Costa Rica Travel: All the Best Hollywood-Loved Places to Visit

In the past couple of years, Reese Witherspoon took a hiking-filled girls trip in the Costa Rican mountains; Adam Scott fell in love with the country’s coffee; Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly went on an ayahuasca journey; Zac Efron filmed a Down to Earth With Zac Efron episode in an Alajuela Province sustainable commune; Emma Roberts eased into “the most beautiful reset,” she posted; Molly Sims, Netflix’s Scott Stuber and their kids zip-lined over the Tempisque River; and Natasha Lyonne, Freeform president Tara Duncan and Ronan Farrow rode horses on the beach. Other stars who have visited the country include Diane Kruger and Norman Reedus, Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth, Matt Damon and Shakira.

“Costa Rica is on everyone’s bucket list,” says Alicia Repetto of Costa Rica hospitality group Casa Chameleon Hotels. “The country has so many things to offer with wonderful sceneries that change in a short drive. Its people, colors, gastronomy and culture are a delight to experience.”

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The biodiverse North American paradise, though, is far more than a burgeoning celebrity hotspot. “Costa Rica, home to over 500,000 species of wildlife, emphasizes the dominance of nature,” says Harry Shum Jr., who was born there. “The country’s motto, ‘Pura Vida,’ reflects a commitment to a pure and fulfilling life, as evidenced by its high life expectancy.” About a quarter of the country’s land mass is protected. “Costa Rica is the promised land without artificial ingredients,” adds Costa Rican film director Laura Astorga, describing the country as a place where “we can swim in always warm waves, where we can be very long-lived, where it is possible to see any wild animal up close because they are not afraid of us — we have never been their predators.”

Some 2.5 million tourists visit annually for lush rainforest adventures, volcanic hot springs, magnificent beaches, surfing, yoga and incredible wildlife (such as humpback whales, sloths, jaguars, scarlet macaws and superpods of spinner dolphins). Costa Rica contains nearly 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity, yet it’s a bit smaller than West Virginia. Its Nicoya Peninsula is also one of the globes’s five Blue Zones, where people historically live long, healthy lives (residents live to an average age of 85). AOL co-founder Steve Case likens Costa Rica to “Hawaii 50 years ago.”

Waterbike Adventure - Peninsula Papagayo - Costa Rica
Waterbiking in the Palmares Outpost preserve on Peninsula Papagayo in Costa Rica.

According to Jason Moloney, artistic director and co-owner of prototyping and design company JxJ, “There’s a sense of adventure in the untouched wilderness that is impossible to fabricate.”

It doesn’t hurt that there is an ever-increasing number of glamorous, exclusive and ultra-luxurious places to call home base — from sprawling resorts to private villas and residences — many of which have bowed in the northwest part of the country on two peninsulas.

Peninsula Papagayo

From an Oscar-winning leading lady to an actress and her rocker beau, many Hollywood types have been guests — and are owners — at Peninsula Papagayo.

The 1,400-acre low-density, high-security sanctuary comprises multiple resorts and real estate developments, plus a private club, art program, marina for yachts up to 200 feet, and naturalist-guided activity outfitter (think mangrove water biking, outrigger canoeing and surfing Witch’s Rock). Liberia International Airport (LIR), a 40-minute drive away, is being renovated to include a new private jet terminal, expected in 2024. Also due next year is the ultra-luxurious Nekajui, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve Hotel and Residences.

A rendering of a pool area at Nekajui, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve resort set to open next year.
A rendering of a pool area at Nekajui, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve resort set to open next year.

In the meantime, the 33,000-square-foot Villa Avellana (from $22,000 a night, for up to 23 guests) is the area’s splashiest debut, offering 10 en suite bedrooms and a 42-foot yacht on standby. Designed by Sarco Architects, it sits on an ultra-private plot where a sandy beach and dry forest canopy converge and is staffed by 20 attentive hospitality and wellness professionals who orchestrate magical adventures, fine dining experiences and cultural immersions for their guests with incredible attention to detail and personal interests.

Villa Avellana - Costa Rica - Peninsula Papagayo
Villa Avellana on Península Papagayo Costa Rica

Sims and Stuber have stayed at the peninsula’s Four Seasons Resort (from $1,200), which Sims has praised for “customizing our trip completely — Momma did not lift one finger unless it was her wine glass to her mouth.” This November, the resort debuts the Eastern Mediterranean-inspired Virador Beach Club, complete with an adults-only infinity pool and cabanas, and a new biophilic hilltop Wellness Shala for cacao ceremonies, yoga and sound healing.

Virador Beach Club - Four Seasons - Costa Rica
Virador Beach Club at the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo

Film and TV producer Hank Leukart returned this year to his favorite getaway spot, the “gorgeous” Andaz Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo (from $600). “It fits into the natural surroundings perfectly,” he says. “We loved it so much, I proposed to my girlfriend, Parker, while kayaking at the resort.” The Andaz features new locally sourced restaurant Ostra and a fresh collection of condo residences with rooftop terraces and plunge pools.

Ostra seafood restaurant at the Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo.
Ostra seafood restaurant at the Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo.

Just north of the Papagayo peninsula, Chris Burch’s NIHI luxury brand — Jennifer Lawrence honeymooned at the original Sumba, Indonesia, resort — is currently developing the 2,471-acre NIHI Santo Tomás, to open with two private beaches, a Ronald Zurcher–designed 40-room hotel and polo fields in 2025, with residences to come.

Beach Club - Costa Elena - Costa Rica
Residents-only beach club at Costa Elena

Even further north — on the country’s uppermost peninsula closest to Nicaragua (an hour from LIR airport) — is Costa Elena, a new eco-luxury community and ocean club with 10 miles of virginal coastline, renowned for kite-surfing and snorkeling. It borders the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Area de Conservació Guanacaste, where jaguars and yellow-necked parrot have been revived from near extinction in the last 18 years. Homesites start at $350,000 and five-bedroom turnkey villas begin at $2.95 million (four-bedroom villas start at $1,308/night). Its first private beach club opened in December 2022 with thatched-roof palapas and an infinity pool, while a grill restaurant bows this fall. Rafael Nadal has been a guest of nearby, all-inclusive Dreams Las Mareas Resort (from $740), where all Costa Elena owners and guests can access pools, spa, gym and further dining outlets.

Nicoya Peninsula

South of Papagayo is the larger Nicoya Peninsula, a longevity hotspot Blue Zone, where 15 years ago Case’s investment firm Revolution Places purchased the Cacique Peninsula. They’ve spent a decade planning Waldorf Astoria Residences Guanacaste — due in 2024 — comprising 19 condo residences (from $1.62 million), 22 estate homes (from $5.31 million) and a 190-key hotel, with sustainability top of mind. Case tells THR he was personally drawn to Guanacaste for its “rare experience — beautiful pristine land, breathtaking beaches and ocean access, along with a welcoming culture.” The Waldorf Astoria property will include a beach club, treehouse-like spa rooms, a holistic wellness center, lap and thermal pools and multiple restaurants.

Waldorf Astoria - Costa Rica
Rendering of a residence at the forthcoming Waldorf Astoria in Costa Rica.

The region also is home to the car-free coastal town Las Catalinas, which will open its first commercial center, La Rambla, late next year, with residences, dining, offices and retail. The uber-walkable master-planned enclave is home to Casa Chameleon at Las Catalinas (from $745), which has drawn actors, NBA players, singers and models. The spirited and secluded adults-only hotel sits atop a hill, which provides each of its 21 private villas — complete with personal infinity pools — with jaw-dropping vistas. Four fully serviced residences (starting at $4.29 million) and 15 luxe condos (from $1.27 million) are slated to be completed in late 2024.

Casa Chameleon - Las Catalinas - Costa Rica
Casa Chameleon at Las Catalinas

The freshly renovated, all-suite El Mangroove, Autograph Collection (from $457), is almost sold out of its own new residential offering. Still available are five of 13 eco-aware homes (from $1.775 million), designed by Garnier Arquitectos and Ronald Zurcher and embracing ocean views, locally sourced finishes and custom Costa Rican–crafted furniture.

El Mangroove - Residence - Costa Rica
Rendering of a residence at El Mangroove, Autograph Collection, in Costa Rica.

In the surf town of Nosara, Sendero Hotel (from $395) opened this year with its own yoga studio, surf school (with easy access to acclaimed Playa Guiones), art gallery and Sendero Kitchen restaurant where chef Olivier Palazzo — a champion on Beat Bobby Flay — recently arrived to prepare Costa Rican staples such as avocado and fresh fish in his distinctive cooking style.

A waiter at Sendero Kitchen on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Chef Olivier Palazzo at Sendero Kitchen on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Leukart spent several months post-pandemic on the Nicoya peninsula “exploring Pacific surf towns like Tamarindo, Playa Negra, Nosara and Sámara, trying Spanish immersion classes at the Nosara Spanish Institute, yoga at the chic Nosara Bodhi Tree Yoga Resort and amazing coffee at Corazón Surf Cafe in Playa Negra,” he says.

South of there, Habitas Santa Teresa is poised for a spring debut at the tip of the peninsula. It’s the latest hotel from the bohemian brand that helped popularize Tulum (Paris Hilton has stayed at that retreat) and will have 45 low-environmental-impact rooms and 10 glamping tents across a verdant beachfront, with offerings including underwater volcano snorkeling, beach horseback riding, waterfall excursions and hydrofoil surfing.

Also in Santa Teresa, the beachfront boutique hotel Nantipa (from $480) debuts eight new bungalows in November, as well as a longevity-inspired package (starting at $3,485 for three nights/double occupancy) called the Blue Wellness Experience, which includes hiking to the Montezuma waterfall, a private dinner on the sand and volunteering at a nonprofit coastal ranch called Cirenas.

Ninta Beachfront Bungalow - Nantipa - Costa Rica
Ninta beachfront bungalow at Nantipa

Farther South

The coast grows less developed and arguably wilder as one travels south.

On a trip with film producer and underwater photographer Pier Nirandara’s travel company ImmersivExpeditions, Moloney fell in love with the country’s remarkable blend of natural beauty and eco-consciousness. He was sworn to secrecy on their locations, but Moloney tells THR of a few unforgettable memories: “Swimming with thousands of dolphins in crystal clear waters, watching toucans soar over secret beaches, and hearing the ghostly calls of howler monkeys as the rains come in.” Another highlight was a close encounter with a pod of orcas: “Witnessing the enormous size of such intelligent creatures move as a unit and watch us with an eerily prescient curiosity was a deeply moving experience,” he says.  Nirandara is guiding a similar journey March 1-8, 2024, for $5,300/person.

Astorga — who is working on a very personal film called Animal Lluvioso about crimes against environmental activists — says her favorite place is the Golfo Dulce, a gulf on the Oso Peninsula. “The whales arrive there with their calves to raise them,” she says. About 90 minutes north of there, in Uvita, lies the eight-suite, adults-only boutique hotel Kurà (from $945), built by an architect and a biologist and serving 100 percent sustainably sourced meals at its restaurant. Two of its eight suites will be transformed come spring with private plunge pools and terraces looking over Ballena Marine National Park.

Kura - Costa Rica
Kura boutique hotel in Uvita, Costa Rica.

When she holidays, Costa Rican film director Valentina Maurel goes to Limón on the country’s Caribbean coast and visits beaches including Arrecife, Cocles and Punta Uva. “The Caribbean has the capacity to bewitch anyone and it is definitely one of the most cinematographic places in Costa Rica. … It’s a real experience to discover the Afro-Caribbean culture with its music such as calypso, its cuisine and its history,” she tells THR, adding that “the magic of those places is that you can find beaches that are almost empty of people.” Her pick for dinner in that region: Selvin’s, “one of the oldest and most famous restaurants, and the best for Caribbean food.”

Central Costa Rica

The impetus of Leukart’s trip was kayaking on the Pejibaye River and rafting the Pacuare River outside of Turrialba (some 50 miles east of capital San José), where he recommends Costa Rica Rios for hiring pro kayak instructors. Indeed, the central regions of Costa Rica are full of infinite adventures amid half a dozen active volcanoes, dense mountains, and jurassic rainforests teeming with monkeys and hundreds of bird species.

In the north, Mick Jagger has stayed at the luxuriously intimate, ultra-sustainable Origins Lodge (from $908, including activities), which opened in 2019 on 111 acres that include a waterfall. Fresh offerings include bath amenity master classes using flowers and herbs foraged on property and naturalist-guided hikes or horseback rides through the Tenorio and Miravalles volcanos corridor. Production of the lodge’s proprietary medicinal honey brand, called Ancestral Honey Bee, supports the local Bijagua Senior Center.

Origins Lodge - Costa Rica - Horseback Riding
Horseback riding at Origins Lodge.

Witherspoon and Roberts have publicly declared their love for the highly personalized all-inclusive Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection (from $1,550), a two-year-old resort in the Talamanca Mountains. On Instagram, Roberts called it “my new favorite place,” adding that the retreat has “the most magnificent setting, the kindest people, the most mind-blowing experiences.” Nicky Hilton, Nina Dobrev and Shaun White have also been guests at the property, which boasts 50 casitas that look out to humming tropical forest. The property includes a 20,000-square-foot outpost of New York’s beloved members-only health and wellness club The Well, which highlights indigenous spa modalities and frequent visiting masters (think a shamanic facial practitioner and crystal healer) plus retreats such as the four-day Well Integrated Experience (from $2,955).

Hacienda AltaGracia - Auberge Resorts Collection - Costa Rica
Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection

In late 2022, Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa (from $376) in La Fortuna unveiled a renovation of 14 honeymoon suites and rainforest rooms led by Costa Rican architect Adriana Cruz. Four of them feature private plunge pools fed by the property’s volcanic hot springs, which are the country’s largest naturally occurring network of the steamy natural phenomenon. The new culinary director, Saul Umana, is introducing local and historical foods in his new menus, while fall also brings complimentary yoga classes and sound baths.

Tabacon Thermal Resort Spa - Costa Rica
Hot springs at Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa in Costa Rica

There are many ways to experience the cloud forest of Monteverde, such as at the 17-acre private reserve Savia, where a hanging bridge, rope climbs, tree canopy hammocks and curiosity pods are the landscape for three-to-four-hour small group forest immersions — both day and night — in Mother Nature’s ultimate playground. Costa Rica’s first carbon-neutral farm, the 12-acre Finca Madre Tierra, is a nearby encounter that can include milking cows, riding horses through lush countryside, picking coffee beans and grinding sugarcane.

Hotel Belmar - Monteverde - Costa Rica - Penthouse Suite
Penthouse Suite at Hotel Belmar in Monteverde.

Both properties were created by the environmentalist owners of circa-1985 Hotel Belmar (from $243), the climate-positive boutique hotel where guests have included an actor, writer and playwright from a recent Hulu series and an actor/comedian/film director. Amid its moody, misty cloud forest environs, the hotel hosts quarterly artist residencies that include workshops, craft beer tastings from the onsite microbrewery Cerveceria Belmar, and garden-to-glass cocktail experiences.

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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