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Escape to Costa Rica

by Christopher McNamara
Arenal Volcano (Photo by Roberto Garcia)

I will never forget this fascinating trip with its amazing views of the Arenal Volcano and all the wonderful experiences I had while I was in the rainforest.

Arenal Volcano (Photo by Roberto Garcia)

Traveling from the airport to Nayara Tented Camp (nayaratentedcamp.com) in La Fortuna takes about three hours.

Along the way you’ll see cow pastures everywhere, and stands featuring beautiful carved wooden figures and locally grown produce. You’ll also pass by places that are called soda, which is not what you think it is. We were told that these places are restaurants or markets that are found on the side of the roads.

Driving up the hill into the lush green rainforest is breathtaking, and when you arrive at Nayara Tented Camp you are handed a hot towel to refresh yourself, and a delicious drink with crushed ice and lemon. In the lobby, there are astonishing views of the resort and Arenal Volcano. We were also greeted by Connie Navarro, who does sales and marketing for Nayara Resorts. Connie was amazing, knowledgeable, and made sure everything went smoothly throughout the few days we were there. Connie is so personable with everyone, and she has a great personality that lights up the room.

Everyone who works at the resort is so friendly and they always asked our name and how we were doing. If you asked them how they were doing, they usually responded with “Pura Vida.” Pura Vida is a popular saying in Costa Rica, the direct translation is “pure life.” However, Costa Ricans use Pura Vida as a greeting, a thank you, you’re welcome, or to express that something is incredible. Most of the people here come from the surrounding La Fortuna area, and they are offered free transportation, sustainable tourism education, early education for their children, and more, all just by working at Nayara Tented Camp.

There are three Nayara sister resorts in the Arenal Volcano National Park area, and all are different. These include Nayara Tented Camp, Nayara Springs (nayarasprings.com) which is adult-only, and Nayara Gardens (nayaragardens.com). They are all connected by little bridges and leafy pathways with beautiful flowers and water features. All of them have different restaurants and a plethora of luxurious amenities.

Nayara Luxury Tent Bedroom (Photo by Courtesy of Nayara Tented Camp)

Nayara Luxury Tent Bedroom (Photo by Courtesy of Nayara Tented Camp)

This was the first international trip for my boyfriend Ed and me since we’ve been together, and I must say it was very romantic being in the peaceful nature of Costa Rica and extremely nice to be able to disconnect from the outside world.

When we entered our tent, there was champagne and a little stuffed sloth waiting for us. Then it was then time to relax and recharge in our own spacious eco-friendly tent that’s magnificent in every way possible. It included an indoor shower, natural covered outdoor shower, claw foot bathtub, day beds, and a beautiful, private, green-tiled plunge pool that was heated by the energy from the volcano.

Outdoor Shower (Photo Courtesy of Nayara Tented Camp)

Outdoor Shower (Photo courtesy of Nayara Tented Camp)

There are also water-conserving faucets where you can drink the water directly from the tap. Energy-conserving light bulbs are used as well, and the lighting systems are controlled by your room key. The canopy bed features a botanical headboard mural, and it’s nice that you can look out of the sliding glass doors while you relax. When it wasn’t cloudy you could see the Arenal Volcano in the distance right outside your back patio that also comes with a hammock and daybed. There is a table and chairs on the patio where you can have room service refreshments while listening to the natural soundtrack of the many birds and enjoying the views of the Arenal Volcano and rainforest.

When they bring in the room service they ask if you would like it inside or outside. We wanted to eat outside, and they set up the table on the patio with a white tablecloth and utensils. I ordered the delicious chicken gyro with grilled marinated chicken, tahini, shug, tzatziki, and fresh herbs, and my boyfriend ordered the Ayla burger with 100% local premium beef, garlic aioli, lettuce, tomato, pickled onion, and cheddar cheese. I must say they both were very delicious.

When returning to our tent at night after our daily excursions, there were always some coconut treats and a personal note waiting for us.

Luxury Tent View (Photo Courtesy of Nayara Tented Camp)

Luxury Tent View (Photo Courtesy of Nayara Tented Camp)

I will never forget this fascinating trip with its amazing views of the Arenal Volcano and all the wonderful experiences I had while I was in the rainforest. It was truly magical.

The owners of Nayara Tented Camp, Leo Ghitis and his wife Ruth Ghitis are a sweet, lovely couple who put so much passion into everything they do. Ruth is the vision and creative mind behind all the tents, which are inspired by a combination of both African safaris and India. Each of the tents is built with renewable materials, and they sit on stilts to leave a minimal footprint.

The resort is environmentally and socially responsible in everything that they do. The luxurious safari-style tents are built on a hill with captivating views of the magnificent Arenal Volcano (the last volcanic eruption was in 2010). Over 50 years ago, deforestation took place in the location, and the land was barren and turned into pasture farming. They started to restore the habitat with natural plants to create the rainforest with reforestation experts. Through the reforestation, Nayara planted over 1,000 Cecropia trees, which is a sloth’s main food source, along with many other trees and indigenous bushes. This also led to a variety of different species coming to the area along with the sloths.

Tony the Sloth (Photo: Sybil Pool)

You will see wildlife everywhere you go, so make sure to bring a pair of binoculars. Tony is the main sloth here, along with 15 other resident sloths on the property who make up this wonderful sloth sanctuary. The sloths usually stay in the same spot and eat the leaves from the trees while algae grows on their back. I learned that they only come down from the tree to use the bathroom once a week and cover their scent like cats. The sloths do tend to change their locations a bit though.

One must really look to spot the sloths and ask around if there have been any sloth sightings on that specific day. Nayara’s expert nature guide and ‘Sloth Concierge’ is Juan Pablo. You may know the saying ‘The early bird catches the worm?” Well, if you wake up early enough to take the bird tour you may spot Costa Rica’s national bird the clay-colored thrush, as well as the yellow-throated toucans, red-lored parrots, rufous-tailed hummingbirds, and more.

Red Eyed Tree Frog at Night (Photo by Nature's Charm)

Red Eyed Tree Frog at Night (Photo by Nature’s Charm)

Another experience not to be missed is the nocturnal frog-watching that takes place on Mondays and Thursdays. Here, you might spot Costa Rica’s main frog, the red-eyed frog, the glass frog, and more. There are monkeys and a family of wild pigs that roam the property too. There’s also an armadillo trail, a variety of butterflies, and many other animals in their natural environment where they are free to roam and do whatever they please. Throughout my stay, I didn’t notice too many bugs around. Maybe it had to do with all those frogs.

After your daily explorations, grab a cocktail at Henry’s bar, featuring a library and a fireplace. Here you can also customize your drink based on your favorite ingredients. For dinner head to Asia Luna where the chef experiments with different flavors and offers up a unique food and beverage menu of traditional Asian cuisine in the middle of the rainforest. Their colorful hibiscus margarita is made with Don Julio silver, triple sec, homemade hibiscus syrup, lime juice, and a Himalaya pink salt rim.

For your meal, delectable options include the appetizing cilantro chicken won-tons, beef skewers with spicy tamarind sauce, and grilled chicken with crunchy vegetables, bean noodles, coconut, and hot curry sauce. The chef’s signature Nayara Roll is made with sweet plantains and chicken or grilled yellowfin tuna with sautéed vegetables. On the second day, my boyfriend and I enjoyed a romantic room service breakfast on the patio. We ordered the fruit platter with fresh tropical fruits such as mango, passion fruit, watermelon, melon, and pineapple. The “Traditional Breakfast” consisted of rice and beans, herbs, eggs, grilled cheese, and sweet plantains.

After breakfast, we went to the complimentary yoga class that takes place at 8:15 every morning in the pavilion above the trees, where we spotted an armadillo in its natural habitat. Everything about the morning yoga was very Zen, especially being on top of the rainforest. It was our first time ever doing yoga and it was way more of an intense workout than we thought it would be, we really worked up a sweat. After the class, they offer coconut water direct from a coconut that is electrolyte-filled as well as a refreshing drink. If you still feel the need for more exercise during the day, there’s a fitness center located right next door to the yoga pavilion.

Luxury Tent Bathroom (Photo courtesy of Nayara Tented Camp)

Luxury Tent Bathroom (Photo courtesy of Nayara Tented Camp)

That afternoon, I decided to try the Swedish massage at the amazing Nayara Spa. Here, they offer you a glass of sparkling wine as soon as you walk in. Afterward, slip into your robe and slippers and head for one of the open-air treatment pavilions. It’s nice to hear all of the wildlife and the rushing stream while having a massage. For the Swedish massage, they offer three different oils from which to choose: lavender, eucalyptus, and lemon. They also offer a volcanic mud massage that’s influenced by Costa Rica’s ancient belief that the volcanic mineral-rich mud regenerates and nourishes the skin as well as providing energy and inner peace. There are a variety of other offerings, including treatments with organic coffee from a nearby farm, and chocolate clay made with organic cocoa beans.

When it to comes to dining options, you will appreciate the wonderful culinary offerings at the resort. For lunch, we truly enjoyed La Terraza, where we ordered the ceviche tico with marinated fish, lemon juice, onion, avocado, coriander, and plantain chips. La Terraza is an open-air family restaurant serving a-la-carte Latin American food where you can order a nice lunch or dinner. If you sit at the Bar Azul, ask the bartender to create their own tropical creation and enjoy the atmosphere while sipping on a refreshing cocktail. We were able to see the volcano for a brief period while we were eating, before it disappeared behind some clouds. You’ll find umbrellas everywhere throughout the resort just in case of a downpour, which it randomly tends to do from time to time during the rainy season from May through November.

For cocktails, head to Amor Loco for a mixology class with Josue, who is very nice and knowledgeable, and has so much passion for what he does. He made us four different drinks: the gin-based Basil Julep, vodka based Lucky Boy, tequila-based Marilyn Monroe, and bourbon-based Breakfast In Bed. He showed us step-by-step how to make each of the drinks. The Breakfast In Bed contained bourbon infused with bacon, maple syrup, and a piece of bacon to garnish to go with that breakfast flavor. There was also an opportunity to make one of the four different drinks. I chose to make the Basil Julep with muddled basil because it was my favorite, and it was definitely a hit!

They also offer a coffee-making class as they make their own delicious coffee on the premises. You can learn from the baristas at Mi Cafecito Espresso Bar how to prepare a delicious Costa Rican coffee. You’ll discover where the coffee is produced, all the different varieties of coffee, and more. By the end of the class, you’ll want to bring a few bags of coffee home with you because it is so flavorful.

Another option is their Nostalgia wine bar where there are 20 different wines imported from Italy on tap in their unique wine dispensing system. Here they offer a wine-pairing dinner with seven courses where couples can experience tasting menus prepared by chefs with local ingredients, and the sommelier will pick the best match of wine from around the world. There are also delicious tapasif you prefer just to do wine and tapas, which is highly recommended. They set up wine flights from different countries as well, including those from Argentina, Chile, and more.

If you’re looking for more of a secluded private dinner, reserve a Moroccan-style private bungalow. The ambiance features lit candles, rose petals, and romantic background music. Start with a glass of champagne and enjoy a four-course meal per your selection prepared by a private chef. Pairing your meal with champagne, wine, or even try a craft beer tasting of an exclusive collection of Costa Rican craft beers.

One of our favorite dinners was at Amor Loco, which featured dishes such as stuffed zucchini blossoms with crab and chicken, green pea purée, topped with a sesame foam; grilled beef tenderloin with onion purée, potato terrine, asparagus, and a smoked demi-glace. There were velvet chairs to sit on while you eat, and live music playing in the background. After dinner, order their flaming coffee drink to accompany your dessert or one of their amazing espresso martinis.

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