The morning sun sleepwalks over the mountain and chirping toucans take to the high branches in the trees. Far below the ridge clouds roil in the Pacific.
There are worse places to be lounging in a 30-foot-long swimming pool.
Londres isn’t your usual Costa Rican tourist haunt. It’s a tiny village on the escarpment up the rutty road from the modest town of Quepos, three hours from San Jose, about halfway down the west coast of this Central American destination.
The lure of this village waits in the high mountains behind and the mangrove swamp below. But its real charm is the people, as genuine as the waitress at the open air Las Casona restaurant who tried but couldn’t understand a word of the tortured Spanish her customers tried to speak. She and they collapsed in laughter so often they barely got through ordering.
And, oh, yeah, the pool. Toucan Gardens Villa is not a faux primitive Caribbean jungle cabin. It’s not a swanky highrise coastal hotel. It’s a rental home. A group of us picked this spot recently because it offered a few healthy tastes of “pura vida,” the Costa Rican mantra for their way of life, while being just luxurious enough to make a vacation of it.
The villa sits in its own 30 acres of rainforest, with flowering plants and herbs swarmed with butterflies. Fruit trees such as mango, starfruit, lemon and lime are growing to draw exotics like the toucans, parrots and tropical kingbirds. There was word of a jaguarundi, a wildcat about the size of a bobcat, spotted crossing the road nearby.
Along the vista mountain road where the villa sits, a neighbor brings her goats out to munch on the grasses alongside the road, school girls wave from the rider seat on their big brothers’ motorbikes, headed to class in the village over the ridge. An owl and a macaw watch from overhanging branches.
The villa’s manager, Jose Fallas, doesn’t rely on the brochure tour operators when offering outings to his guests. Given the opportunity, he will steer you to people he knows, such as William Delgados, who guides kayak and boat tours of the mangrove swamp through his family’s land. (Keep an eye on the capuchins scampering in the overhanging trees; they will snatch what they can.)
The best trip might be to hop in the old German Army jeep with Fallas himself, take the seat-of-your-pants ride up the switchbacks to Los Campesinos Ecolodge, where a self-sustaining cooperative of farmers has branched out to offer hikes, waterfall rappelling and swims in the pools below the falls that wait across a long, spindly suspension bridge.
Don’t pass up the hilly, forested points and beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park outside Quepos, where sloths idle overhead, howler monkeys let go with their whoops, and more capuchins and raccoons stalk unwary beachgoers for a shot at rooting through their daypacks.
Oh, and the mountain jungle zip line, the raft trips, the horseback riding, deep sea fishing, locally crafted souvenir shopping, and surfing lessons in the tumult of the Pacific.
Just don’t go at it all so hard you don’t kick back a few hours each day, picking the fruit for a mango salsa, playing a rack of billiards or lounging at the ridgetop pool overlooking the distant ocean.
Toucan Gardens Villa prices run from $2,000-$5,000 per week, depending on season; $360 to $500 per night with a three-night minimum. Each of the excursions and shuttles can be a bit pricey, but shared among a group of as many as 10 in the four-bedroom home, the cost is just vacation money.
Go in the rainy season, essentially late spring through early fall, before the real deluges start. Afternoon showers or downpours won’t be rare, but the rainforest flora comes alive.
Outside Quepos or away from larger tour operators, don’t count on the plastic. Businesses will try to accept a credit or debit card in a place like Londres, but whether or not it gets approved depends on some shaky phone connections. Cash: Don’t leave home without it, whether dollars or colones.
Don’t not drink the water. Except in the most rural villages the water is fine. Travel guides advise carrying Imodium or a similar product, and everyone on this trip did. But no one had any digestive distresses, despite eating food from a variety of growers and at casual spots.
Oddly enough, after all the Zika alarm, mosquitoes weren’t nearly as thick as they are in the Lowcountry. My guess? Not so much standing water and there’s more eating on them. Carry DEET but you won’t need to slather.
Beans and rice: Not only is it a staple, but nearly every excursion you take will include a beans and rice lunch, with meat and a vegetable. It’s homemade in front of your eyes, usually on a wood stove, and despite the relative sameness of the meals, each cook seems to put her (mostly) own touch on it.
Unsure which of a market shelf full of Costa Rican coffees you want to brew at the villa? Look for locally grown Tarrazu. Do have one of the rich cups of whatever they serve at Los Campesinos Ecolodge, which might very well have come from beans grown at the coop.
Reach Bo Petersen at 843-937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.