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Sunset walk at Playa Cativo, Costa Rica

Costa Rica: Truly Off the Beaten Path

I chose Costa Rica for my family’s annual summer trip this year for many reasons. While I’d been twice before, there were still a number of places I wanted to explore for my clients and experience myself. Costa Rica is the Central American destination that offered just what I was looking for – adventure, exploration, and relaxation all built into one memorable vacation!

Family time in Costa Rica
Zip lining adventure at Pacuare Lodge, Costa Rica
Waterfall hike at Pacuare Lodge reaped a big reward at the end!

🇨🇷 Costa Rica unspoiled and how I found it

I worked with my preferred onsite partner in San Jose to design an itinerary that would best fit my family’s needs, but also expand my professional knowledge of the country. This is the same exercise I go through with each Costa Rica inquiry I receive from clients. As you’re about to read, we stayed in some unbelievably cool places. They’re quite remote and not for everyone, which is why I partner closely with my onsite contacts in Costa Rica to identify the best properties and activities for each client. No two itineraries are the same.

Sunset walk at Playa Cativo
Up close and personal with some of Costa Rica’s most beloved local residents
Main pool at Pacuare Lodge

We began our trip with an overnight in San Jose.  I chose charming Grano de Oro, and it did not disappoint.  Originally a historic Victorian mansion, Grano de Oro was converted into a lovely boutique hotel with arguably the best restaurant in the city. It was the perfect spot to rest after a long day of travel and prepare for the next day’s adventure.

Exterior view of Grano de Oro, San Jose
Grano de Oro’s charming courtyard dining area
My children’s cozy double bedded room at Casa de Oro, Costa Rica

🛶 Rafting to Pacuare Lodge

I refer to the next day as an “adventure” because indeed that’s what it was! Our next stop was Pacuare Lodge, a luxury ecolodge set on the banks of the beautiful and unspoiled Pacuare River (widely considered to be one of the most scenic raftable rivers in the world). A National Geographic affiliated property set on over 800 acres of rainforest reserve, this legendary lodge can only be accessed via river raft. Even in higher water that’s typical in June, the rapids are only Class I and II, so not that difficult to navigate, even for beginners. Coolest way ever to get to a hotel!

Ready for a rafting adventure!
Enjoying raft trip to Pacuare Lodge
Enjoying the scenery along the way

The scenery along the way was gorgeous and before I knew it, we were on the banks of the lodge with a staff member waiting to greet us with cold scented towels. This was just the beginning of our experience with the outstanding service that makes Pacuare really stand out. Everything from food, to housekeeping, to the incredibly knowledgeable and well-trained guides was top notch.

A warm welcome at Pacuare Lodge
Deck overlooking the river at Pacuare Lodge
Main restaurant at Pacuare Lodge

🐒 Zip Lining, Hiking & Wildlife at Pacuare Lodge

We spent our days experiencing some of the highlights of the area. Zip lining (the best course I’ve ever experienced), hiking, wildlife watching, a visit to meet the local indigenous community, and of course a spa treatment (for me!) were all part of our stay. In between adventures, we enjoyed many delicious meals served by the friendly staff – all fresh and creative. There was also just enough downtime to sit on our deck, take a dip in the private plunge pool and enjoy a good book with the river rushing before us. Heaven.

Zip lining at Pacuare Lodge
Enjoying a dip in our private plunge pool at Pacuare Lodge
Reading nook at Pacuare Lodge

From Pacuare, we began our journey to the next and final spot; another luxury ecolodge set on the coast of the utterly untouched Golfo Dulce in the southern part of Costa Rica. We started our adventure with a basket ride across the river. It was an amazing departure transfer none of us will forget!

Ready for our basket ride across the Pacuare River
Guests at Pacuare Lodge can opt to have lunch via pulley in The Nest, the last platform of their zip line course

Ready for lunch in The Nest!

🐬 A Dolphin Welcoming Crew

After a car ride back to San Jose and a quick flight, we found ourselves in the sleepy town of Port Jimenez. Playa Cativo staff members were waiting to greet us and whisked us by boat to their incredible lodge (which is only accessible by boat). On route, we were lucky enough to see a huge pod of spotted dolphins that live here year round and they most definitely put on a show. It was magical!

Otherworldly arrival at Playa Cativo
Beach at Playa Cativo
Swing time at Playa Cativo

🏝️ Our stay at Playa Cativo

Set on 1000 acres of private rainforest reserve and surrounded by Piedras Blancas National Park, Playa Cativo is a special place. Quite small and intimate, I felt as if I was visiting a family friend’s estate in the middle of the jungle. The staff knows everyone by name within 24 hours of check-in, and by the second day remembered that my children loved passionfruit juice, I was a green tea drinker, and we especially loved the banana bread at breakfast. Such personalized service!

The beauty of the Golfo Dulce
Luxury can be achieved at an eco lodge!

The accommodations at Playa Cativo are lovely and spacious, as are the common areas where we would find guests chatting about their day’s adventure, reading or enjoying a sunset cocktail. The farm to table restaurant overlooking the gulf was outstanding, as was my massage at the Wellness Center. Recently added, this sanctuary offers traditional spa treatments but also a unique wellness program that guests looking for the recharge button can complete during their stay.

View from the main restaurant at Playa Cativo
Playa Cativo’s charming lobby area
Wellness Center at Playa Cativo

Playa Cativo offers a large array of activities for guests. Some highlights for my family included:

  • a visit to a neighboring animal reserve
  • a snorkeling trip via boat
  • a night hike to learn about the jungle’s nocturnal friends

We learned so much about the indigenous wildlife (and saw some crazy looking frogs and spiders)!

Making a new friend
Snorkeling trip at Playa Cativo
Hand line fishing was a fun late afternoon activity

When wanting downtime, we enjoyed the refreshing pool and spent lots of time kayaking and paddle boarding in the warm, clear water. The conditions are ideal, and I feel certain my 11 year old daughter will never forget learning to paddle board and kayak on her own there. Such a special travel memory!

Enjoying the Golfo Dulce
Fresh watermelon juice post-snorkeling

We returned home rested, rejuvenated, and so much more knowledgeable about Costa Rica, our environment, and sustainable tourism. Both lodges produce their own energy, supply their kitchens with provisions from local gardens, and teach travelers to be mindful of the footprint they leave behind. Pura Vida!