Arenal Volcano looms over the jungle.
Picture this. It’s after Labor Day. You’re staring at a computer screen, reading emails, despairing of world peace when suddenly a message pops up in the aptly named pane – the Action Center. “You’ve won a 4-night visit to Nayara Springs Resort in Costa Rica” exclaims an email from a New York advertising agency. It looks legit. I can’t resist.
I click. I review documents named Winner Affidavit, Prize Acceptance Form, Guest Release of Liability. I scan convoluted legalese of rights and responsibilities. I affirm my age and eligibility – check. I’m not a resident of Alabama or Nebraska – check. I must complete trip by November 2017. I did not obtain illegal entries through use of robotic means – check. I acknowledge to receive, and hereby reconfirm my agreement to receive newsletters, exclusive offers and other marketing communications. Why not? And in the Italian presto “quick, quickly” in conjuror’s patter, from Latin praestus “ready,”…I am hereby “ready” to accept my prize. And what a prize.
We didn’t look far for nature.
• Four (4) night stay for me and Guest in one (1) Villa at Nayara Springs hotel in the Arenal Volcano National Park in Costa Rica (ARV: $3,390.00);
• One (1) dinner for two (2) at the Mis Amores restaurant located at the Nayara Springs Hotel (ARV: $150.00); dinner includes three (3) course meal and one (1) glass of wine for me and my guest;
• One (1) Nature Escape spa package, including one (1) 1-hour couples hot stone massage and one (1) 30-minute refreshing facial treatment for each of me and my Guest (ARV: $380.00); couples massage can instead be redeemed as one (1) individual 1-hour massage for each of me and my Guest; and • $1,000.00 prepaid gift card for use towards air travel to Costa Rica.
Jerry is a natural naturist.
We were no sloths in
getting our bags packed.
My husband, Jerry, – the guy whose bag is always packed – is on board. End of November, following Thanksgiving, we’re on our way. There’s frequent air service to Costa Rica from the states, but we’re in Las Vegas and I want to use my Delta airline points. We opt for an overnight flight into San Jose – not too difficult at our always switched on, sound and neon aerodrome, Mc Carron. Arriving a bit bleary but alert at San Jose’s bustling airport, we hop on our pre-arranged van transport to Nayara Springs.
It’s about a 2 1/2-hour drive from San José to La Fortuna and my prize is located on the fringes of Arenal Volcano Natural Park. Partway, we’re on the Great Pan-American Highway, which extends from Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua at Peñas Blancas, passes through San José then extends to the Panama border at Paso Canoas. We travel smoothly as far as San Ramon, but the journey on to Arenal is a bumpy, hilly and curvy ride – narrow at some points yet asphalt all the way.
There are rental car options to explore more of the countryside, but with our limited time frame we opt for a leisurely ride with a driver who knows the way and has Wi-Fi. We cruise along letting our pores gently open in the humidity and catch glimpses of the green expanse of hillside and field. On the way, we see crops of bananas, coffee, fruits and vegetables and as the elevation changes so does the vegetation. Cattle, sheep and horses graze while pigs and chickens root about. Costa Rica does not import any basic food stuffs for their own consumption and you can see why.
Arriving in La Fortuna at mid-morning, we view at a distance the majestic Arenal Volcano (opening photo), one of the youngest and still active volcanoes in this hemisphere. That is, we would have seen it if the clouds and gentle rain that fell on our drive hadn’t obscured the peak. Undismayed, we check into our Villa –number 10. Wood floor, canopy bed, spacious marble bathroom, plus a secluded private garden featuring dual outdoor showers and a terrace overlooking the volcano.
We plunged into nature from our Nayara Springs Resort suite.
Best of all, an intimate plunge pool fed by natural mineral hot springs. It is steaming. Soaking in a volcanic spring. Heaven! Costa Rica’s volcanoes have blessed the country with a host of natural hot springs. These mineral-rich, soothing pools are waiting to fix what ails you. We immediately strip, bathe and regenerate. The resort also has three outdoor Jacuzzis hidden in the gardens, but our luxury pool is private-screened by trees, fantail palms, lovely Birds of Paradise and red and white ginger plants.
Arenal is Costa Rica’s premier adventure destination with waterfalls, caves, mountain biking, hiking, climbing, whitewater rafting, fishing, zip lines, and nature safaris. There’s extraordinary bird watching, ecological reserves, and amazing wildlife. Healing and wellness is what our hotel offers, and we begin to feel the pura vida (Pure Life) within hours of our arrival.
We arrange a private half-day tour called Hike and Nature. The hike encompasses the famed Hanging Bridges, La Fortuna Waterfall and includes a typical Costa Rica casado – essentially rice, beans and meat. My lunch came with chicken and my husband had pork – all accompanied by Salsa Lizano – the tangy, tamarind-based sauce which Ricans use on everything from salad to grilled poultry and meats.
Our tour starts at Mistico
Arenal Hanging Bridges Park.
Our guide, knowledgeable and affable, is equipped with a hyper telescopic lensed camera. He points out and frames shots for us to take of sloths, birds, monkeys, snakes, insects, trees and hundreds of unusual plants all thriving in this diverse ecosystem. Even our puny iPhone cameras can’t miss capturing leafcutter ants soldiering over the dirt carrying miniature backpacks of tiny leaves. He shows us where Walking Palms move about for light and where an Eyelash viper curls near a tree. And we see an amazing collection of tropical birds. Of 900 confirmed species that exist in Costa Rica, 340 of them are found in the Arenal Volcano area. Toucans, kestrels, plovers, tanagers, manakins, honeycreepers — their whimsical names and tiny physiques belie their piercing cries. We also spy two and three toed sloths hanging about near their favorite food tree – Cecropia. Later, we learn that Nayara Springs has their own sloth sanctuary, which they created by planting 300 Cecropia trees maybe to celebrate National Sloth Day on October 20.
The hike is not too tough, and we tramp upward and downward gingerly crossing hanging bridges that sway, sometimes disturbingly, over canopied tree tops. This entire ecosystem of rainforest, secondary forest, savanna, and old lava flows is a wild exploration into a dense tangle of vegetation. After that, we head to the Reserva Ecológica Catarata Rio Fortuna where a walking trail that includes 400 steps takes you to the base of the La Fortuna Waterfall. At the reserve, we take time to explore an orchid nursery with educational exhibits. Our path is lined with these extraordinary flowers and we learn that Costa Rica has over 1,560 types of orchids – 95 % or the world’s known species. Our guide tells us that The Reserve was created in part to benefit the citizens of La Fortuna. It creates jobs and outreach to many of the area’s residents.
Our canopied bed in Villa 10.
Back at Nayara Springs, our Nature Escape spa package awaits – that 1-hour couples hot stone massage. Side by side in a treehouse aerie we stretch out and are gently massaged by a pair of lovely attendants. The hot stones are a treat. The masseuses silently retire and leave us to soak in our rose petaled Jacuzzi. Champagne and chocolates are nearby. A gentle rain falls outside, and birds call out from the surrounding trees. What bliss.
At Nayara Springs, we ate well and often. Our daily breakfast includes dining alfresco in the privacy of our villa and a stroll down the path for table service at Mis Amores, where we later enjoyed a great evening meal. Best of all, though, is grazing a buffet of possibilities at Altamira, where my husband ate his spotted rooster – gallo pinto – like a Tico. Locals love this mix of rice and beans flavored with onion and cilantro and served with scrambled eggs. All topped with what else? Salsa Lizano. I opt for a tamale wrapped in palm leaves and fresh fruit. There’s mango, papaya, pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, blackberries, coconuts, lemons, guavas, avocados and passion fruit. We have another dinner with Asian flair at Asia Luna. And all our meals are accompanied by a backdrop of unsurpassed outdoor beauty.
Nayara’s Nature Guides offer complimentary tours
of the resort’s gardens and rainforest.
Our secluded private terrace is perfect
for al fresco dining or hammock swinging.
Nayara Springs offers a daily one-way shuttle into La Fortuna – about a 10-minute ride. We wander around the sleepy town, which offers a variety of restaurants and small shops. Taxis are plentiful and cost about $10.00-$12.00 to come back to the resort.
We didn’t want to leave Costa Rica without exploring San Jose, so we added another day to our trip. We stay at The Park Inn – a Radisson property. Clean and comfortable, it offered an excellent buffet breakfast with our nightly rate. It was a 15-minute walk to the main shopping district and historic monuments. As it was a Saturday, the place was jumping. There were Christmas nativity scenes with live animals and masses of outdoor crowds shopping. The clamor was jarring after the quiet of the rainforests, but we enjoyed the holiday buzz. With only a little more time, we would have walked to La Sabana Park, the Jade Museum or the Costa Rican Art Museum. But alas, after a delicious meal at a nearby steakhouse – Tierra Gaucha Parrilla Argentina – we left the next morning to return home.
With more than two million visitors each year, Costa Rica is currently – and consistently –a very popular adventure-travel destination. Despite its fame and mass appeal, the country remains a place rich in natural wonders and biodiversity where seclusion can still be found.
General information on the country can be found at: http://www.visitcostarica.com
For more information on Nayara Springs Resort, the complex, the restaurants and things to do: www.nayarasprings.com
More information on the Hanging Bridges of Arenal, see https://misticopark.com for La Fortuna Waterfall Ecological Reserve, see https://www.facebook.com/lafortunawaterfall and finally information on Park Inn San Jose is at https://www.parkinn.com/sanjose.
Feature and photos by Donna Nemanic, Jetsetters Magazine Adventure Editor.