Not so long ago, Costa Rica was a backpacker's game.
Other than a few business-class hotels in the capital of San José and a handful of isolated luxury properties scattered about the scenic hinterlands, travelers could expect little in the way of genuine comfort while exploring one of the most beautiful and eco-conscious countries on the planet.
Over the past decade, however, Costa Rica's fastest-growing crop has been a collection of opulent hotels and resort communities, complemented by marinas, golf courses, gourmet restaurants, hot springs and other world-class facilities.
The tag attached to most deluxe properties is usually something like "ecolodge" or "ecoresort," which may conjure visions of dreadlocks, granola and recycled hemp-fiber sheets.
Don't be fooled.
Yes, most of the country's destinations are green; Costa Rica's Sustainable Tourism Program rewards environmentally friendly properties with one to five "leaves" and copious free publicity.
But Costa Rica's new upscale properties are as elegant and comfortable as any in Latin America.
Here are the best regions and stays for putting a little service and Chardonnay into your sand and scenery.
Gulf of Papagayo
Costa Rica's posh spot is Papagayo, a sparkling strand of beaches in the northwestern Guanacaste Province.
Once better known for sabaneros (cowboys) and fine horses, Papagayo Peninsula has been developed into Central America's premier luxury destination.
It even has its own international airport (LIR) just minutes away in the regional capital of Liberia.
Lavish rental properties, excellent restaurants and bellowing howler monkeys might convince you to stay put for your entire vacation. But it's worth leaving the luxury (and wildlife) to see some of the region's outstanding national parks and festive beach communities.
Accommodations are led by the exquisite Four Seasons Papagayo, the top pick in a scenic region that boasts Costa Rica's best resorts, golf courses, spas and white-sand beaches.
Rolling jungle hills surround tiny Manuel Antonio National Park, considered Costa Rica's most beautiful, as well as its original upscale destination.
It's also one of the most wildlife-rich regions in the world, which means you're certain to spot several species of monkeys, sloths and tropical birds, among other animals.
Excellent restaurants, sparkling nightlife, art galleries and an array of adventure tour operators make it a honeymooner's choice.
When traveling in high season (December through February), make reservations well in advance, and be prepared for crowds.
Among numerous upscale hotel choices, the prestigious Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort has received the Costa Rica Tourist Ministry's Five Sustainability Leaf Award along with its top Five Star Award for luxury and comfort. Within walking distance of the national park, the gorgeously landscaped property is an attraction in its own right.
Until 2011, Arenal Volcano was Costa Rica's most active volcano.
Alas, for area entrepreneurs, the lava flows that graced so many tourism brochures have mellowed to mere puffs of smoke.
On the upside, you can now get excellent deals on the region's dozen or so five-star properties, the best of which are known for their spectacular hot springs.
The gold standard is Tabacón Grand Spa and Thermal Resort, with world-class rooms and restaurants, as well as a river of steaming natural water, which feeds extravagant gardens and spas.