and the Triton swim-up bar
San Antonio de Belén, Guanacaste
Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful and relaxed places on Earth. After being invited to attend a destination wedding of a good friend, my wife and I had an excellent time at the Paradisus Playa Conchal, an all-inclusive resort on the Pacific Ocean. What made the experience even more enjoyable were the friendly and laid back "Ticos" (locals) who live "la pura vida" (the pure life). At Playa Conchal, one can experience this in style, with cocktails of the same name and one of the best beers that I've had in a long time, Imperial, served in the restaurants throughout the resort as well as at my personal favorite place to be, the swim-up bar that anchors the largest swimming pool in Central America.
Paradisus Playa Conchal is located on the West Coast of Costa Rica, in the State of Guanacaste, and is about an hour's drive from the tiny international airport in Liberia. It is legal to have open containers of alcohol in your vehicle, so our first stop once leaving the airport grounds was to a convenience store to grab some beers. Not knowing the local beverages, we grabbed a sixer of both Bavaria and Imperial. It turns out that both are brewed by Cervecería Costa Rica, a brand of the Florida Ice & Farm Company, who also brews Pilsen and Kaiser in the German tradition, as well as Rock Ice that is somewhat less compliant with the Rheinheitsgebot or German Beer Purity Law that dates back to 1516... Bavaria was good but it was Imperial that was by far the best—thank God for that, because it was the only beer you could get at Paradisus Playa Conchal. Imperial has been brewed since 1924 in the Dortmunder lager style, and is straw-colored brew with a smooth taste and a superb balance between malt and hops. I loved it so much I actually bought a yellow shirt with the Imperial logo, and a keychain to boot. My wife says I'm compulsive. I wonder why?
For those of you who have experienced $10 beers in your hotel mini bar, one can appreciate that the Paradisus Playa Conchal stocks your fridge with four complimentary Imperial beers, and replenishes them each day. These work well as a nightcap for a well-packed day. In Costa Rica, you can do anything from day trips to cloud forests, active volcanoes, and to the neighboring countries of Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. Scuba diving, surfing, kayaking, riding ATVs, zip-lining through the rainforest, whitewater rafting, and golf are just some of the other things you can do while staying at Playa Conchal or anywhere else in Costa Rica.
My first visit to Costa Rica was in September, during the height of the rainy season that runs from May to December. The mornings were beautiful but steady rains moved in each afternoon until around dinner time. My wife and I got caught at the pool during such a deluge and we decided to pass the time perched upon one of the concrete pillars that forms seating under the conical thatched roof of the round swim-up bar below it. "Dry seating" was located up a few steps and formed the other half of the bar. Here, they made a mean piña colada (tasty, but not too sweet) and plenty of Imperials in plastic cups. Here we met a Dutch fellow with a medical background that came to Costa Rica 15 years ago and never left. He told me of the custom tours he organizes for tourists all over the world. He lives in the capital, San Jose, and he vacations with his family at Paradisus Playa Conchal. Why? "It's the best resort in all of Costa Rica," he said as attentive bartenders came with a Derby cigarette and a light, about once every ten minutes.
When you're not at the pool, the Pacific Ocean and a beach that stretches as far as the eye can see, are just steps away. This is where we attended the wedding for my friends, at sunset. Even with the rainy season, we were fortunate enough to have a window of sunshine and the ceremony was excellent. Afterwards, we had the bar near the casino all to ourselves. It was here that we had a round of "Pura Vida." Not only is this the laid back philosophy and lifestyle of the locals, but is also a cocktail made of Cacique Guaro, a sweet liqueur made from sugar cane similar to Colombia's Aguardiente that is mixed with orange juice and just enough Grenadine to give the Pura Vida a pale red color. After a few Pura Vidas and piña coladas it was on to a steady flow of Imperial, and a good time was had by all.
"Just read your story about Costa Rica and thought I'd let you know that Imperial is available in the Chicago area. I'm not sure what area you live in, but Cardinal Liquors has it. They have a few locations but the one I get it from is on Central just south of Addison. The last time I went in, it was sold out. The manager told me he had a girl drive in from Iowa and she bought 10 cases of it!"
– M.B. (November 13, 2007)
Following our departure from Costa Rica, it was hard to leave Paradisus Playa Conchal behind, as well as Imperial, which you can find served in bottles at Quenchers or you can buy it at West Lakeview Liquors. For more information, check out the Paradisus Playa Conchal website. ¡Pura vida!