Costa Rican rainforest resort offers the 'good life'

Lexington Herald-Leader
March 10. 2017 8:17PM
Private pools at the villas at Nayara Springs Resort in Costa Rica are fed by a natural hot spring. (Nayara Springs)

NAYARA SPRINGS RESORT, Costa Rica - My friend and I, along with our golf cart driver, creep through the bushes - flashlights in hand and breath bated. Every so often, we stop to stealthily part the bushes and quietly gush with delight. To anyone who might happen across us, our behavior would no doubt appear suspicious, or at the very least, peculiar.

Here, at Nayara Springs Resort in the middle of a Costa Rican rainforest, it is neither. We are on the resort's nocturnal "frog walk," hoping to locate the source of the loud trilling we have been hearing once the sun goes down.

We're rewarded when our driver/guide Alexander's flashlight beam lands on the most beautiful frog I've ever seen. Its tiny emerald body is decorated with a cobalt blue stripe on each leg, and at the moment it is staring back at us with bulging scarlet peepers. Alex tells us it is a red-eyed tree frog, one of many species that can be found on Nayara's lush grounds.

I feel like a voyeur as our flashlight beam has apparently interrupted the female frog's flirtation with a male in a neighboring tree. After what must seem like an eternity to the courting frogs, our little band mercifully moves on.

Frog-spotting is only one of the delights visitors to Nayara Springs Resort, named the best resort in Central America by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine, have in store for them.

The property, a 2 1/2-hour drive from San Jose and located in the Arenal Volcano National Park, is a rainforest retreat that engages all the senses. Listen to birdsong in the morning and frogs in the evening; sniff tropical blossoms; feel gentle pop-up rain showers, and above all, see the lush green that surrounds you at every turn.

Checking into one of the property's 35 villas is your own adventure in paradise. Decor is inspired by the best of the tropics - gauzy mosquito netting around the four-poster bed, local art on the walls, a multicolored hammock for afternoon siestas on the deck, and two features you won't soon forget - a two-person outdoor shower that is a tropical oasis in itself, and a private plunge pool fed by natural mineral hot springs.

While it might be tempting to spend all your time lounging around your villa, please don't - there are too many other things to do, such as the free bird-watching tour (Mondays and Thursdays, 6:15 a.m.) or the complimentary yoga class (every morning at 8:15 in the yoga pavilion).

Children are not allowed at Nayara Springs unless they are 16 or older; however, families are welcomed at its sister resort Nayara Hotel, Spa and Gardens, accessed by crossing the 250-foot pedestrian bridge through the rainforest that separates the two properties.

Eating well at Nayara Springs is a given, considering the sheer number of restaurants scattered throughout the property, offering everything from the freshest of sushi at Asia Luna to romantic candlelit dining at Amor Loco to the newest restaurant, Mis Amores, where you can dine on a deck overlooking the rainforest, with a view of the volcano.

While I found the quality of the food at all of the restaurants superb, my favorite dining experience had to be at Alta Mira, which offers authentic Costan Rican dishes in a casual setting. I opted for one of the country's favorite comfort foods - casado, a choice of beef, chicken, pork or fish with rice, beans, green salad and sweet fried plantains, served with soft tortillas.

Nayara Springs' excellent concierge staff can arrange any number of activities for guests, from ziplining and canopy touring to Gravity Falls Waterfall Jumping and Canyoning in the Lost Canyon.

Despite my dislike of high places, I tried ziplining and canopy touring on a previous trip to Costa Rica; as for waterfall jumping and canyoning, I decided they were best appreciated by watching an Indiana Jones movie. Instead, I settled on two tours that offered an opportunity to see the country's landscape and wildlife up close and personal. Costa Rica, a nation that is approximately the size of North Carolina, has 100 volcanoes, although only five are active, including Arenal. On its Lava Walk Tour, I discovered that the volcano, long believed to be dormant, finally blew its top in 1968, and while no lava has been seen since 2010, volcanologists believe it is quietly biding its time, waiting to shoot off its next display of fireworks.

My second experience turned out to be my favorite - a hike through the Danaus Ecological Reserve. A tapestry of flora and fauna that weaves together a secondary growth forest, botanical garden, butterfly farm and bird sanctuary, it is Costa Rica at its beautiful best.

On our two-hour hike, we saw tiny tree frogs and giant electric blue morpha butterflies; a three-toed sloth inching down a tree and a caiman (crocodile) sunning on a stump in the lagoon; an oversized iguana testing the strength of a spindly tree branch and a procession of leaf cutter ants making their orderly trek back to their queen's hive. We even saw a shy toucan trying to hide its distinctive yellow head in the dense foliage.

No matter which physical activity you choose, the first place you might want to head when you return to Nayara Springs is its world-class spa. As if the physical setting isn't enchanting enough - open air pavilions that allow the rainforest inside and soaking pools strewn with blossoms - the treatments make use of the area's natural environment: an exfoliation using grounds of a coffee from a nearby plantation; scrubs with volcanic mud and wraps of chocolate clay made from cocoa beans.

Costa Ricans have an expression - "Pura Vida," - meaning pure or good life. A stay at Nayara Springs Resort will definitely have you living la Pura Vida.

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