●Cocos Okeanos Aggressor & Wind Dancer – 209 Hudson Trace (Augusta, Georgia); 706-993-2531 or 800-348-2628; aggressor.com/cocos.php or aggressor.com/cocoswind.php; live-aboard dive accommodations that are luxurious and perfect for dive vacations.
●Costa Rican Bird Route – costaricanbirdroute.com; encompasses 13 far-flung nature reserves.
●Costa Rica Experts – 3166 North Lincoln Avenue, Suite 424; 773-935-1009 or 800-827-9046; costaricaexperts.com; highly regarded Costa Rican travel planners with good access to local faunal and floral experts.
●Arenal Nayara & Nayara Springs – 10 km from La Fortuna de San Carlos; 011-506-2479-1600; arenalnayara.com; beautiful; Nayara Springs is adjoining, adults-only property connected by swinging foot-bridge; try to stay at Nayara Springs (16 larger villas with spring-fed pools - be sure to ask for villa with volcano view, such as #4).
●Lost Iguana Resort – La Fortuna de San Carlos (1.5 km north of Arenal Dam, Arenal Volcano National Park); 011-506-2267-6148; lostiguanaresort.com; luxurious resort (3 out of 5 stars).
●El Silencio Lodge & Spa – Bajos del Toro; 011-506-2761-0301 or 888-437-7111; elsilenciolodge.com.
●Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort – La Fortuna de San Carlos (Arenal Volcano National Park); 011-506-2519-1900; tabacon.com; tucked away high in volcanic rainforest, on 750 acres; spa incorporates naturally occurring hot springs; 5 stars.
Sights & Sites
●Arenal Volcano – 45 miles outside San Jose; arenal.net/arenal-volcano-overview.htm; active volcano.
●Ocotal Diving – Playa Ocotal (at Ocotal Beach Resort); 011-506-2670-0321; ocotaldiving.com; 20 island scuba diver paradise; pristine indigo water; visibility typically ranges 18-75'; currents strong; famous for manta ray sighting; to increase chances of being in water with highest number of rays, visit January-March, months during which odds of being near giant manta rays, devil manta rays, bat rays, stingrays, spotted eagle rays, bullseye electric rays & cow-nosed rays highest; visibility best September-March & also best time to encounter whale sharks, tiger sharks, killer whales, humpback whales, pilot whales & spinner dolphins; fish found living here, including barracudas, spiny scorpion fish, lemon-colored barberfish, king angelfish & bright-striped Cortez angelfish; when diving Catalina Islands, do not miss dive at Bat Islands (Murcielago) where can dive with Bull Sharks May-November; sea turtles, as well as sharks, also common; among most popular dive sites surrounding Catalina Islands are Big Cupcake (swim alongside angelfish schools), as well as Little Cupcake (abundant parrotfish), Dirty Rock (great visibility), Two Hats (incredible wall diving) & Big Catalina (white-tip reef sharks & giant manta rays).
GUANACASTE (includes Peninsula Papagayo)
Bars & Nightclubs
●Chao Pescao – 253 Final de la Ruta (Peninsula Papagayo, at Andaz Peninsula Papagayo); 011-506-2690-1234; papagayo.andaz.hyatt.com/en/hotel/dining/chao-pescao-small-plates-bar.html; cocktails.
●Monkey’s Head (Cabeza de Mono) – Playa Hermosa; costaricadiving.net; volcanic rock tower; cruising eagle rays; nearby is Virador Pinnacle.
●Tortuga – Meros (off Playas del Coco); costarica-scuba.com/costa-rica-wreck-dives; small, sunken fishing boat at 60'; small cave nearby.
●Andaz Peninsula Papagayo – 253 Final de la Ruta (Peninsula Papagayo); 011-506-2690-1234; papagayo.andaz.hyatt.com; hidden on bluff & attached to world-class marina.
●Bosque del Mar – Playa Hermosa; 011-506-2672-0046; hotelplayahermosa.com.
●Las Catalinas – Peninsula Papagayo; 011-506-654-4004 or 866-357-3872; lascatalinascr.com; can rent houses in this developed, pedestrian-only community.
●Exclusive Resorts – Peninsular Papagayo; 011-44-20-7101-7911 or 866-863-2688; exclusiveresorts.com; 21 gorgeous private villas.
●Four Seasons at Peninsula Papagayo – Peninsula Papagayo (Liberia); 011-506-2696-0000 or 800-819-5053; fourseasons.com; suites perched on stilts resemble luxury treehouses; monkeys; good food.
●Harmony Hotel – Guiones; 506-2-682-4114; harmonynosara.com; low-key beach, surf, and yoga resort; located on pristine beach; superb bird-watching base.
●El Mangroove – Papagayo Bay (Peninsula Papagayo); 011-506-2291-7750 or 011-506-4701-0000; elmangroove.net; boutique-y.
●Hotel Punta Islita – Plaza Mayor (Playa Samara); 011-506-2231-6122 or 866-4464-053; hotelpuntaislita.com; refreshingly majestic hideaway in quiet cove; good food; infinity pool.
●Paradisus Playa Conchal Beach Resort – Bahia Brasilito (Playa Conchal, Ciudad de Santa Cruz); 011-506-2654-4123; solmelia.com.
●Reserva Conchal – Brasilito (1 km west of Country Day School); 011-506-2654-4000 or 800-298-6723; reservaconchal.com.
●Rio Celeste Hideaway – La Paz de Rio Celeste (Bijagua de Upala, 1 km southeast of Tenorio Volcano National Park); 011-506-2206-4000; riocelestehideaway.com.
●Villa Manzu – Peninsula Papagayo; 001-949-264-1509; villamanzu.com; $15K per night.
●Chao Pescao – 253 Final de la Ruta (Peninsula Papagayo, at Andaz Peninsula Papagayo); 011-506-2690-1234; papagayo.andaz.hyatt.com/en/hotel/dining/chao-pescao-small-plates-bar.html.
●Aquacenter Diving – Flamingo Marina Playa; 011-506-8877-7420; aquacenterdiving.com.
●Safari Surf School – Guiones; 506-2-682-0113; safarisurfschool.com.
●Witch’s Rock Canopy Tour – Tamarindo (Peninsula Papagayo); 011-506-2696-7171; witchsrockcanopytour.com; 11 different cables to zip down.
Sights & Sites
●Marina Papagayo – Peninsula Papagayo; 011-506-2690-3600; marinapapagayo.com; world-class; condos available to rent.
●Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park – near Liberia; 011-506-666-5051; acguanacaste.ac.cr; great for hiking, in particular; active volcano.
●Santa Rosa National Park (Parque Nacional Santa Rosa) – 22 miles north of Liberia; 011-506-695-5598; costarica-nationalparks.com/santarosanationalpark.html; 1st national park established in Costa Rica, created in 1971; fauna includes coyotes, peccaries, White-nosed Coatis, Baird’s tapirs, sea turtles & terrestrial turtles; 3 monkey species include Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey, Mantled Howler & White-headed Capuchin; cat species include cougar, jaguar, jaguarundi & ocelot; around 250 bird species.
●Witch’s Rock (Roca Bruja) – Tamarindo (Peninsula Papagayo); 5-story rock made famous in 1966 movie, Endless Summer.
PUERTO VIEJO DE TALAMANCA (Manzanillo, Playa Chiquita, Puerto Viejo & Punta Uva)
Bars & Nightclubs
●Maxi’s Bar & Restaurant – Manzanillo; 011-506-2759-9073; authentic and open-air; avoid ceviche.
●Le Cameleon – Playa Cocles (Puerto Viejo); 011-506-2750-0501; lecameleonhotel.com; 23 rooms; 3 glass and wood buildings; foliage framed pool.
●Casa Viva Beach Houses – Punta Uva; 011-506-2750-0089; puntauva.net; 1- or 2-bedroom bungalows on beach.
●Shawandha Lodge – Playa Chiquita; 011-506-2750-0018; shawandhalodge.com; upscale hotel; Mayan-inspired design; asking for larger bungalow.
●Caribeans Cafe – Puerto Viejo; 011-506-8836-8930; caribeanscoffee.com; great place for breakfast or afternoon milkshakes.
●Jungle Love – Playa Chiquita; 011-506-2750-0162; junglelovecafe.com; California and Caribbean-style food.
●La Pecora Nera – Cocles Beach (Puerto Viejo); 011-506-2750-0490; elegant Italian food.
●Restaurante Elena Brown – Puerto Viejo; 011-506-2750-0165; well-priced, good, local food; try pollo a la Elena (chicken fajitas with spicy coconut milk sauce).
●Walking Tours – Florentino Grenald; 011-506-8841-2732; informative tours of Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.
Sights & Sites
●Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge – Talamanca; 011-506-2759-9100; unique national parks; 12,382 acres of rain forest, swamp and farmland, and 10,950 marine acres, home to 1 of Costa Rica’s 2 live coral reefs; begins at Cocles River, just south of Puerto Viejo, and continues south to Sixaola River, at Panamanian border; vast acreage protects almost 70% southern Caribbean coast, including some of country’s most pristine beaches, towering mountains, lowland rainforest, endangered swamps and unique ecosystems; park’s coastline is lined with fine, white sand beaches and aquamarine waters; Costa Rica’s only jolillo palm and sojo tree populations are in Pantano Punta Mona (Monkey Point Swamp), 988-acre marshland near refuge’s southeastern tip; park’s beaches serve as important nesting spots for leatherback, green, hawksbill and loggerhead sea turtles; just south of Monkey Point, large red mangrove swamp provides protection to natural oyster bank; Gandoca River Estuary is home to spawning Atlantic tarpon, caiman, manatee and other water-loving species; farther inland, rolling farmland blends into dense rain forest; white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, 2- and 3-toed sloths, iguanas, and many other animals populate forest canopy, while tapirs scour forest floor, leaf-cutter ants march along ground and colorful crabs scuttle about.
PUNTARENAS (includes Isla del Caño, Manuel Antonio, Monte Verde & Osa Peninsula)
●Dirty Rock – Cocos Island (off Puntarenas); whc.unesco.org/en/list/820; arrange trip on Cocos Okeanos Aggresso (see above); amazing diving; can see billfish, hammerheads.
●Aguila de Osa Inn – Bahía Drake (Osa Peninsula); 011-506-2296-2190; aguiladeosa.com; 13 rooms and suites with cathedral ceilings; bar and restaurant.
●Arenas del Mar – Quepos (Manuel Antonio); 011-506-2777-2777; arenasdelmar.com.
●Hotel Belmar – Monte Verde (Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve); 011-506-2645-5201; hotelbelmar.net; spectacular views and personalized service in rustic atmosphere; dark-paneled rooms near jungle, overlooking gardens.
●Corcovado Lodge Tent Camp – Bahía Drake (Osa Peninsula, 3 miles northeast from Carate); 011-506-8384-1679 or 831-345-8484; corcovadolodge.com.
●Gaia Hotel & Reserve – Quepos (Manuel Antonio, Carretera Quepos a Manuel Antonio, km 2.7); 011-506-777-9797 or 800-226-2515; gaiahr.com; clinging atop mountain within 13-acre private nature reserve; concrete, stainless steel, and stone staircases lead to resort’s different levels; water cascades from levels into multi-tiered pool or into channel along spectacular open-air dining pavilion or down spa’s stone walls; studios (smallest accommodations) are spare and urbane with wide views over green hillsides to Pacific Ocean; breakfasts included; January-March is hot but clear days and little rain; Deluxe Suites are higher up in complex and have private, outdoor space; Gaia Suite has private pool.
●Kura Design Villas – Uvita; 011-506-839-28150; kuracostarica.com; perched high on remote coastal ridge, among lush tropical forests of Ballena Marina National Park; dramatic views over Pacific Ocean; built by local architect and biologist couple; 6 villas with sleek design and sustainability programme that demands minimal environmental footprint; no TVs on site.
●Lapa Rios Ecolodge – Puerto Jimenez (Osa Peninsula); 011-506-2735-5130 or 011-506-2735-5281; laparios.com; wilderness lodge and bungalows along 1K acres of rain forest ridges near Corcovado National Park; simple, top-of-line eco-lodge; 16 private bungalows, set 300 feet above-ground; resort has private waterfall in park’s center.
●Makanda by Sea – La Mariposa (Manuel Antonio); 011-506-2777-0442; makanda.com; bright, spacious, white-&-cream villas; expensive; hypnotic views over jungle-framed Pacific Ocean; California king-size beds face sliding glass doors that lead to large balconies with ocean views & hammocks; modern kitchens not necessary for breakfast, which is delivered to your room; windows behind bed maximize natural light (no curtains or shades); small Japanese-style garden out back; lovely, colorful pool & Sunspot Bar and Grill; 15-minute trek through jungle to tiny private beach.
●Monteverde Lodge & Gardens – 200 m south of Ranario de Monteverde; 011-506-645-5057, 011-506-257-0766, or 011-506-222-0333; costaricaexpeditions.com; rooms have vaulted ceilings, bathtubs, and great views; table abuts angled bay window overlooking 15 acres of grounds, perfect place to have coffee and bird-watch; restaurant and bar congregate around enormous but cozy lobby fireplace; whirlpool tub in enormous solarium.
●Parador – Quepos (Manuel Antonio); 011-506-2777-1414; hotelparador.com; pretty; billed as “boutique resort.”
●Zephyr Palace – Garabito (Herradura de Jaco); 011-506-2637-0505; zephyrpalace.com.
●Kapi Kapi – Quepos (Manuel Antonio); 011-506-2777-5049; restaurantekapikapi.com.
●Product C – Centro Comercial Playa Carmen (Malpais); 011-506-2640-1026; product-c.com; fresh fish restaurant; emphasizes ceviche, lobster bisque and oysters.
Sights & Sites
●Ballena Marina National Park – Uvita; 011-506-223-5567; costa-rica-guide.com/Natural/Ballena.html; whale-watching spot.
●Corcovado National Park – Carate (Peninsula de Osa); 011-506-2735-5036; corcovadoguide.com.
●Isla del Caño – 20 kms offshore from Drake Bay; govisitcostarica.com/region/city.asp?cID=404; small island in Bahia de Corcovado (Corcovado Bay); Caño Island National Park popular tourist destination for whale watching.
●Isla del Coco – 330 miles off coast from Puntarenas; whc.unesco.org/en/list/820; island designated as National Park & UNESCO World Heritage Site; surrounded by deep waters with counter-currents, popular with scuba divers for hammerhead sharks, rays, dolphins & other large marine species (among top 10 diving spots in world); famous for being location of Benito Bonito’s lost treasure.
●Manuel Antonio National Park – Quepos (Manuel Antonio); 011-506-2777-5185; manuelantoniopark.com; Costa Rica’s smallest national park; 4 beaches: Manuel Antonio; Espadilla Sur; Escondido; and Playita; 1st separated from 2nd by tombolo (natural land bridge formed by sand accumulations); roughly hour-long hike from Espadilla to top of Punta Catedral (100 m); both Manuel Antonio and Espadilla Sur contain tidal pools and offer snorkeling.
●Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve – Carretera a Reserva de Monteverde (Monte Verde); 011-541-359-1963; monteverdeinfo.com/monteverde.htm; hiking trails & suspension bridges.
●Palmar Sur (Stone Spheres) – Finca 6 (Batambal, Diquis Delta, 5-hour drive from San Jose); landmarksfoundation.org/projects_diquis.shtml; assortment of over 300 petrospheres (located on both Diquís Delta & Isla del Caño); locally known as Las Bolas; excavations center on “Farm 6,” dating back to Aguas Buenas (300-800 CE) & Chiriquí Periods (800-1550 CE); UNESCO World Heritage Site.
SAN JOSE (includes Esterillos Este & Santa Ana)
●Alma del Pacifico – Playa Esterillos Este; 011-720-524-5096 or 866-495-7625; almadelpacifico.com.
●Doris Metropolitan – Santa Ana, west of San Jose (behind church); 011-506-2282-2221; dorismetropolitan.com; urban-style, American chophouse; serves pineapple-fed, local beef (considerably more tender than standard Costa Rican beef).
●Gourmet Pizza & Wings – Central Avenue (100 meters south & 25 meters west from Morazan Park); 011-506-2221-5255; facebook.com/GourmetPizzaAndWings.
●Product C – Santa Ana, Centro Comercial Terraflas (150 ms north of Cruz Roja de Santa Ana); 011-506-2282-7767; product-c.com; fresh fish restaurant; emphasizes ceviche, lobster bisque and oysters.
●Product C – Avenida Escazu (San Miguel de Escazu, Centro Comercial, in IMAX theater building); 506-2288-5570, ext 203; product-c.com; fresh fish restaurant; emphasizes ceviche, lobster bisque and oysters.
Sights & Sites
●National Museum – Calle 17 (Antiguo Cuartel Bella Vista); 011-506-257-1433; museocostarica.go.cr.
●Hotel Interamericano – town center (near train tracks); 011-506-2556-0142; hotelinteramericano.com; unprepossessing.
●Hotel Wagelia – Avenida 4; 011-506-2556-1566; hotelwageliaturrialba.com; has air-conditioning.
●Rainforest World – 011-506-2556-0014; rforestw.com; tours.
●Rio Locos Tropical Tours – 011-506-2556-8035; whiteh20.com; request Chaco as guide; run Pacuare River.