I was lying in a hammock with my two little boys, getting ready to sleep off lunch. We could hear the melodic, crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean on the golden beach at our backs and were enveloped in the luxurious shade provided by soaring trees on a perfectly toasty February afternoon. An invigorating breeze tempered the afternoon sun and my typical urge to habitually check my email had vanished. The world could wait.
I looked up into the trees directly above us and realized we weren’t alone: there were two families of howler monkeys looking down at us, one posse in each tree. They were just as curious about us as we were them. How can I describe the joy of escaping Chicago in the middle of a typically dismal, grey winter and finding refuge in an intimate, lush, tropical, ocean-side resort where the wild animals outnumber the people?
I’ve always been a budget conscious traveler. In my 20s, I traveled everywhere and always looked for the cheapest place in town to stay. I still believe that the best things in life, at home or on the road, are free. But now that I’m 40 (d’oh!) and with two kids (ages 3 and 5), I’ve gotten a lot softer and the type of I spent-less-than-you-did travel doesn’t hold much appeal to me any more.
These days, we tend to stay at mid-range accommodation options and, in most places, that means we rarely spend much more than about $100 per night, and often times much less. Occasionally, we’ll splash out on a nicer place, if we’re celebrating a special occasion, but only once in a blue moon will we stay at a truly world-class, luxury resort.
This year, I decided to treat my wife to a few nights at one truly glorious beach resort in Costa Rica and I chose Florblanca, because I read all the rave reviews of the place on Trip Advisor and I wanted to be near Santa Teresa. The town has emerged as a favorite for surfers over the last decade but it’s still pretty low-ley and completely free of big, tacky developments, thanks to its slightly hard to get to location.
A young lady in braces named Cindy came by our hammock to tell us our room was ready and it took a bit of coaxing to extract myself from our low-slung refuge. She led us through the grounds, which feel like a virgin tropical forest, and into villa number 5, which would be our home for what would be a glorious but fleeting 48 hours.
I’ve never seen a place quite like our villa before. Our bedroom had an intoxicating citrus aroma and a lovely four-poster bed with a ceiling fan inside it while the boys had a room of their own with two twin beds. Unlike many hotels, we had all kinds of light near the bed, which is important to me. The bedrooms were enclosed, but the living room and bathrooms were open air, giving one the feeling of being outside even while sitting inside. I was stoked to see that we had our own hammock on our terrace, where we could sway and listen to the monkeys in the shade.
The master bathroom had an open-air shower, tub and toilet protected by a half wall and huge trees but there is still a very liberating feeling about taking a shower or bath outside. I never sleep through the night anywhere, and on our first night at Florblanca, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to use the outdoor/indoor toilet and heard the unmistakable howl of the monkeys. In Chicago during the winter, when I have to use the bathroom during the night, the bathroom feels ice-cold coming from my warm blankets, but here I was coming from an air-conditioned bedroom into a warm, open-air bathroom. Simply awesome.
I learned that Florblanca is owned by Rusty and Susan Carter, an American couple from North Carolina who came to the place on a holiday in 2006, fell in love with it, and decided to buy it. The place is environmentally friendly and they give back to the local community. It was easy to see how they were seduced by the place. The seemingly endless stretch of beach that’s just steps away from the villas is heavenly and all of the trees and wildlife really do make the place feel like something pretty damn close to paradise.
The staff is an interesting mix of Americans who moved to the area to surf and locals. My 3-year-old son James fell in love with Cindy, who took the initiative to find him some beach toys, and every time she was out of his eyesight, he’d ask us, “Where did Cindy go?”
On our last day at Florblanca, I lounged in our hammock and fantasized about moving into villa numero cinco. I knew that eventually I was going to have to go back out into the real world, but I procrastinated until the last possible moment before grudgingly handing back the keys.
I don’t think I fully appreciated Florblanca until we arrived at our next hotel – a dark, nondescript motel-like place near Rincon de la Vieja that was depressingly like the kind of humdrum places we usually stay in. After checking in, I had an urge to call my new friends at Florblanca and tell them to come rescue us from the mediocrity we were mired in. If you want to treat yourself in Costa Rica, definitely check out and into Florblanca, but be forewarned – you’ll have a hard time going back to ordinary hotels when you leave.
IF YOU GO: We took a taxi from Manuel Antonio N.P. to Puntarenas ($125), then a one-hour car ferry and an hour long taxi to Florblanaca ($75). But you can get there much faster if you fly from San Jose into Tambor on Nature Air or another carrier.
Florblanca is by far the nicest place to stay in town but Santa Teresa has places for people with every budget. You can even sleep in a yurt on the beach if you like to rough it. We didn’t rent a car until we were about to leave town because car rentals in the area are pricey. (We ended up paying $280 for a two-day auto transmission SUV when we left town.) Taxis are also relatively pricey, but if you stay at Florblanca, you probably won’t want to leave that often – the food is excellent and you have a great pool and the beach right there.
Nonetheless, Budget and Alamo have locations in town and there’s also a local company called Toyota Rental Car. Great daytrips in the area include Montezuma, the Curu Wildlife Refuge and the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve among others.
[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]