Every year my family gets together at the holidays to take a trip somewhere fun. Last year we went to Antarctica and my sister got engaged, which was amazing, so this year we decided to do something a little lower key and a lot warmer! We all have very different tastes, so finding a location that has activities for all of us is always a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, Costa Rica fit the bill perfectly. There was amazing hiking, a ton of wildlife, beautiful beaches, scuba diving, and the freshest fruit I’ve ever tasted. There were a million more activities we didn’t even get to because we spent so much time just lounging by the pool, soaking up the sun. We decided to split our time between two hotels, with a couple nights up in the mountains at a beautiful eco-lodge called Monte Azul, and a larger eco-lodge by the ocean in Uvita called Rancho Pacifico, where we rented a three-bedroom, private villa where the whole family could stay together.
Monte Azul is a small eco-lodge, with only four rooms, nestled in the mountains near the base of Chirripo, the tallest mountain in Costa Rica. The hotel was started by the nicest couple from San Francisco who wanted to create an artist and yoga retreat that was environmentally friendly, socially responsible and had amazing food. Since it’s so small, and since my family took up half the hotel, we got to know everyone on site pretty well in just the few days of our stay. Everyone at the resort was so nice! We went on a cheese making tour in a nearby town that the hotel arranged, and we explored all the hiking trails on the property, which included a beautiful rocky river and a gorgeous waterfall.
We also hiked up to the farm on the property where they grow their own coffee and make their own goat cheese. I loved seeing the baby goats and had so much fun taking pictures of them while they tried to munch on my pants and shoe laces.
We saw incredibly gorgeous birds right from the property that were so comfortable around humans that I could stand right next to them and shoot for hours. And we even saw two monkeys on our last day at the resort. We took a hike up into the Cloudbridge Forest, at the base of Chirripo National Park, which was wonderful, but very steep. I loved the workout, but for those with weak knees or ankles I don’t recommend it, because it is definitely tough. The food at Monte Azul was truly a highlight. There are no menus, instead we filled out a food preference worksheet before we arrived and they tailored everything to our needs. I loved being surprised each meal with a new delicious concoction. The coffee and fruit were amazing each morning and I loved all the fresh fish and vegetables at dinner. It gets a little cold in the mountains, so bring along a warm sweater for the evenings and early mornings!
When choosing Costa Rica as a vacation destination I knew that the beach was going to be very important. However, it’s different than going to Mexico or the Caribbean where the resorts are right on the beach. Costa Rica has really strong conservation laws, which is great because it protects all the monkeys and birds that we love to go see. But it also means that the hotels are built a little farther back from the ocean. In the area we were in called Uvita, there is a layer of rainforest between the beach and the city where we often found diverse wildlife that came right up onto the beach. In the more touristy town of Manuel Antonio, which I avoided on this trip, the monkeys will come right onto the beach and steal food and drinks right from one’s bag! The hotel we picked was about a 15 minute drive from the beach, but only because it’s on top of such a steep hill and we had to drive very slow up and down it. There are a lot of advantages though to being on top of that hill- the two biggest being the wildlife and the temperature. We were deep in the jungle at the top of our hill and had incredible wildlife sightings right from our villa. We rented out the private three bedroom villa, which is perfect for a family of adults traveling together or for a group of couple friends who want to share space but also have their own rooms. It’s very open so I wouldn’t say there’s an incredible amount of privacy, but the openness is amazing to watch the toucans, monkeys and killer sunsets from the bed, shower or out on the porch.
The Rancho Pacifico was wonderful and we enjoyed our time both there and off-site going hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving and whale watching. Because of the steep drive we ate dinner every night at the hotel, but the chef is wonderful and prepared us a different hot sauce every evening (which was great because most Costa Rican food is on the blander side and we love spicy!). My favorite day of the trip was when we chartered a private boat. My parents and I went snorkeling off of Cano Island and my sister went scuba diving with a dive master. We then all went over to an uninhabited small island where we lounged, ate lunch, and swam in the water, feeling like we were on our own private island. It was incredible! We finished the afternoon by whale watching on the way back and spotted seven humpbacks, including a small calf who was only a few weeks old. All in all it was a perfect winter getaway.
San Isidro de El General
1 Rancho Pacifico Road
Uvita de Osa, Costa Rica
Rebecca Yale is a documentary and portrait photographer living in New York City who loves to travel the world photographing causes she is passionate about, like conservation and child protection.