Playa Cativo Lodge Costa Rica

Costa Rica vacations take a rather predictable path for first-time visitors. Those who return tend to dig deeper, to explore wider, to get more off the standard circuit. Our latest tour story leaves the capital, heads to the coast, and then meanders down through the Dominical region almost to the Panamanian border, to the Gulfo Dulce. Along the way we stayed in luxury villas, woke up above the clouds at Alta Gracia, stayed in eco-friendly Playa Cativo, and joined the throngs for one last night at the beach near Quepos.

Costa Rica’s roads get a bit better each year and you could do this whole trip in a rental car from the airport. There are only a few turns to mess up, with most of the stretches being a long way on the same road. Part of the time the main problem is getting distracted by the scenery. At other times you’re cruising by palm oil plantations that seem to go on forever. I was on an itinerary planned by Edge Travel, led by a woman who has split her life so far between Costa Rica and the USA. A Los Suenos villa pool in Costa RIca from

We started off our tour in Jaco, which you can get to within two hours of landing at the international terminal. (We recommend Copa Airlines from the USA or Canada. It’ll be more pleasant than a U.S. carrier but you still get Star Alliance miles.) Los SueƱos is a master planned community just off the end of the fast toll road to the coast. There’s a JW Marriott on site, but you’re better off renting a decked-out villa with some room to spread out, especially if you’re with a group or family. The units range from two-bedroom ones by the golf course to nine-bedroom mansions with their own huge pool and this kind of view you see here.

It’s a short hop to Manuel Antonio National Park and Quepos for a little more beach time, but if you want to stay in the best Costa Rica resort south of Guanacaste’s Four Seasons, then head a few hours inland to Alta Gracia, just opened this year. It’s a collection of individual casitas that are bigger and more luxurious than most houses with a huge expanse of land around it and mountains in the back.

Alta Gracia Costa Rica

They have their own horse stables with a show jumping arena and their own small airstrip. Every detail has been done impeccably and the spa is the largest in the country. Alta Gracia is now part of the Auberge Collection.

It’s another road trip south to the Gulfo Dulce area, but this is the most wildlife-rich area in a country known for doing more than most to protect its wildlife. From the former banana republic town of Golfito you go by boat to Playa Cativo, a recent lodge opening. It does a terrific job of balancing eco-friendly building and systems with plenty of comfort and personal service. Much of the produce is grown on site, the fish is caught nearby, and there are few items served that don’t come from this region.

See our full feature story here: From Jaco to the Gulfo Dulce in southern Costa Rica.