Hard to believe we flew all the way to Costa Rica and didn’t see a single sloth—except the one in the mirror. That’s because as much as the lush Central American country might be known for adventure (of which we had plenty), it’s also a wonderful place to slow down, disconnect and get in touch with nature.
Plus, Costa Rica’s pretty darn gay.
In fact, we were part of a select group of LGBTQ journalists invited by Marriott to explore the country this summer, experience the warm hospitality and be a small part of the booming LGBTQ tourism initiative.
And though we’re saddened that we never saw a sloth (or monkey for that matter), there’s a bright side to leaving a few spaces blank on our Costa Rica Bingo cards—we have an incentive to return.
Here are the highlights of our week in Costa Rica, all of which we recommend for anyone making the journey.
Flights to Costa Rica are plentiful with non-stops available on American Airlines from DFW to SJO and connecting flights to LIR. If Love Field is more convenient for you and you enjoy the perk of free checked bags, Southwest Airlines also offers connecting flights to both international airports.
Where to Stay
If you’re landing at SJO, the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen makes for a great place to get acclimated and rest up for a vacation heavy on the adrenaline—and caffeine. Located on a coffee plantation, the grand property features breathtaking mountain views, a duo of outdoor pools, an outdoor jacuzzi and a full-service spa with its own men-only hot tub, sauna and steam room. Multiple restaurants, a sports bar and a full-service coffee shop inside the gift shop offer sustenance for whatever you’re craving, whenever you’re craving it. The Peruvian cuisine of La Isabela, however, will always hold a spot in our memory as one of the best meals of the trip.
Many of the recently renovated, contemporary rooms feature balconies, so make sure to request a room or suite overlooking the dramatic Costa Rican landscape—unless you prefer the sights and sounds of the pools. We prefer a little peace and quiet, but you do you.
On the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica lies the tropical rainforest splendor of Herradura and a popular enclave within known as Los Sueños. There, you’ll find the sprawling Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort, situated in a picturesque cove with a private beach bustling with toucans and iguanas. Take in a golf lesson (in the early morning hours to avoid the heat and humidity of the day) or simply chill at the numerous interconnecting pools and swim-up bar. Five on-site restaurants, including the top-notch, Dallas-worthy steakhouse, 18 & Green.
The rooms at Los Sueños are similar in square footage and layout to Hacienda Belen with one major—and delightful— exception. Directly in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows (and balcony in many cases) you’ll find a colorful hammock, perfect for a quick nap or leisurely read, both of which we did one afternoon when a thunderstorm rolled in. Otherwise, we always recommend taking advantage of the outdoor spaces. Make sure to ask about the opportunity to plant trees on the beach as part of a non-profit group’s efforts to reforest the country. It’s a meaningful and fun way to give back and leave a lasting mark on Costa Rica.
What to Do
Coffee aficionados will be in heaven in Costa Rica (and non-coffee lovers might become converts) thanks to the incredible java grown here. We had the chance to tour the Hacienda Alsacia, the working Starbucks coffee plantation and home to much of the corporation’s research and development. Anyone can arrange a tour of the grounds (and plants growing beans that will turn into grounds) or simply pull up a seat at one of the most gorgeous Starbucks coffee shops on the planet. A photo-worthy waterfall provides an Instagrammable backdrop while unique-to-this-location coffee offerings make it hard to stop at just one cup.
The most exhilarating (and sometimes terrifying) activity of our journey was a rugged, mud-soaked ATV jungle adventure led by Vista Los Sueños Adventure Park, a short distance from the Los Sueños resort. Midway through the high-speed, scenic journey, you’ll have plenty of time to catch your breath and take a dip in the cool, refreshing waters pooling beneath a waterfall. Best of all, staff photographers catch you in action so you don’t have to worry about losing your phone in a puddle or off the side of a cliff.
Gay it Up
Even though Costa Rica’s not an island, there’s a laidback vibe that reminds us of long days in the Caribbean where everything slows down a bit. Known as pura vida (pure life), the phrase is almost like aloha because it can be used as a greeting of hello or goodbye, but also as a mantra that everything here can be bliss. And that goes extra for the LGBTQ community and visitors to the country looking for a safe, welcoming place to travel.
In 2015, the Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce was formed to “advocate, promote and strengthen the companies of people who are part of the country’s LGTBQ population.” In addition to an annual Pride celebration and a recently launched LGBTQ wedding expo, Costa Rica is home to numerous LGBTQ businesses, including restaurants (our favorite being Restaurante Olio) and bars. The Chamber is a great resource for all the gay goings on in Costa Rica, but you can also feel comfortable knowing that nearly any place you stumble upon will greet you with a friendly smile.
Pura Vida, indeed.