We sat through a 5 ½ hour JetBlue direct flight from JFK and a 45-minute drive from the airport, but we finally arrived at The Westin Reserva Conchal in Costa Rica for a family vacation.
Costa Rica, sometimes referred to as the “Switzerland” of Central America, is a peaceful place under the “protection” of the United States with a secure economy based on the export of coffee, sugar, pineapples and now a growing tourism industry.
I had never been to the friendly country known for its birds, flowers, rainforests, adventure, beaches, sloths, monkeys and wildlife. The country’s ecotourism is rapidly growing, as its hotels are working to be self sustaining.
The Westin is a sprawling, all-inclusive resort with multiple large pools and beaches. The resort offers food service 24/7 and in five restaurants with different cuisines — and the drinks are included! It impressed me that even the bar in my spacious suite overlooking the ocean, through thick shrubs, was included and restocked every morning.
Being a group of eight people, our rooms were all in one building, making it convenient to spend tons of time together. My goal is to build a bond with each of the children to each other and me! Working long hours is the nature of my business and my passion, but vacations give me precious time together with my family that recharges and reinvigorates me.
Our rooms were located steps from the pool and beach (there is a jitney that brings people to the beach) where we spent many hours. The beach had a little “shopping mart” selling beach tops, locally made jewelry and craft items. There were also women offering $20 per hour massages beachside. The hotel offered beach chairs and lounges, making the soft sand and gentle waves of the Pacific Ocean an easy retreat from the world.
Since I had four of my grandchildren and their mothers with me, we made plans to go horseback riding, zip lining, and to travel two hours to visit the stunning rainforest and then the sulfur baths.
I would have been content just to be at the pool floating the time away and listening to the waves crashing into the beach. But I was overruled and, as a team player, I went along with the plan to explore Costa Rica outside our gated community.
We all celebrated Jonah’s 11th birthday by going fishing and snorkeling. Samantha, my tour planner, hired a guide, Marizio, who arranged to take us on a boat to the Catalina Islands in the Pacific. We saw three whales as we prepared to jump into the ocean to snorkel. Now, I can officially say I swam with whales, adding to my prior experience snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands swimming with sharks!
Jonah’s special day ended with dinner back at the Westin at the Argentinian steak house, where he was serenaded with kitchen equipment making music and the staff singing happy birthday in Spanish and English. The staff made it great fun.
When we arrived at the rainforest, it never occurred to us it was going to rain! We were totally unprepared, having no raincoats or umbrellas. But Marizio brought us colorful, plastic rain capes and we were off to hike through the trails to see birds, sloths, monkeys and frogs. We visited another site where we found sloths hanging from the trees and tiny frogs hidden in the leaves.
Lunch was at an authentic Costa Rican restaurant, which offered delicious selections of rice and beans, salad, pork, steak, chicken and fried fish. And, as a bonus, contiguous to the restaurant, we saw a phenomenal screened-in butterfly garden inhabited by dozens of plants and beautiful blue and orange butterflies. What a surprise!
To complete the packed adventurous day, we visited volcanic sulphuric hot springs and sauna. The kids swathed themselves in mud while I dipped in the waters and spent some time submerged in the stone sauna, which is built directly into a cliff. It was a truly unique day and, needless to say, I slept well that night.
As a spoiled foodie New Yorker — we do have the finest restaurants in the world — I was impressed that the all-inclusive resort restaurant offered multiple choices of dining, from a huge sumptuous buffet open for all three meals, to Asian Fusion, Italian, an Argentinian steakhouse and a stunning indoor/outdoor restaurant serving an international menu. Each setting is uniquely designed and we were all delighted with the service from the friendly and professional wait staff.
Costa Rica has attracted more tourists now that people are reluctant to travel to troubled Mexico. So head there and you, too, will fall in love with the friendly people, great beaches, beautiful resorts and remarkable sites.