Costa Rica Without the Zip-lines

February 23, 2015
The refreshing glass of pineapple juice offered at check-in was a sign of things to come - fresh fruit, delicious food, and the highest levels of friendly service. We were looking out over the Gulf of Papagayo in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica,  enjoying our welcome drink, when I spotted our first monkey - another promising sign, this one a preview of the plentiful wildlife we'd be seeing on this trip. Costa Rica is known for many things - zip-lining, surfing and volcanoes being perhaps the most obvious, with their fabulous coffee also on my list. We had come here to relax in the sun, watch the birds, and perhaps take the chance for some mild adventure (although I may be the only person to leave the country without screaming my way down a wire line!) The eco-concious Andaz Papagayo was our home for the week - a beautifully designed resort built into the hillside, with a bamboo motif. The view of the Gulf from our room (and shower!) was breathtaking, and I spent many hours on the balcony with a cup of the local coffee, watching the birds and monkeys go by. The thoughtful folks at the Andaz made us feel right at home with some local snacks in the room - an unusual fruit known as Granadilla, and some traditional coconut sweets. After a couple of days relaxing on the beach, we decided to take a float trip on the Corobici River, to get a closer look at the flora and fauna. Pedro, from Bestrips Tours, arrived in a 4x4, and took us on an entertaining ninety minute drive to the river. He was constantly spotting things to tell us about - the strange-looking coati by the side of the road, the schools where he proudly told us education is free for everyone...and the McDonalds and Burger King (sigh!). The journey went by in a flash. When we arrived at the river, we jumped into a small inflatable, with Marco paddling, and Pedro as our nature guide - it turns out he's an enthusiastic birder, and had also appeared on TV with Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter. After half an hour of spotting osprey, boat-billed herons, motmots and iguanas, Pedro excitedly pointed to some movement in the river. "Look at the eyes" he said... and we realized we were in crocodile waters (did I mention we were in a small inflatable raft?!) Sure enough, a little further on, we saw a seven foot crocodile sunning himself on the bank. Suddenly, I was grateful that Pedro had some crocodile-wrestling experience! At the end of the float trip, we stopped for a tasty lunch of fresh fish, then took a detour along bumpy roads to a hidden waterfall where we swam underneath the cascading water (not the kind of place a large tour bus would take you!). Then we made a final stop to sample the product of a local coffee roaster, with a chance to learn about the beans and the process. Spending time at the Andaz resort (which has just been added to the Travel and Leisure It List for 2015) was an experience in itself. With two small bay-side beaches on the property, gorgeous infinity pools, access to a gulf beach at the Prieta Beach club, and trails throughout the area for monkey and bird watching, we enjoyed several days exploring the area. The Forest Walk one morning started near a harmless-looking hole in the ground, which apparently was the home of a 5' boa constrictor; took us past some ancient graves; and ended in a brief scramble down their "ropes course" (not quite zip-lining, but still got the blood pumping!). Another morning, we found a troop of howler monkeys, and a capucin white-faced monkey, hanging out a half-mile from the beach, and they put on a twenty minute performance for us in the trees. On our last day, Pedro took us inland towards the Rincon de la Viejo volcano. Another bumpy 90 minute ride brought us to the Borinquen resort for an ATV tour through the forest. After a couple of quick laps around the parking lot to test out our rides, we headed up the steep slopes of the volcano. The ATVs seemed to have a mind of their own, and it took a while - and a couple of heart-thumping mistakes - to get comfortable. As our guide took us along some pretty torturous, muddy paths, our efforts were rewarded with an incredible view over the Guanacaste lowlands, and a visit to a beautiful waterfall. After lunch, we treated ourselves to some time in the hot springs - complete with a natural steam room over bubbling volcanic water, smearing ourselves with volcanic mud (good for the skin!), and a dip in natural hot water pools. A very relaxing way to end the trip. Papagayo Peninsula, also home to a Four Seasons, offers a pleasant combination of top-class resorts, a chance to see amazing wildlife, and access to some of the best sights and activities that Costa Rica has to offer. And yes, there is zip-lining nearby if you want to scream!    

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