I remember my high school biology teacher one day throwing slides up on the projector of the largest, scariest bugs you could ever imagine. At the bottom of the slide in pixelated letters it said something to the tune of “Costa Rica’s rainforests.”
“Well, I’ll never be going there,” I thought to myself.
Following a 5-hour direct flight from Newark, I landed in San Jose, Costa Rica. A short trip through immigration and I was meeting my very friendly driver, Mauricio from Jacamar Naturalist Tours, to scoop me up and take me on the 2-hour-plus journey to the province of Alajuela, home to Costa Rica’s famed Arenal Volcano. Before the drive, I was dreading it. Of course, if you want to experience the true natural beauty of the rainforest, it’s probably not going to be located next to an international airport. I’m a Jersey native. Our swamps are right next to Newark Liberty International Airport, so what did I know?
As the WiFi-enabled van winded its way through Costa Rica’s mountains, you’re quick to realize you’re not in Jersey anymore. Small towns dot our trip. I arrived at night, and people lined the streets heading to the local watering hole. Even on my drive up to the place I’d call home for a few days, Tabacón Thermal Resort and Spa, I could see why “pura vida” was the phrase by which Costa Ricans live by. Translating to “pure life” or “simple life,” watching these men and woman head to their local bars and clubs with their puppies running around enjoying life just as much was an immediate dose of happiness. We are always quick to judge how people in other countries choose to live. Maybe they’re just doing it the right way.
As you pass through the small town of La Fortuna, by which Tabacón Thermal Resort is on the outskirts, the Arenal volcano comes into view. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the top of the towering mountain. On most days, a pillow of clouds hides the peak. It’s a natural wonder, and it’s beautiful. Although the volcano hasn’t erupted in years, smoke billows from the top, a constant reminder of nature’s unpredictable yet beautiful force.
Arrive at Tabacón and you redirect your attention to nature’s beauty. The resort’s grounds are vast, though most of it is made up the thermal springs, the attraction that has people throughout the world traveling to Arenal – but we will get to that soon.
The resort itself is intimate, blended into its natural surroundings. With only 103 rooms, it’s easy to feel like you and your companion are alone in a private oasis, except for the multitude of well trained, English-speaking staff members waiting to assist you with anything and everything.
There are only a few buildings on the property, none of which are more than two stories tall, so they are easily eclipsed by the lush surrounding landscapes furthering the feeling that you’re staying in the rainforest, but with luxury accommodations.
A small golf cart transports me to my room, which provides more than enough space for a room you’ll rarely find yourself staying in. A king bed with outlets on either side (a must) plus free WiFi throughout the entire property is just the start at one of Costa Rica’s most notable resorts. Walk into the bathroom and the sky lit stone-floor walk in rainfall shower steals the show. On the other side of the room, a dining nook with a sofa and garden view allows you to relax and listen to the sounds of the rainforest after a long day of Arenal adventuring. With several suites dotting the property offering everything from Jacuzzis and balconies overlooking Arenal Volcano, it is no wonder the likes of Will Smith have called Tabacón home.
In 1991, a Costa Rican architect named Jaime Mikowski discovered the Tabacón River and its thermal springs while in search of fresh drinking water for a water-bottling project. After purchasing the resort from a local family, Mikowski renovated and reopened Tabacón as a wellness escape. Since then, it’s become Costa Rica’s leading thermal springs experience, as well as a leader in sustainable tourism. Mixed perfectly as an intimate and romantic getaway, Tabacón’s a honeymooners dream – evident by the many newlyweds who choose to celebrate their love here.
Tabacón Thermal Resort and Spa offers the largest and only 100 percent natural network of thermal mineral springs in Costa Rica. On the property, more than 20 “pools” are naturally heated by the volcano’s magma, with a temperature around 75-105 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a blissful and natural spa experience unlike any other. The water is rich in minerals, such as calcium and lithium, that promote further relaxation, in case sitting in the worlds most beautiful, clean and natural Jacuzzi wasn’t enough.
Since Tabacón’s thermal springs are such an attraction, people from all over Costa Rica and Arenal come for day trips to indulge. That’s why you could find me at Tabacón’s Shangri-La Gardens. Reserved for guests of Tabacón Resort only, this secluded area surrounded by lush rainforest features six natural pools, a full bar and cabanas, where wait staff will deliver light bites and cocktails for your delightful indulging.
All of this relaxation and I haven’t even mentioned the spa. Eleven treatment bungalows, each with private Jacuzzis, dot the Tabacón’s vast property, completely hidden from sight by the lush rain forests, the spa offers massage treatments, facials, manicures and pedicures, milk and aromatic salt baths and a fresh fruit smoothie bar. Bar none, it was the best massage I’ve ever gotten.
During the day, a large pool, naturally heated by Arenal’s thermal springs and complete with a water slide and pool bar, is the place to lounge and enjoy the company of the resort’s other guests. Unheated pools compliment the warmer waters, so you can refresh every now and then.
As far as food is concerned, there’s no reason to leave the resort. The freshly renovated Los Tucanes restaurant will be your breakfast buffet spot, with your standard omelet station, a pastry station and then a buffet with your standard scrambled eggs as well as several rotating traditional Central American dishes. A la carte dinner is also served here in the evening.
Head to Ave Del Paraiso for lunch or dinner for a more casual dining experience. Overlooking the Arenal Pool, on one side and the rainforest on the other, the open air setting complete with the sounds of nature always have you feeling like you’re far, far away from New Jersey.
Of course, there’s the light bites in Shangri-La Gardens as well as Cana Brava, the newly renovated lobby bar complete with rum specialty drinks, infusions and cocktails. Looking for something more intimate? The Gala dinner is a four-course meal prepared live in a candlelit open-air rainforest bungalow, complete with wine and champagne.
If for whatever reason you do want to step foot beyond Tabacón’s vast property, there is plenty of adventuring to test out your latest athleisure gear. Go zip lining or horseback riding through the rainforest, or maybe propelling down a waterfall is more your speed. Hop on a white water raft or kayak through 2/3 or 3/4 level rapids, or take nature walks through parcels of untouched rainforest where monkey’s swing from the trees, exotic birds fly through the forest, several species of frogs hop and chirp all day long and sloths do nothing at all. And no, there weren’t any crazy sized insects (that we saw, at least).
After a long day of hiking, rafting, ATVing or other Arenal adventures, there’s no place better to return to than Tabacón Thermal Resort and Spa. The resort has truly mastered the art of relaxation and privacy, and a world-class staff keeps it that way. Whether it’s the 24/7 room service, the incredible massage or relaxing under the cascading waterfalls of the thermal springs with the tropical rainforest as your backdrop, I can say in all my travels, I’ve never been to a place like Tabacón, and I look forward to going back.
By Brandon Goldstein