Monday, December 29, 2014

Pura Vida!

Numerous people list Costa Rica as a “must visit” vacation spot, and when given the chance to join a few friends, we took it! They were going to the Guanacaste region, which is only a few hour plane ride from DFW to the Liberia airport, and in the same time zone… “easy” travel destination for us!

Arriving at the airport, Russell and I were picked up by Giovanni (CocoTours.) He was recommended
by a friend of ours (an avid Costa Rican visitor.) We were informed by many that the roads are not well marked and driving can be difficult…I now agree with this! Giovanni took us to the first stop on our trip, Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort. (We snagged a great deal on Jetsetter!) On the drive there he explained that November was an ideal time to visit because low (rainy) season was just ending, so everything was still lush and green, yet it wasn’t always raining. He was right! The weather was absolutely beautiful, staying in the 80s during the day and cooling off just a bit each evening. After about 30 minutes, we were dropped off at our little piece of paradise for the next couple days.
The polite and attentive Andaz staff welcomed us into an open aired lobby surrounded by mountain views, and served a fresh glass of juice, while they checked us into our room. A golf cart picked Russell and me up for a quick tour of the grounds before arriving to our room. The ambiance was serene and romantic; just what you need for relaxation. The room was just as incredible…floor to ceiling glass doors opened to our balcony and from the rainfall shower! You truly felt as if you were in your own bungalow nestled in the rainforest. The resort provided a beach bag, complimentary flip flops and hats to take to the beach and pools.

Speaking of the beach and pool…there were several levels of infinity pools, and the beach offered free activities. We made sure to take advantage of the stand-up paddleboarding! I had thought most of our time would be spent at the “adult” pool, but since there were not many kids around, we stayed at the main pool area getting served delicious and strong cocktails. Russell enjoyed the drink that came in a coconut, and I loved their sangria! 
One of the “must do” items on my list for this trip was to zip line…if you are going to zip line, Costa Rica is the place to do it! Witch’s Rock Canopy Tour was a short 5 minute drive from Andaz, and they provided transportation. After some quick training, Russell and I joined another family and started our tour. They took us on 11 different lines…it was exhilarating! I also checked off another “must do” which was to see monkeys. While climbing to one of the zip lines, an entire family was swinging from tree to tree. The instructor mentioned that they usually do not come out this time of day. We got lucky!
Each night, we relaxed with a glass of wine on our tranquil balcony before heading to one of the resort restaurants. (Tip: Russell bought a couple bottles of wine at the duty free store once we arrived at the airport. This helped save us some money!) The first night we chose Ostra, their seafood spot. They welcomed us with a mixed, pineapple cocktail that gave me a new love of their Costa Rican liqueur, Cacique. It has a neutral taste, so you have to be careful…you can drink a lot without realizing! Ostra offered a ceviche bar. I am not a big fan because cilantro is often mixed in ceviche, but this allowed me to make it just the way I like, and it was delicious!
The following night we went to Chao Pescao, which has live music on Saturday nights. This restaurant is known for their array of “small plates” and mojitos. Unfortunately I wasn’t a fan of their mojitos, but the waitress quickly brought another cocktail, and ended up not charging for my that’s good service! Even though I didn’t care for their popular mojitos, we absolutely loved their Patacon, which is a popular dish in Costa Rica, and now I know why! This dish is fried plantain slices that you top with shredded beef and guacamole…YUM! Luckily the resort allowed us to extend our check out to 3:00 and we enjoyed the pool and Rio Bhongo restaurant on our last day before beginning the second part of our trip and heading to the house to meet our friends.

After some wonderful downtime and resort life, 
we were ready to experience Costa Rica a different way. Giovanni picked us up from Andaz and had us pulling up to our meeting spot after about an hour drive. The house was located in Playa Flamingo (still Guanacaste region,) and the owners were not kidding when they said you’d need a 4-wheel drive car for the 4km “trek” up to the house, but it was worth it. The views were like nothing I’ve seen before. It was exquisite. We couldn’t wait to take a dip in the infinity pool, and us girls jumped into the hammock with a glass of wine as soon as possible. This was going to be an incredible next few days. (As long as we watched out for scorpions!)

When we weren’t relaxing by the pool, we ventured down the 4km “trek” to explore. Giovanni had told us about Shell Beach (Playa Conchal)…literally a beach composed of billions of tiny shells. 
It was astonishing, and luckily not painful to walk on (actually a great exfoliator!) It was a bit difficult to find; we had to drive on the sand of another beach to get to it, but sure glad we did!  

The grounds keeper at the house, Diego, was extremely resourceful. His family owned a restaurant and market in town, and his father-in-law cooked dinner for us a couple nights. The food was marvelous. This was my first time to have a catered dinner like this…it’s something I could get used to!  We made sure to visit his family’s restaurant, Las Brisas. My friends loved the ceviche, and the large serving size! (I passed because of the cilantro.) We went to Soda Marcell a couple times because of the delicious fruit smoothies, and another restaurant, Sol y Mar was an experience. As we were eating, a family of monkeys joined us from the tree above. It was too cool!
One of my favorite parts of our trip was the Panache Catamaran cruise. They welcomed us aboard a beautifully clean and spacious sailboat for our snorkel and sunset expedition. The drinks were delicious and didn’t stop coming. I was disappointed in the clarity of the water and the lack of seeing any unique fish, but the spectacular scenery made up for it. They served us a good meal after we worked up an appetite swimming. This was the perfect way to wrap up our trip in Costa Rica.
The following morning, Russell and I dropped off our friends at the resort they were staying for the remainder of their trip to attend a wedding. It was probably one of the most difficult things to do knowing our vacation was coming to an end. We then made our way to the airport (be sure to remember the $29 per person exit tax that you have to pay.) 

Until next time Costa Rica…Pura Vida!