I spent my weekend surrounded by jungle. I saw a white faced capuchin during my morning walk. I ate lunch with an iguana beside me. I swam under a waterfall in the afternoon. I did yoga with tropical birds. I watched the sunset over the ocean as I ate dinner. The best part? I didn’t even leave my hotel. Travelettes, I have a terrible confession to make. When preparing for Costa Rica, I packed trekking sandals, flip flops and tennis shoes. No high heels. But hear me out, ok? This is my fourth time visiting the country and I know I tend to spend my time lounging on the beach or hiking, and most of the roads are not exactly heel-worthy.Well, on this particular trip I was lucky enough to be invited to stay at Parador Resort and Spa outside of Manuel Antonio. I never thought I would want or need heels (or at the very least some sexy strappy sandals) in Costa Rica until I stepped into the Parador. But sigh, it is my worn flip flops with my sundress and backpack I wear as I am greeted by Moises with a warm “Bienvenidos Miss Kyra,” a fresh damp towel, and a tropical fruit drink. Luckily it doesn’t matter what I am wearing, I am still treated like a princess.I discover the Parador is named after los paradores, stopping grounds in the Middle Ages in Spain for weary travelers. If you are looking for a one of a kind place to rest and rejuvenate, then you have found it. The amenities alone are astounding: three swimming pools, four restaurants, three bars, a world-class spa, workout room, tennis court, miniature golf, nature trails, and much more. There are many styles of rooms to choose among, from the low-key Garden Rooms to the all-out Vista Suites.My bags are whisked away to my room and I am given a small tour of the basics (not that anything is basic here) of the sprawling resort, and left to wander awestruck by myself through the private monkey-filled nature trails. They are almost on par with the trails inside the actual Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio itself. The only thing missing are the hordes of tourists.
The Parador is an impressive leader in sustainable tourism. Of their fourteen acres, seven are protected rainforest, and abundant with wildlife (the most recent addition is a baby sloth). All of the cleaning supplies and bath products are biodegradable, there is a complete recycling program implemented, and kitchen waste is reused as compost. There are also energy and water saving programs throughout the resort, such as rainwater being collected, filtered, irrigated, and reused for other uses like watering the gardens. In addition equipment, materials, and household items are donated to community organizations after they are no longer needed.Eco-tourism is trendy and many businesses are quick to throw around terms like “sustainable” or “eco-friendly” when they don’t even recycle or control their grey water. It is very refreshing to see a resort as large and established as the Parador giving back and setting such a shining environmental example.After my walk, I eat a light lunch outside by the largest of the Parador’s pools. I order the roasted vegetable wrap with hummus, gouda cheese, and yucca fries. An iguana watches me eat and stares at me confused as I frantically snap pictures of it.I quickly change so I can catch one of the free shuttles to Playa Manuel Antonio, a picturesque beach right by the entrance of the national park. This is only one of many beaches in the area a short distance from the Parador. What a scene change! Here the sun seems hotter, and the energy is higher. I order an Imperial and sit to observe, before I know it I have a constant stream of locals chatting with me. I am almost tempted into a lesson with a hot surfer boy, the waves are gentle and perfect for beginners, but I can’t stop thinking about my lovely quiet room, and I politely decline “Muchas gracias, pero no hoy!”The Parador’s shuttle is not due back for over an hour so, staying true to my backpacking roots, I decide to rough it home. I catch one of the local busses that travel from Manuel Antonio to Quepos and exit at the turnoff that will lead me away from the hostels and budget hotels, and back to luxury. It is a pleasant two kilometer walk and the winding paved road is lined with jungle growth and glimpses of the ocean. The farther I descend down the road, the hotels become more refined. Suitably so, the Parador is the last on the road.
I shower and change and head out to another of the Parador’s four restaurants for dinner. I choose The Galleria, the main restaurant. I am immediately greeted and seated by the beautiful hostess, Carolina, and then instantaneously my dashing server, Carlos, comes to tell me the specials.I choose a combination grill special served with a trio of sauces, local vegetables, and mashed potatoes. It is delicious, the portions are enormous, the service is impeccable, and I go to bed full and happy. The next morning I wake early with the birds and head out for some open-air yoga. The Parador offers free yoga classes a couple days a week, and for all those other days you can practice alone, or take advantage of the on-premise gym.After my appetite is sufficiently worked up, I head over to the free breakfast buffet. Besides the basic pastries, cereal, and fruit, there is a rotating selection of hot items, or you can customize your own omelet and watch it be made in front of your eyes. I decide to keep it local and plate up some gallo pinto that I top off with Lizano sauce and eggs.I pack up my things, sad that this amazing interlude into the land of carefree luxury is about to end, and decide to spend my last hour sunbathing and taking pictures by the infinity pool. After a few failed attempts at turning my camera on auto-timer and trying to swim across the pool and pose in 20 seconds, one of the Parador’s courteous managers, Jorge, comes to my rescue. I get the shots I want and settle back into my lounge chair to tan when Jorge returns to extends an invitation to me to stay an extra night in one of the Parador’s suites.My travel plans are quickly rearranged to accommodate, and when I see my new room I am so happy I did! Not that my first room was lacking anything, but what I see before my eyes surpasses my wildest expectations. In the center of the huge room is king sized bed piled high with fluffy pillows; there is a shower, bathtub, double sinks, two desks, a bar, a sofa, and a sliding glass door. When I open the glass door I am greeted with an even more astounding view then I had before. Can this get even better I wonder? Then I see the private jacuzzi on my balcony.
As soon as the bellboy leaves I squeal and jump on my giant bed like a little girl. There is no way I am leaving this place again until I have to, not even for that perfect beach with the hot surfers.I decide instead to check out the spa. While air-conditioned treatments are available, I don’t see why anyone could choose them instead of the relaxing blue tiled spa rooms full of flowers with nature view. Like the complimentary bath products, everything the spa uses is biodegradable and its treatments reflect the diverse offerings of Costa Rica. Among my favorites: a Cappuccino Scrub with local coffee, Costa Rica’s Volcanic Mud Wrap, a Four Handed Massage, and a Cacao Fantasy Wrap that I fantasize about eating after.I spend the rest of the day pool hopping between the adult-only infinity pool by the spa and the waterfall fed pool by the suites. I bask in the hot sun drinking Imperials and ponder my luck, interrupted only by the need to submerge myself in the refreshing water.I meet a couple trekking through Costa Rica who tell me they have been roughing it for the last two weeks and staying here is their final reward before heading home. This makes me think about how I would return, and I decide that the couple is right, that for me this would be a perfect final splurge after a trip, a romantic couple’s retreat, or an ideal destination for a girl’s getaway or a bachelorette party. The Parador also does weddings and even has an onsite wedding coordinator, not that that is anything I plan on thinking about for long time. One thing is for sure, I do wish I had someone with me to share all this beauty with, or at the very least pinch me to make sure I am not dreaming. When I start to turn pink I drag myself up, change for another impressive dinner (cannelloni with ricotta and spinach) and sprawl out on my gigantic and insanely soft bed where I drift into a peaceful sleep only to be awakened by a glorious sunrise.When it really is time to go I am relaxed, rejuvenated and ready for whatever else Costa Rica has in store for me. Would I change anything? I would have brought sexy shoes. I would have put on more sunscreen so my burn didn’t stop me from using that jacuzzi on my balcony. And maybe I would have brought home a surfer boy. Would I change anything about the Parador? Not a thing.Special thanks the whole staff at the Parador, but especially to Marja, Jorge, Carolina, Carlos, and Moises for going above and beyond to make my stay perfect. I can’t wait to return.