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Luxury in the Heart of Nature in Costa Rica

The lush jungles, wild beaches, and thrilling volcanoes of Costa Rica are a large part of what draws visitors to this eco-paradise. While protecting these landscapes is of prime importance, most travelers who visit Costa Rica are looking for comfortable hotels or resorts, whether to hole up for romantic honeymoons or simply to relax after exhausting days of adventure.

How does Costa Rica balance this need for luxurious, full-service resorts without totally isolating guests from the nature that drew them to Costa Rica in the first place? Here are five hotels throughout the country that have managed to marry eco-consciousness with comfort, maintaining five-star service without becoming sterile mega-resorts.

Parador Resort & Spa, Manuel Antonio

The grounds of Parador Resort & Spa are perched high above the Central Pacific coastline, sprawling over 12 acres of rainforest. Guests have a bird’s-eye view of Costa Rica’s best beaches and easy access to Manuel Antonio National Park (just minutes away). You can take in views of the surrounding ocean and rainforest without ever leaving the water from one of the resort’s three pools (including one with a swim-up bar and a quieter adults-only pool)—or, if you have a room in the separate Parador Suites building, from your own private outdoor hot tub.

The rooms, especially in the Parador Suites section, are huge and well-appointed and feel very new. The staff goes above and beyond to make every guest’s stay here a seamless one, starting from the cool towels and refreshing fruit drinks immediately offered at check-in.

Although Parador Resort could easily feel isolated from its surroundings (as many resorts tend to feel), you’ll never forget that you’re smack in the middle of a rainforest. Howler monkeys live in the trees around the property, and they don’t hesitate to make their presence known to guests through loud hoots. Exotic birds flit around, and guests can expect to be joined by curious (and hungry) iguanas on the patio at breakfast. The resort makes it easy for travelers to get up close and personal with nature—a 0.65-mile well-labeled hiking trail starts right outside the lobby and winds through the forest, with vista points on the edge of a cliff and paths down to the water below (these are unmarked, so use at your own risk). The trail is isolated enough that walkers can go the entire time without seeing another human—although monkeys and other animals are sure to be sighted. Helpful signs on the flora and fauna will satisfy hikers’ curiosities and make a guide unnecessary.

In order to help preserve the natural environment that the resort depends upon, Parador is dedicated to being green and sustainable—and has won the awards to prove it. Parador is also highly involved with eco-friendly charities such as the Titi Conservation Alliance, which helps protect the titi monkey.

Cabanas Los Pinos Hotel, Monteverde

Get back to nature with a stay in one of the handcrafted log cabins at Cabanas Los Pinos Hotel. Located deep in the woods away from the main road, units are built more than 200 feet from each other and each one exudes privacy. The one- to three-bedroom cabins house two to six people and feature fully equipped kitchens, making them perfect for long budget-friendly stays or family trips.

Pick fresh vegetables from the on-site hydroponic garden and whip up an extremely local meal that can be eaten at the picnic table outside your cabin. Guests who want to leave their lodge for meals won’t have far to go, as downtown restaurants are about a 10-minute walk away. The Monteverde Cloud Forest and things like canopy tours, zip-lining, and hanging bridges are just down the road, too.

The nightly rates for these private cabins are unbeatable, ranging from $70 for a simple one-bedroom Standard Cabin to $140 for a three-bathroom Family Cabin. In between is the very airy and spacious Junior Cabin (one bedroom—with a full bed and a single bed, a living room with a futon, and a full kitchen) and the newer Superior Cabin (featuring a queen bed, a fireplace, and a balcony).

Arenal Observatory Lodge, Arenal Volcano National Park

You can’t get better views of Arenal Volcano than the ones from the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which is located just 1.7 miles away. Get a front-row seat while soaking in the infinity pool and Jacuzzi, or book a Smithsonian room, which features huge picture windows facing the volcano. Or simply sit back and drink in the views from the restaurant and dining room, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the southern face of the volcano and an open-air deck popular among birders.

Its 48 rooms are surrounded by 270 acres of rainforest loaded with trails to stunning waterfalls and across hanging bridges. Guests can explore on their own or with a knowledgeable resident naturalist guide. You can learn more about the active volcano in the hotel’s volcano museum, which has its own working seismograph.

Originally built in 1987 as a Smithsonian Institute scientific research station, Arenal Observatory Lodge is the only hotel located within the Arenal Volcano National Park. That said, it bears a responsibility to sustainable tourism. The hotel works to preserve the environment through a number of measures, including reforestation, recycling, and water/energy conservation programs.

Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort, La Fortuna

A five-star oasis in the middle of a rainforest, Tabacon Grand Spa is, quite simply, paradise. Anyone who’s tempted to swim in the property’s waterfalls and streams will discover that almost none of the natural-looking water features are out of bounds. Forget chlorinated pools teeming with other people—the water holes here are fed by all-natural hot springs, heated by the Arenal Volcano itself. The hot springs are 97 percent rain-based and 3 percent magma-based, so there are no sulfuric odors. And the water is never recirculated or pumped into the pool—it flows down directly from the springs.

Secluded pools of varying sizes and temperatures (cold pools fed by a river spring are a refreshing break from the hot ones) are scattered down a slope on the 872-acre grounds. Even when the resort is at 90 percent capacity, it’s quite possible to stake out a private pool in the evening and not see another guest.

There’s more to do than just soak in your own private pool: Get a natural massage by sitting under one of the many waterfalls in the hot springs, or head to the swim-up bar for some cold refreshments and a turn or two on the surprisingly fast waterslide. If you’re an adult and a guest at the Tabacon, you’ll have exclusive access to the Shangri-La Gardens area, an enclave featuring private cabana beds within a lush garden. Six natural pools are scattered throughout this VIP section. The hot springs are open to resort guests until 10:00 p.m., and there’s nothing more magical than soaking tired muscles in the thermal pools while stargazing under a clear Costa Rican sky.

If you can tear yourself away, the guest rooms definitely live up to the five-star ranking. Plush beds seamlessly transition your relaxed muscles from hot-springs soaking to slumbering. Or, you can prolong the water treatment with a private Jacuzzi (in certain rooms). Furniture is made by Costa Rican artisans, and the rooms have all the modern amenities, such as flat-screen TVs and Internet access.

Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort is so dedicated to being eco-friendly that it is carbon neutral—the first luxury resort in Costa Rica to be certified as such.

Arenal Springs Resort and Spa, La Fortuna

The all-suites Arenal Springs Resort and Spa gives guests room to spread out. Rooms are set back from the main property and surrounded by gardens and wildlife.

The hot springs here are smaller than the ones at other resorts in the area, but they feature a great view of the Arenal Volcano. The four hot-springs pools range from 93 to 104 degrees. There’s also a Jacuzzi and two cold-water pools. The main pool features a poolside sushi bar and a swim-up bar that serves food. The flowers and trees planted throughout the grounds attract more than 100 species of birds, so keep your eyes open as you wander.

Arenal Springs works to be sustainable: It has an on-site vegetable farm (look for the resort’s fruits and vegetables on the menu at Ti-Cain Restaurant), a hydroponic greenhouse, and a bio-digester water-treatment system.

Have a question for Caroline about her trip to Costa Rica? Planning a trip yourself and need advice? Want to share your own Costa Rica experience? Leave a comment below! You can also follow Caroline on Google+.

(Photos: Caroline Morse and Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort)

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