Nayara Springs, named best resort in Central America, comes with good food, colorful frogs and a volcano.
NAYARA SPRINGS RESORT, Costa Rica — My friend and I, along with our golf cart driver, creep through the bushes — flashlights in hand and breath bated. Every so often, we stop to stealthily part the bushes and quietly gush with delight. To anyone who might happen across us, our behavior would no doubt appear suspicious, or at the very least, peculiar.
Here, at Nayara Springs Resort in the middle of a Costa Rican rain forest, it is neither. We are on the resort’s nocturnal “frog walk,” hoping to locate the source of the loud trilling we have been hearing once the sun goes down.
We’re rewarded when our driver/guide Alexander’s flashlight beam lands on the most beautiful frog I’ve ever seen. Its tiny emerald body is decorated with a cobalt blue stripe on each leg, and at the moment it is staring back at us with bulging scarlet peepers. Alex tells us it is a red-eyed tree frog, one of many species that can be found on Nayara’s lush grounds.
I feel like a voyeur as our flashlight beam has apparently interrupted the female frog’s flirtation with a male in a neighboring tree. After what must seem like an eternity to the courting frogs, our little band mercifully moves on.
Engaging all the senses
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Frog-spotting is only one of the delights visitors have in store at Nayara Springs Resort, named the best resort in Central America by Condé Nast Traveler magazine, among a variety of other “best of” accolades touted on its website.
The property, a 2½-hour drive from San Jose and located in the Arenal Volcano National Park, is a rain-forest retreat that engages all the senses. Listen to birdsong in the morning and frogs in the evening; sniff tropical blossoms; feel gentle pop-up rain showers, and above all, see the lush green that surrounds you at every turn.
Checking into one of the property’s 35 villas is your own adventure in paradise. Decor is inspired by the best of the tropics — gauzy mosquito netting around the four-poster bed, local art on the walls, a multicolored hammock for afternoon siestas on the deck, and two features you won’t soon forget — a two-person outdoor shower that is a tropical oasis in itself, and a private plunge pool fed by natural mineral hot springs.
While it might be tempting to spend all your time lounging around your villa, please don’t — there are too many other things to do, such as the free bird-watching tour (Mondays and Thursdays, 6:15 a.m.) or the complimentary yoga class (every morning at 8:15 in the yoga pavilion).
As coffee is so much a part of Costa Rica’s culture, my friend and I signed up for the coffee class (Monday, Thursday, Saturday, 4 p.m.) in Mi Cafecito. Diana, the manager, took us through the intricacies of coffee roasting.
The resort can even arrange for a three-hour private tour to an organic coffee plantation (adults, $79; children, $63).
Children under 16 are not allowed at Nayara Springs; however, families are welcomed at its sister resort Nayara Hotel, Spa and Gardens, accessed by crossing the 250-foot pedestrian bridge through the rain forest that separates the two properties.
Eating well at Nayara Springs is a given, considering the sheer number of restaurants scattered throughout the property, offering everything from sushi at Asia Luna to romantic candlelit dining at Amor Loco to the newest restaurant, Mis Amores, where you can dine on a deck overlooking the rain forest, with a view of the volcano.
Outdoor activities, too
Nayara Springs’ concierge staff can arrange any number of activities for guests, from ziplining and canopy touring to Gravity Falls waterfall jumping and canyoning in the Lost Canyon.
I settled on two tours that offered an opportunity to see the country’s landscape and wildlife. Costa Rica, a nation that is about the size of North Carolina, has 100 volcanoes, although only five are active, including Arenal. On its Lava Walk Tour, I discovered that the volcano, long believed to be dormant, finally blew its top in 1968, and while no lava has been seen since 2010, volcanologists believe it is quietly biding its time, waiting to shoot off its next display of fireworks.
While you can’t climb all the way to the top because of the potential threat, you can take a trail about halfway up, stopping at several lookout points.
My second experience turned out to be my favorite — a hike through the Danaus Ecological Reserve. A tapestry of flora and fauna that weaves together a secondary-growth forest, botanical garden, butterfly farm and bird sanctuary, it is Costa Rica at its beautiful best.
On our two-hour hike, we saw tiny tree frogs and giant electric blue morpha butterflies; a three-toed sloth inching down a tree and a caiman sunning on a stump in the lagoon; an oversized iguana testing the strength of a spindly tree branch and a procession of leaf-cutter ants making their orderly trek back to their queen’s hive. We even saw a shy toucan trying to hide its distinctive yellow head in the dense foliage.
IF YOU GO: For a weekend stay in May with advance booking, casita rental starts at $350 U.S. per night. More info at nayarasprings.com.