Kalon in Costa Rica

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Last year, I spent my first spring break as a grad student at the luxurious Kalon Surf "camp" and resort. First off, there's nothing "camping" about it. Between the round-trip airport transportation, 3 organic meals, 5 days of customized surf coaching, pool-side pilates, massages and all the snacks you can stuff in your pie hole, it was one of the most over-the-top vacations I'd ever experienced.

This gated resort is nestled deep in a jungle hillside near Dominical and Manuel Antonio, in the southern Osa Peninsula. It consists of one very large house with 6 very spacious rooms on the second floor, each with an en suite bath, and balcony with an amazing view of the coast. The first floor is an open plan living room, a dining table big enough to seat 12, and kitchen that open to the infinity pool. The latter is where the surf coaches teach newbies how to duck dive and turn turtle. The kitchen is occupied most hours of the day by 2 chefs preparing the days farm-to-table meals. In between, there are various home-made snacks available for munching. 

What I loved most about this trip is the other people staying at the house. On this particular week, there were 8 of us, and everyone was so accomplished and interesting. The house was large enough that we weren't forced to socialize all the time. But when we weren't surfing or feeding our faces, we had ample opportunity to chat. There was a young couple from the Bay Area (he worked for a start-up and she worked for Google), a genetic researcher and his adult son (also worked for a start-up), a young female physician from Southern Cal, a Spanish exec from Dannon, and an art director from NYC. I think it was the first time I truly realized the full potential of networking, and the company you keep.

The resort is on a steep hillside, at least a 15 minute drive to the closest beach. So, unfortunately, you can't just walk from your room to the ocean, and surf when you want. The week's general schedule, along with the tide schedule, is posted on a surfboard in the living room. You all get shuttled to the beach together in 2 SUVs. Each day's surf session is 3-4 hours long, and dependent on the tide.

As I was the only experienced surfer, I spent the majority of my time surfing by myself, getting occasional tips from the coaches, both in the water, and later back at the house while watching videos of our waves (not for the extremely self-critical). I liked that the coaches gave me space to figure out the set-up and the currents. The boards provided were mostly Firewire, and available in the size of your choice. Although there were a number of beaches we could drive to, we were somewhat limited by the beginner level of my fellow "campers". We split our 5 days between two mushy beach breaks, the names of which I can't remember. The conditions, and my own surfing, were not stellar, but when you've spent 11 years surfing on Oahu, it's hard to compare. But overall, the experience was a 9 out of 10. 10 for the accommodations, meals, service, staff, beauty of the locale. 9 only because of the dumpy, close-outs and because my own performance was "meh".

Downsides: It takes 2-hours to drive from San Jose Airport to Kalon. If you hate getting off the plane to sit yet again in another cramped space, it's something you need to prepare yourself for. The only other thing I wish we had more time to do was explore the land and meet more locals. I would have liked to experience more of that pura vida culture everyone raves about.

If you're looking for a transformative travel experience on the high end of luxury, I would highly recommend Kalon Surf.