Escape to Costa Rica
LYSA ALLMAN-BALDWIN | 3/28/2013, 12:26 p.m.
It was about 11 p.m. when we emerged from Customs and met our driver for the two-hour drive from San Jose to the Puntarenas region, Costa Rica's largest province, known as the "Pearl of the Pacific."
A slightly humid breeze gently jostled our bodies; we were still feeling fully rested after the short three-and-a-half hour flight from Houston. Although night had fallen, we could still catch glimpses of the regions as we rode along; we saw a very modest, almost rural community near the airport, eventually broadening out to wide, four-lane highways bordered by scenic mountainous terrain.
The last 45 minutes raised our excitement level a notch--lofty trees and lush, flowering shrubs began to emerge, as if purposely poking out the crowns of their heads below the moonlight to deliver just a taste of what we would experience for the next five days.
Finally, the van began ascending very steep, narrow, barely one-and-a-half-car-width hills, winding upward to the crest and coming to rest at the semi-circular porte cochere of a gorgeous Spanish-inspired hotel: the Parador Resort & Spa.
Breathtaking beauty all around
The mouths and eyes of both my traveling companion and I were agape when we awoke the next morning to the melodic chirping of the birds. We delightedly took in our first glimpse of the dazzling water of the Pacific Ocean.
From the balcony of our luxurious fifth floor suite of the Las Suites building, towering like a beacon high above the 12-acre Parador Resort property, we had the most spectacular view--the ocean peacefully laid out before us, gracefully embracing three rocky prominences rising majestically to touch the sun-drenched sky. Below us was a profusion of luscious, tropical foliage burst forth in emerald, ivy, jade and avocado hues punctuated with vivid fuchsia, goldenrod, violet and amber blossoms. In the giant trees, the spider and howler monkeys casually leapt from limb to limb, expressing their pleasure at what I would assume to be the most carefree of lifestyles--nowhere to go, nothing to do.
Our luxury Caribbean-themed suite was encompassed by a voluminous 20-foot ceiling. Included were a comfortable king-size bed flanked by contemporary ebony nightstands, a full-size suede couch and ottoman, coffee table, glass-top dining table for two, cocktail bar and fridge and flat-screen TV. The wall-partitioned bathroom area featured a Jacuzzi tub, his and hers vanities, granite glass-enclosed shower, toilet room and desk/counter area.
Behind our home, the dense rainforest revealed a plethora of indigenous trees and shrubbery, with a new marina and beach just a stone's throw away from the property in the distance. To say we had arrived at heaven-on-earth would be an understatement. And we hadn't even left the room yet.
Home away from home
Family-owned and operated, the Parador Resort & Spa is an award-winning hotel and Costa Rica's premier eco-luxury resort. The name "Parador" stems from the Spanish word "parar," to stop. In Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, paradors are a type of luxury hotel usually found in historic buildings such as castles or monasteries.
And it's the admiration for this distinctive style of lodging that the patriarch of the proprietary Schanz family from Spain desired to inspire. In fact, the lion's share of the works of art and accoutrement here stem from Schanz's private collection, amassed over a 40-year span. It's one of the things that convey such a unique flavor to this Central American paradise.
The Parador features 129 rooms, each one highlighted by a garden, rainforest or ocean view, situated in four buildings situated throughout the property. One building is also accessible by an open-air funicular featuring picturesque ocean views. Guests can choose from Garden and Garden Plus, Tropical, Premium and Premium Plus Rooms, Vista and Vista Pacific Suites, two lavish Vista Master Suites or the Cristobal Colon Presidential Suite with over 1,800 square feet of magnificence. Three breathtaking pools (two of which are adult-only), a fitness center, tennis courts, souvenir shop and full boutique and private rainforest hiking trails span the property.
One of my favorite diversions here was the Pacifica Spa facility, situated on a sloping hillside. Inside this inviting, aromatic two-story structure, you'll find a spa boutique, comfortable manicure and pedicure rooms, men and women's locker rooms, five intimate body treatment rooms, a Jacuzzi and cold plung and a Swiss shower and steam room with the veranda relaxation area overlooking the verdant rainforest just beyond. After spending about three hours there one night for a body scrub and wrap, followed by a one-hour deep-tissue massage, I was greeted in the relaxation area with a complimentary champagne flute filled with yogurt and granola and a delightful fruit plate. It was the perfect end to one of the most memorable experiences I had here.
Dining options at the Parador are plentiful, from the casual Don Juan European-style piano lounge to the Latin-fusion menu-inspired El Quijote, El Galeon for light lunch fare, the Sancho Panza Bar, sushi at Sushi Fune and light and healthy options at the La Fragata Restaurant & Tapas Bar. For a special, intimate occasion for two to 10 guests, opt for the La Reina and their elegant medieval-style dining room.
For me, one of its most meaningful highlights is the wonderful staff: a close-knit group of folks from all over Costa Rica and further afield that regard each other, and their guests, like family. It's palpable in every area and aspect of the resort.
And judging by the multitude of autographed celebrity photos adorning one elongated lobby wall, it's clear that when money is no object, these A-listers chose the Parador. Yet the Parador is very unpretentious, approachable and affordable, with prices ranging from $200 to $600 per night, which includes an outstanding daily breakfast buffet and everything the resort has to offer.
At the activities desk, guests can sign up for off-property zip-lining, parasailing, deep-sea fishing, surfing, white water rafting, horseback riding and other Costa Rican adventures. You can even sign on for a nocturnal rainforest hike on the property (it was amazing!).
In case you missed it, the Parador Resort & Spa offers something for everyone.
More adventures in Costa Rica
In our next sojourn, we manage to tear ourselves away from this hilltop paradise to explore more of Punta Quepos, one of the most beautiful regions of Costa Rica.
- Costa Rica Tourism Board: 011-506-2299-5800, www.VisitCostaRica.com
- Go Visit Costa Rica: 800-807-6475, 858-581-9209, www.govisitcostarica.com
- Parador Resort & Spa: 877-506-1414, www.hotelparador.com
Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website.