Daniel Findlay, an executive from North Bay, Ontario, Canada, set up his telescope
on the balcony of his room at the Malinche Real Beach Resort. He pointed the
lens toward the Gulf of Papagayo and said to the guests whose accommodations adjoined
his, "I'm a bit of a bird watcher and this is the place to do it. I'm looking
at a pelican out there diving for prey."
With 850 species in these parts, spotting birds is not a difficult task. However,
dedicated bird watchers might want to take the Special Quetzal Tour. Participants
are driven up the Mountain of Death to the Saavegre Refuge at an altitude
of 8000 feet to view several varieties of hummingbirds, woodpeckers and trogans including
the resplendent quetzal, a trogan whose plumage and tail are magnificent.
Malinche Real is in the province of Guanacaste, the area of Costa Rica bordered
by the Pacific Ocean on the west and Nicaragua on the north. All of this Central
American land is a popular destination for eco-tourism and for adventure but Guanacaste,
in particular, has been getting a lot of play from tourists recently.
Juan Melhado, general manager of Malinche Real, says the reason Costa Rica is
a top destination is that, "Along with adventure we're adding soft adventure
experiences. There's great appeal in the fact that about 25 percent of the territory
is a public or private environmentally-protected zone."
|Scuba diving, Costa Rica
Visitors often spend a few days in San Jose, the capital, before heading out to
other areas. Perhaps the best place to stay is the beautiful Meliá Cariari
Hotel and Golf Resort, near the airport and downtown.
Although the city is rather dreary and does not provide much in the way of sightseeing,
vacationers have access from here to many diverse activities. One of the travel services
operating out of the hotel's lobby offers 26 day trips, such as tours to volcanoes,
the butterfly farm and the Sarapique Rain Forest, which encompasses viewing
of waterfalls, banana and coffee plantations, a nature walk and a river ride to watch
alligators and crocodiles. A similar excursion to the Braulio Carrillo National
Park includes an aerial tram crossing over the rain forest.
Costa Rica has 20 national parks, nine animal and wild life refuges, 12 biological
reserves, 14 forest reserves, 21 Indian reserves and 26 protected areas. Prominent
among them are Rio Macho near San Jose, Santa Rosa in Guanacaste and
Tortuguero on the Caribbean side of the country, a preserve that is unusual
for its natural and man-made canals serving as the means of transportation and exploration.
Driving the mostly good roads in the undeveloped districts, one is struck by the
absence of blight and the sheer beauty of the surroundings. The trip by auto from
San Jose to the northwestern coast is about five hours, but the scenic beauty is
so intense– thick forests, fields of pure green, mountains capped by blue marbled
skies and puffy clouds– that staring from the window is a wondrous activity. Cows
are put out to pasture and you might even see monkeys and iguanas.
In addition to the opportunity to observe an overwhelming variety of animal and
plant life, vacationers can take part in sporting adventures on land and on water.
Day trips are organized for deep-sea fishing, mountain biking, scuba diving, horseback
riding, hiking on well-marked trails, themed cruises and white water rafting. Rafting
levels on several rivers range from classes one through five. Costa Rica is also
a glorious place for camping.
The beaches along a small stretch of the Pacific, south of the Gulf of Papagayo–Playas
Ocotal, Flamingo, Brasilito, Conchal, Coco and Tamarindo–are
some of the prettiest in the world. Mountains rise next to pristine sands and the
ocean crawling up the shores in the protected inlets is calm. Every beach might be
visited at dusk when the flaming orange sun dips and reflects its glowing hues at
the edge of the water. Linger at the ocean's rim to let the gentle waves lap over
your feet while watching the kaleidoscope in the sky.
Flamingo Beach is of special note for it is a seashore resort with a very
Latin American flavor, open-air restaurants serving local foods, small hotels and
streets that are brightly lit in the evenings.
Flamingo Beach is also the site of a special nightly event. From October to May
at 8 p.m. about 100 or so visitors are admitted to the beach to watch the giant sea
turtles emerge from the water and bury their eggs in the sand. Depending on luck,
you may or may not get to witness the event and might have to sit for several hours
in pitch black just gazing at a sky so crowded with stars it can only be described
as heavenly. You can also search the tropical sky aboard the Manta Raya, either
by using a reflecting telescope or reclining on a giant trampoline, while an astronomer
lectures about constellations, planets, galaxies and star clusters.
Because of its treasure house of natural wonders, diversity of sights and long
list of things to do, Costa Rica is the next place to go.
Meliá Cariari, AP. 737 Centro Colon, 1007, San Jose. Tel. 506-239-0022,
800-33 MELIA. Large and comfortable with many amenities. Constructed to bring
the outdoors, indoors. Rates start at $115. www.220.127.116.11/sol/home/jsp/CHome.jsp
Villa Caletas, PO Box 12358-1000, San Jose. Tel. 506-257-3653. Fifty-six
miles southeast of San Jose with 30 rooms. The most exclusive hotel in the country,
located on a cliff 1000-feet above sea level with a 350-degree panoramic view.
French-colonial architecture and a Grecian-style amphitheater for sunset concerts.
Rates start at $125. www.hotelvillacaletas.com
Grano de Oro, Apdo. 1157-1007 Centro Colón, San Jose, tel. 506-255-3322,
a 35-room stately mansion in downtown, is One of the Small Distinctive Hotels
of Costa Rica. Rates start at $72. www.hotelgranodeoro.com
Meliá Playa Conchal Beach & Golf Resort, Aparto 232-5150, Santa
Cruz, Guanacaste. Tel. 506-654-4123, 800-33-MELIA. Brand-new, five-star resort.
Very spread out, beautifully landscaped with good facilities and nightly entertainment.
All 308 accommodations are junior suites. Rates start at $105. www.18.104.22.168/sol/home/jsp/CHome.jsp
Hotel Punta Islita, Nicoya Peninsula on the southern coast of Guanacaste,
tel. 506-296-5797, 800-525-4800, is the only member of the Small Luxury Hotels
of the World in Costa Rica. Rates start at $130. http://www.hotelpuntaislita.com/
Malinche Real Beach Resort & Spa, Gulf of Papagayo, Guanacaste. Tel. 506-670-0033,
800-999-9182. An all-inclusive resort, much like a Carnival Cruise on land. Rates
start at $130 and include food, sports and alcohol.
Costa Smeralda Beach Hotel & Casino, Gulf of Papagayo, Guanacaste. Tel.
506-670-0032. Fine restaurant and 33 attractive rooms with beautiful views and terraced
landscaping overlooking the water. Rates start at $95.
El Octal Beach Resort, P O Box 1, Playa del Coco, Guanacaste. Tel. 506-670-0321.
On-site dive shop and three sport fishing boats. Eighty percent of the clientele
are scuba divers. Convenient to good surfing. Rates start at $58. www.ocotalresort.com
Lacsa, the official airline of Costa Rica, has direct flights to San
Jose from the gateway cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, New Orleans,
Orlando and Miami. Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Guanacaste
is serviced by Sansa and is one hour by air from San Jose. 800-225-2272.