I've always wanted to visit Costa Rica and last October spent just over three weeks on the trip of a lifetime riding horses through the rainforest, surfing in warm waters, white-water rafting past the most beautiful landscape, zip-lining across the rainforest canopy and seeing some of the most incredible and exotic wildlife I've ever seen.
My plan was to experience as much as I could of this beautiful country and so booked a week in a ranch in Guanacaste, four days in a luxury eco-lodge in Limon near the Caribbean coast and then ten days at a beautiful resort on the Nicoya coast in Santa Teresa. I went during rainy season when Costa Rica was much quieter and the resorts cheaper and even though some restaurants were closed, it did nothing to dampen my experience. And yes it rained a lot, but the daily afternoon and evening thunderstorms were spectacular especially when viewed from the beach at Santa Teresa.
Painted Pony Ranch - Guanacaste
I've done a number of ranch holidays over the years and this is truly one of the best. From the impeccable service, beautiful surroundings, luxurious accommodation and delicious meals, Painted Pony Ranch is a must to visit if you're in Costa Rica. Kay and Esteban are the perfect hosts and although I was travelling alone, made me feel welcome and part of their family. The ranch is idyllic, the horses so sweet and well behaved and Esteban the perfect guide. We even saw baby Howler monkeys in the trees! I loved everything about this holiday including the outdoor shower, the pool, the wonderful ranch dogs, the iguana tree, the mind-blowing stunning scenery and the natural horsemanship demonstrations. I even got to surf one morning at the nearby Tamarindo beach. Ask Kay and Esteban about doing a daytrip to the Arenal volcano where you can view the incredible mountain and also soak your bones in nearby picturesque hot springs.
Pacuare Eco-Lodge - Limon
I was so sad to leave Pacuare Lodge that I almost considered returning a week later - it was that beautiful. Three days was definitely not long enough! I loved the exhilarating white-water rafting, swimming beneath the waterfall and the sound of the Howler monkeys in the trees. The luxury accommodation with outdoor and indoor shower, amazing service, friendly staff and gourmet meals were out of this world and excellent value. The views of the rainforest and the mighty Pacuare river were surreal and I highly recommend having a massage at the eco-lodge where you are lulled into total relaxation by the sound of the river rushing past. I had to pinch myself several times especially when two Toucans flew past us. Our local guide Maximillian was awesome, funny and incredibly knowledgeable about the rainforest. He was a true 'jungle man' who took us ziplining, swimming and made us feel so safe in the rapids. The bar staff also mixed a mean Pina Colada. This was one of the best adventures I've ever had and can't wait to return
Pranamar Villas - Santa Teresa
Everything about Pranamar Villas is special and welcoming from the wonderful, helpful and friendly staff, to the beautiful bungalows and villas and the incredible morning yoga sessions.
I travelled alone and during rainy season so while most other hotels in Santa Teresa were either closed or nearly empty, the Bali-inspired tropical Pranamar was busy enough not to feel isolated or alone. The lush location was perfect with the beautiful Playa Hermosa beach about a five minute walk away and getting there was much easier than I imagined - a short flight on a small plane from San Jose to Tambor and hour taxi ride from the tiny airport. If you're going straight to Santa Teresa after your international flight, it's advisable to stay overnight in San Jose first as there is only one flight a day to Tambor during low season.
At Pranamar, I stayed in two of the rustic bungalows surrounded by tropical gardens, including the beachfront option with amazing seaviews, and fell asleep each night to the sound of crashing surf. With a delicious breakfast and daily yoga included in the rates, I thought Pranamar was an absolute bargain especially compared with other resorts in the area.
My day pretty much consisted of a morning yoga session with the amazing Nancy, breakfast overlooking the pool (my favourite was the Prana Tipico), either a day adventure arranged by the staff (thank you Marcella and Smiley) including horse riding across Ranch Ario and onto the beach, ziplining at Montezuma, hiking through Cabo Blanca National Park, or an afternoon surf. Having convinced myself I'd never be able to ride an ATV, I was soon zooming around Santa Teresa on one, across rivers, through farmland and up steep hills and having a blast. I saw so much wildlife including iguanas, howler and capuchin monkeys, chatting red squirrels, noisy and comical urracas and even a white-nosed couti. At dusk, I sat in the pool watching bats chasing insects, gazed in awe at the beautiful sunsets from the front of the resort and listened to thunderstorms rage overhead at night. Rainy season is just that - rainy - but the storms only came through late afternoon/early evening and the rest of the days were Sun, Sun, Sun.
Be advised though, your clothes never dry unless you leave your air conditioning on, so it's a good idea to bring trainers that you don't mind leaving behind at the end of your holiday. Mine began to fall apart and are now enjoying an extended stay as we speak. I have nothing bad to say about Pranamar. It was the perfect ending to a three week dream holiday in Costa Rica. Pure Vida. I'll be back for sure.
Scroll down for more pictures from my Costa Rican adventure ....
Labels: Central America, Costa Rica, Guanacaste, horse riding, Limon, Nicoya, Pacuare eco-lodge, Painted pony ranch, Pranamar Villas, Santa Teresa, Tamarindo