These hills are definitely alive with the sound of music alright. Music of birds, horses, cattle and zip-liners that is. When people hear Costa Rica, they typically think of beaches, rain forests, and adventure sports. Mountains and jungles aren't usually on the short list, but the region of Pérez Zeledón where Hacienda AltaGracia resides is full of this undiscovered natural beauty. Mother Nature made sure to really bring that beauty to life for us upon arrival.
A hurricane has never made landfall in Costa Rica...until I boarded a plane and flew directly into its very.first.one. My sister and I decided that it would be fun to switch things up a bit and celebrate Thanksgiving with a Pura-Vida-Hurricane-Otto twist. We like to get wild n' crazy sometimes, and we realllllly love extreme turbulence on airplanes (said no one ever). It's nobody's fault but Otto's, and I want to take the time to thank Southwest (which flies direct from Houston to San José) for keeping us safe, sound and alive during that eventful flight south. I greatly appreciate your humor, booze and professionalism.
How to get there // When to go
Nobody said getting to paradise was easy peasy. After flying into San José and staying overnight at Grano de Oro, we still needed to be transported to the southern region of the country via prop plane or car. We definitely opted for the plane, however Otto had other plans for us. Due to inclement weather called a hurricane, we had to drive the three hours to the resort. Either way it's a win because the scenery is drop dead gorgeous. We were able to take the plane when we departed the hotel! Also, the rainy season extends from April to November, so drops were on and off during our stay.
What I love so much about AltaGracia is the ability to stay on hotel grounds and still feel completely immersed in the culture of Costa Rica. The problem with a beautiful hotel is finding adequate time to spend outside the hotel. If you are putting down the money to stay in paradise, you might as well make the most of it and spend your time enjoying the amenities. But what about the culture, the locals, the street food, etc? Sometimes we miss the mark on a destination because leaving certain properties is hard to do.
With AltaGracia, they bring the culture to the guests by employing the nicest locals who will tell you about the real Costa Rica (i.e. what you can't find in a guide book), by offering local cuisine, and by implementing activities that immerse you into the fabric of la Pura Vida. I discuss more in depth below, but the farm excursion with a local couple was a definite highlight here. They only spoke Spanish (which I was thrilled about because I need to practice every chance I get), and they taught my sister and me how to manually make sugar cane amongst other farm activities. For a few seconds, I felt truly at home in Central America.
I was fully prepared to not have a traditional Thanksgiving meal this year, however AltaGracia totally killed it. And by killed it I mean saved the holiday completely with their turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pie. Holy gravy it was so delicious. I send my compliments to the chef, because there were a few Argentine Thanksgivings in my day and WHOA Argentines do not know how to do turkey. I repeat, do not. Lastly, a few shots of cacique is a must here. Made from sugar cane, cacique is the best selling liquer in the country. It's very tasty and makes for a colorful night!
And then there's Ambar Terrace, a place so nice I would've had all of my meals here had Otto not been invited to many of them. Breakfast, lunch and dinner with a view...
Spa: Quite possibly AltaGracia's best feature is the impressive spa. Just LOOK. Need I say more?
Ultralight Flight: One of my favorite adventure activities offered at any hotel EVER is THIS. The pilot even let me fly the teeny tiny plane at one point. I really fulfilled my dream of being a Jetson for a hot second by flying in this amazingly small contraption. The best part was, well, there were many: touching clouds, TOUCHING CLOUDS (I mean who gets to touch clouds?), flying over sugar cane, pineapple fields and coffee plantations, taking over the controls and doing aerial tricks with my sister in the plane below (pictured in the final gallery).
Life of Caballista Experience: At AltaGracia, the horses are just as much a part of the property as the beds, oversized bathrooms and high-speed internet. I've never seen prettier, well-kept stables in my life, either.
Daniel, our guide, decided to surprise us one morning as we took off galloping along the dirt road. We ended up at the Nery Farm where the nicest couple works from sun up til sun down producing sugar cane, milking cows, making cheese, gathering eggs, and feeding chickens. Did I mention we milked cows? Because I've never done that prior to this trip and it was...interesting. Have you ever tasted milk straight from the utter? Well, I have. It's warm to quite warm and I haven't had dairy since. Totally kidding. It was a very cool experience. Thanks for showing me the ropes, Miguel!
I think farm life is the life for me. Special thanks to Don Nery and Doña Yami for allowing us to photograph your workplace and eat your amazing homemade goods and drink your tasty alcohol. You really know how to make the perfect Thanksgiving even more perfect.
Zip line: If you visited Costa Rica and didn't zip line, did you really go to Costa Rica? Probs not. To Jonathan and Christian at Canopy Valle de General, thanks for a very fun morning in the tree tops! Many thanks to our guide Daniel for deviating from the itinerary and showing us how a local explores Pérez Zeledón.
Repeat la Pura Vida
On our way to zip line, I asked Daniel to describe what exactly Pura Vida means. The simple English translation is 'Pure Life,' but I wanted to dig a little deeper. Basically, the phrase is the law of the land and the way of life in CR and has been around for 50+ years. It means many different things from 'hi,' 'thank you,' 'it doesn't matter to me,' to 'Go F Yourself.' Interesting, right? The next time you're in an argument with someone, maybe switch out your vulgarity for 'Pura Vida.' We could all use a bit more purity in our lives anyway.
See more images from my time in Costa Rica below!