Category: Guanacaste

Soft landing at Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

Rancho Armadillo, Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

Rancho Armadillo, Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

“The Earth is moving at 285,000 miles an hour,” says Rick Vogel of Rancho Armadillo in Playas del Coco. “And the skies shift even faster here, down near the equator.”

We’re lounging poolside, sometime between dusk and moonrise. Rick has a 5-inch diameter telescope trained on Jupiter and its moons. You can see three of the moons clear as day. The stars, brilliant on this clear night, are reflected in the dark water of the pool. Full-size copies of pre-Columbian statues loom in the dim light, and night-blooming flowers broadcast their scent.

Although we haven’t been moving at quite the clip as the Earth, we’ve been on the road for weeks and have been traveling as fast as the Costa Rica roads will allow. And with the roads and bridges so much improved since my last grand tour, that’s pretty damned fast.

From the pool at Rancho Armadillo you can see the ocean.

From the pool at Rancho Armadillo you can see the ocean; photos by David W. Smith.

It feels good to land for a few days at Rancho Armadillo, up the hill and out of earshot from Playas del Coco. In 2004 the Tico Times wrote that visiting the Rancho was “like visiting a friend with a really cool house.” I agree, but would add, a friend with a really cool house and 25 landscaped acres and fragrant ylang ylang trees and visiting monkeys and wireless internet and comfortable king sized beds and rainforest showers and breakfasts that include homemade waffles and huge platters of fruit. After he’d served us one morning’s feast Rick had to take some friends to the bus stations. “If the coatamundi comes around,” he told us. “Throw him a piece of raisin bread. Otherwise he’ll drag the whole bread basket away.”

Rick and his wife Debbie, originally from Detroit, bought the hotel in 1999. They didn’t expand—the place sleeps just 20 at full capacity–but they did refine. They planted more trees and flowers, and made sure that every detail was right—the good reading lights on each side of the bed, the small army of sunscreen and insect repellent bottles you’ll find poolside for your use, the field guides to local flora and fauna, and the star charts to help you orient in skies that are catawampus compared to what stargazers see up north.

Most of all, though, I appreciate the feeling that Rick gives you—that you have the run of the place. That you can swim at midnight and raid the honor bar whenever the mood strikes. “There are two rules here,” he tells us. “For each work email you answer, you have to do a shot. And you have to wake up at least once a day.”