But if getting wet isn’t your thing, don’t fret, as road transfers are available!
As one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, Pacuare is 100% sustainable, and runs itself on renewable energy that is generated onsite. The water comes from the nearby mountain springs, the lighting is powered by solar panels and wind turbines, and the spa is energised by the methane gasses generated from the resident pigs. The sounds of the jungle, heat of the rainforest and relaxing sight of the fast-flowing river will send you into a pleasant trance. The luxury spacious suites are complete with infinity plunge pool and outside shower. But luxury aside, the conservation and sustainability projects are the main focus of this ecolodge.
As you might expect from somewhere that's home to some of the world’s most biodiverse forest, research and education is fundamental here. Learn more by embarking on an indigenous sustainability tour, speaking to the general manager about their wildcat research projects on the elusive jaguars in the area, or following one of their knowledgeable guides on an early-morning birdwatching tour. You can also take things into your own hands by taking a self-guided walk along the trails, with sloths, frogs and lizards aplenty. You’ll really feel at one with nature, especially with howler monkeys acting as your sunrise alarm call and white-faced capuchin monkeys darting by your room!
Just outside the popular town of La Fortuna, Hotel Arenal Kioro has the best view in the Arenal region, hands down. Every room offers the exact same perspective of the once-active volcano, and you can't get much closer than this. Located two-and-a-half hours north of San Jose, Arenal Volcano stands 5,480 ft tall and is located at the centre of Arenal Volcano National Park. The devastation caused by its last eruption in 2010 is still apparent when looking at the surrounding forest, and the national park can only be accessed with a guide. It is important to note that the volcano itself cannot be climbed, although there are plenty of other activities to do in the area. These include zip-lining, quad biking, hiking, birdwatching, a visit to the hanging bridges, taking a dip in the natural hot springs and enjoying a peaceful boat tour across Lake Arenal.
The hotel itself is set within 27 acres of land with geothermal water surrounding the ornate gardens. The food here is definitely worth shouting about, with meat and seafood being particular specialities. During your visit to La Fortuna, there are many trips you can enjoy further afield too. The town is easily accessible, meaning you enjoy a full-day excursion to Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, home to some of the biggest migratory bird populations in the world. And caiman. And bats. And spiders. And monkeys. And sloths... You get the picture.
Imagine a luxury boutique hotel in the middle of a cattle ranch, surrounded by hot, dry and humid lands. You take a bumpy 26km dirt road past endless fields of cows, sugarcane, and watermelon. The mountains rising up on either side of the road define the area as Guanacaste. There is little air and little breeze. Guanacaste's tropical dry forest. It's hot and dry, got it? Now imagine a vast wetland network running straight through the middle, completely at odds with its surroundings. This is Palo Verde National Park.
Picture yourself counting the crocodiles in these wetlands while taking a boat tour, or jumping on horseback to spot the lizards, iguanas and insects that feed the hundreds of thousands of birds that migrate here year-round. Scarlet and green macaws fill the skies overhead, joined by ibis, herons and egrets; you’ll see big birds, small birds, common birds and rare birds. The richness of wildlife here is mind-blowing. And after your exciting action-packed day, you can enjoy the welcome air conditioning in Rancho Humo Estancia’s plush, modern rooms, or take a cooling dip in the pool. Dinner is simple, organic, local food (quite delicious) and the evening can be enjoyed by stargazing through the hotel’s own telescope.
Nestled within 400 acres of transitional rainforest, Rio Perdido is built upon the natural hot springs of the region. Just south of three nearby volcanoes, the river runs through warm and refreshing. The property itself is beautiful - a contemporary collaboration with nature. Each self-contained bungalow comes equipped with a TV, Wi-Fi and air conditioning, but despite these mod cons your room will truly blend in to the dense surrounding forest. There are even hammocks outside for those wanting to laze around. Every bungalow is the same, which makes the booking process easy. Continuously being addressed by my name, the smiles and professionalism of the staff here get my five-star review.
The inclusive meals can be selected from a varied à la carte menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner (depending on which package you opt for) and the three naturally hot thermal pools are there to be enjoyed 24/7. Once again, the activities onsite are as relaxed or energetic as you'd like, from spa treatments and rainforest yoga classes to zip-lining and Tarzan swinging over the nearby canyon. This property truly has something to offer everyone (the author says as she admires a nocturnal porcupine the size of a cat nibble on the branches over the thermal pool and hear cane toads ribbit through the night).
I can't have a Top 5 without talking about Lapa Rios. Another member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, this ecolodge is arguably set within the most unique, dense and biodiverse location in the world. On one side of the Osa Peninsula you have one of only four tropical fjords in the world, estimated to be 200m deep and flourishing with marine wildlife. On the other you have Corcovado National Park, which National Geographic has labelled "the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity". Being isolated in its area, Lapa Rios's location can be considered both a blessing and a curse. The options are either a long (and fairly uninspiring) six-hour drive from San Jose or a much-preferred 40-minute domestic flight to Puerto Jimenez and 30-minute land transfer. It is because of this that the region is fairly untouched and unvisited by tourists. In fact, this is many Costa Ricans' favourite national park.
The trails are generally kept as natural as possible, and have been trodden by many focused researchers. Although elusive and relatively unseen, there is substantial camera trap evidence of jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and many other wildcat species, as well as squirrel and spider monkeys (howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins can also be found here). You can also spot sloths, iguanas, poisonous dart frogs, red-eyed tree frogs, venomous and non-venomous snakes, the biggest butterflies I have ever seen, and an array of birds, including the largest wild population of scarlet macaws in the country. The inclusive (and exclusive) tours are well-executed, whether it be the 5:45am birdwatching tour before breakfast (enjoy ticking off your sightings on their cheat sheet - I spotted 20 in one hour!), a three-hour mid-morning waterfall adventure down the river (wellies thankfully included) or the night walks.
The property bungalows are spacious, but purposefully basic. A fan, a torch and eco-friendly toiletries complement the main focus of the property - the peninsula view and the rainforest's canopy best enjoyed from your hammock, on your private terrace. Despite this, service, food and the guides do not disappoint! With an accolade of being 100% carbon-neutral, their compost, solar power production and food is all sustainable, and there is a huge focus on reforestation in the area. A troop of 25 squirrel monkeys dart by the pool during dusk and the howler monkeys are once again a reliable wake-up call just in time for the most spectacular sunrise.
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