Costa Rica describes itself perfectly. “A small county with a huge vision.” Among the Americas, it has long been the darling of the leisure travel market, built on its rich natural endowments, sustainable tourism credentials, adventure options galore, and pura vida Costa Rican hospitality. And there’s more good news.
At a press conference during the 33rd annual Expotur—Costa Rica and the region’s most important travel trade marketplace hosted by the Costa Rica Tourism Board—Minister of Tourism Mauricio Ventura reminded us of another national accolade: “According to the Happy Planet Index, which measures how well nations are doing at achieving long, happy sustainable lives, Costa Rica tops the index list as the most sustainably happy country in the world, calculated according to well-being, life expectancy, social equality and ecological footprint.”
Minister Ventura also reported ongoing positive visitor figures for his happiest of countries: In 2016, Costa Rica receive more than 2.9 million international arrivals, an increase of 10 percent over 2015. North American arrivals topped that number, with a 12 percent increase, including incoming visitors from San Diego and Montreal—gateways that added direct flights last year. And worldwide, the United States continues to be Costa Rica’s major market, sending over 1.2 million visitors last year.
The following is just a handful of client-pleasing takeaways, chosen for being new to this delegate:
- New on the Guanacaste coast, part of a new beach town and perched hilltop above the Pacific Ocean, is Casa Chamaleon Las Cantalinas, an adults-only, boutique resort hideaway. Its 21 villas have private saltwater, infinity plunge pools and private balconies or patios. Dining in the Sentido Norte Restaurant comes with a panoramic view and a new pedigreed chef who prepares fresh, creative dishes. The resort has its own zero-edge infinity pool and bar, and offers buggie service transfers to two gorgeous beaches where one can swim and snorkel, as well as go kayaking and standup paddleboarding. On site, guests will find massage and facial services, as well as complimentary WiFi in the villas. For more information, visit casachamaleonhotels.com.
- When driving through the Central Valley, take time to stop in Cartago, Costa Rica’s original capital city, whose leading attraction has always been the handsome Basilica. A newer tourist attraction and educational project is Magmatica, helping people learn about the country’s geology, biodiversity and earthquake activity. On site is a small seismological museum with exhibits on earthquakes and volcanoes, as well as an earthquake simulator that allows visitors to experience the feeling of a quake by replicating important quakes such as the one in Chile (2010) that hit 8.8 on the Richter scale. Also on site is a classic Costa Rican restaurant. For more information, visit magmatica.cr/en.
- La Fortuna is hometown to chef Scott Alan; you may have dined at his must-visit Lava Lounge restaurant or smaller cafe and deli Gecko Gourmet. Now clients can reserve a place for his Costa Rica cooking class, a hands-on cooking workshop, held at The View Arenal at the base of the Arenal Volcano. Under the direction of chef Alan and his team, delicious dishes are mastered using homegrown and fresh ingredients, and year-round classes are held offering cooking instruction and practice, plus unlimited food and drinks. For more information, visit costaricacooking.com.
- “The adventure begins here,” according to Diamante Eco Adventure Park. Located seaside in Guanacaste (near the RIU Hotels), this new entry on the what-to-do-in-Costa-Rica bucket list of attractions boasts the longest dual-line zipline (that’s two persons zipping side-by-side) and the only one with an ocean view. Special features are a Superman line, a free fall “Quick Jump” and a Tarzan Swing. Other attractions include the Diamante Animal Rescue Sanctuary, built in partnership with La Paz Waterfall Gardens and home to a wildcat habitat, butterfly observatory and a sloth habitat, plus monkeys, toucans, crocodiles (viewed from a hanging bridge), snakes and more. Park-goers can go ATVing and horseback riding, hang out at the beach, and take time out for dining. Three kinds of passes are available: Areal Pass for the zipline; Discovery Pass for the animal sanctuary; and Adventure Pass for a full day of activities and adventure. For more information, call (800) 464-5554 or visit diamanteecoadventurepark.com.
- Attention all agents with garden-loving and birdwatching clients: The gem of all Costa Rican gardens is the Wilson Botanical Garden, the most famous botanical garden in Central America is located in the southern Pacific region near the town of San Vito, and features thousands of tropical and subtropical ornamentals—bromeliads, orchids, heliconias and 700 different palms. The 25-acre garden is maintained by the Organization for Tropical Studies and occupies part of the 740-acre habitat of Las Cruces Biological Station. A bonus here is superb birdwatching, for the Garden’s beautiful and unusual flowers attract some 400 plus species of birds. Self-guided walks follow color-coded trails; guided walks require reserving ahead. Comfortable bungalows and dining facilities are available for nature buffs who want to be on site for early-morning bird walks and nocturnal tours. For more information, visit ots.ac.cr. Holbrook Travel, known for its specialty niche of garden tours worldwide, offers a 13-day, naturalist-guided, itinerary featuring major botanical gardens in Costa Rica; among the highlights is a 2-night stay at Las Cruces. For more information, call (800) 451-7111 or visit holbrooktravel.com.
- Quite naturally, spas and wellness programs have sprouted like mushrooms all over Costa Rica, a country that believes and lives its sustainability credo and is a showcase for wellness tourism. In business for 17 years, Eco Wellness & Travel is committed to this “alternative”—a.k.a. “Green Wellness”—which combines four elements: physically oriented adventure activities; relaxation services (meditation, yoga, massage, thermals, holistic treatments, etc.); authentic gastronomic delights; and a culturally unique and inspiring experience. Its programs—such as a 6-night Nature, Culture, Wellness Escape, spending two nights in San Jose at Hotel Presidente and four nights at the Trojan Lodge in San Gerardo de Dota, or a 9-night Wellness Honeymoon, with time divided between Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa in Arenal and Parador Ocean Resort & Spa at Manuel Antonio—are customized for individuals and groups. On the calendar for 2018 is a Women’s Barefoot Luxury Yoga Retreat, held Jan. 13-20. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ecowellnesscr.com.
- Opening in 2018 is the new 170,00-sq.-ft. National Congress and Convention Center, set on a 25-acre site, six miles from downtown San Jose, five miles from Santamaria International Airport. The main building’s capacity for 4,600 people, well-positioned for the small-to-medium-size meetings, conferences and incentives market. With sustainability an integral part of Costa Rica’s DNA, it comes as no surprise that the Center’s environmentally friendly features range from reflective roofs and rainwater harvesting systems to LED lighting and 32,808 ft. of solar panels that will provide energy to the building. The Convention Center will be the host venue for Expotur 2018.
For more information, visit expotur-eco.com/en.