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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Travel Feature - Costa Rica's Top Eco Resort

Rancho Pacifico – Costa Rica

A boutique eco-luxury escape

Story by Heidi Chackel

“Lose yourself atop a canopy-covered mountain within an extensive, private jungle preserve. Where style meets nature and the rainforest meets the sea.”

Rancho Pacifico

“I really can’t stress enough how different and amazing this travel experience was for myself, our two photographers and their significant others. Just getting their faces out from behind the lens was difficult morning, day and night. From the zen-modern design of our digs at Rancho Pacifico to the wildlife all around, we came home with over 4,000 pictures between the two of them. You will find a small selection on these pages. Enjoy!”

Heidi Chackel

Rancho Pacifico, on the South Pacific Coast near Corcovado where it overlooks the Osa Peninsula and 13 different beaches, boasts 10 luxury, oceanview villas and suites that offer intimate, yet spacious privacy. This adult-only nature retreat is truly an eco-luxury hotel boasting hiking trails, healthy cuisine and some serious personalized attention. To top it off, the grounds house a clubhouse with a guests-only dining room, patio and bar as well as two waterfall infinity pools, two hot tubs, a fitness studio and a full service treehouse spa with the most amazing view.

Costa Rica is a travel destination that can be found on a good majority of bucket lists, and the area surrounding Rancho Pacifico is what many call the ‘real Costa Rica.” Tourists are few, beaches are wide and empty, primary rainforest awaits exploration and the locals are friendly. The creators of Rancho Pacifico have followed this theme—preserving this authentic adventure theme with sustainable architecture—but also included the creature comforts of a high-end luxury retreat.

So lets get down to it—our adventure. After landing in San Jose, we ventured on a four-hour drive through small towns and nature. But let’s back up a bit. About an hour into the drive, our guide—who spoke little English—abruptly stopped after crossing over a bridge and motioned for us to get out of the van. While we were a little unsure of ourselves, he seemed very enthusiastic so we followed suit. We ventured back across the bridge and looked over the side. I was stunned. Below us were over 30 huge crocodiles. I am not kidding—I have never seen anything like it, let alone even one crocodile anywhere near the size of these guys. Thankfully I saw nothing like them the rest of our trip, and once we accessed our computers we found that this bridge is of course extremely popular amongst locals and tourists.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful, with a lunch stop at a local restaurant. We eventually turned off the main road and mistakenly thought we were at the end of our travels. Amazingly, we turned down a gravel road that literally climbed and zigzagged up a canopy-covered mountain. It was exhilarating and very exciting to see where we would end up. And we were not disappointed, as we reached the top and Rancho Pacifico where the views are truly unbelievable.

With accommodations for only 20 people at a time, our group of six was a large party. The staff was friendly and beyond belief when it comes to service, and included Adrianna at the front desk, Alex the chef, Oval and Giovanni our waiters and Vianney the bartender. They shared their knowledge of the surrounding area and took special care in learning our likes and dislikes. In fact, Oval showed up at our door with a branch of coconuts one morning after hearing a member of our group was feeling a bit ‘icky’ the previous night.

Our accommodations were everything we could have hoped for. The three-bedroom villa we enjoyed during our stay boasted three suites with accompanying full bathrooms, a full kitchen, a family room, several balconies and soaking tub. Everything is open air, with the night breeze from the ocean successfully serving as our air conditioner. All the little things that we didn’t think of were readily available—umbrellas, robes, water bottles, eco-friendly bathroom toiletries and much more.

Our six-day vacation was filled with adventure as well as some relaxation at the spa and the swimming pools. When the rains hit in the afternoon, the hot tubs were a huge hit!

For one of our adventures, we partook in a zip-lining experience paired with a rain-forest tour. Here we saw monkeys, sloths, bats and the most amazingly intricate colonies of farming ants. We ate the fruit from a cocoa tree and listened to our guide explain the rainforest and all its inhabitants. Other days we took off on foot from Rancho Pacifico, experiencing trails that boast amazing waterfalls and picture taking opportunities of course!

Two of our days were spent at the beach where we body surfed in the rain, chased crabs, collected sea shells and ventured out onto the famous “Whales Tail.” This natural formation in a coastal area located inside the Marino Ballena National Park extends out from the normal beach in a whale’s tail formation, with waves breaking on opposing sides. At high tide the waves overlap and the sandy spine of the whale’s tail is underwater and uncrossable. At low tide it emerges and beach goers pass over and explore the tide pools on the whale’s tail. Apparently after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan several years ago, the Whale’s Tail disappeared for days, leaving the locals devastated. Eventually the waters receded and the natural formation emerged once again.

Along our adventures, we often stopped in the town at the bottom of the mountain for lunch. Being out of the way, the town is not a large tourist stop and our lunch experiences were quiet and delicious. Our dinners, however, were spent at Rancho Pacifico where the cuisine rivals any five-star hotel in the states. The dining room boasts a different menu every night as well as cocktail of the evening. Chef Alex and his assistants man the open-air kitchen just feet from the dining room, with aromas to die for. Local fare is served with the most savory of flavors and with multiple options, and no one walks away hungry.

Every morning we also enjoyed breakfast overlooking the ocean view, with the aforementioned ‘Whales Tail’ at center stage. Fresh fruit juice and house-baked muffins accompany a full menu. In fact, my husband enjoyed “The best French toast in the world” served with a hint of house-made syrup.

And before we wrap things up, I really must mention the spa. This full service spa is literally a treehouse, boasting amazing views and a cool breeze. Dual massage rooms are perfect for the vacationing couple, with a private outdoor shower as well as a sitting room. There is nothing better than a massage after the day’s adventure and before an amazing meal!

Needless to say, we were all sad to wave adios on our final morning. At least I have 4,000 pictures to remind me of one awesome week!

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