Once a year go someplace you’ve never been before.Dalai Lama
I took this advice and went someplace new, which was also a bucket list destination, Costa Rica.
You’ve likely heard “Pura Vida” in relation to Costa Rica – it’s a way of life – and evident with just about everyone you meet. I, for one, needed a lesson in the “Pure Life,” as far as living more simply, and it certainly unfolded during my journey.
Winter is a great time to visit Costa Rica as it is considered the dry season and the new year is a great way to immerse yourself in a wellness retreat and connect to Pura Vida.
Costa Rica is best discovered by exploring different areas. My opinion, yes. But you’ll see that it’s a desirable way to see the country as there’s more to Costa Rica than sunning on the beach.
The Pacific region goes through its dry season from December to March while the Caribbean region’s dry season is typically February and March.
This glimpse of Costa Rica is about the Central Valley, which includes San José, Heredia, and the Alajuela areas. Although winter is also considered a dry season, it does vary with the altitude, and you could see some rain, even though the rainy season is between May and October. Bring a raincoat!
This journey began at Juan Santamaria International Airport, and it took about 40-minutes to get to Atenas and the entrance of The Retreat. This hotel is located on a 50-acre quartz mountain so another (short) ride was required to go up the steep mountain to the cozy and inviting check-in area. If you rent a car, be sure to contact the hotel and let them know what kind of vehicle you have; they’ll guide you.
The idea of staying at a hotel located on a quartz mountain was intriguing to me as I felt that it was the perfect location for a wellness retreat with the anticipated bonus of the healing benefits of quartz. Diana Stobo, owner, bestselling author, and health and wellness life coach created this transforming retreat. The Retreat offers the tools to assist guests with better health practices, letting go of stress, and a peaceful space to relax and just be. There’s much more to Diana’s story and what led her to create this magical place that she refers to as “Heaven on Earth.” Having experienced The Retreat, I couldn’t agree more.
Each day you’re greeted by the beauty of nature at every turn – from the birds chirping, to the sound of water flowing, to the deep color of the red ginger along the paths. The beauty of the property is also noteworthy as it is an intimate space with 13 peaceful rooms, the Vida Mia Healing Center and Spa, farm-to-table organic restaurants, 2 saltwater pools, a yoga studio, meditation deck, organic gardens, and magnificent views. The beauty of the valley was so mesmerizing I couldn’t help but be in the moment as I gazed over the flora and fauna of this fertile land.
As you meander through the property, be ready to work your thighs and abs too because it is on a steep mountainside. Going to meals, the pool, the spa, and the fitness studio will get you to 10,000 steps before you know it. Note: If you do have mobility challenges, it’s best to discuss them with the resort administration before you arrive so that you will be prepared.
Dining was certainly a highlight of The Retreat as the chef created some of the most amazing farm-to-table (anti-inflammatory) meals you could imagine. They are artfully plated to engage all the senses and boast colorful, fresh, organic, locally sourced, and sustainable items. The kitchen is also grain and dairy-free, although you’ll see goat yogurt and cheese used at times. But keep in mind that the menu is customized for each guest. Best of all, you can see what’s going on in the kitchen as it’s an “open kitchen” and you can view how meals are prepared and the ingredients used. You can take cooking classes to engage in the practice of cooking healthy and bring what you learned home with you – all part of what I like to call, the tools of wellbeing.
Rather than hibernating during the winter, guests can create healthier lifestyles by choosing one of several offerings from packages that include anti-inflammatory meals, hikes, yoga, and more. For example, the Art of Resting package is suited for most of us after the intense last couple of years we’ve experienced. The 5-Night Holistic Medical Spa Retreat package is a more intense program that is led by Dr. Vinod Balakrishnan. It includes yoga, nutrition (doctor prescribes based on your Dosha), Abhyanga Equilibrium Treatments, and more. Guests are asked to complete a questionnaire for a personalized plan for the journey and will then go home with a plan to continue their Ayurvedic practice.
Nothing says the tropics more than these exotic refreshers at The Retreat, healthy, vibrant, and nourishing. Breakfast begins with anti-inflammatory juices, fresh fruit, chia pudding, granola, and a chef’s special.
Even though you may want to relax and enjoy everything this resort offers, you may also be ready for a little adventure – it is Costa Rica, after all.
On-property nature hikes, exploring the crystal quartz mountain, are possible as well as off-property tours like the La Paz Waterfall Garden and Poas Volcano Adventure. Maybe you’ll see a sloth! (Sadly, I didn’t see any).
If you do want to visit a beach, Jaco Beach is the closest to The Retreat at about 40-minutes away. You may even make a stop at the “Bridge of Crocodiles.” The concierge can assist with this one too.
As for me, I was content soaking in the positive vibes of The Retreat for my three days. As I explored the property, I immersed myself in the spa, yoga, and learned more about anti-inflammatory cooking and ayurvedic practices from Dr. Vinod.
“The excitement lies in the exploration of the world around us.” – Jim Peebles
El Silencio Lodge & Spa
Winter is a great time to explore Costa Rica even among the clouds of the Central Valley and Alajuela.
As you travel around Alajuela, be sure to stop in Sarchi. This town is famous for the brightly colored and hand-painted oxcarts (they’re still in use) and Sarchi is also known for furniture building and local artisans – consider making a stop at Carratas Eloy Alfaro, which opened in 1923, for a tour and shopping.
As my journey continued beyond Sarchi, I couldn’t help but wonder what this next experience would be like as we approached El Silencio Lodge & Spa.
This luxury lodge is located within Bajos del Toro, which is also a UNESCO cultural heritage site, amid lush valleys and breathtaking waterfalls. This resort offers stunning views as it is on a 500-acre private cloud forest and surrounded by the Juan Castro Blanco and Poas Volcano National Parks. Don’t forget to pack your rain jacket, it may come in handy as you hike up to explore the property’s three waterfalls.
First, I must mention that even though this was my home for only one night, albeit a short stay, it was spectacular!
With so much to explore on property, you might find it hard to leave your luxury suite or villa, with amazing floor to ceiling cloud forest views, attention to detail beyond ordinary, and you can enjoy it all from either the handcrafted rocking chairs or the heated outdoor jet pool.
Food, the highlight of any journey, especially when it’s from an organic farm and greenhouse. Vegetables, spices, and herbs – all from the property – are featured on Las Ventanas Restaurant’s garden-to-table seasonal menus. Check out the trout pond to catch your dinner (or simply choose trout from the menu).
Activities continue year-round so you’ll find as much to do in the winter as you do in the summer since it averages 50-70°F year-round with January being the coldest month at 61°F. Expect it to be mild during the day and chilly in the evening with a mix of sun (in the morning), rain, clouds, and yes, mist, most days.
More about the activities as one of the best yoga classes I’ve ever experienced was with Karla as it also included sound healing and while our class was surrounded by floating clouds, it led to a profound yogic journey.
Another winter activity to consider is the Night Walk as it’s when the Cloud Forest comes alive, and our senses intensify. Enjoy the scents and sounds of nature by exploring the trails of El Silencio at sunset (weather permitting).
The most personal experience had to do with the tree planting activity offered at El Silencio. The tree-planting ceremony is complimentary as you plant a tree in Costa Rica’s carbon-offsetting forests to help bring back colorful Quetzal birds to the region. While my hope is that these birds return, it was even more meaningful to me on that day as I planted the stinging nettle tree in honor of my mom.
Everything about this resort exceeded my expectations.
“Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection.” – Lawrence Durrell
Finca Rosa Blanca
If you’re traveling within the Central Valley to be among the rain forest and cloud forest it may be a good idea to spend a few extra nights closer to San Jose and along the way, consider a stop at La Paz Waterfalls, which is what I did via winding Bara Blanca road for this next Bucket List stop. La Paz is a spectacular waterfall along the side of the road, so no hiking is involved here, and time for several Instagram moments.
One of the best hotels in the area and a short ride to Juan Santamaria International Airport is Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation and Inn. It makes a great 2 to 3-night respite at the beginning or end of an eco-adventure and what called out to me was the architecture and its funky, bohemian vibe.
In speaking with the owners, Glenn, and Teri Jampol, this dream all began in 1985 with Glenn’s mom, Sylvia. They’ve been at it for over 30 years and created one of the most fascinating places in my travels and their own piece of heaven.
First, as mentioned earlier, it’s the vibe that I connected with but it’s also the art as Glenn, originally from California, is an artist. His work and the collection from him and his wife, Teri, can be found around the property. The buildings, the hidden doorways, tropical foliage, the rooms, décor, and everything about this hotel is a work of art.
Finca Rosa Blanca is filled with funky architecture, vibrant art, and other lovely touches throughout the property
You feel like you’re in another world as you meander along the paths and immerse in the nature that surrounds you – a symphony of birds, the beauty of the colorful hibiscus and tropical plants, and the scent of coffee as you approach the restaurant.
Speaking of coffee, the organic coffee tour is a must.
The coffee plantation of Finca Rosa Blanca is on 30 acres of rich soil and shade-grown, high-altitude organic coffee of the Arabica varietals. Along my tour, which was led by Jonnathan, I learned about organic agriculture and sustainable practices of not only the coffee but also the on-property farm. As you meander through the shaded forest, you also see a variety of plants and flowers as you witness the massive amount of coffee beans.
By the way, Finca Rosa Blanca’s coffee is certified sustainable by Rainforest Alliance and ICAFE, the Costa Rica National Institute for Coffee.
Check this off your bucket list – the La Paz Waterfall. It’s easy to access as it’s located alongside the road. Heliconia Exotic Tropical Plant is one of many at Finca Rosa Blanca and seen all over Alajuela, Costa Rica. Jonnathan picked a tropical hibiscus for me, which can be found in abundance at the beginning of the coffee plantation tour. Coffee beans are in abundance, of course, along the Finca Rosa Blanca Organic Coffee Plantation Tour.
Bucket List Adventure
When I think of Costa Rica there are three things that always come to mind – Sustainable Tourism, Chocolate, and Coffee – Finca Rosa Blanca gave me all three and so much more.
Did I mention there’s a lot to discover in Costa Rica? From Canopy tours to waterfall hikes to wellness resorts and beyond – it’s important to pre-plan some activities prior to your winter visit and you’ll likely want to do more – as in my case – so you can do what I’m doing and go back and explore another area (or revisit what you loved the most).
Costa Rica is a wonderland of eco-adventures that can satisfy that wanderlust craving and a place where you become one with the Pura Vida spirit of this beautiful, peaceful, and welcoming country.
What to Pack
Closed-toe shoes, long pants, raincoat, insect repellant, small flashlight, camera, binoculars, dry bag, hat, sunscreen, long sleeve tops, sweater/jacket, and bathing suit. Be sure to leave room in your carry-on for the amazing chocolate, fragrant coffee, and other goodies you find along the way.
Travel Tips and Info
- Fly into Juan Santamaria International Airport/San Jose (SJO) airport for your adventure to the Central Valley and the Alajuela area.
- The Retreat’s Holistic Medical Spa Package, Visit: www.theretreatcostarica.com/wellness-packages/Holistic-Medical-Spa
- Transfers to El Silencio and Finca Rosa: Costa Rican Trails handled transfers and tours and they were attentive, knowledgeable, professional and there isn’t anyone else I would use for my return.
- Visit Costa Rican Tours at www.costaricantrails.com/
- Visit The Retreat at www.theretreatcostarica.com/
- Visit El Silencio Lodge & Spa at www.elsilenciolodge.com/
- Visit Finca Rosa Blanca at https://fincarosablanca.com/en
- Visit Costa Rica Tourism for Juan Castro Blanco and Paos National Parks and more at: https://www.visitcostarica.com/en