World-Class Pampering in Costa Rica

The Peninsula Papagayo Hotel in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is home to breathtaking tourist destinations, but it has recently faced a ravaging drug trade that reaches the U.S. and other international markets. Courtesy of Peninsula Papagayo

“This is ridiculous,” sighed my daughter, a college sophomore, riveted to a poolside lounge chair. “Ridiculously perfect.” A waiter—one of the phalanx of accommodating attendants that one begins to take for granted at any Four Seasons resort—had just offered to wipe off her sunglasses for her. Minutes earlier, another had spritzed her sun-warmed face with a cooling “brumisateur.” A blessedly unjaded sort of girl, she never failed to be dazzled, during the course of a four-day visit in December, by the almost theatrical room-service breakfast presentation, the hushed luxury of the spa, and after a semester wedged in a postage stamp–size dorm room in frigid New England, the sprawling dimensions of our three-bedroom bungalow.

If she was in a blissful postexam stupor, her 12-year-old brother was ecstatic, and not only because the buffets were comprehensively stocked to satisfy even the most esoteric cravings. The Four Seasons had sagely incorporated a gaming lodge cum preadoles-cent man cave, lined with -features geared to his demographic: comfy sofas, video screens, and remote controls. The resort overlooks no parental need, including that for quality time away from the kids, so engaging young staffers are on hand for Ping-Pong lessons and learned discourse about the merits of Minecraft versus Little Big Planet.

Such thoughtful service may be commonplace at world-class resorts, but rarely is it delivered as charmingly and unpretentiously as it is at the Four Seasons at Costa Rica’s northerly Papagayo peninsula, a verdant wedge of heaven in what is reputedly the happiest country on earth. We had some debate, among family members, about whether the bartenders, massage therapists, and gardeners really were as convivial as they seemed, or just smiling at patrons because they were paid to do so at a rather expensive property. After a few days, when our urban worry lines had softened and we, too, were having trouble wiping the smiles off our -faces, we reached our conclusion: who wouldn’t be happy coming to work on a gorgeous eco-reserve incorporating acres of gardens and wooden buildings that rise from the landscape in unobtrusive earth tones?

The weather is such that it seems not to exist—one is neither too hot nor too cold—except for the caressing breeze. The landscape, with those distant rainforest clouds, incites even the laziest tourist to semiadventurous excursions, of which the resort offers a compelling variety. Up one goes, along a dirt road in a tractor, then by foot via rocky trails and vertiginous rope bridges, to the violent cascade of mountain waterfalls. It’s a camera-phone moment, followed by a lunch at a local café that our driver just knows we’ll love, and we do.

At Papagayo, my boy, not what you’d call a morning person on school days, was perversely awake at the crack of dawn, urging us ever upward. Even after a trip to the cloud forest, he was longing to hike the resort’s own promontory—about 1,000 uphill steps, which trek his parents made warily at first, but did not regret once the view from the top was in sight. Then downhill we went, to the resort’s own beach—to have our sunglasses wiped and our faces spritzed.