Costa Rica: a raw, romantic road-trip


Costa Rica: a raw, romantic road-trip

On-the-go photographer Hannah Dace revs up to reconnect in spectacular style

Hannah Dace

BY Hannah Dace18 March 2024

I flew to Costa Rica in search of sunshine. As it turns out, I found so much more than that. The country is raw, spirited and rough-edged in places – and it’s a far cry from city life in London. Among the surf breaks, jungle canopies and dirt tracks, I found a real sense of adventure; a proper switch-off. But – perhaps most importantly – I found romantic reconnection.

It had been a busy year, so a tropical road-trip gave myself and Mr Smith some much needed quality time, where we rediscovered our love of food, adventure, nature, the ocean and each other – and plenty of sunshine along the way.

Andaz Peninsula Papagayo

For the love of food

We’re foodies. We have been since our first date nine years ago – so it’s no surprise that our holidays tend to revolve around eating. Andaz Peninsula Papagayo (coming soon to Smith) was the first stop on our road trip, and here we got to know our new surroundings through cuisine. Each of the three restaurants is laser-focused on the provenance and integrity of the ingredients used. At Costa Rican restaurant Ostra, 92 per cent of the menu is sourced in the country, though they’re working towards a full house. We adored the chicharrón gyoza, fisherman’s ceviche, casado croquettes and mariscada: a seafood stew with pasta.

Two images; five small plates of assorted foods on a try and three sun-loungers next to a pool, under parasols.

Rooms are dotted throughout sprawling grounds, all facing the ocean, and are decked out in natural materials by a local designer. Palm-shaded pathways lead you from the armadillo-inspired lobby to an outdoor gym, bamboo-roof bars, sound-healing studios and an adults-only pool (hello, honeymooners). A short boat ride away is a very wide, very golden stretch of beach with turquoise waters, an infinity-edge pool and shaded restaurant. We savour the serenity here, ahead of the next stop on our road-trip: the jungle.

Rio Perdido Hotel & Thermal River

For the love of adventure

‘I grew up just down the road’ appears to be the most common sentence spoken at Rio Perdido, where 90 per cent of the staff are from the neighbouring town. It’s a hotel infused with the spirit, history and energy of the locals: making for curated experiences and rich conversations.

Man swims in a pool, surrounded by trees.

It’s also an unblemished base for the adventurous among us. Hardy hikers will be happy here (as we were) with many green miles ready to be explored. It’s phones down, eyes up: wildlife spotting, sunrise yoga classes, soaking in geothermal mineral pools, and white-water tubing will keep you perfectly entertained. We try zip-lining for the first time, grinning at each other as we whizz through colossal ravines under a roasting sun and steely blue sky. It was a thrill, but so was the swim-up bar where we ordered spicy margaritas later in the afternoon, discussing the – literal – ups and downs of our day.

Sendero Hotel

For the love of the ocean

Two images; a woman walks her dog alone on the beach, with waves crashing in front and to the left of her. The other image shows the courtyard of a hotel, with a plunge pool and sun loungers.

The surf and swell are reason alone to visit Nosara, and especially Sendero Hotel, where boards are stacked at the entrance and sunrise coffees and cakes are laid out for early-risers.

We book in for a lesson on day one, and it’s here that our surfing careers begin. Quickly addicted, we settle into a hypnotic rhythm: out on the water each morning and often into the late afternoon. Beyond the surf, there are beach days, great coffee at Rolling Waves and some of the fiercest sunsets I’ve ever been privy to, with friends, families and lovers pitching up on the sand – or floating in the ocean.

Surfboard on a worktable outside a surfboard shop.

The free-spirited town is tiny, with just a handful of streets. But there’s all you need (bar a working ATM, but that’s another story) and Sendero is a hub in itself, with a surf shop, coffee cart, art gallery, shaded courtyard pool and exceptional restaurant (order the fall-off-the-bone chicken and the roasted cauliflower). Rooms are neutral toned and boho in style, with butter-soft sheets and an outdoor terrace fitted with a romance-inducing shower. Our days in Nosara are fuss-free: this town with a beautiful old soul, weathered by the water.


For love of nature

Costa Rica is nature. And much-féted Santa Teresa is known for its pick of the best: here bucolic jungle backs on to silky crescents of sand. We take mornings at a slow pace, appreciating the soft-focus views and billowing swells as we eat breakfast on the sand of Manzú, Nantipa’s ocean-front restaurant. Our beachfront manse affords indoor-outdoor living at its best, and we’re entirely immersed in nature thanks to the resident iguanas, monkeys and herons that mill around the grounds. There’s a turquoise pool shaded by foliage, and sunsets the colour of raging fires take place directly in front of Nantipa’s very own beach bonfire.

Two images; one depicting a pool shaded by palm trees, the other showing waves crashing on the beach with a table, two bean-bags and two hammocks hanging from a palm tree.

It’s furnace hot throughout our time here. We spend most of our sandy, salty days in the water, having rented boards from nearby Somos. We sample the array of cafés – Ani’s bowls, Cafca Café, the Roastery and Kaukau. One morning we load the car up and head to neighbouring Playa Hermosa. We find dappled shade in the form of a homemade structure of logs and twigs, thankful for the respite, but end up retreating to Mantarraya Café for açai bowls, then, eventually, back to Manzú for sunset and more spicy margaritas.

Casa Chameleon Las Catalinas

For the love of each other

Wooden exterior of the Casa Chameleon Las Catalinas building. Parasols shade sun-loungers next to the pool.

Our final stay perches high above Las Catalinas on the west coast of the Guanacaste. Here we find an acoustic version of life. Our cliff-side dwelling at Casa Chameleon boasts a completely hidden terrace and plunge pool, with just the unending expanse of ocean and crashing waves for company.

The privacy leads to proper ‘us’ time: we leaf through magazines together, play cards on the deck until late, set alarms for sunrises that can be seen from beneath intertwined bed covers, and bear witness to yet more spectacular sunsets. There’s a stillness here, thanks to the remote location and intimate size. We quickly become comfortable with the staff – one of whom refuses to bring Mr Smith any drinks unless he orders in Spanish, as worthy a test of Duolingo as any.

A fire burns by the edge of an infinity pool, looking over the ocean as the sun sets.

Costa Rica is a honeymoon idyll – it provides a backdrop for romance and connection, yet enough space and solitude to make the story entirely your own. There’s grittiness and adventure, good food and cerebral landscapes.

Sure, it could be all the sunshine, but I’m certain that I leave Costa Rica glowing.

And, fall in love with more honeymoon hotels.

(All images by Hannah Dace)