Laying claim to being the Happy Planet Index’s happiest place on earth, Costa Rica and its pura vida vibes have spent decades atop adventurers’ and eco-travelers’ bucket lists. More recently, the undeniably cheery country has emerged as a destination for luxury seekers; as the number of visitors to Costa Rica has risen over the past decade, so too have the thread counts, holes of golf and in-room amenities at the country’s resorts. Today, the most lavish Costa Rican hotels are marrying these luxuries with the nature and culture that drew international visitors to the Caribbean-meets-Pacific paradise in the first place.
Proof positive that luxury has secured a foothold in the nation’s hospitality industry? Three Peninsula Papagayo properties snagged the country’s first-ever Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star awards in 2015.
“The Gulf of Papagayo is one of the fastest economically growing regions, transforming into a luxury high-end destination for Costa Rican and worldwide travelers,” says Roy Barrantes, corporate director of sales and marketing at Enjoy Group, which opened Four-Star winner El Mangroove in 2014. He cites the peninsula’s beautiful hillsides and stunning beaches as top draws.
The natural scenery is indeed reason enough to go, but for the ultimate Costa Rica vacation, look no further than the outstanding escapes that made Forbes Travel Guide’s list of the best hotels in the world.
Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo
Four Seasons was a Peninsula Papagayo pioneer when it opened its first Central American outpost on an isthmus between the Pacific Ocean and Culebra Bay in 2004. Still setting the bar for luxury—the 181-room property celebrated its 10th anniversary with a full renovation—this sprawling resort caters to thrill seekers (arrange a zip-line canopy tour or hike onsite trails), beach bums (lounge at two golden coastlines and four pools, where attendants pass out amenities every 30 minutes) and culture hounds (take classes in chocolate making, merengue or Spanish) alike.
Foodies will appreciate the variety of cuisine at the resort’s four restaurants and lounge and, currently, one out-of-this-world dining option: a “Taste the Stars” dinner during which you view the night sky through a telescope while enjoying cocktails and dishes infused with meteorite dust. Add a nature-inspired spa and a wildlife-filled Arnold Palmer golf course to the mix, and it’s easy to see how an extended vacation in one of the resort’s stunning residence estates could be in order.
Since opening in February of 2014, boutique El Mangroove has made its mark on the peninsula with a uniquely hip approach that extends from its contemporary architecture to its live music performances. The 17-acre property’s 85 rooms and suites can be described as modern bohemian; natural wood décor, hammocks and outdoor showers seamlessly incorporate nature. El Mangroove’s indoor-outdoor aesthetic is found in every corner of the resort, from outdoor decks at Bearth Spa and Wyl Gym to open-air seating at the two restaurants, Makoko and Matiss.
Another allure for many El Mangroove visitors, according to Barrantes: “Our staff is 100-percent committed to sustainability, using the best practices to run a planet-friendly hotel.” The resort is a fully sustainable operation, beginning with a design that sought to minimize tree removal—and the trees that were eliminated were used to create furniture in guest rooms. El Mangroove is currently in the process of obtaining LEED certification. Another unique aspect of this arty escape is that it is locally minded. “As a hotel that is owned and administrated by a Costa Rican company, we focus on offering the real taste and feel of our country,” Barrantes says.
Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort
Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort brings the Hyatt brand’s signature creative feel and social style to Costa Rica. Like its neighbors Four Seasons and El Mangroove, Andaz was designed by local architect Ronald Zurcher, a master of organic forms and tucked-into-the-trees structures, but this resort’s distinctive personality can be felt from the moment you arrive and check in with an iPad and a tropical welcome drink. Since the hotel’s doors opened in December of 2013, each of the 153 rooms and suites have offered Andaz touches such as free Wi-Fi and complimentary nonalcoholic mini-bars; an art space displays work from local artists, and the hotel tapped DJ and music stylist Jared Dietch to curate playlists inspired by the sounds of the Papagayo region.
“The local culture truly informs everything about our hotel, from the design, using indigenous materials, to the cuisine, to the spa treatments and much more,” says general manager Michael Schmid. Complimentary water sports include kayaking, stand-up paddling and snorkeling. Onda Spa has nine treatment rooms, three of which are outdoors. (If you’re feeling sun-scorched, indulge in a post-beach aloe vera and fruit wrap.) All three restaurants — featuring Latin American cuisine, seafood and small plates — also spill into the outdoors with expansive terrace seating. Don’t miss sipping the seasonal tipples from the mixologists at Chao Pescao; the open-air bar with soaring wood ceilings is the perfect place to end a day.