Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Costa Rica - A Paradise for Gay Men and Others

If you're interested in natural beauty--environmental, fauna, flora, and male homo sapiens, Costa Rica is for you.  Volcanoes, rainforests, and beaches on two coasts , make it an exciting place to visit.  We visited Costa Rica at the end of April, just at the end of the "high season" which runs from the middle of November till the end of April.  Our trip was relatively short, just about a week, with just an overnight stay in San Jose, the capital, and the rest of the time divided between Arenal and Manuel San Antonio.
Colours Resort in San Jose was our first stop in Costa Rica.  Extremely friendly and attentive staff is the primary asset of this very comfortable gay hotel.  Rooms are simple but comfortable, but don't expect Palm Springs, Fort Lauderdale, Provincetown or Key West.  There is a small pool, as well as nice patios conducive to meeting and getting to know other gay travelers.  We were fortunate enough to meet two other gay couples, with whom we had lunch just down the street at a very local establishment where the food was surprisingly excellent.  Although the hotel is located in a safe and fairly upscale neighborhood, with many embassies within easy walking distance, you wouldn't know it, as all the houses are walled, topped with barbed wire, and barely visible to the casual stroller.  I may not be doing San Jose justice, but we found it to be a very unpretty city.  However, the men were nice-looking, not homophobic and cruising (illustrated by a more experienced San Jose visitor) fun.  However, we were not looking for a sophisticated city scene when we chose Costa Rica as a destination.
So, after a day and a night in San Jose, we took NatureAir to Arenal to see the volcano and experience the hot springs.  Our choice to fly was a good one.  The small plane truly gave us a "bird's-eye view" of the Costa Rican countryside.  The roads in Costa Rica are not good, and what was a half-hour flight would have probably taken over four hours by car.  NatureAir is relatively inexpensive, especially if booked in advance.
Our destination in Arenal was Tabacon Grand Spa.  Our feeling was that this resort, although not cheap (check the rates on their website) was well worth it.  The room was quite well-appointed, the service was five star quality, and the resort was quite beautiful.  Our surprise was how terrific the food was.  The food was impeccably prepared and the service was top-notch.  The dishes were prepared with an awareness of Costa Rican cuisine, but the emphasis was truly on preparation of gourmet quality meals.  Not only was this true of dinner, but breakfasts were an unbelievable treat, with choices of Costa Rican as well as "English Breakfast" fare.
Visitors to Tabacon are entitled to free admission to the Thermal Hot Springs.  The Hot Springs extend over several acres in an incredibly beautiful setting, with pools varying in temperature.  There is a restaurant, as well as a "pool-bar" that has been constructed but is fed by the natural springs.  You can sit on bar-stools in the water and order drinks and sandwiches.
Of course visitors come to Arenal to see the volcano.  Unfortunately, the volcano is often covered in clouds, with visibility difficult. I have tried to research the best season to see the volcano, but really believe it is more a matter of luck than anything else. Although we were unable to see the volcano at night, we were able to get a feel for it during the day, when we were able to see the smoking lava slide down the side of the mountain.
Eco tours and hikes are quite nearby the resort, and rides provided by the resort are readily available.  We took a nearby hike in the rainforest with an incredible guide who was not only knowledgeable about the rainforest, but whose powers of observation were so acute that he was able to hear a "poison-dart" frog which was only about an inch long and point it out to us.
 We also were lucky enough to spot a coral snake, a very unusual occurrence, but he had apparently come in from the forest and was visible in a field.  However, as exciting as these events were, they were surpassed by our visit to Manuel Antonio.
We took NatureAir again from Arenal to Manuel Antonio.
Our hotel there was The Falls  which had been a "gay" hotel, but is now "gay friendly".  We did not find this to be at all problematic.  All the guests were quite friendly as was the manager.The bar was a great place to congregate and the drinks were great as well.  We met two nice couples there, one, a straight couple from Canada, the husband of which had a gay older brother, and a young lesbian couple from Philadelphia who were bright and friendly.  The room at The Falls can best be described as "Tropical" in decor, roomy, and adequate--the air-conditioning was especially welcome.  The resort is in a portion of forest, and so there are plenty of birds, and occasional monkey visitors. 
Of course, the highlight of any visit to Manuel Antonio is the national park.  The park encompasses both the rainforest and the beach.  Guides are readily available and are well worth the very nominal fee.  The flora and fauna are extremely varied (as you would expect)  Sloths are in abundance although not that easy to spot, but of course the biggest attraction are the monkeys.  After a hike in the rainforest the beach is a great place to just relax and cool off.
To our surprise, the food in Manuel Antonio was also excellent.  We did not expect to be eating Thai food there, however, on the recommendation of other guests at The Falls, we wound up eating at KapiKapi one of the best Asian fusion restuarants restaurants I have eaten at, the fare apparently prepared by an ex-pat California surfer and chef.  Fortunately, for the visitor to Manuel Antonio, KapiKapi is not the only good restaurant there--every restaurant we ate at was both reasonably priced and good and the service was always friendly towards two middle-aged non-Spanish speaking gay men.
No trip to the warm waters of Central America would be complete without a boat and snorkeling experience, and in an effort to ensure that our trip would be complete, we took a sunset cruise from Quepos which is just down the road from Manuel Antonio.  The sailboat cruise was excellent, with food and drinks, as well as snorkeling equipment provided.  It was a perfect end to our Costa Rican adventure.

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