Discover the “spirits” of the Jungle with Central America’s most laid-back destinations.
by Ann Wycoff
So what makes the perfect cocktail? One part premium liquor, one part jazzy mixer. One part “ideal companion” (whether it’s your soul-mate or new best friend at the bar) and one part (the most crucial) exotic locale.
Costa Rica, Central America’s most popular eco-tourism country, fits the bill as a tropical destination ripe with natural splendor, indulgent resorts, exceptional wildlife, epic surf breaks and vibrant nightlife. The friendly locals, or Ticos, welcome their North American compadres who have been kicking their feet up here since the 1970s. As any gringo will attest, imbibing the local brew, guaro, (a 60-proof hard liquor made from sugar cane), grabbing a few frosty Imperial beers or sipping a frothy rum concoction at sunset make the potholes less painful, the jungle air sweeter and the sailing stories grander.
Don’t miss these five unforgettable waterholes scattered across the country:
Location: Four Seasons Resort, Papagayo Peninsula, Guancaste
Pre-Drink Activity: Burn some calories and tone that torso by sea kayaking off the resort’s Playa Blanca beach. Grab a guide and glide across the teal bay at sunset, paddling out to Monkey Head Rock. Jump on the resort’s Goombay Catamaran for an afternoon of snorkeling and sun, or swim with dolphins in the Gulf of Papagayo.
Ambiance: At this elegant open-air bar, affable mixologists prepare sinful beverages against a shimmering gold-tile wall backdrop. A trio band sets the Latino beat as guests enjoy the hillside perch and fragrant warm winds. Recently doubled in size, Tico’s swanky design showcases Michael Aram’s wooden tables and sleek Phillip Starck stools. Nosh on hamachi sashimi with fiery jalapeno and sea salt or gourmet mini-pizzas. Premium sakes, snazzy martinis and infused margaritas (think cilantro and mango) quench the thirst. A local cigar aficionado rolls fresh ones for those craving a smoke.
Signature Drink: “Guaro Fever”-This succulent sipper consists of the local liquor guaro cacique with watermelon, lime juice and sugar cane.
Location: Costa Verde Hotel, Manuel Antonio (near Quepos)
Pre-Drink Activity: Get ground-level and watch the industrious leaf-cutter ant brigade march through Manual Antonio National Park, an idyllic refuge for creatures large and small- sociable squirrel monkeys, sleepy two-toed sloths and curious coatimundis (jungle raccoon). At the 1,700-acre preserve, rain forest meets golden beaches and coral reefs worth snorkeling. manuelantoniopark.com
Ambiance: Up the hill from the park sits an historic Fairchild C-123 cargo plane from the Reagan era that’s been converted into a restaurant/lounge. The Contra Bar, a testament to U.S. presence and the Cold War, is located in the plane’s interior and fuselage. The bar packs in the late night crowd. You can also take it down a notch and enjoy sunset drinks under the plane’s wing with sweeping views of the Pacific.
Signature Drink: “Pura Vida”-Costa Rica’s popular catchphrase meaning “pure life” or “cool” is also the moniker for the favored drink here, a titillating mix of orange and mango juice, triple sec, rum and local alcohol guaro cacique.
866.854.7958 or 011.506.2777.0584, costaverde.net
Arenal Wet Bar
Location: Tabacn Grand Spa Thermal Resort, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Alajuela
Pre-Drink Activity: Soak in glorious hot springs in the midst of the enchanted forest. You’ll find thermo-mineral rivers, lagoons, waterfalls and twelve natural pools of rainwater heated by magma (80 to 107 degrees) in this natural Eden. Visit their Grand Spa where you can detoxify in the Temazcal (traditional sweat hut) with a local shaman who leads this aromatherapy purification ritual. Relax in your open-air bungalow with a private spring-fed Jacuzzi, then try the cleansing volcanic mud wrap. Or slip into a mineral pool and discover Watsu, a hypnotic massage in warm water.
Ambiance: Nothing like swimming up to the bar for a refresher with an active volcano in the background. This five-star resort sits in the shadow of Arenal whose glowing red lava flow and inner-earth grumblings provide the evening’s entertainment. Howler monkeys and exotic birds create the soundtrack as you enjoy tender smoky barbecue under the palapa hut.
Signature Drink: “Lava Flow”-Toast the volcano with this frothy rum concoction, blended with evaporated milk, coconut cream, pineapple juice, banana and strawberry.
011.506.2519.1999 or 877.277.8291, tabacon.com
Location: Lapa Rios Ecolodge, Osa Peninsula
Pre-Drink Activity: Ride horseback through the jungle in search of blue morpho butterflies, baby spider monkeys and scarlet macaws fluttering against the deep green canopy. Set on a pristine, 1,000-acre nature preserve overlooking the spot where the Gulfo Dolce meets the Pacific, Lapa Rios Ecolodge embodies sustainability and respect for the rainforest. Over 300 hundred species of birds reside here, along with elusive ocelets and jaguars. Discover the hidden medicinal secrets of the forest on a mellow guided nature walk.
Ambiance: The open-air lounge, and bamboo furniture feels like a jungle tree house. Nibble on organic seasonal gourmet cuisine like fresh banana-leaf wrapped tamales or black bean shrimp and calamari fritters while sipping a sparkling wine from Argentina. Sated, head up to the observation deck high in the canopy to commune with the sloths and toucans on their level. It’s the closest you’ll come to feeling like a true denizen of the rain forest.
Signature Drink: “Jungle Love”-After a few of these amorous cocktails-a tasty mix of Crown Royal whiskey, peach schnapps, blackberry and passion fruit juices-even the iguanas will seem adorable.
Location: Hotel Pasatiempo Playa Tamarindo, Guanacaste
Pre-Drink Activity: Stroll the beach for white spiral shells at Playa Tamarindo, one of the most celebrated surf spots on the globe. Longboard legend and star of Endless Summer, Robert “Wingnut” August can be found hanging ten at Witches Rock. If you want a water session with the maverick himself, check out gowithapro.com. Nature lovers will want to witness the leatherback turtles’ trek from the sea to lay their eggs from October to March, and fishermen will get a charge out of landing large sailfish, marlin or wahoo off the coast.
Ambiance: Wingnut’s favorite aprés surf bar, Pasatiempo, sits under a 50-foot teak- and thatched-roof ranchero, surrounded by lush gardens. Sporting a laid-back vibe, this popular watering hole has satellite television and foosball. Flip-flop wearing regulars, travelers and visiting musicians gather Tuesday evenings for open mike night as you never know who might jump up and join the live house band. The nearby pool calls for moonlit swims.
Signature Drink: “Watermelon Margarita”-Salty dogs will appreciate this potent potable with Patron tequila and fresh fruit.