Celebrities are known for having discerning tastes and demanding schedules, so when it comes time to vacation, it’s all about escape from the ordinary and relaxation. Those who follow Hollywood travel gossip may notice the Central American nation of Costa Rica’s increasing headline presence, attracting stars looking for just that. The country best known for its eco-tourism is on its way to becoming an established A-List sanctuary with luxury hotels and private properties that rival those of Miami, Maui and Cabo San Lucas.
Trailblazers like Mel Gibson and Gisele Bundchen led the way with their multimillion dollar beachfront properties on the Nicoya Peninsula, while the sunshine, verdant tropical coastline and relative anonymity sealed the deal for a new class of elite visitors to the country. Be it for relaxation, romantic getaways, business or a greater cause, the rich and famous are frequent visitors to this trendy destination’s most luxurious hideaways.
Vacation like a Rock Star
Known as one of the top 20 best backdrops for a destination wedding, Costa Rica has managed to net some famous lovebirds in their search for the most romantic scenery in the world. Most notably, the country played host to the 2006 marriage of pop singer Pink and Freestyle Motocross Racer Carey Hart. The Grammy award-winning bride waltzed down a sandy aisle to the tune of Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman” at the Four Seasons Papagayo as 100 guests including Lisa Marie Presley looked on.
The exquisite 5-star resort, the smallest of the Four Seasons brand, is known for its ultra-exclusive service and privacy, making it a top pick for celebrity vacationers to Costa Rica. Its extensive list of famous guests also includes singer couple Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz (lead singer of Fall Out Boy), who visited the resort together for a tropical getaway in January 2008. They may have been inspired by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who made reservations at the Four Seasons under the pseudonym “the Black family” during a United Nations Good Will Ambassador trip in which they spent Christmas with Colombian refugees in the country’s capital.
In his own superstar style, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich hired a fleet of 10 Hummers to transport himself and guests through the popular tourist destination of La Fortuna to the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. He reportedly stayed at the boutique Arenal Kioro and Los Sueños Marriott Resort in Playa Herradura. The owner of the Chelsea Football Club has also been known to frequent the shores of Costa Rica in his $352 million yacht equipped with a submarine and missile detector.
Sustainable Celebrity Vacations
For the new class of jet setting hippies wishing to make less of a mark both on nature and the paparazzi radar, Costa Rica’s top sustainable hotels offer the perfect combination of privacy and relaxation. These places cater to those with a heightened sense of environmental awareness and have become synonymous with Costa Rica’s eco-friendly image. The Lapa Rios Lodge, one of Costa Rica’s first sustainable luxury hotels on the Osa Peninsula, has an extensive celebrity guest list that includes John McCain and his wife Cindy, Formula One racecar driver Michael Schumacher, and the Queen’s Representative and Governor of Turks & Caicos Richard Tauwahre.
Punta Islita is another boutique resort that has made a big name for itself attracting guests like Enrique Iglesias, David Hasselhoff and Madonna, according to the hotel’s Vice President Eduardo Villafranca. The sustainable hotel is one of the most remote in the country, offering infinite space and privacy for its guests and employment and empowerment programs for the local community.
Another off-the-beaten-path hotel that wowed celebrity guests Charlize Therone and Kevin Bacon is Finca Rosa Blanca in the hills above San Jose. The hotel was awarded a perfect score on its Sustainable Tourism Certification for clean environmental and social practices and is the perfect hideaway for guests desiring fresh air, relaxation and privacy.
Costa Rica has not yet been featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, in part because the multimillion dollar vacation homes along its shores have popped up so inconspicuously. As a popular destination for Latin America’s own rich and famous, the E! Latin America channel’s Luxe World recently shed light on some of the country’s most lavish vacation homes and 5-star hotels. The show’s host and Soethby’s realtor to the stars Anolan Dragitsch said “Now I understand why Salma Hayek, David Hasselhoff, Jennifer Lopez, Donatella Versace, Cavalli, Shaquille O’Neal, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and Carolina Herrar always spoke to me about Costa Rica.”
The program featured exquisite homes and Costa Rica vacation rentals such as Villa Buena Onda, a 10,000 square foot mansion on the popular Guanacaste coast that is rumored to have hosted several famous guests to the region. The villa not only boasts a full-time 7-person staff including gourmet chef and concierge, but all tours and transportation are also private, catering to guests who wish to maintain a low profile while visiting the natural and cultural treasures of the area.
Several celebrity properties that not even E! Entertainment could touch include Mel Gibson’s $25 million property on Guanacaste’s Playa Barrigona, which has played host to several celebrity buddies including Britney Spears, and Gisele Bundchen’s private vacation home in the beachside surf town of Santa Teresa where she’s hosted ex and current boyfriends Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Brady, respectively. Several Costa Rica Real Estate companies have reported property purchases by other stars including Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, Sting, Harrison Ford and Bobbie Phillips.
For those not ready to make the financial plunge, high end vacation homes can be rented by celebs and regular travelers alike to make for idyllic, no-strings-attached tropical getaways. English band Jamiroquai rented a home in the quiet gulf town of Tambor for over a month to record their last album, while Gwyneth Paltrow and hubby Chris Martin (lead singer of Coldplay) spent a lavish vacation at the March House in Mal Pais.
Mixing Business with Pleasure
Costa Rica’s temptation as a tropical getaway is enhanced by its proximity to the United States. Jet-setting is synonymous with the celebrity lifestyle and accessibility is crucial to trip feasibility for travelers with a packed schedule. Direct flights to Costa Rica are shorter and less expensive than flying across the continental United States, allowing one to board an international flight in the morning and hit the beach by noon.
For the rich and famous who just can’t get away from the job, Costa Rica is the most modernized Central American nation offering business opportunities and the technological infrastructure necessary to stay in touch with reality. Costa Rica’s President Oscar Arias has become the country’s top ambassador to the stars, inviting big screen visitors like Steven Seagal and Mel Gibson to discuss the future of the movie production industry in Costa Rica. Bill Gates also paid the Costa Rican president a visit last April to discuss the country’s information technology potential before continuing on vacation to the Four Seasons with his family.
Despite the growing Costa Rica buzz among inner celebrity circles, the tourism industry will have any visitor feeling like royalty. As the top source of revenue in the country, a job in tourism is a source of pride and employees are well educated, bilingual and enjoy what they do. Service is personalized, warm and friendly and the tropical ambiance will inspire anyone from celebrities to middle class families or Fortune 500 CEOs to strap on a pair of Tiva sandals for a waterfall hunt or try their hand at beginner surf lessons.
After all, over stressed work situations and the desire for privacy and relaxation aren’t just for the rich and famous, but they can teach us a thing or two. If you too need a break from the daily grind, follow the celebrity trail to Costa Rica.
Claire Saylor is a writer living in Costa Rica who works for CostaRicapages.com