Tomas Mendonca simply can’t get enough of Costa Rica. For his third trip to the beautiful Central American country, he brought company: his boyfriend and five close friends. A longtime guest relations manager with Luxury Retreats, Mendonca knows exactly what it takes to create a top-of-the-line luxury travel experience, much to the delight of his guests. Luckily, he’s happy to share his insider knowledge. Here’s the lowdown on Mendonca’s love for Costa Rica, the perks of a villa stay, and why real luxury isn’t necessarily what you think it is.
LUXURY RETREATS: This was your third trip to Costa Rica. What keeps you coming back?
TOMAS MENDONCA: When I’m in Costa Rica, I feel like I’m home. The people are welcoming and genuine. The landscape is so beautiful, too—whether I’m in the jungle or at the beach, it feels like vacation. It’s a country to visit and explore, all in a very casual and relaxing way.
LR: You stayed at the Luxury Retreats’ villa Villa Estrella. What was your first reaction to the villa?
MENDONCA: Our introduction to Villa Estrella went above and beyond what we expected. We were tired from traveling, and had woken up very early that day. But as we pulled into the driveway, each and every staff member was lined up to welcome us with drinks and refreshments. Our bags were brought inside, and we got the grand tour. And we ended our villa tour at the pool with appetizers and drinks served, naturally. It was a true all-inclusive experience.
LR: What made your experience at Villa Estrella particularly special or memorable?
MENDONCA: What makes this home so special is the service. The staff members anticipate everything: We never had to ask for drinks, food, or what to do. You always have a drink in your hands, amazing food, and a driver to take you out and about to discover and explore. To me, there was nothing better than spending time by the villa’s infinity pool—with a hilltop 180° view of the Gulf of Papagayo and the Pacific Ocean—after a massage at the outdoor studio.
I personally define real luxury as receiving what you want, whenever you want it. This is exactly how we all felt during our whole stay at Villa Estrella.
LR: Your group of seven then moved on to a second Luxury Retreats villa, El Chante. How did it compare?
MENDONCA: The luxury is in its design. El Chante is where luxury meets zen. It’s built for outdoor-living right near a city, but you feel like you are in the middle of the jungle. So what we thought would be a city stay in Tamarindo became one of the most memorable experiences we had. Set on a hill, just two minutes away from downtown Tamarindo and the beach, the villa has a Bali feel with a splash of Costa Rican nature. Our morning alarm clock—at 5:00 am—was the sound of howler monkeys in the surrounding trees. Once we heard them, it was time to wake up, have breakfast, and go explore.
A stay in El Chante is about walking around outdoors and connecting with nature as you go from bedroom to dining room to living room. We felt so away from home that we really had a chance to disconnect from our day-to-day routines and the stress it can bring.
LR: What made this trip a true Luxury Retreats experience?
MENDONCA: During this trip I got to show my friends first-hand what Luxury Retreats is all about by personally acting as the concierge for our group. I booked our essential services while the group decided on what they wanted to discover in Guanacaste. So I set up the car rental, made sure we had a restaurant booked for lunch before our check-in, as well as our dinner for the first night and breakfast the following day. Once my group weighed my recommendations and made their decisions, it took a just a few emails and a phone call to have everything else sorted out: restaurant reservations, zip lining at Diamante Eco Adventure Park, private in-villa massages, a jungle excursion at Monteverde in Puntarenas (a good alternative to the south is Manuel Antonio), and surfing lessons on Tamarindo Beach and Playa Grande.
What made it a true Luxury Retreats experience for my friends was the peace of mind, just knowing that all we needed or wanted was taken care of—and not having to worry about a thing.
LR: If you could design a getaway in Costa Rica for a first-time traveler, what parts of your own trip would you lend them?
MENDONCA: A first-time traveler to Costa Rica absolutely must take a guided tour of the jungle. Seeing the wildlife, learning how animals live, and listening to the nature will make anyone fall for Costa Rica.
When I look back on this trip down the road, I’ll remember the quality time I spent with my closest friends; unforgettable moments around the dining table and relaxing at the beach or by the pool. For a vacation among friends, the memories are really what it’s all about. I brought some delicious Costa Rican coffee home with me, but what I really wanted to bring home was the nature.
LR: What food tips do you have for first-time visitors to Costa Rica?
MENDONCA: Anyone going to Costa Rica should try the traditional breakfast, gallo pinto [beans and rice]. It’s usually served along with scrambled or fried eggs and sour cream or cheese.
LR: Where in the world are you off to next, or where would you like to go?
MENDONCA: My next trip is to Venice and Rome—and my wine tasting and cooking lessons are already booked!