in Guanacaste in an hour instead of what would taken five hours by car.
For I had come further up the Pacific coast to Guanacaste. Papagayo is said by some to be shaped like a fire-breathing dragon and means parrot rather than the often quoted father rooster). I loved exploring this peninsula which, along with its two prestigious hotels, has beautiful villas and developments that have become vacation homes and residences to the wealthy looking for sustainable luxury, along with all that it entails: peaceful, unspoiled nature and wildlife, beauty, excitement and ‘pura vida’.
It is very much an American conceit with its buggies the most common form of transport for visitors. The 18 hole golf course, designed by Arnold Palmer and with Ernie Els as its ambassador, has games played out on ‘paspalum’ the sumptuous carpet-like grass. Near the main entrance there’s a marina to dock 355 slips where boats for cruising, yachting and sport fishing, particularly for both the black and blue marlin.
I stayed next at Vista Hermosa, Papagayo Luxury www.papagayoluxury.com. Bang in the middle of the peninsula, this ten-year-old condo is part of the Las Terrazas complex of 16 homes. I met with owner Jane Moore who pointed out some of her family’s wonderful artefacts. There are vivid contemporary oil paintings from Haiti, Colombia and Dominican Republic that reflect the seafaring options of the peninsula. There’s also a Thai temple rubbing and a Namibian framed metal piece and the host’s photographs of capuchin monkeys and a red-eyed tree frog that she took herself locally.
As for the furnishing, there’s a deep blue antique mahogany sleigh bed from Haiti, a Balinese wooden panel hanging on one wall, a Moroccan lantern, antique Chinese red and black wooden side tables, Vietnamese lacquer ware and Guatemalan woven cushions. All very luxurious and stylish.
I enjoyed a wonderfully calm boat trip across the bay with Elvision Adventure Tours www.elvisionadventuretours.com. I loved the stunning rock called Monkey Island, so-called after its resemblance, as my three hours circuit came to an end with me being dropped off right by my condo.
My final place to stay, the prestigious and stunning Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica www.fourseasons.com/costarica. It’s very evidently the pre-eminent hotel in the region and even has its own kiosk at Liberia airport.
The New York based boutique Meyer Davis Studio has completed a recent extensive reimagining of the resort reflecting the natural beauty of Costa Rica. I savoured the airy indoor spaces moving from the lobby to the guest rooms, restaurants and lounges. Like an unfolding journey I discovered each space organically flowing with its ambient music into the next and creating a sense of casual luxury as well as effortless sophistication. The stunning new design plays with space, form, texture and light and weaves together natural colours and elements, local woods and indigenous art.
There are Residence Villas, Resort Residences and even Estate Homes. The Canopy Suites offer real privacy and have rooms with triangular interior roofs and rounded sofas to offset the square dimensions while the veranda railings echo the shape of the branches. The outside of the standard Guest Rooms have three-pronged buttresses that also echo the branches of the surrounding trees.
As Isadore Sharp, the Canadian founder of the Four Seasons Hotel Group, rightly says: “some of life’s fondest memories are made around the dinner table” and for the most typical guests who get to stay a week at the resort it’s wonderful that there’s a healthy choice of restaurants.
I couldn’t get enough of this delightful country. I have to go back. Whenever but soon.
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.
“The Holiday Place”, an ABTA and ATOL tour-operator, (tel no 020 7644 1770, 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.