This past summer, I joined a small group to experience Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Península Papagayo, as well as do a little bit of volunteer work and sight-seeing in one of the planet’s most beautiful locations.
It was my first time in Costa Rica, a country that left me speechless (even what little I saw of it!). Beautiful, safe, warm and loving, I understand why so many of my friends are repeat visitors to this Central American country. There’s an immediate dose of relaxation that hits you the moment you exit your plane in Costa Rica. It’s the kind of vibe that can only be made in a place such as this. It’s as if the natural beauty of the country flows through the veins of its citizens in a way you feel internally. And this city dweller was ready to absorb it, too.
I woke up to a crazy unbelievable view of the ocean and lush coastline with a few islands off in the distance. And I spent many moments just staring at the view, listening to the wildlife and realizing how beautiful this place is. And I went swimming.
Speaking of wildlife, I was surrounded by some beautiful creatures. These little guys (pictured) snuck into my room looking for food. They’re called Urracas (magpies) and they were loud—yet beautiful. And these capuchin monkeys were also outside my window one morning and started screeching after I laughed at something in my usual shrilly tone. Who knew?
I also loved that it was so family friendly and included tons of activities for children and teens as well as really beautiful spots for the parents to get away.
I think the greatest highlight of the trip involved working with Four Seasons and the program called Creciendo Juntos, or Growing Together. Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica got involved with this program, initially started by the resort’s owner Península Papagayo in 2001, as a way to offer visitors rewarding volunteer opportunities in the local Guanacaste community. Guests can take part in volunteer efforts, such as maintenance work or cooking at a local school, reading to students, environmental conservation, even adopting a family or child during the stay—based on a visitor’s goals, budget and time schedule.
For example, our group—which included Kelly Bensimon of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York City,” Danny Seo, Bradley Irion, Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere, and blogger/writer Kristen Chase of Motherhood Uncensored—headed to a small school outside the resort and painted a fence that surrounded the entire campus.
We were greeted by students and saw that their modest school looked as if it had seen better days. If there’s anything about Costa Rica you should know it’s that there is an almost 96% literacy rate and education is king. It’s a right for all its citizens and they do not take it lightly. Knowing how important it is to everyone, it made sense that the kids deserved a nice new paint job as they all love coming to school. They’re some of the brightest, most beautiful kids I’ve ever seen, and it was an honor to participate in the program. After covering ourselves in paint we spent a few minutes with the kids and I snapped away.
Kelly radiates positivity, and as a mom she couldn’t help hugging and loving these beautiful girls. Bradley, Kelly’s hairdresser as well as New York City stylist to the stars, created an ad hoc salon in the middle of the courtyard and braided one of the student’s gorgeous long locks. It was such a special moment in time and the feeling of love and reciprocity filled me with overwhelming emotion. I had such a wonderful time!
Matt blogs at Matt Bites.
A version of this post first appeared on Matt Bites.
Read more about Costa Rica in Four Seasons Magazine.
Matt Armendariz is a photographer, teacher, food styling consultant, cookbook author and blogger with a passion for all things food and drink. Matt Bites has been recognized as a top lifestyle blog by Martha Stewart Living. Matt’s photo clients include La Brea Bakery, Food Network, Cooking Channel, Coca Cola and Food + Wine. He lives in Long Beach, California with his partner Adam Pearson (a food stylist!) and three dogs.
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