My Discover Costa Rica tour ended with a few days of relaxation at the Pinilla Estate (Hacienda Pinilla) on the country's Pacific side, in an area famous for its beaches, surfing, birds and sea turtles.
Hacienda Pinilla nestles among vast beaches and flourishing plants in coastal lowlands on the outside bend of the Nicoya Peninsula, in Costa Rica's lush province of Guanacaste.
The 4,500-acre private Pinilla estate unfurled along three miles of wide golden beaches, sandwiched between two estuaries, along a coastline that's world famous for its surfing.
The Guanacaste coastline is also home to lush nature reserves and vibrant wildlife, as well as the national tree of Costa Rica, the guanacaste, which gives the area its name. The huge guanacaste tree is known throughout the Americas for its spherical crown and shade-giving branches. In contrast, the bright, scarlet-red flowers of the Flame tree, a.k.a the Royal Poinciana, sit pretty, scattered throughout the coastal estate.
As well as surfers, the deep blue Pacific is enjoyed by holidaymakers who sail, fish and dive; and the beaches that fringe the wild ocean are also used by horseback riders who roam, trot or gallop on guided tours. The estate's beautifully kept horses also wander through the tropical dry forest and rivers of the Hacienda Pinilla, where birds such as roseate spoonbill and falcon can be spotted.
At the luxury Pinilla Beach Club, on Avellanas beach, a restorative marine spa treatment lifted my spirits, and the tasty, fresh meals, such as my corvina fish taco with picante sauce served under the whirring fans of the Avellanas restaurant, restored my energy. Once energy levels are revived here, you can spend your holiday time in the sea, horseback riding, snorkelling, kayaking and sailing, or just meandering along the beach watching surfers and runners, admiring the flying pelicans and the small clouds of orange and yellow butterflies flittering about. Fitness fanatics can go in search of the golf course, the fitness centre, and the tennis courts, too.
Those looking for seclusion should escape to the golden crescent of Langosta beach with a picnic. Kick back in the sand under the thatched umbrellas, or look out for iguanas and marine turtles that come to lay their eggs between May and November.
Birdwatchers and wildlife fans can rise early for a nature walk with one of the excellent, engaging guides at Hacienda Pinilla. An early morning start will ensure the greatest possibility of bird and animal sightings. My walk through secondary dry forest began close to the stables, and to the soundtrack of the roar of early morning howler monkeys!
The thinly wooded forest was full of birdlife: Hoffman's woodpecker tapped the trees and a white-lored gnatcatcher was seen. A beautiful black-headed trogon with its mustard belly perched on a branch in the early morning light, and the panda-coloured white-necked puffbird preened on another. Overhead, orange-fronted parakeets flew over.
At ground level, my guide pointed out the thick chocolate-brown carcasses of termite nests and talked about the eco credentials of the estate during the tour, explaining that managers have reforested 1000 trees in just three years. Keen birdwatchers should note that during the dry season of November to May, more migratory birds can be spotted here.