Earlier this week I returned home from a few days in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. As a guest of the Four Seasons Costa Rica in Peninsula Papagayo, I joined a small group to experience the resort as well as do a little bit of volunteer work and sight-seeing in one of the planet’s most beautiful locations.
It was my first time in Costa Rica, a country that left me speechless (even what little I saw of it!) Beautiful, safe, warm and loving, I understand why so many of my friends are repeat visitors to this Central American country. There’s an immediate dose of relaxation that hits you the moment you exit your plane in Costa Rica. It’s the kind of vibe that can only be made in a place such as this. It’s as if the natural beauty of the country flows through the veins of its citizens in a way you feel internally. And this city dweller was ready to absorb it, too.
I arrived in Guanacaste to wet heat, neither oppressive nor friendly. With my documents in order I slid through customs in record time and met a driver who graciously met me with a cool towel and a bottle of water before we drove the 40 miles in darkness. And by darkness I mean the thick black patches of night you can’t find in a city. Would the coastline be a few miles behind this dark swatch of night? Rolling pastures? Fields of sugar cane? Mountains in the distance? I guess I’d have to wait until morning to find out.
I assembled the mojito ingredients that were waiting for me in my room: ice, lime juice, Costa Rican Rum, freshly plucked mint leaves and a bamboo muddler and sugar cane swizzle stick. It was exactly what I needed after two flights and 1 delay and man oh man did those mojitos go down smoothly. I was pretty exhausted and climbed into the bed of my villa.
Remember when I said I arrived in the darkness of night? I had no idea what was beyond my deck but I could sense there was a hillside below. It just sounded that way.
Well folks, I woke up to this.
Yea. A crazy unbelievable view of the ocean and lush coastline with a few islands off in the distance. And I spent many moments just staring at the view, listening to the wildlife and realizing how beautiful this place is. And I went swimming.
Speaking of wildlife, I was surrounded by some beautiful creatures.
These little guys snuck into my room looking for food. They’re called Urracas (magpies) and they were loud. Yet beautiful. And these capuchin monkeys were also outside my window one morning and started screeching after I laughed at something in my usual shrilly tone. Who knew?
The next morning we toured the property, getting to check out all the programs and amenities of the Four Seasons. It’s a gorgeous resort with beautiful rooms set in the hillside. Numerous restaurants, breathtaking views, with one of the best rooms I’ve ever stayed in (outdoor shower, hello!), it’s easy to see why this resort wins accolades and awards. The service? Perfection. And if you go, you must visit the spa. Promise me that. I also loved that it was so family friendly and included tons of activities for children and teens as well as really beautiful spots for the parents to get away. Not that parents need to get away from their children. Or maybe they do. I don’t know. Ask me in a few years.
After touring the resort we headed to the Witch’s Rock Canopy Tour in Guanacaste to go ziplining through the trees. Or to Face Fears And Death While Dangling Above A Waterfall. Friends, you should know that I got no joy out of this activity at all. In fact, I got stuck between two platforms because I was braking too much. And at that moment in time my worst fears came to life and I realized I would rather be in any other situation than where I was, period. I will never do it again. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t learn from it. It conquered no fears, crossed nothing off a proverbial bucket list. But I’m glad I tried it. There you have it.
Pretty soon my travel mates and I were safely back on ground and ready for much safer activities.
Speaking of travel mates, have I introduced them? It was a great group of people, including Kelly Bensimon, Danny Seo, Bradley Irion, Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere and blogger and writer Kristen Chase of Motherhood Uncensored.
And yea, if the name Kelly sounds familiar it’s because you might know her as a Real Housewife Of New York on Bravo. God I love that woman.
I think the greatest highlight of the trip involved working with the Four Seasons and their program called Creciendo Juntos, or Growing Together. This program began in 2001 as a way of pairing up guests of the Four Seasons Costa Rica with locals in need. In an effort to create a more meaningful travel experience, Four Seasons and Peninsula Papagayo created custom-designed volunteer programs based on a visitor’s goals, budget and time schedule. For example, we headed to a small school outside the resort and painted a fence that surrounded the entire school. We were greeted by students and learned that the kids were bummed out that their modest school looked as if it has seen better days. If there’s anything about Costa Rica you should know it’s that there is almost a 96% literacy rate and education is king. It’s a right for all its citizens and they do not take it lightly. Knowing how important it is to everyone it made sense that the kids deserved a nice new paint job as they all love coming to school. They’re some of the brightest, most beautiful kids I’ve ever seen and it was an honor to participate in the program.
After covering ourselves in paint we spent a few minutes with the kids and I snapped away.
Kelly radiates positivity and as a mom she couldn’t help hugging and loving these beautiful girls.
Bradley, Kelly’s hairdresser as well as NYC stylist to the stars, created an ad hoc salon in the middle of the courtyard and braided one of the student’s gorgeous long locks. It was such a special moment in time and the feeling of love and reciprocity filled me with overwhelming emotion. I had such a wonderful time!
And then there was food! Let me eat beans and rice everyday and I’m a happy man. And I think I did, actually, including a wonderful casado which consisted of fish and shrimp over cabbage with rice and beans, plantains and a cuajada cheese, a very mild-tasting salty cheese. And then there was the limon mandarina, a green round citrus fruit that resembled a very unripe orange with a yellow-orange flesh and bitter acidic taste. Limon Mandarinas are prized in ceviche making as it’s super acid flavor “cooks” the fish and imparts a flavor like nothing else. Man it was delicious.
I’m also happy to report that I did my share of Costa Rican coffee drinking, all of it excellent. The Four Seasons set up a small coffee tasting with Café Britt and we sampled their various roasts from their different product lines. Thanks to Carlos for the lesson!
Our last dinner before leaving involved a dinner from Chef Michael Brough, the Executive Chef who has been with Four Seasons for many years. Dedicated to procuring and using local ingredients, my mind was blown from the selection of fruits, vegetables and cheeses that we ate during a long leisurely dinner that was interrupted by some pesky moths who wouldn’t take no for an answer. But no matter, we were able to dine both inside and outside that evening – the best of both worlds.
Caracol, one of the resorts many restaurants, sits inside Bella Vista Clubhouse which is a quick shuttle ride from the main lobby. A garden is kept here for the restaurant where many herbs and vegetables are grown. The chef’s fresh flavors were impressive and knowing so much of it came from only a few feet away was splendid.
I didn’t want my stay to end but reality was calling. Even though I only saw the smallest portion of Costa Rica we cannot wait to return to explore more. It truly was an amazing experience and I look forward to returning and participating again with Four Season Costa Rica’s Growing Together program.
Special thanks to Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo and to the people of Guanacaste, Costa Rica.