Pura Vida in Costa Rica’s Papagayo Peninsula
Updated: Sep 1, 2020
There’s little to nothing on the 30-minute drive from the airport to Costa Rica’s Papagayo peninsula to which the Pacific Ocean lays claim. Nothing – as in no busy town squares or bustling markets or other city dweller comforts. Instead there are sugar cane fields and green pastures for miles on either side of the road with errant broods of cattle or horses to break up the vast expanse. The Guanacaste region is unsullied and unspoiled. In the distance, under a ring of mist – volcanoes loom. They skirt the country’s seven provinces and when active, literally birth new landscapes and vistas. Seldom imposing – just there to balance, protect and when it’s time, renew. On December 1, 1948, then President José Figueres Ferrer of Costa Rica abolished the military after victory in the civil war in that year. In a ceremony in the Cuartel Bellavista, Figueres broke a wall with a mallet symbolizing an end to Costa Rica's military spirit, channeling all of its money into education and public well-being and wagering that anyone who passes through would come to know and embody its purest of intentions: Only peace here – or Pura Vida meaning pure life, more precisely. It is wet season in Costa Rica – from May to Mid-November – and all things living are lush and begging to be seen – moody and gestating; complementing and counteracting. When the humidity and breeze, soft and lilting, work together as a salve, it is a mélange of delightful contrasts.
It is deep in this blending of nature and sanctuary that Hyatt’s Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort rests, dug into the terraced hillside overlooking Culebra Bay as the conceptual marvel of homegrown Costa Rican architect Ronald Zürcher. His highest considerations came to perfect fruition in its structure and scale: free of barriers, secluded, set apart, but inherently communal. The sense of place achieved here is minimalistic by way of the residual opulence that crowns the region itself. In each fixture, aesthetic flourish and gesture -- a blend of heritage and community saturated with Pura Vida ethos and Tico sensibilities. An unexpected offering of soothing Aloe poolside, for example, a chilled, lemongrass-infused towel at just the right time, banter that forgives missteps of cursory Spanish instruction bygone. Never formulaic, just perceptive. Like family.
There’s talk of the ethos over a family-style dinner at the ebullient Chao Pescao as the last chalice of sunlight saunters through the space. The tapas style spread to soak it in takes on Costa Rican classics including a Gallo Pinto iteration that humbly promises to be outdone by the morning with another take offered at the Rio Bhongo – or a Gallo Pinto Scrub at the ONDA Spa, both open-air – pick your pleasure. The consensus amongst my trip mates was that each of the resort’s 153 rooms and suites’ rain showers – a step in an out, were indeed the marquee of the best the resort had to offer; closely followed by the intuitiveness of the space like the motion-sensing lights and smart air-conditioning that detect when the doors are open, reducing waste and living up to the eco-chic moniker. And the monkeys – two species ubiquitous and thrillingly social here – gleefully remind you to come out to play. At every chance – from wading with the stingrays at Andaz’s secluded beach to ziplining over plunging ravines and pore liberating natural hot springs – I did just that. This is life, come to life.
The Rio Bhongo is a culinary “paseo” – just like a farmer’s market. Fresh fruits, delectable pastries, simply prepared meats and fish; a specialty egg station plus the irreplaceable Gallo Pinto, creating a perfect start to the day. Ostra serves up a wide range of sophisticated seafood dishes in posh setting and offers guests the opportunity to create their own custom ceviches at a dedicated station. Take a night-time dip in the adults-only pool right after.
The science behind a well-built drink comes in three parts, says master mixologist Jose Pina who curates libations from the nectar of the sugar cane every Monday at Chao Pescao: Mix a spirit as the anchor, a sweet or sour flourish, and a bitters complement. Shake, or stir, and be on your way.
Elevate into the trees, gaze over the water and find your way to Pura Vida. The meditative experience of ONDA Spa aligns your physiology with the quiet pace of Papagayo, as you discover the expansive nature of wellness. -- Kamille D. Whittaker
Originally published in Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine October 2016 & Atlanta Daily World May 2017