Most adventurous souls seek out unspoiled places. Places that provide that extra bit of spirit that makes life worth living. Places where just drawing a breath sharpens your physical awareness. Places where one lives with nature, not at the expense of it.
Many people say these pure places exist only in the past or in the fertile dreams of the young. But since the past is long gone and only dreams remain, come down to Los Suenos Resort and Marina in Herradura Bay, Costa Rica, and get a taste of one man's dream fulfilled.
While motoring into the bay just minutes after releasing a 700-pound black marlin, Bill Royster, an avid offshore angler and developer from California, discovered Herrudura Bay and the cattle farm that would one day become Los Suenos (Spanish for ''the dreams''). As he watched an incredible Pacific sunset wash over the fertile valley and silent green mountaintops, Royster knew he had found a little bit of paradise.
After finding the owner of the cattle ranch and settling on a price, he decided to make the property a place where visitors could come and enjoy Costa Rica's natural splendor without having to compromise on accommodations or service. Vowing to keep Costa Rica's commitment to the environment and to preserve as much of the pristine forest as possible, Royster decided to develop only 460 acres of the original 1,100 and pledged the remaining 640 acres to a biological preserve. The result: the first world-class, luxury resort built in Costa Rica that fits the needs of traveling sport fishermen.
An Idyllic Spot
Unusually calm waters and short rides to the fishing grounds cement Costa Rica's place at the top of the big-game fishing experience. Long known as one of the world's premier big-game destinations, Costa Rica offers traveling anglers the opportunity to match skills with three heavyweights -- blue, black and striped marlin -- as well as enormous numbers of big Pacific sailfish. This makes Costa Rica one of the few places in the world where anglers get a real shot at the elusive ''grand slam'' -- catching and releasing three different species of billfish in a single day.
Since Royster discovered Herradura Bay on a fishing trip, it's only fitting that Los Suenos Marina would become the heart of the resort. The 250-slip facility represents the first government-sanctioned, international marina on Costa Rica's Pacific coast and is the only full-service marina between Acapulco and Panama, thus closing a huge gap in service for traveling anglers.
Unlike any anchorage for hundreds of miles in either direction, this well-protected marina functions as a full-service port of entry and provides all the amenities that traveling boaters seek. It already boasts dockside electricity and fresh water, telephone and cable service, 24-hour security and state-of-the-art floating docks that accommodate vessels from 25 to 70 feet. A ship's store, tackle shop and full-service restaurant and bar are also in the works, which, once completed, will make Los Suenos Marina one of the premier stops for boaters on the Pacific coast.
But even with all this, it's the location that really draws visiting anglers. Situated on the Pacific coast just an hour and a half's drive from the capitol of San Jose, Los Suenos provides a convenient base of operations to anglers wishing to explore Costa Rica's world-class fishing grounds that are spread out all along the coast. Just a few hours' run between Flamingo to the north and Golfito to the south, Los Suenos sits smack dab in the middle of some of the best sailfishing in the world.
Earlier this year I got my first taste of the area's bounty while hosting the first two sessions of Marlin University from Playa Carrillo, about 80 or so miles to the north of Herradura Bay. The fishing slacked off a bit up in Carrillo, so our captain, Bubba Carter of Tijerta fame, said we should make the 2 1/2-hour run south to Cabo Blanco to get into a ''mother lode of sails'' that had reportedly moved in off the cape. We made the run down, and to this day I can't believe the numbers of sailfish we saw and caught in the area.
Free-jumping sails took to the air in every direction. Shoals of tuna and flying fish broke the slick calm surface as hordes of hungry sails and 30-pound dorado slashed through the agitated schools. Several times I witnessed flying fish skimming fast over the surface with both a dorado and booby bird hot on its tail, only to see all three species crash into the same hole in the water. Keeping in mind that we had folks on board who had never caught a billfish, we went 26 for 50 our first day off Cabo Blanco. The next day our second set of anglers fared a bit better, going a whopping 46 for 100. Soon, double headers became commonplace, and the war whoops didn't get loud until we had everyone in the cockpit hooked up to a greyhounding sail. It was ''quademonium.'' The kicker: Although Cabo Blanco is a 2 1/2-hour run from Carrillo, these same fishing grounds are only about 30 miles from Los Suenos.
But even with hot spots like Cabo Blanco just a few miles away, you don't always have to make a long run to fish out of Los Suenos. Most of the time, charter boats start fishing just 10 to 14 miles offshore or ''right out front,'' as Capt. Jimmy Nix, who fishes on the Dream based out of Los Suenos, puts it. ''Our sailfish season runs from the latter part of December all the way to the last of May. The fish start moving north from around Golfito and work their way up to Herradura Bay by the middle of March. And they just keep working their way north throughout the year.'' This gives the boats out of Los Suenos a much longer shot at the fish without having to pick up and move. They just run a bit to the south at the start of the season and slowly work their way back up following the fish.
And the large sails found in these waters provide worthy adversaries on light tackle. ''Our average sailfish is probably 80 pounds,'' says Nix. ''The biggest one I've ever caught here was around 150, and we've caught some this year around 130 pounds. But great big ones like that can be few and far between.'' Several of the sails we caught off Cabo Blanco pushed the 100-pound mark, and I could have sworn that some topped 120. But then again, being a Florida boy I don't see many 100-pound sailfish off our coast, so my weight estimates hold about as much water as a straw hat.
If you hit the season right, it's not uncommon to get 20 or 30 shots a day at sails, making Costa Rica a perfect place to try your hand at catching a sailfish on fly. These numbers also scream out for the use of circle hooks. If you're getting all these shots, why take the risk of gut hooking or otherwise injuring a large number of fish?
Nix says that the marlin season pretty much coincides with the sailfish season. ''We have marlin here almost year round, but the heavy concentrations begin in the middle of March and run all the way through May and June. Blues, blacks and striped marlin all show up during this time, and we usually seem to catch about an equal number of all three species.''
Even with the incredible numbers of sails we were seeing, the number of dorado wreaking havoc on our trolled ballyhoos truly boggled the mind. Despite our best efforts to avoid them, 200 dorado must have crashed our baits over the seven or so days of fishing off Cabo Blanco; the smallest one probably weighed 25 pounds. At times you simply couldn't get away from them, and I'd burst into laughter as Carter gunned the engines to flee from marauding wolf packs of dorado to save our baits. ''The dorado fishing has been unbelievable this year,'' echoed Nix. ''I've fished here for a long time, and I've never seen the number of dorado like we've had this year -- and they all seem to be big ones, too.''
But billfish remain Costa Rica's main draw. At first many local folks questioned the rationale of putting a marina in a place that didn't enjoy the hot-spot reputation of places like Flamingo or Quepos, but it wasn't long before the crew of the NuCo2 silenced any doubters.
A private, 65-foot Mark Willis custom sport-fisher from Stuart, Florida, the NuCo2 managed to catch and release 1,162 sailfish in just 80 days of fishing out of Los Sueños. NuCo2 owners, Ed and Suzan Sellian, enjoyed great sailfishing on the 26 Bank, Cabo Blanco and Herradura Bank -- all within 30 miles of the marina. Sellian puts the ''fizz'' in CocaCola (hence, the name NuCo2), and his boat travels throughout the year to some of the best fishing grounds in the world. ''The sailfishing in Costa Rica is superb, and the new facilities at Los Sueños Resort and Marina make it a great place to call home,'' says Sellian. ''Especially since it's so central to all the best fishing grounds.''
A Great Vacation Spot
Although the fishing offshore might be hard to top, once you step off the dock Los Suenos goes out of its way to dazzle you with an incredible array of onshore activities as well. The five-star, $58 million Los Suenos Marriott Hotel offers unbelievable luxury and service in a place that was literally carved out of the jungle just 10 years ago. Sparkling pools, tennis courts and a full-service training center and spa let you choose between a vigorous workout and a relaxing drink by the pool.
The 18-hole championship golf course designed by Ted Robinson is a true eco-golf course that plays into a spectacular tropical rain forest and back to the blue waters of Herradura Bay. Just being on the course transports you to another world -- one ruled by mischievous, ball-stealing monkeys and the stoic three-toed sloth.
For indoor adventure, try your luck in the casino, which offers all of your favorite casino games, including black jack, craps and roulette.
As one of the oldest democracies in the region, Costa Rica represents a Central American success story. Its people enjoy a high standard of living, and land ownership is common and widespread. The ecotourism industry blossomed in Costa Rica and brought explosive growth to the nation's economy, a fact not lost on the country's leadership.
Costa Ricans commonly greet or leave each other with the phrase pura vida, or ''pure life,'' and no two words better describe Costa Rica's natural wonders. Creating over 30 national parks and biological reserves in a country just slightly larger than West Virginia, the Costa Rican government continues to work diligently to protect one of the most biologically diverse countries on the planet. More than 850 species of birds, 200 species of mammals and 400 species of reptiles and amphibians flourish within the nation's lush cloud forests and vast coastal plains. Pure life indeed.
In this rapidly shrinking world that is fast pushing aside the beauty of its last wild places, Los Suenos provides a prime example of how man and nature can not only co-exist, but also flourish.