Costa Rica has long been a popular Central American escape. With travel restrictions relaxed for US travelers (currently, just a vaccination card and health pass are required upon entry), this winter season is the best time for a tropical adventure. The way to do it is to stay overnight in each location you’re exploring and make an early start to avoid the crowds and see wildlife at their most active. Here’s where to go, where to stay, and how to do it with ease.

First things first, book a meet and greet service at the airport

With travel regularly facing disruption this year, you’ll want to take the stress out of your arrival and departure process. Paradigm Meet & Greet services over 450 airports worldwide, including SJO (Juan Santamaría International Airport). On arrival, a dedicated agent will meet you outside the gate with personalized signage, expedite you through passport control, assist with baggage claim, and finally usher you to awaiting transportation. The agents are local and can help with any last-minute requests, whether that’s finding an ATM to withdraw Costa Rican colones or amend your restaurant booking due to flight delay. At departure, they work with your driver to be there the precise moment you park, and then take you through the check-in and security processes so that all you need to think about is the kind of coffee or alcoholic beverage you’ll have at the included lounge that overlooks the runway.

Paradigm, Costa Rica
Go through the airport with minimal stress, the Paradigm team coordinates everything from plane to car.

Make Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen your Hello and Goodbye

Travelers coming from the states are likely to land at SJO, so it’s wise to pick an overnight nearby, to allow space for any travel disruptions and also a breather before embarking on another journey across the country. The Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen is the perfect base. Their ‘hello’ is most welcoming after a long flight (and there’s a smooth transfer service). Choose to combat jet lag at the full-service Kuo spa or fuel up on authentic Costa Rican recipes handed down through generations at Hacienda Kitchen in the open-air courtyard. There’s nothing like a grandma-style chicken soup for comfort (give or take an exquisite Argentinian wine).

When departing, pass time in your luxury suite as you wait for your flight home. Go Presidential for huge apartment-sized space, double bathrooms, and dining room if you prefer to order in. Rooms have all the modern tech to charge or catch up on, plus 24-hour room service. Alternatively, reflect on the gorgeous coffee plantation grounds and scattered artwork with a locally produced cup of coffee and or take some last-minute social media photos by the pool under swaying palm trees.

Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen
Deeply infused with the culture and traditions of Costa Rica, this hotel provides the best welcome and farewell for tropical explorers.

Spend a few days in Manuel Antonio: via Arenas Del Mar

The best place for wildlife and adventure activity is Manuel Antonio, in the south. Check yourself into Arenas Del Mar, a few minutes from the national park. The property itself is part of the whole tropical experience, and you’ll see many of the same creatures hanging around as you would trekking through the forest. Most say that here you don’t need to search for the animals – they’ll come to find you – around the lobby, at breakfast, on your terrace…so have your camera ready for those white-faced capuchin monkeys, or get up close to the colorful birds without disturbing them with a Zoom Tube Monocular Telescope (such as Nocs Provisions) on hand. Arenas Del Mar is the only luxury beachfront property in the area, centered around sustainability (for example, the hot water is heated by solar panels and the restaurants work with local fishermen who provide fresh and sustainable catch). Guest rooms have wonderful ocean or rainforest view terraces (with included minibar to enjoy scenes from), and premium suites have beautiful private Jacuzzis. On-site there are two gourmet restaurants, a wellness center, two beaches out front (golf carts can whisk you there), and there is a slew of guided activities to opt-in for such as late-right rainforest treks, whitewater rafting, tortilla making, and birdwatching.

Arenas Del Mar, Costa Rica
Arenas Del Mar is a romantic beachfront hotel a short walk to the famed Manuel Antonio National Park, and a must-stay when exploring the area.

Experience a Cloud Forest: via Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel and Nature Reserve

Whilst the tour buses head to Monteverde for the cloud forest experience, we suggest a unique and gorgeous nearby alternative. Villa Blanca is a stay that’s situated on its private 2,000-acre cloud forest reserve. You’ll wake up in the morning and be on the trail within minutes, exploring exotic flora and hearing hummingbirds buzz past. It’s no wonder the property is such a popular wedding venue – the landscape is postcard-perfect, plus there’s a classic Mariana Chapel. After the hike, visit their resident ‘celebrity’ dairy cows and join in for a milking session. The farm and greenhouse produce is used in the kitchen, so you know the ice cream is extra fresh. Accommodation-wise, options include Casitas and Honeymoon Suites, with vaulted cane ceilings, handcrafted furniture, wood-burning fireplaces, private garden porches, and in-room jacuzzis. Villa Blanca is one of the country’s leaders in sustainable hospitality, and guests will discover all its wonders from their passionate local staff.

Villa Blanca, Costa Rica
For the cloud forest experience, head to Villa Blanca, a sustainable stay carrying the beauty of Costa Rican nature on its private reserve. Choose a self-guided or guided tour.

Play golf in Herradura: via Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort

Finally, jungle aside, you’ll want to let off some steam. How about a round of golf in the more built-up, beachside towns by Jaco? The best is Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort in Herradura – it’s huge and if you’re a fan of the sport then you’re in paradise. The La Iguana Golf championship course offers players a challenging 18 hole layout and a gorgeous backdrop to play. It was recognized by the World Golf Awards as the best course in Costa Rica. That’s not all – set amidst acres of forest and you can even take a golf cart experience to tour the nature that envelopes. You’ll get up close to sloths, coatis, macaws, and eagles, at a golf course, who would have thought? Afterward, follow the birds and take a stroll of the sunny property with a Zoe Cocktail in hand. The beach is lined with yachts and there are plenty of ocean activities and excursions to consider in the area.

Los Suenos Golf Resort, Costa Rica
Tee off amidst sweeping views of the rainforest and the ocean at the Ted Robinson-designed La Iguana Golf Course.

Pro Packing Tips

Costa Rica is a rainforest country, which sees over 200 inches of rain per year to sustain its climate and thriving ecosystem. With that in mind, we advise packing a good rain jacket that’s lightweight and breathable. Merrell’s Whisper Rain Jackets are made with 100% waterproof materials, and at the same time are soft and properly manage moisture. You’ll need this level of comfort if you’re trekking through the jungle all day in the heat, humidity, and sudden downpour. Underneath, we suggest a sun-protected shirt; Ridge Merino has options with a built-in natural UPF of 25-50+ depending on color choice. In terms of bag – for daytime use opt for light and functional – Able Carry has durable options that perform well in motion and have ventilated pads to keep your back cool. Use a different bag for your luggage, which you’ll leave at the hotel/car rental. Pakt has responsibly sourced minimalist design options. All are deceivingly spacious and can hold a lot more than meets the eye. Then there’s the little essentials – bug spray, sunscreen, face and body wipes, swimwear, flip flops, and high protein, low sugar snacks like BHU’s Keto goodies, that’ll help energy levels stay constant on the go (you can also keep the kids happy without the guilt at the Safe and Fair Food Company). Finally, bring a portable charger – with a nearly-always on camera and Google Maps, you don’t want to run out of juice mid-trip.

Pakt Gear in Costa Rica
Pakt’s Gear Hauler fits all your trip’s goods effortlessly.