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Four Seasons Costa Rica Travel Oh Travel

By Travel Oh TravelMonday, November 11, 2013 | 7:44 AM

The guttural cries of the howler monkeys in the tamarind and plum trees that grace the grounds of the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo provide our favorite welcome back, but that is once we enter the resort's gates.

If you have chosen an individual family pickup, the pampering begins at the airport in Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste province. A resort representative handed us cold water bottles, most welcome after our flights, picked our luggage off the carousel, and carried it to the van. The driver offered us cold towels and more water, saying con much gusto. That phrase, we heard repeatedly from the resort's unfailingly polite and friendly staff.

When families with a child ages 4 to 12 arrive, staff from the Kids for All Seasons program greet the children, giving them information about the children's program. Gifts wait in the room for both youngsters and teens.

The Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo has 145 guest rooms, 20 two- to three-bedroom homes, plus 20 condominium-like fractional ownership units. The property is not just another pretty beach resort with a good children's program. The resort's location and architecture set it apart. Situated in the midst of a tropical, dry forest in Costa Rica's northwest Guanacaste Province, the resort is the crown jewel in fact the only resort on the Peninsula Papagayo, a gorgeous swath of land jutting into the Pacific. The peninsula covers 2300 acres, and has 15 miles of coastline with 31 beaches.

After environmental protests, developers scaled back the original plan for Peninsula Papagayo, conceived as a resort and residential community, to 7,200 "keys" With the economy's slowdown, the other luxury hotels slated to open have not yet broken ground (as of this posting), and the residences number around 50. So what is open besides the Four Seasons? A golf course, a marina, and the Prieta Beach Club, an up market, beachfront facility with a pool, soon to open spa and restaurant catering to homeowners and, for now, Four Seasons' guests.

Facts about the development's future are difficult to come by. No one seems to know or is willing to say what hotels, if any, will join the Four Seasons or how many private homes will be built. We have been told that 70 percent of the land will remain as existing forest. That is good news since the natural landscape, monkeys and all, is a big draw.

What this means for now is that as a guest of the Four Seasons you have an extraordinary natural setting to enjoy, one that comes with the extremely civilized amenities of a luxury resort.

The Four Seasons not only raises the bar on luxury, but it sets a high standard for architectural integrity. Forget-about in-your-face glitzy high-rises with glaring lights and paved over lawns. The Four Seasons, poised atop a bluff, blends into the setting instead of shouts.

To create this effect, architect Ronald Zurcher, a native Costa Rican, combines indigenous forms, earth and palm tree colors, soft lighting, and clever positioning. The low-rise brown and green buildings hug the slopes below the tree line so that the foliage helps obscure the structures. Carefully created rooflines echo natural shapes. Some roofs angle upward like butterfly wings; others curve like the rounded back of an armadillo.

That is particularly fitting in an ecologically sensitive country that protects more than 25 percent of its land in parks, forests, and reserves. Costa Rica, with its 850-plus species of birds and hundreds of species of mammals, serves as the quintessential inspiration for all those theme park jungle rides in which toucans pop out at you through twisting vines and monkeys chatter overhead. Except, in Costa Rica, you get to enjoy the real thing.

That brings us back to the howler monkeys. At first, my daughter thought they sounded like Jurassic Park dinosaurs. We soon became acclimated to their throaty cries, listening for the monkeys in the morning while we ate breakfast on our balcony and searching for them in the late afternoon in the trees outside the spa and near our room. It is rare and wonderful to enjoy five-star luxury and wild monkeys too.

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