From the way my dad tells it, Costa Rica in 1995 was pure backwoods. “Roads were horrible, just dirt and potholes,” he says. At the time, my father was divorcing my mother, and he’d come to Costa Rica looking for a beautiful place where he could sort through his thoughts alone. Maybe the bumpy roads became a symbol of his emotional journey. Or maybe they really were just unforgettably awful. Either way, 20 years later, they are what stand out most clearly in his mind.
Costa Rica has changed a lot since the ’90s, when a tourist boom turned farmers into hoteliers seemingly overnight. The infrastructure took a while to catch up. Today Costa Rica has a small number of new high-end hotels offering both luxury and authenticity, including Hacienda AltaGracia, in the mountains, and the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo, on the coast. My mission was to check out a property called Nayara Springs.
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The hotel sent a driver to the airport in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, to pick up my sister Brigitte and me. He chatted amiably with us as we traveled on a road as smoothly paved as any Los Angeles freeway. Three hours later we were at Nayara Springs, just outside Arenal Volcano National Park. Ten minutes after that, Brigitte and I were in our villa’s private plunge pool, drinking just-squeezed watermelon juice. The pool was filled with mineral water, piped from hot springs near the volcano via gravity. It was body temperature—that is to say, perfect. Tropical greenery framed our astonishing view of the volcano and gave us complete privacy.