Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 4: Spas & Salsa Dancing

Destination: Flamingo

After all the sun and physical activity from these last few days, I was in need of some all-inclusive relaxation at Playa Flamingo. Buses depart Playa del Coco hourly for Liberia, and I arrived a few minutes late as the vehicle was pulling away. Thankfully, the bus driver took pity on me -- the clueless foreigner running with heavy luggage -- and stopped to let me on.

I was struck by the contrast of this experience with my trip to Amsterdam, where I watched a tram operator slam the trolley door on a woman with a baby in her arms -- a harsh punishment for being a few milliseconds tardy. I much prefer the forgiving Costa Rican style of travel so prevalent here in the land of 'Pura Vida.'

flamingo beach

I got off near a fruit stand at the turnoff to Liberia and waited about 40 minutes for the next bus to Flamingo/Tamarindo. From here, the ride took about two hours. The bus dropped me off in front of an office full of friendly coast guards, so close to the beach that I could smell and hear the ocean. Considering that I hadn't heard much about Playa Flamingo in the year and a half that I have lived nearby, I was surprised by how quickly it made my list of favorite beaches. The postcard-perfect shore is crescent-shaped, and framed by fig trees and dramatic cliffs.

The Playa Flamingo Beach Resort is enormous: 120 rooms, mini-supermarket, game room with pool tables, casino, gym, restaurant, bar, spa and more. My friend Kimmy came down for the day to join me for a double Spa Spirit treatment, designed to "renew the spirit and relax the mind." The two and a half hour package included a body scrub,Swedish massage, organic Costa Rican mud treatment and wrap, a European mini facial and a scalp massage.

playa flamingo

As we walked into the Serenity Spa, Kimmy commented on the building's soothing colors and uplifting decor. Modern showers and a large hot tub gave the back rooms the ambiance of an elegant bathhouse. Two friendly receptionists greeted us with robes, and we began by lying face down on the massage table.

Pleasantly surprised by the spa's luxurious touches, particularly the heated bedspread, we were ready for a pampering experience. My treatment began with a body scrub, and while the procedure had felt nice everywhere else, when applied to my stomach the pain was positively excruciating. My decision to forgo a mid-day sun block reapplication for the sake of tanning was a bad one. After wiping off the scrub with a warm towel, the therapists dripped soothing, hot oil over our bodies.

spa massage room

As the 50-minute massage began, Kimmy and I lost our powers of speech and fell into a state of extreme relaxation. The masseuses worked all the way from our hair and scalps down to our tired feet. Then they began to paint our bodies with restorative clay from Costa Rica's volcanic mud pits. Next, we were instructed to lie face-up on an enormous clear plastic sheet wrapped around a thermal heater. The attendants wrapped us up like caterpillars in a cocoon, placed what looked like dumplings on our eyes, and left us to sweat.

Forty minutes later, we felt like food inside of a pressure cooker. I couldn't wait for the facial to begin, as this would signal our sweet release from the sweaty fire bag.

gorgeous playa flamingo sunset

Finally, the therapists rescued us and applied a cool coconut cream to our faces. By now, we had lost a few pounds in water weight and our skin felt incredibly soft to the touch. Before we knew it, our time at the spa was up. We showered off, enjoyed a few minutes in the sauna, and walked down to the beach to watch the sunset over Playa Flamingo's pink sands.

At the beach, we pulled out my camera to have a look at the photos. I had asked our masseuses to take pictures throughout the treatment. I regret to say that I cannot include a single one of these images here. Unfortunately, the therapists' photography skills are not as impressive as their massage abilities -- and I ended up with a memory card full of painfully unflattering angles and shots (one included us face down with our bare, mud-painted rear ends in the air; another was nothing but flower-patterned sheets covering what looked like two beached whales).

salsa dancing lesson

Although we had planned for this day to be the laziest in recent history, the resident dance instructor convinced us to participate in an evening salsa lesson. With a huge flat screen TV (on mute) playing WWF wrestling in the background, we learned how to salsa -- Costa Rican style. Lora, a talented newlywed from California, was undoubtedly the best of the bunch. Her husband Sean took photos as we danced for the rest of the evening. Later, we had a late-night dip in the pool and a peaceful walk on the beach. After getting ready for bed, I was lucky enough to glimpse a beautiful anteater climbing a palm tree from the suite's balcony-- a nice ending to such a fun day.

Day 4: Spas & Salsa Dancing in Pictures