By Paige Penland
[Editor's Note: After some bad marketing decisions and a Zika scare, the villa company highlighted in this article went out of business. Many others can set up a similar tour based out of Jaco or Los Sue&nteile;os however, so we have left this Costa Rica travel story intact.]
The bright new tropical sun filtered through a gentle morning mist as our private shuttle bus descended from Costa Rica's Central Highlands, glistening with rainy season dew, to the shores of the vast Pacific Ocean. It was my friend's first visit to Costa Rica, and she smiled appreciatively at each stunning new vista, vast protected forests that I promised were filled with families of monkeys; quaint rural towns centered on pretty pastoral churches; and finally, the silvery streak of the Gulf of Nicoya stretching away in the distance.
"Los Sueños, doesn't that mean 'The Dreams,'" she asked?
Indeed it does, and with that we arrived at "The Dreams," just two hours from the international airport, a beautifully landscaped 1100-acre resort property nestled between the Pacific and jungled coastal mountains. Our first stop was the immaculately decorated offices of Michael Brown and Mark Mead, a charming pair of businessmen who had been working with us to closely to design the perfect itinerary for our short but sweet vacation, a trip that would introduce my friend to the very best Costa Rica had to offer. After a warm welcome from both (as well as a handsome pair of cocker spaniels also committed to excellent customer service), we were treated to a rich cup of Costa Rican coffee and escorted to Los Sueños.
Mead Brown rents dozens of beautiful properties in and around the Los Sueños resort complex, and several more throughout the Central Pacific Coast. All of them are privately owned, and managed with an attention to service and detail usually reserved for five-star hotels. Each is richly decorated with antiques, handmade furniture, original art, beautiful lighting and some of the most amazing views imaginable. Each is unique; the Mead Brown website features dozens of pictures and specific descriptions of each, offering you the chance to customize your own incredible stay.
Some of the finest we saw included the marvelous Terraza de Marbella, a three-bedroom masterpiece perfect for families, with sweeping ocean views from the private infinity pool; romantic Casa Mono Loco, a Zürcher–designed, thatch–roofed beauty atop a forested hill, replete with wide open spaces, evocative hardwood and bamboo furnishings that reflect traditional Costa Rican aesthetics, and wonderful gardens; and the absolutely stunning Villa Firenze, a modern Moorish masterpiece composed of a symphony of archways, offering the ultimate in Spanish colonial style combined with every possible comfort—you'll love the spiral-shaped Jacuzzi tub.
All of these exotic offerings, as well as the more standard luxury options, are outfitted with washer and dryer, sustainable personal care products, satellite television, premium bed and bath linens, a fully equipped chef's kitchens, and either private or shared swimming pools and Jacuzzis; most also include wireless Internet.
Both Michael and Mark are clearly quite proud to offer what may be the finest collection of vacation villas on the Central Pacific Coast, and proved themselves committed to catering to each client's every whim. Excellent and personalized customer service is a commitment they take seriously (as a long list of thanks and repeat visits from very exclusive clients attests), and everyone receives this gold-star treatment. Though our spacious, three-bedroom condominium was not quite as opulent as some of the properties mentioned above, we found it absolutely divine. They made absolutely sure we were well taken care of, from the complimentary golf cart and delightful welcome basket, featuring a fine bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, organic coffee and lots of snacks, to our carefully planned itinerary.
Mead Brown offers three vacation packages that can be further customized. The Golf Package focuses on Los Sueños famed Iguana Golf, a par–72, Ted Robinson-designed course that's considered one of Central America's finest. A challenging 18 holes nestled into the lush rainforest, it is landscaped with streams and fruit trees designed to attract the area's copious wildlife into play—I saw my first flock of gorgeous roseate spoonbills ever by the course. A pair of loudly gossiping scarlet macaws also dropped in us, though we could only hear the echoing cries of howler monkeys hidden deep in the forest.
A Sport Fishing Package takes advantage of Los Sueños' beautiful marina, with several shops and hotels overlooking the slips. With access to some of the richest fishing grounds in the world, these yachts offer access to Costa Rica's vast bounty of record–setting billfish, of course catch–and–release only, while tastier takes such as the fat tuna that ply these waters can kept. The Jewels of the Pacific tour combines either of these these with visits to the area's impressive selection of spas, along with your choice from a vast menu of tours taking the in best the region has to offer.
Our time was short, so we had to forgo some of the more time-consuming options; two that I've previously enjoyed, the spectacularly scenic whitewater rafting trip down the Río Savegre, and the guided tour of stunning Manuel Antonio National Park — considered one of the most beautiful collections of beaches in Costa Rica — are both highly recommended. For this trip, however, we began our exploration of the Central Coast on the wonderful Tranopy Tour offered by the iconic Rainforest Aerial Tram.
We ascended into the jungle canopy, where most rainforest wildlife actually lives, on quiet, slow–moving covered gondolas with wonderful 360º views. Our informative, English-speaking guide pointed out toucans and other wildlife, though the monkeys I had promised my friend were still proving elusive. More than making up for the omission was the trip back down the mountain, on a 15–cable canopy zip–line tour. After outfitting us both in an array of straps and harnesses and providing a quick but thorough lesson, our guides hooked us onto the dual cables (safer than the single–line tours usually offered) and sent us across truly epic valleys offering incredible views of the ocean and forest below. The trip was outstanding, a taste of true flights, and our legs were shaking when we finally arrived at the bottom of the mountain.
And there, finally, we were treated to the wildlife sighting we'd been hoping for: a loud "bang" emanated from the corrugated zinc roof of the poisonous snake display outside the main lodge. Then, a thick–husked fruit was hurled just a few feet away. Soon it was raining the small projectiles as we dodged for cover — a family of rare spider monkeys was having some sport with their hairless cousins (us!) far below. My friend snapped a few photos on her cell phone and we decided to leave the forest to them, and headed back to the condominium. A sunset walk on Los Sueños' somewhat less–than–spectacular beach, followed by delicious moonlight swim in the fabulous pool, ended our first perfect day.