THE BASICS The Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo opened in January 2004, adding the first sprawling luxury resort to the country's list of eco-friendly retreats and beach lodgings. Designed by the Costa Rican architect Ronald Zürcher, the resort's earth-toned stucco buildings seem to grow out of a hillside that slopes down to an isthmus, surrounded by tropical dry forest and sandy beaches on both sides. From the moment the solicitous staff greets you with fresh fruit juice in the open-air lobby, and directs you to the property's three swimming pools, state-of-the-art fitness center, and the Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, any preconception of Costa Rica-as-a-developing-country fades away. Only occasional monkey- spotting provides a reminder of the wildlife beyond the resort's meticulously kept grounds.
THE LOCATION The resort was built on the Pacific coast of Guanacaste province in northwest Costa Rica, in the least populated, sunniest and driest part of the country. Many of the rain forests and national parks that Costa Rica is well known for are two to four hours away on pot-holed roads. But from the back of one of the hotel's sleek fleet of Suburbans, it is a smooth 40-minute drive from the nearest airport in Liberia, where Delta, Continental and American Airlines have added nonstop service from several cities in the United States.
THE ROOMS Most of the hotel's 153 rooms are in three four-story buildings, with views of either the Virador Bay to the north or the Blanca Bay to the south. The views are less obstructed, and more expensive, the higher the floor. But even these standard rooms are a spacious 603 square feet, including a screened-in balcony with a sitting area. The private, freestanding suites, all with outdoor terraces with Pacific views, are built into the steep hillside like tree houses. All rooms have high-speed Internet access, satellite television with a CD/DVD player and the ever-comfortable Four Seasons beds.
THE BATHROOMS Open plantation-style shutters are all that separates the living space in the standard rooms from en suite marble bathrooms. They are roomy, with double sinks, a deep bathtub, and a separate glassed-in shower. But if you want a separate master bath with more than an alcove for the toilet, it might be well worth the suite splurge.
AMENITIES Daily activities include the extensive Kids for All Seasons program; the Young Adult Entertainment Center for teenagers; and adult fare from snorkeling to flower arranging. Since the resort is 40 minutes away from the nearest town, four restaurants serve the property, but be sure to make reservations if you want to try them all: on a recent visit, it took some pleading to get a table at Di Mare, the Italian restaurant, or Caracol, the steak restaurant at the golf course, which were both "fully committed" for the week.
ROOM SERVICE Available and prompt 24 hours a day. The full-bodied Costa Rican coffee is not to be missed.
THE CROWD The resort was brimming almost entirely with American families on a recent school break. Young couples and executives on business retreats round out the crowd of indulged vacationers, who feel adventuresome for choosing the Costa Rica Four Seasons over, say, the one in Nevis or Maui.
THE BOTTOM LINE Rates start at $435 a night for a garden- level standard room and go up to $1,350 for a one bedroom suite during high season (Jan. 3 to April 29) and range from $335 to $1,100 during what is called the "green" (actually rainy) season later in the year. Information: (50-66) 96-0000; on the Web at www.fourseasons.com/costarica