Story and photos by Timothy Scott
It doesn't take long to get out of hectic capital San Jose and hit the beaches or the wild countryside of Costa Rica. We check out a few luxury travel highlights heading south with Edge Travel.
As I roll over and reluctantly start to think about getting out of such a comfortable bed, I look out the glass wall and have trouble getting a grasp on what I am seeing. Instead of the green Costa Rica countryside, below my terrace there are just a few red roofs and then what looks like an endless table top covered by cotton balls. It's like the sensation of looking out a plane window, yet as I survey my casita at Alta Gracia, which is larger than many upscale city apartments, I'm clearly on the ground.
Costa Rica surprises many first-time visitors with the diversity of its landscapes and weather. I'm here at the very beginning of "green season," when the sun and clouds are fighting it out most of the day. The view from Alta Gracia, a resort that immediately challenged the Four Seasons up north as the best in the country as soon as it opened, changes every hour or two during my visit. It goes from blinding bright to rainy in the space of a few minutes. On this tour we will go from luxury marinas and condos to raw nature in its wildest form. There are constant reminders that this tiny country packs in more than one could ever see in dozens of visits.
I arrive at the San Jose airport for this trip without fatigue after stretching out on an upgraded business class flight on Copa Airlines. This is a country where the two airports and two domestic airlines make it easy to get to almost anywhere here the same day you left the USA or Canada. It takes us just an hour and a half to drive from the main international airport in San Jose to the Los Sueños complex on the Pacific Coast near Jaco.
Los Sueños is a sprawling complex where residents and visitors move around by golf cart and enjoy the view from luxury villas looking down on a picture-perfect bay. The bay houses the country's top marina. It's where the award–winning fisherman hang out and also where the millionaire retirees wanting a regular round of golf like to settle. Despite being an easy drive from the airport, this feels a world away.
There's no sacrificing comfort here though. My spacious villa is outfitted with high-end furniture, crisp air conditioning, and a fast Wi-Fi signal. The views from the balcony are stunning, as they are from the pool below. When we dine at one of several waterfront restaurants, I eat much better than I'm used to in Costa Rica, where gourmet cuisine is still a novel concept. There are 10 restaurants and bars here in all, counting the ones on site at the Marriott Hotel.
I'm on an itinerary set up by Edge Travel, a company that taps into the best selection of luxury villas available at Los Sueños, through the HRG Vacations and Rental company. I poke my head in a few other villas of theirs while I'm here, including one where they're doing a magazine photo shoot—with a model playing the part of a bride—and Casa Sueños that has eight bedrooms and a resort–sized pool with a swim–up bar. Using a villa here as a base, travelers can set up golf, fishing, horseback riding, and adventure tours all through the HRG office even if they haven't planned that in advance.
To the Highlands of Alta Gracia
After a few days of mostly lounging around and eating well, we head south from Quepos through beautiful countryside to Alta Gracia Boutique Hacienda. This is a 50–casita resort that feels like a manifestation of a dream. The owner, a former farming patriarch, didn't do anything halfway here—or even in stages. Situated on 850 acres (344 hectares), there are panoramic views all around and a sense that you could walk a mile in any direction and still be on the property.
After a leisurely check-in and a golf cart ride to drop off my bags, I go explore the estate on horseback with a guide, clip–clopping through hills that used to host coffee and pineapple plants. Mist rolls across the nearby mountains, where streams and waterfalls descend. For those who want to explore beyond, there's a private airstrip where an ultralight can take them over a mountain range to the coast, over the whale's tail beach peninsula by Uvita.
After a late lunch at delicious El Bistro and a walk to check out the expansive spa, I'm happy to just lounge on my terrace with a drink and watch the shifting weather patterns from this high vantage point. I check my e-mail expecting a slow connection, but get a lightning fast one instead, despite the remote location. Again, nothing done halfway here. Suddenly the sumptuous office chair and desk inside my suite don't seem out of place. This would be a heavenly place for a small company retreat or just to get some distraction–free creative work done.
We spend the rest of our time at Alta Gracia dining in elegant Ambar, having cocktails in the attractive lounge, and waking up to a scene where we have our own little village above the clouds. Below us is a carpet of white with mountains sticking out in the distance. The air smells fresh and untainted by human machinery, like it has gotten an extra helping of oxygen.